Things I Learned in 2008

One of my Facebook friends wrote a note in 2008 called “Things I Learned By Age 35.”  Since I’ve already passed 35 on the highway of life, I can’t duplicate that topic — plus, to be truthful, I hadn’t learned much by age 35.  I was a late bloomer in the common sense department.  But as 2009 begins, I’ve reflected upon some of the lessons I learned — intentionally or otherwise — in 2008.  In no particular order:

1.  How to let go of friendships.  I think breaking up with a friend is harder, much harder, than breaking up with a lover, boyfriend or husband.  When my marriage ended, the hardest part was actually getting out of it legally.  The easy part was the morning I called my friend Kim and said, “By noon today, I need to have found a divorce lawyer.  And I need your help.” 

In 2008, I was forced to let go of — or loosen the reigns on —  a couple of friendships that I’d depended on for well over 10 years.  In both cases, the relationships had passed their “sell by” date but I was still hanging on.  These weren’t just any ordinary friends.  These were two of the closest friends I had in the world.  Yet, for different reasons, I had to step back and let go.  I miss these women more than any man I’ve ever been with, but I’ve let go. It doesn’t feel good, but it feels right, and that’s what counts.

2.  How to embrace my beauty.  This may sound vain and/or narcissistic, but I’ve always been a pretty girl who didn’t really know I was pretty.  Growing up, my two sisters were the family beauties, and I was just the bratty, nerdy little sister.  My mother was great at pointing out all that was wrong with how I looked, but not so wonderful about highlighting the good stuff.  In her defense, she wanted all of us girls to focus not on outward appearance, but on getting an education and being independent.  But Mom failed to realize that the best way to achieve your goals is to use all of your gifts, intellect as well as looks.  For most of my life, I tried to succeed solely on the basis of my intellect, and downplayed my looks as much as possible.  During my marriage and in the years since my divorce, I had honestly forgotten what I used to look like.  I covered myself up in shapeless suits at work.  I hid my eyes behind glasses and despite working for a cosmetics company, rarely wore makeup. 

Then, a few things happened.  First, I decided it was time to focus on fitness and health. I started running and being more aware of my eating habits and patterns, shed some excess weight, and began to feel better about my appearance.  Second, and serendipitously, my eyeglasses broke.  Since I was between Flexible Spending Accounts, I went back to wearing my contacts.  Third — thanks to Bassey Ikpi — I discovered a wonderful thing called Lock Loops, which are these soft little roller things that you can use to roll up your locks at night and have a head full of pain-free curls in the morning.  Finally, I started actually using the products that I’ve been buying with my Estee Lauder discount.  Now, I’m getting attention from people other than homeless dudes, bus drivers and those guys in the blue uniforms who infrequently clean up the streets of Harlem.  I still have work to do on this one, but I’ve come a long way from where I was when 2008 began.

3.  How to take a chance.  In October 2008, one of my many law school friends with whom I reconnected on Facebook, asked me if I was interested in volunteering for the Obama campaign by working in Ohio on Election Day.  My first internal response was “yes, but no.”  Yes, because I wanted so dearly to be a part of helping Obama get elected because I knew him in law school.  No, because my mind immediately threw up road blocks:  who’s going to watch the kids? how much is it going to cost?  will I be able to use vacation time to serve a political campaign in a partisan way? 

I was all prepared to say no — and then suddenly, I found myself saying “maybe.”  I went online and looked up ticket prices.  I had a few different conversations with the Obama campaign staffers in Ohio about logistics and accommodations.  I spoke to my babysitter and she was willing to watch the kids for an extended period for a relatively reasonable fee.  Finally, I just said, “I’m going,” and said yes.  I’m so glad I did.  It was an incredible, invaluable and unforgettable experience.  I met some amazing people, and, more importantly, I felt like I contributed in a small way to the Obama victory.  Election Day in Athens, Ohio was one of the best days — if not THE best day — of 2008, and I am so glad I decided to take a chance.

4.  How to set limits.  I was feeling pretty burned out by mid-year.  My workload was heavy and steadily increasing, I hadn’t taken any vacation time, and I felt like a rat on a treadmill — I kept going and going and never got caught up.  I was staying at work late, coming home late, paying the babysitter overtime I had not budgeted, and wasn’t around to help the kids with homework or even spend any time with them.  I felt like I couldn’t catch up at work, and was failing as a mom at home.  So I decided to set a reasonable schedule for myself and stick to it.  I worked on becoming more efficient at work so I could finish everything that needed to get done within normal business hours.  I stopped taking work home unless I seriously planned to do it, and I got better about delegating.  It will be hard to keep those same limits intact in 2009, but I am determined to try.

5.  How to write.  To be fair, I already knew how to write.  I’ve always known how to write.  I just wasn’t doing very much of it.  In 2008, I started writing notes on Facebook and posting them on my profile, and the positive feedback I received has encouraged me to keep writing.  That’s all I’m going to say about it for now, but Facebook has enabled me to establish a more regular writing habit than anything else I’ve done over the years.

6.  How to let go of things I cannot control.  In January 2008, my mother became seriously ill but refused the treatment that seemed most likely to prolong her life, based on what we knew of her condition at the time.  My family gently suggested that I come to Detroit to try to talk some sense into her.  I agreed, and flew to Detroit, but there was no talking sense into my mother.  She had made her decision and no one could talk her out of it.  I realized I was powerless to do anything other than encourage her to be informed and support whatever decision she made.  I somehow managed to convince her to let another doctor look at her case, and he concluded that the situation was not nearly as dire as it had appeared while she was hospitalized.  She still has some serious health issues, but she is not in immediate danger.

Next to the thought of my own children dying and my own death, nothing frightens or saddens me more than the thought of losing my mother.  But I am trying to focus instead on enjoying her while she is still with us, however long that may be — and I pray it’s many, many more years.

I only came up with six things, but I’m pretty happy about those six.  Here’s hoping there will be many more things learned in 2009!

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