Perhaps the thing that intrigues me the most about the human condition is the fact that we have never been able to scientifically quantify the chemistry and/or bond we share with certain people. There are some folks with whom we immediately connect and share a sense of familiarity and comfort and for the most part it’s simply accepted and when you think about it, why would you not?

I turned 50 this past February. When I turned 30 I remember thinking in twenty years I wanted to do something very special for my 50th birthday. Quietly, secretively I opened a savings account and saved a little bit of money every week. I told no one, in fact…I’m outing myself right now…no one knew until this moment other than that particular bank. It wasn’t a lot of money that I saved each week but it was consistent and over twenty years it added up.

During most of those years I was happily married to my best friend, my first and only love and the person who I trusted unequivocally and without question. My gift to us for my 50th birthday was going to be a surprise, pre-paid trip to somewhere special. It was almost impossible not to share my plans, but in my mind the day I unveiled the surprise would be worth it and I anticipated and dreamed about that day.

It never came. I didn’t know then that my financial advisor husband was embezzling my investments but over time my myopic blinders eroded and I was finally, mercifully awakened to the reality that he had taken everything. If Bob had said the world was flat, I would have agreed. I’m not sure a bat could be anymore blind. But as the saying goes, I was blind but now I see. He took every penny I ever saved, every penny I ever invested, every bit of money…

                                               Except my secret savings account.

The surprise in the making, the secret that I had almost blown hundreds of times. He never knew about my secret savings account and ultimately it was the only account he didn’t drain. To explain the heart-crushing, mind-blowing realization as a rude awakening would be a vast understatement. But people have survived worse and perspective is everything and yada, yada, yada…he can’t hurt me anymore.

As I turned 49 and 1/2, I began to consider the birthday that I had been saving money twenty years to celebrate. I’m not sure why I placed a strong emphasis on turning 50 but I did. I wasn’t sad or depressed or (obviously) concerned about people knowing my age…I was excited! I suppose I know I’m not going to live 50 additional years and I was approaching more than the halfway point. I considered holding onto that secret savings account to help fund my upcoming move to Austin but I believed I deserved more and it seemed like one more cruel punch to the gut to not enjoy what I had secretly saved for. In fact, not doing something special seemed like one of the worst options ever. I’ve saved this money for twenty years to go on a trip…why would I not?

So instead of conservatively saving that money for a just-in-case, sky-is-falling catastrophe (my proverbial sky had already fallen); I took the trip of my dreams. I traveled halfway around the world to Thailand and celebrated turning 50 as if I was the first person to ever do so. I hiked, I meditated, I shopped and spent time in cities, rain forests, bamboo forests and rubber tree valleys. I met wonderful people and spent so much time staring in awe at the ornate temples, I had bloody, scraped knees the first week from falling and tripping as I looked up instead of where I was walking. I met a couple from France who will be visiting Austin soon and a man in Chiang Mai who gave me a protective amulet that I continue to carry. I enjoyed daily massages at a ridiculously affordable price and I immersed my feet in a tank of fish that proceeded to nibble off the dead skin. And for one week I joined up with a group of folks riding bikes through northern Thailand; which is when I met Sara.

There is something about Sara…

Less  than half my age, perhaps Sara was acting much older and me being on vacation, perhaps I was acting much younger. Perhaps she and I hit it off because we met in the middle. Perhaps.

I met wonderful, open-hearted people on that bike trip. I’m in touch with a number of them today…one who lives in Bhutan and another who is planning a rendezvous in Maine next summer. We rode bikes, we suffered up hills, we cruised down hills, we splashed mud and dirt, we visited hill tribes and took a cooking class. We ate amazing food and took in stunning sights. We rode on the top of a small bus at night looking at the stars and grand statues of Buddha’s carved into mountainsides lit for display. We offered alms to Buddhist Monks at dawn and we rode, petted and got to know elephants at a rescue camp. We played impromptu volleyball in the pool and one evening after a few shots of Tequila, turned a Singha beer bottle into a tell-all microphone. New friends were always included, but the constant was Sara. She and I had a bond; easy, unexplainable and simply accepted and why would we not?

The youngest and one of the oldest…we naturally rode the same pace on the bikes and spent a great deal of time talking about everything and nothing. Cat poop coffee and corporate America. What it’s like to be a research analyst and what it’s like to be really hung-over. Despite her best efforts to teach me, I failed miserably at saying, “how YOU doin'”  like a native New Yorker. We talked about boys, relationships and enjoyed an emerging addiction to the “special” energy drinks that are legal in Thailand (and not anywhere else).

One afternoon having reached our destination a bit early, we ventured off to find elephants lumbering peacefully and free, discovering that the size of elephant poop is indeed in direct proportion to the size of the elephant and enjoying one of those ‘being in the moment moments’. As we sat on the edge of the Mekong river that separates Thailand from Myanmar it occurred to me that we were both sitting on the edge of colossal change in our lives; we were so different yet remarkably the same.

I was in Thailand to celebrate turning 50, knowing my life was about to change as I moved from the cold, yet familiar landscape of Maine, to the unknown of Austin, Texas and Sara, celebrating her graduation from college prior to starting a kick-ass job in Manhattan’s financial district, a fantastic job with great opportunities yet pending pressures and responsibilities to which she had not yet been introduced.

We enjoyed being in the moment, why would we not?

Fast forward six months and each day I put on the handmade, silver elephant bracelet I bought in Thailand as I prepare to go to work at my new job in my new hometown and I am reminded of that trip. A couple of weeks ago I received a message from Sara: “when are you gonna blog about me?”…and I laughed.

Of course I will blog about you. Why would I not?

Was Sara acting much older on that trip? Was I acting much younger? Did we meet in the middle because of that? No, not at all. Sara was being Sara. Haven was being Haven. And age, experience or maturity levels had nothing to do with it. Sometimes we get lucky enough in life to meet kindred spirits and when we do, we need to hold on. We don’t question it, we simply accept it and if we’re smart…we’re grateful. And I am.

I’ll always remember how I chose to celebrate turning 50 and I’m pretty sure Sara will always remember how she chose to celebrate her entry into adulthood. And if we ever forget…I’m sure we can find a bottle of Singha tell-all microphone beer to help remind us. Why would we not?

Thanks for reading,
~ Haven


Source: New feed

People who know me know I love the music I grew up with. Those songs from the 70’s…I’m listening to it now as I write. ‘Don’t Look Back’  is the title song from the first album I ever purchased (yes…it was an album…a big record…not a CD…not online…but one of those big, black flat things sold in yard sales and retro stores now). The album was by Boston and I loved it…I played it over and over like I imagine we all do when we first discover music, songs, lyrics and the way we individually, yet collectively, interpret their meaning.

Fast forward more than 30 years. I’m the same girl who loves all the same songs with familiar lyrics which have more meaning than I initially realized yet over the years their meaning has continued to register and sink in.
                                               “Don’t look back…a new day is breakin'” 

Today, I’m all grown up and living in Austin and as I was driving to work one morning this week I watched with interest as the driver beside me grow more and more frustrated; not with the notorious Austin traffic, not with the car in front of her traveling fast enough or letting too many other cars go in front of them (a simultaneously frustrating and remarkable part of the Austin traffic experience); she was clearly bothered by the vehicle behind her.
                                                              “Don’t look back”

But she did. She kept looking back. And it didn’t serve her well.

As we poked along through gorgeous canyons…a large statue of the Buddha…over the Colorado river…a lighthouse!…followed by more canyons with hawks soaring above, she focused on her rear-view mirror. I continued to watch with interest. The truck behind her wasn’t causing her to be late and it wasn’t effecting her was just there, looming large behind her. And I was reminded of my conversation with Will almost one year ago today.

Will has one of the biggest hearts I’ve ever had the privilege to know yet he has (had) a tendancy to focus on his past. He experienced a difficult childhood. He has not had an easy or smooth life. He lived through an upbringing that would break the hardest of hearts…he has been humbled and fractured…but he wasn’t broken. He survived but he struggled to move forward. He struggled with all the ungodly, unfair, inequitable crap that happened to him. It loomed large behind him. Will was spending more time looking back than he was spending looking forward. It wasn’t serving him well.

                              “Now I see what I am is holding me down and I’ll turn it around,
                                                                    don’t look back.”

I don’t why Will and I connected the way we did and it really doesn’t matter. He continues to own a part of my heart and I suspect I own at least a little part of his. I wanted Will to look forward and not back and we talked and talked and talked about how to do that. One afternoon quite spontaneously I drew a very rudimentary picture of a rear-view mirror and a windshield. I explained to him to focus on the size of those windows in a car. The rear-view mirror is important and that’s why it’s there; we need to know what is behind us but I explained, it is far more important to see what is ahead. The rear-view mirror is proportionally smaller than the windshield for a reason. I gave the drawing to Will and he put it in his wallet. I’m certain it’s still there.

That little drawing on the scrap piece of paper helped us both. It reminded both Will and me that the rear-view mirror is small for a reason. It’s important to have it but it’s more important to be able to see what is ahead. We can chose to focus on the rear-view mirror but we’re better served when we focus on the windshield. And that choice is ours.

                                                                “Don’t look back”

As the traffic ebbed and flowed that morning in Austin, I watched the woman in her little Jetta grow more and more frustrated with the big truck behind her. I suppose he was riding her bumper a little close, but he was in a big, white truck and I’m sure it seemed bigger and closer to her in her rear-view mirror. I wonder how different her commute experience would have been that morning had she focused on her windshield more than her rear-view mirror.

I was grateful for her and for the truck and for the reminder that we have control over what we choose to focus on. She appeared to make herself miserable that morning and she didn’t have to do so.

One year prior: a rudimentary drawing shared with a man who survived a horrific childhood. A rear-view mirror and a windshield. A lesson learned…for two seemingly different people…both the same.

                                                 “The road is calling, today is the day”

Today Will is married, he is happy and at the age of 50, learning to read. I’m living a new life in a city I fell in love with on an impromptu visit. That afternoon Will chose to look through the windshield and he has inspired me to do the same.

                       “It took so long just to realize I’m much too strong not to compromise,
now I see what I am is holding me down, I’ll turn it around, oh yes I will”

Thanks for reading,
~ Haven


Source: New feed

                               “I realized that you were an island and I passed you by… 
                                                     you were an island to discover”

I love that line. Chris Martin penned it and hauntingly sings it in one of his many hits with his band Coldplay. It is an insightful line and one that perhaps an artist will sing but not something that many of us are willing to admit…that we might be missing out on something or someone.

We go about our lives, busy, distracted and filling space. We pass by islands we could have discovered. Maybe those islands take the form of people in potential friends, mates, companions and maybe those islands take the form of restaurants, films, parks…any number of things – but all are experiences that we pass by.

Everyday we pass by islands that we could be discovering.

It’s so easy to fill our day and schedule ourselves into oblivion in order to stay busy. It seems to be a right of passage, a goal, an achievement…the idea of being busy all of the time.

                 It seems at times the act of being busy equates to being important in our culture.

It’s as if being busy is ideal. But how does that leave time for spontaneity, for having time to discover people, places and things?

When I was in high school I was one of a small minority of students fortunate enough to participate in a 10-day European tour. In many regards I remember the trip like it was last week. During a very formative time, it opened my ripe, enthusiastic mind and introduced me to a new perspective to a diverse and accessible world waiting to be discovered. The trip was one of the most influential experiences I’ve ever had and is the reason I have continued to travel throughout adulthood. It doesn’t matter whether or not I travel with one person, a dozen or on my own; that 10-day, high school experience planted a seed that has continued to grow. And during that time, sitting in a café (it was actually a bar), in Lucerne, Switzerland, I learned about nuggets.

I’m not sure how things are now, but back then (1982), my parents granted permission for me to travel with the high school group and fully experience the European culture. That meant I could taste wine at dinner or have a beer, for example, in a bar in Lucerne, Switzerland. This wasn’t a party trip and frankly, it never occurred to me then that people drank to get drunk or over-indulged. I was introduced to wine and beer consumption with the casualness that one finds in Europe.

During our evening in Lucerne I stepped into a quiet, cozy bar which had a café-type atmosphere. People were reading, there was a small fire in the fireplace and a few people were sitting by it. I remember most people were by themselves and I felt welcome and even then, comfortable in foreign surroundings by myself. I don’t recall why I was by myself. I ordered a half-pint beer with lemonade – something that seemed so foreign yet very popular there – something I wanted to try. I don’t remember his name, his age or even what he looked like but I remember the conversation I had with the stranger in that bar. He asked questions about our group, where we were from – intrigued that a small group of high school students from Virginia had somehow ended up in Lucerne, Switzerland, on a cool April evening. It was there I learned about his theory of ‘Nuggets’.

He explained to me as I go through my life to look at everyone I meet as if they carry special nuggets. He explained that I will learn something from everyone I meet if I remember that they have something to share. As he and I sat and drank the half-beer, half-lemonade drink, he explained that no matter where I was that everyone will have an experience or a lesson or advice (nuggets) and to never miss out on that opportunity. He told me to never waste a chance to learn what someone else has to offer. I had explained we were traveling on a bus and I remember him asking me what I knew about our bus driver. By the time we ended our trip, I made sure I knew the bus driver’s story (and it turned out he loved the Beatles and we bought an Abbey Road tape and played it as we drove through the French countryside!). As I write this, I remember both the driver and the tour guides names, I remember their stories – I learned about nuggets.

In some ways the man in the bar was a bit like a prophetic angel, someone who caught my attention probably because I was in a foreign country, feeling very grown up and open to learning about a world that I had only seen in books or on television. I’m not sure a week of my life has gone by that I’ve not thought about the idea of nuggets (like gold, he explained…we all walk around with gold). Today this concept is so ingrained in who I am, it’s the reason I speak to people everywhere I go, the reason I gravitate toward places which hold no familiarity and a big reason for my sustained curiosity and sense of adventure (also imbedded and instilled in me by my mother who didn’t think twice about allowing her daughter to travel through Europe – long before the age of cell phones, internet, email, etc). Yet I suspect that brief conversation with the man in Switzerland, which I remember all these years later, has likely had a profound effect on my life and how I live it. I’m not a person who fills my schedule because selfishly, I want room to be able to listen and learn about those nuggets. I don’t want to pass by an island.

Perhaps that’s why the line in the Coldplay song resonates with me. Whether we think about people carrying nuggets in which we can learn, share and enjoy or if we see people and opportunities as islands waiting to be discovered…I think it’s a good approach to life.

We will never know what those nuggets are until we take the time to learn; we’ll never know what’s on the other side of that island until we take the time to discover.

The advice shared by a stranger so many years ago in an obscure little bar in Lucerne continues to carry weight. It is so easy to bite the ‘busy’ hook but at what cost?

What nuggets are you missing out on?

What islands have you passed by?

Thanks for reading,
~ Haven

Source: New feed

Authentic strength. I made that up. I like inventing words. I often invent words and then forget they aren’t mainstream, that they only live in my mind not everyone else’s. Sometimes I’ll catch myself using one and laugh at the response I receive (although sadly, many folks never notice the non-word word). Romantical…a romantic setting. Digimentation…all the knobs and levers on an automobile or airplane dashboard. Holidial…a scene evoking any holiday, usually accompanied by lights or other hanging decorations. There are numerous Haven-created words. Authentic strength however, is a bit different from my silliness with words. Authentic strength is something we all have waiting to be unleashed.

                          “I understand now that the vulnerability I’ve always felt is the greatest strength a person can have.  You can’t experience life without feeling life.                
                                                              Elisabeth Shue

Our culture is very strength-oriented. We are taught that our country is the strongest; in order to succeed we must be strong, in order to not be hurt we must not acknowledge the pain. We’re taught that feeling our feelings and emotions are indicative of weakness and that closeting them is a sign of strength.

Our media hypes strength and its importance yet few of us really, truly understand what strength really is.

Being strong has nothing to do with being ruthless. Or insensitive. Being strong doesn’t mean you close yourself off to others or you close yourself off to your feelings. Strength doesn’t equate to being bigger, better or more equipped with bombs, resources, military, etc. It doesn’t even equate to education or money.

                                                   Strength comes only from weakness.

In nature, the strongest tree is the one that has been exposed to harsh winds or weather. It digs in, it holds on and it adapts to survival. It may not be the biggest or the prettiest, but it is without a doubt, the strongest.

In our work environment, the strongest person is the one who has been exposed to harsh situations. In humans this will result in humility and having compassion for others. The strongest person has empathy for someone else’s position, thoughts and agenda. The strongest person in your boardroom is not necessarily the loudest and may or may not be the one with the credentials or initials behind his or her name (that has little to do with strength). The strongest person on your team stands by his or her convictions and won’t be the person who unwaveringly agrees with the status quo.

Does that mean he or she isn’t a team player? Far from it. What it means, is the person is bringing authentic strength to your team. A person strong enough to present challenges, to ask questions and not accept everything on face value is a strong team player with an asset that cannot be taught.

Because strength…authentic strength…the real stuff (not the fake bravado strength) but the down-to-earth, unwavering strength will only surface when one’s weaknesses are allowed to emerge first. Weakness…vulnerability…and the acceptance of those are the secrets to Authentic strength.

Consider this: Who do you want working for you, with you, on your team, on your side as a companion and friend? The person who accepts his or her vulnerabilities and admits them without judgment or the person who erects barriers and behaviors to prevent his or her vulnerabilities from showing? Do you want to be and be around the person who embodies Bravado strength or Authentic strength?

“The hardest thing about being a leader is demonstrating or showing vulnerability…when the leader demonstrates vulnerability and sensibility it brings people together and the team wins.”
Howard Schultz

I know what our culture preaches, I see it, I hear it, I read it. I recognize what we are taught and I now know that does not make it right. Bullies aren’t strong, they’re scared to death. They live a fear-based existence. They are a pure example of those who cover up their vulnerabilities. Strength in anything and anyone has nothing to do with covering up vulnerabilities. Strength means recognizing and accepting vulnerabilities – we all have them. The strongest tree exposed to a harsh climate on the side of a mountain isn’t going to pretend it isn’t vulnerable to the elements. It’s going to accept the fact that it will never grow to be 40 feet tall. It will dig in, adapt and survive. Humans are the same way. When we are able to recognize our vulnerabilities and adapt, nothing can stop us. We too will dig in, adapt and survive.

Despite the current wordemic (a Haven-created word implying an overuse of a word) of the word “perfect” in our society, we aren’t perfect. There is no such thing as perfect – it does not exist in the human realm – only the opportunity to show to others just how unaware we are by using this word (refer to my July 11th blog). When we acknowledge we aren’t perfect and we have flaws that aren’t necessary to hide from, those flaws become smaller and our Authentic strength shines through – far outweighing the vulnerabilities.

When we accept our vulnerabilities, we accept ourselves. And the laughter you hear as a result? That’s Authentic strength laughing at just how silly it was to hide out in the first place.

Thanks for reading,
~ Haven

Source: New feed

John Steinbeck wrote, ‘Texas is a state of mind’. Countless authors, musicians and humans in general have written, sung, danced and spoken about Texas. It seems as though everyone has an opinion about Texas, its economy, its politics, its history, its culture and expansiveness and just as many have a thought or comment about Austin, my new home town. A friend compares attending a UT football game to a religious experience and Austin continually ranks as one of the best places to live in the nation.

When I made the decision to move to Austin, I expected the slight cultural variances that come from living in a different part of the country. One of my favorite things about travel and life experiences is learning the nuances of areas. Things like knowing there are seven distinct smiles in the Thai culture that convey everything from pleasure to disapproval…that “it is finished”  means the special of the night is no longer available in a restaurant in France…that “out straight”  refers to being very busy in Maine, and “you guys, y’all, all y’all, youse guys and youins” all mean the same thing. Despite her multiple attempts, my friend Sara knows I’ll never quite say, “how YOU doin” , like a true New Yorker and I never want to learn to say “bless yer hart” as some do in North Carolina as a prerequisite for the forthcoming insult. However, learning these cultural literacies is fun for me and something I enjoy. What I had not anticipated with regard to the Texas cultural colloquiums, is despite the fact that they’re speaking English, it cannot be assumed that you’ll understand what is being said. Sometimes nouns and verbs are inner-changeable and it has both surprised and impressed me the absolute frequency in which these sayings are spoken and used. Perhaps not daily, but just about every day I hear one…

                   “Haven, I need you to start bird-doggin’ this, it’s in your wheelhouse.”
(Hmmm…what? I know a bird dog is a type of hunting dog…is dog a verb here? Do I have a wheelhouse? Where is it? Is there a dog in it?)

                                       “The thing is Haven, this ain’t our first rodeo, 
                                             pigs get fat and hogs get slaughtered.”
(Sooo…are you agreeing with me or disagreeing? What are you saying?)

“Honey, no one enjoys being with someone who lives like they don’t have a pot to pee in or a window to throw it out of.”
(Ok, this one spoken by an older, eloquent woman had me laughing out loud in a manner of seconds.)

“We have conducted a thorough analysis and concluded that this dog won’t hunt”.
(This might be the same bird dog referred to earlier, maybe the dog won’t hunt because he’s hanging out in my wheelhouse.)

“I ended up going out with him but I could barely get through dinner, I should have known he was all hat and no cattle.”
(I didn’t ask what parts were hat and what parts were cattle, but I was very tickled listening to my frustrated friend share her story.)

“Just because a chicken has wings doesn’t mean it can fly.”

These are all things that have been said to me, some which have rendered me completely speechless as I truly did not know what was being inferred and others have resulted with me all but doubling over in laughter. I’ve heard some of these with such frequency that I have actually referenced my wheelhouse in an email and now when someone refers to “boots on the ground”  I don’t have to take a moment to translate in my mind, I just nod knowingly.

I’ve not lived in Texas long and I have much to see and experience here, but already I am beginning to understand Mr. Steinbeck’s reference. Texas doesn’t just capture your heart, it creeps into your mind. Today on my bike I was thinking about things I want to accomplish and I caught myself thinking, “yeah, I’m gonna pull the trigger on that this week“. I smiled as I headed through the canyon pass…I might just be in a Texas state of mind.

Thanks for readin’ all y’all,
~ Haven

Source: New feed