Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A Good Man

This morning, I found out some terrible news. A former colleague of mine passed away suddenly. He was 43. It just doesn't sound right, does it? But I suppose it never does. Death's finality has a way of cutting through everything else, forcing you to confront the fact that our lives are finite, our days with family and friends and colleagues won't last forever.
My colleague was a good man in the truest sense of that statement. Decent, kind, compassionate, hardworking. We worked together at ABC News and I felt relieved every time I heard Michael Scott was managing that day or night. I knew that we would be in good hands. He was always ready with helpful suggestions, always the first to volunteer to grab a much needed piece of video or track down a soundbite we needed for our stories. We'd often share chuckles over the phone about the dysfunction of our industry and I always felt better after hanging up with him.
I once went on a shoot with him and we chatted the entire cab ride to the location. He was a boxer and he told me about his training. His quiet demeanor belied his incredible intelligence and depth of knowledge. I'm sorry I did not get to know him better.
His passing has prompted me to think about how in our society the simple man often gets short shrift. We are urged to do big things, get our name in the marquee or in the credits, "be" somebody. These days, young people see others become famous for the most banal of reasons: being on a reality show, getting repeatedly drunk on television, or worse yet, for making a tape of their intimate activities.
The truth is, what actually makes you great is showing up. Doing the work. Being authentic. Establishing trust. Helping others. Being the kind of man or woman others can rely on and count as a friend.
THIS is what matters. Nothing else.
Fame fades, you're only as good as your last big story/role/project. Money is just money. That fancy car will be outdated in a few years. And looks? Those don't last.
Character, integrity, compassion - these are the things that last long after we are gone. The people we help will remember. The colleagues we worked alongside in the trenches will appreciate it. The children we love and nurture will thrive.
Michael Scott was one of these good people. He was a hell of a nice guy. And he will be missed.
- XO, D

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Let's Talk About the P-word

The following words are helping to define the next steps in my life. They keep
me going when I worry that my efforts are pedestrian or pointless. They inspire me to nurture the seeds of ideas for new stories and new adventures. And they help me slay the most persistent obstacle to my happiness: the need to be perfect. 

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit
belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."

- President Teddy Roosevelt, 1910 
(the full speech is pretty darned awesome but it will take time to read and fully digest: http://www.theodore-roosevelt.com/trsorbonnespeech.html

Here's the thing with perfection. It will kill your soul. I say that as someone who allowed the need for perfection to drive me for most of my life. If I don't get straight As, I'm a failure. If I don't get elected to student government, I'm a loser. If I don't have a perfect body, no boys will ever like me. One false move...and everyone will figure out I don't know what I'm doing/I'm a fraud/I don't belong here.

The longer you buy into that, the less likely you are to pick up a paint brush or write a poem or write a blog post (ha). What's the point if it's not perfect? You stop taking risks, you worry incessantly about what people think about you, and you can't truly live in the moment because you're so concerned about whether you're doing "it" right.

Or you buy into the idea that if only you had the right car/perfect hairstyle/(insert brand name here) jeans or shoes, if only you made X amount of money or had such-and-such title on your business card, THEN you'd be successful, and therefore happy. 

I'll admit it. I've had these thoughts way too often. I've let them squat rent-free in my mind, negative energy that kept me stuck in a holding pattern. 

So how do you break free? You break free by doing a few things. First, you let go of any expectation of ever being perfect. It's the most irrational, unrealistic goal you could ever set for yourself. And once you truly embrace that, it's easier to be gentle with yourself.

And if you're gentle with yourself, you'll realize that your harshest critic...is YOU. The people who matter in this world already love you. The thoughts in your head are just thoughts. And the people who gossip or speak critically of others will never matter. They're not in the arena. 

Georgia O'Keefe. Jim Henson. Miles Davis. Ted Turner. Madonna. Oprah. Ellen Degeneres. Hillary Clinton. Richard Branson. They climbed into the arena. They dared greatly. They said, "To hell with the critics. I'm doing it my way." 

We can all get in the arena. Every time we take a step toward our passions, we fight back against the BS of perfection. The more steps you take, the more the critics (especially those in your own head) cease to matter. This is something I am attempting to do every day. Some days, it's easier. Some days, I have doubts, but I am determined to keep going. 

So, (sorry Mom) EFF perfection. Try new things. Go solo. Risk more. Love harder. Be kind. Fall down...again and again and again. Laugh at yourself. Above all, choose to live juicy. Your flaws are what give you your flavor.
- XO, D

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Down on the Farm

I'm bending over to grab two perfect, reddish green heirloom tomatoes when it happens...

CRACK! I'm a second too late to remember I have a freshly laid egg in my jacket pocket...or what remains of it anyway. It's beginning to coat my iphone. And I can't stop laughing. 

A city girl mucking around on a trout farm. Walking around in the rare steady drizzle that is soaking the Durango valley, transforming the landscape into a lush, verdant vista. There's nowhere I'd rather be. 

A couple months ago, I left my career in network news. A couple of weeks ago, I realized I don't have a "plan" anymore. No next steps, no rungs on the corporate ladder. I'm doing work I find interesting and satisfying but the reality is, I'm getting reacquainted with my life. I actually have the time...I just don't have a roadmap anymore. 

What's left...is my inner compass. My gut. That thing we all know we should rely on but rarely do. But now it's the only thing I have that's never steered me wrong. My ego? Well meaning but...hey, egos rarely make the right decision. They choose status or security or safety, things that rarely lead to real joy. 

After several days of feeling rudderless and strangely uncomfortable with my free time (free time?! What the heck is THAT?? I'm supposed to be BUSY!), I was thinking about how all the greats always say to choose what makes your heart sing, makes you lose track of time, and most importantly what you would do even if no one paid you to do it. 

And it hits me. Animals. That's it. I could spend hours in the company of animals. Lately, that's where I find much of my joy, just hanging out with my kitties Wynnie and Charlotte on the balcony as I read or garden or do paperwork. I'm volunteering with a group that delivers pet supplies to the homebound, either terminally ill or elderly. I've never met a dog that didn't deserve a belly rub or a kitty that didn't earn a chin scratch. Heck I like snakes and pigs and rats and everything in between. 

And...I've actually been working on a project close to my heart. A series of children's books about my late, beloved kitty, Sal. 

Sal, Everybody's Pal. 

I decided to write the books after he passed away. I wanted kids to love him as much as everyone who knew him did, along the way teaching them that adopting from shelters is best, that animals deserve respect and unconditional love and that disabilities don't make an animal or a person any less loveable. 

I've worked sporadically on the project, enlisting the help of a talented friend to illustrate the books. She loves animals just as much as I do, and her art reflects that care and compassion. But we were nowhere near as far along as I liked. 

So during those days where I reflected on my future, I realized my gut was telling me to finish the Sal books. Days later, here I am in Durango, writing this on a farm with a very insistent kitten nipping my knee. My friend and I have made so much progress, we actually have a plan in place and I think we really are going to do this. In between our work sessions, we've gone for a muddy hike with two dirty dogs; we've cored apples (which we will can later); we've visited with baby trout, and hung out with some very vocal young goats. 

So much life. So much vitality. So far from traffic and talk shows and happy hour and shopping and calorie counting. 

It's exactly where I need to be. We have high hopes and big dreams for our project. But for now, the joy comes simply from creating, from seeing Sal and his friends take shape in our words and sketches. 

I'm only here for a few more days. We will fit in a trip to Mesa Verde, we will feed the trout, and perhaps visit the Arches National Park in Utah. 

Soon enough, I'll be back in LA.

But I'll head back happy with a clear head and an inspired heart. 

Most of us live such rushed lives, scheduling joy wherever it fits into our calendars. Perhaps in between the oil change and the spinning class. Or late at night, after the dishes have been put away. 

Being here on the farm has shown me busy is no substitute for true joy. 

I suggest we listen to our gut and choose joy. As often and as much as possible. 

It's our bread crumb trail back to ourselves. 

- XO, D