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The Power of “Yes”

Last spring, I was offered the opportunity to stop hustling for one-off assignments from this website or that magazine and instead take on a long-term copywriting project. The assignment was to write patient-focused content for NYU Langone Medical Center.

I resisted the idea at first. As a journalist, I feared the conflict of interest issues. But after providing full disclosure to all my relevant editors, I went for it. After all, a long-term project meant regular paychecks, and that is the holy grail of the freelance life. Plus, I was in a bit of a writing rut. To get out of it, I decided to adopt a new mantra: Just say yes. Whatever the opportunity, just try it. See where it takes you. And so I did.

For the revamp of the NYU Langone website, I was responsible for writing all of the patient and family support content. Nothing exciting or sexy, but pages such as “what to bring for your hospital stay” will  get lots of traffic. As a writer, I’m not hard to please. If what I write helps anyone in anyway, I consider that a job well done.

The project had its challenges. Being a reporter requires that I sometimes be pushy. But when you’re working corporate, you can only push so much. You can’t insist that anyone talk to you, you can’t threaten them with a potentially embarrassing “no comment,” you can’t shame them with a “so-and-so talked with me already.” You just have to be really, really nice, and hope that your courtesy and professionalism  get you what you need.

As with all new gigs, I had to learn how to adapt my writing style to the client’s voice. That’s a bit more of challenge with corporate writing, where yes, they want copy to be reader-friendly but not “girlfriend friendly,” as so many magazines and websites ask for these days. So I had to find a way to preserve my voice, while also adapting it to a more reserved audience. A challenge, but I enjoy challenges.

I learned quite a bit about the corporate world, and even considered rejoining it. Was it time for me to leave the insecurity of the freelance life for the stability of a steady paycheck? Was I ready to trade a flexible schedule for an employee handbook? I seriously considered it. On the one hand, I realized how much I enjoyed collaborating with a team. That’s not something you get to do very often when your desk is in your bedroom closet. But on the other hand, I need to be able to work my hours on my schedule, be that at 7 am or 10 pm, so the rigidity of 9-5 just isn’t for me. While the lure of a corporate job was strong, for now I’m going to keep working the freelance life, taking what I’ve learned from the corporate experience and using it to grow my business in new ways.

I’m not sure what is coming next for me, but I am glad that I decided to say yes when a new opportunity arose. I think that by continuing to do that, I will find a new path.

 

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Parents Just Want to Have Fun. So Why are We So Boring?

Look at us -- out alone, at night, in  Manhattan!

Look at us — out alone, at night, in Manhattan!

We sat at the small Italian restaurant in Bay Ridge. It was just the two of us. No kids. No husbands. We flirted with the waiter and when we realized we were running late, connived getting wine in to-go cups.

We giggled over this, like two teen-agers who just stole beer from their parents fridge. I know I reminded Tracy several times that I am a genius, because what other 40-year-old mom would think of smuggling booze out of a restaurant in a plastic-covered coffee cup? It felt scandalous. It felt ridiculous. It felt wildly… what was this feeling I was having? What was this gurgling of excitement in my chest that had nothing to do with the fear a child will fall off the monkey bars or that I won’t make it to softball practice on time?

Could it be that I was having fun?

A few weeks ago, my husband and I went to a family wedding. The invitation read “adult reception” and I whooped, hooted and hollered. A night out with my husband! With dancing! Great food! Cocktails! And dancing! And noooooo kids to remind to eat their dinner, take to the bathroom or listen whine about being tired.

We walked into the cocktail hour, both looking fabulous I will say without apology, and began to work the room. My husband Sid and I really know  how to own a cocktail hour. We weaved among the revelers, feeling like the ultimate power couple, finishing each other’s sentences and laughing as we told stories of our ridiculous lives. We brought drinks to people before they asked for them. I introduced my sister-in-law to the cosmopolitan.

I love cocktail hour. It’s one of the best parts of the wedding. I told my husband. And then I felt it again: Fun!

Later that night we were pretty much irrepressible. I had warned people in advance that Sid and I don’t get out much and so when we do, we’re like convicts on weekend furlough. On the dance floor, Sid and I have moves that are all our own. When he wasn’t around, I danced with whoever else was on the dance floor. Who cared?! I was having fun! And so was everyone around me.

The next day (and for many days after) Sid and I kept hearing from others at the wedding how “it looked like you guys really had a good time.” Uh-oh. What did we do? Even the bride called us “the couple of the night.” Um, no. The open bar definitely left some holes in our memory banks but neither of us could remember doing anything terribly embarrassing or offensive. But that’s not what people were saying anyway — everyone was commenting about how we looked like we were having the time of our lives.

Recently someone told me that she worried that because her kids never see her having fun, they’ll grow up into adults who don’t know how to have fun. This made me realize that one of the gifts my parents gave me was the glimpse into the world of grown-ups having fun. They drank too much, laughed, danced, did many wild things, and I witnessed much of it. They taught me that no one is responsible for your good time — if you want to have fun, you make your own fun. But somewhere between diaper changes and school science projects, I forgot about that.

Why is the concept of parents embracing reckless abandon unique enough that people noticed it so intently? I woke up the morning after that wedding suspecting to be swearing off all fermented beverages forever, for good. But instead, I felt fabulous. The happiness from the night before seeped into the next day. All that stress that I’d been holding in had dissolved in one night of just letting myself go. It felt remarkably freeing, this license I gave myself to just let go and have fun.

Which got me thinking: When did we stop having fun? The answer was obvious.

Exactly 10 years ago, I was pregnant with my first child. And that’s when it began — this wave of exhaustion that dictates most recreational decisions I’ve made since. If we get a babysitter, we have her come at around 5 so that we can be home by 9 the latest. When the kids were babies, you never knew whether you’d have a good night or a bad night so why risk staying out late? Sleep was our priority. Nowadays, I feel like we’re still catching up on all the sleep we’ve lost over the last decade. We dine at the geriatric hour and when the sun goes down, we reach for our blankets.

So going out on a Saturday night with Tracy, seeing the city alive at an hour when I’m usually drooling on the pillow; dancing at a wedding until my feet begged for mercy — I realized I needed to embrace fun as much as I needed to cure my constant exhaustion. Those brief reminders of what it was to be young, stretch-mark free and slightly devilish help me shed stress in ways that sleep, yoga, exercise, eating right — all the things you’re told to do to keep your body healthy — could not accomplish. I needed to truly let go.

I’m now on a “fun” kick. I’ve made going to the gym a priority, and that has vastly improved my physical body. Now I want to make having fun a priority as a way to reward my overworked soul.

Problem is, it’s been so long that I don’t really know how to do this. So friends of mine, let’s make plans to have fun. Not just “let’s meet for dinner” and talk about the 40s malaise. Let’s go experience life — theater, art, music — and do things — hike, bike, dance, sing. Getting to fun isn’t a logical default for me anymore so I could use some help. What ideas do you have for having fun?

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Overwhelmed? Yes, Brigid Schulte, of Course I Am

My husband came home early from work today to find me in bed, under the covers, and crazy enough to think these two kids would let me shut my eyes for just a few minutes. Daylight savings must have caught up with me, and combine that with bad news from a client this week (read: income = gutted) and anxiety over my husband’s upcoming business trip (I hate it when he travels) I was ready to check out. Just a few minutes, I swear. That was all I needed.

It was 1 in the afternoon.

Now, I know there are people out there that think this is exactly how the freelance life works. You nap when you want to. You have kids performing circus acts while you’re doing phone interviews. And truth be told, sometimes that is what happens. But most of the time I sit myself down at 9:30 and don’t get up again until 3 p.m. when the kids come home and I leave my second job for my more demanding primary one, the one filled with kids quizzing me on their homework questions, my corralling them into the car, the words “Can we please try not to be late this time?” having long ago taken on a rhetorical tone.

Most days I power through but today, the world just descended upon my shoulders. My husband crawled into bed next to me and made the kids scatter. “Did you hear this segment on NPR today about being overwhelmed?” he asked. “I heard it and thought of you.”

He then proceeded to play it for me from his iPhone. It was an interview with Washington Post journalist Brigid Schulte, whose book Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time was published today. If you had been with me as I was listening, you’d have thought I was in church listening to a sermon.

One of the main differences is women are still doing so much of the housework and the child care. … There’s physical labor that goes along with that, but there’s also mental labor. You’re keeping track of everything, you know? You’ve got all this stuff going on in your mind: the to-do lists, and “Did I remember the carpool?” and “Oh, my goodness, I gotta fill out the Girl Scout forms,” … all this stuff that kind of gets crowded in there along with all the stuff you’ve got to do at work. Men generally don’t have that. They have one sphere, which is work.

“Mmm hmm” I muttered. “Mental overload.”

“We had started off, I think like most people in our generation, wanting to have a true partnership, wanting to be equal partners,” she says. ” … We had a very low moment where I thought, ‘Wow, we have really gotten off track. What happened?’ “

“Yeah? What happened?” (I’m not sure that I said that aloud.)

Schulte proceeded to tell a story about a day when her work life and mom life collided, when she had to meet a deadline at work but also had to get her daughter to ballet on time, and she ditched work in order to do what a good Mom is expected to do. In the process, she realized that she was giving her daughter an inflated sense of her importance and in doing so, was not being the proper working mom role model. (Something many women of our generation never had, which is why we struggle so much with the equal partnership idea.) Sometimes the kids can’t come first, and sometimes that has to be okay. Because mommy’s work is just as important as daddy’s, and should be equally respected. And plus, bosses don’t care about ballet lessons.

I listened to the seven-minute segment and sighed. Here we are again, talking about the same subject, but no closer to a solution. Instead, I’m laying in bed at 1 p.m. on a Tuesday, hoping to shut the world out and finding that nearly impossible to do.

“Let’s take a 20-minute break,” my husband said.

My mind reeled. No. I had work emails to answer. The kids needed to pack their bags for swim. Had my son eaten lunch? And 20 minutes would barely give us enough time to get to parent-teacher conferences on time. My instinct was to throw off the covers, get up and get working. But then I looked at my husband. He was seconds away from snoring. He was not thinking the things I was thinking. So what if, as Schulte proposes, women started acting more like men? Would the world come to a crashing halt?

I closed my eyes. Twenty minutes later the alarm went off. I grabbed swim supplies while my husband made Miles a cheese sandwich. We were late getting out the door but arrived at our appointment on time. Teachers were effusive in their praise of our children. It all worked out… even though I took that 20 minutes.

Later in the afternoon, I had an errand to run. I wasn’t sure how I was going to get dinner made and get the errand done. And then — Eureka! — I remembered. Sid is home. He can make the meatballs. I asked; he complied gladly, almost happy to know what it was he could DO to make things easier for me. I relaxed. And when he augmented my mother’s recipe to include horseradish and sundried tomatoes, I said nothing except, “Wow, this is really good.” (It was, but don’t tell my mom.)

Now it’s after 5 p.m. The smell of meatballs I did not make fill the house. The kids have finished their homework. I have some interviews to do tonight but after that, I’m going to let it all go again. I’ll brew some tea or drink some wine. I’ll try not to let my worries control my mind. And I’ll find confidence that no matter what challenge I have, if I just let them go maybe the solutions will begin to present themselves in the most organic ways.


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