Monday, December 14, 2009

Out With the Old....

I want to start this blog fresh. So, I have revamped the layout and have given it a new description. I found the old one, "Culture, Law, Politics, Insights," to be prohibitive and uninspiring. I want my blog to be a place where I feel creative and inspired, and the old format simply was not doing it for me.

So, I have decided to make the theme of this post about getting rid of old habits and ways of thinking, and welcoming a new frame of mind. To me, this seems appropriate and natural as 2009 comes to a close. I want to welcome 2010 with fresh thinking!

So what did I learn in 2009? Plenty. More than anyone would care to read on a blog, I am sure. But I want to share something that speaks to the new tag line of this blog, where I dub myself a "third wave feminist." To be honest, I didn't even know what the term meant until about one minute before I wrote it. I came across because it struck me that I have become somewhat of a post-feminist over this past year, and googled the term, only to discover on wikipedia (thank you!) that the term has evolved into third wave feminism.

What do I mean by a "third wave feminist"? Well, I think I mean that I have been afforded all the opportunities of the feminist movement... good public schooling, two working parents, an academic scholarship to Boston University, a collegiate high jump career (thanks Title IX), the chance to run a marathon without fear of infertility, the opportunity to earn my law degree... the list goes on and on. I graduated from law school almost two years ago and have a plethora of opportunities that my mother, a lifelong public school teacher, never had.

But what do I want to do with these options? Honestly, I have no idea. But I do know that I want a simple life, I want to be a good mother, I want to have time to come home and cook my family a meal, I want to enjoy my weekends, and I want to be a part of my community. I also know, after leaving law barely eight months at my first job, that I need to feel emotionally connected to my work. I know that, if someday I am going to be leaving my kids to spend my day at work, I better feel somewhat invested in it.

One year ago, I was an utter wreck. I went to sleep fearing work because it meant doing something about which I felt passionless. I woke up each morning feeling utterly inauthentic, and unable to get out of bed. (Leaving the comfort of my bed was hard to do because it meant living a life that was out of tune with my inner thoughts and my heart).

So I left law after less than a year, and found myself working full time at lululemon, and it was the best decision I ever made.

There, I found a community of bright, strong, confident, independent, fun, AMAZING women. With these women, my confidantes and co-workers, I share my inner thoughts, my everyday experiences, and my dreams and goals for the future. I feel supported, loved, and most of all... inspired. I know that I am not alone in this feeling of backlash against the paths that our mothers carved for us. I know that while we still define ourselves by a sense of obligation and duty to our parents, we are moving away from their dreams and finally uncovering our own. I have been on this journey for almost one year now, and have learned so much. I cannot wait to see what happens in 2010!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

America, The Myopic

Forgive me, I am about to rant. 


But first, a backward look. I spent two days during this past week perusing The American History Smithsonian, on the National Mall. Whenever I visit the story of America's founding, I am always in great awe of the many men who dedicated their lives to creating a future for our country. Of course, it can be argued that pride, ego, power, the want for scarce resources, and money were at the root of America's birth. But regardless of the characterization, it cannot be denied that this country was founded by men of great strength, aptitude, and foresight. To borrow an overused phrase, the country truly was founded by geniuses so it could be run by idiots. 


This is not to say that we are a perfect nation, or that our history is not tarnished by divide, namely racism and greed. Just take a trip to Baltimore to see evidence of racism, with slums and ghettos reminding us of the "white flight" that began to occur the 1950's. Or venture to 14th and U Streets in Washington DC to see the vestiges of the race riots of the 1960's. Open a history book and read about how glamorized greed for wealth toppled the economy and lead to the Great Depression. To experience déjà vu, pick up a copy of the New York Times to read about the 21st century greed of investors, bankers, mortgage brokers, and consumers that lead to our current economic crisis.  


But I am not as concerned about what has happened in our nation or how far astray our national landscape may have wandered from our founding father's original vision. Rather, what concerns me is how myopic and immature our leaders have become when engaging in political discourse and planning. Since when did Senators yell, 'You lie' during a congressional session? Or cheer when the President lost an economic opportunity for the nation in a time of despair, as the conservatives did when Obama lost the Olympic bid for Chicago 2012


In troubled times, our government desperately needs to focus on nation-building, and not bickering. The United States needs to create incentives for businesses to go green (as China, yes China is doing). Congress needs to pass a national health care plan so senior citizens can afford medication, and the average American can cover medical costs and save that money to purchase a home. The President needs to create FDR-like stimulus programs to lift America's workers out of joblessness and under-employment and back into the work force. 


But it seems that all we can do is bicker, pick sides, and name call. 


So my question is: since when did we become such a myopic, immature nation? When did we lose our vision of the future, in lieu of short term agendas and band-aid, quick fix solutions? Are we truly the "idiots" trying to run a country designed by geniuses? If our founding fathers could have a glimpse into 2009 and see what bickering idiots we have become, I bet they would want to jump on a boat and start all over again elsewhere. 


Again, given the current political landscape I am in complete awe of our nation's founding. It boggles my mind that the framers of the Constitution had the foresight to plan for centuries of future scenarios, when our Congress cannot even pass a plans that are past due, like climate change initiatives and health care. Instead, our elected leaders allow themselves to be bribed by the auto, health insurance, finance and construction lobbies. They selfishly plan for their re-elections and personal bank accounts rather than plan for the future and the good of the nation.


And it was not beyond the imaginations of the Framers that Congress would become a breed of selfish, short-sighted pigs. After all, The Federalist #51 designed the system for checks and balances, forewarning that, "If men were angels, no government would be necessary." So, we are not a perfect nation because humans are not perfect people. But America has the framework to move forward, if only our leaders could stop acting like petulant teenagers and come to some selfless, forward-thinking agreements. 



Tuesday, September 29, 2009

It's Not About You

It is unbelievable how time flies. It is nearly October 2009. I am 28. It has been over a year since I graduated law school. It has been almost four years since I've been in my relationship. And it has been over six years since I graduated from Rutgers and moved to Washington, DC to begin my adult life.

And as quickly as time flies, I still remember my first day of kindergarten. It was 1986. My father sat me down on our old, beaten-up love seat. On a piece of notebook paper, he drew three stick figure people (because that was the limit of his drawing capabilities). He colored one green, one purple, and one orange. He then proceeded to talk to me about tolerance, acceptance, and extending kindness to others. He told me that, like the stick figures, everybody is different. Sometimes its skin color, other times its religion, or perhaps a disability. But he told me that no matter what, I was to treat everybody with equal respect.

As a five year old, this meant that I should probably be as nice to boys as to girls, even though boys were icky and different. But over the years it has come to mean so much more... from embracing various cultures, religions, and races, to working on behalf of developing countries in Latin America, doing mission work in Peru, defending criminals, and fighting insurance companies and governments on behalf of injured patients. When I look back on my life, and especially my past six years living in the nation's capital, I feel like my adult life has remained true to this simple lesson from my father. Treat others how you would like to be treated. Be kind to others. Show respect to everyone, and everything will be okay.

Sometimes this is not easy. Sometimes we bicker with loved ones. Sometimes a co-worker or a boss tests us. Sometimes a cab driver almost swipes us while we cross the street. Sometimes we just have a bad day and cannot find peace with the world, no matter how hard we try.

Last week I had one of those weeks where it just seemed like no matter how hard I tried or what I did, things went wrong. It seemed like I constantly failed to find the right words, to communicate my thoughts, or to make peace. It seemed like every conversation ended in argument, misunderstanding, or tears. I felt like I had no options, like I was stuck.

My initial thoughts in each situation went something like this: Why weren't people treating me with respect? Why was everybody angry with me? What had I done to deserve this treatment?

My initial gut told me to react. Defend myself. Lash out. Fight back.

Then my mind kicks in and I immediately feel regret. Sorrow. I want to learn and develop from the misunderstanding. I want to understand my shortcomings, and grow from these lessons.

But my heart tells me something different. I think back to a tidbit of knowledge I gained from Toltec Wisdom (The Four Agreements, for anyone curious)... and its first, most basic principle, "Don't take anything personally." My heart tells me, It's not about you, Kelly. It may not even be about the other person.

Rarely is conflict about the people involved. Rather, conflict is usually about misunderstanding, frustration, or lack of direct communication. It is about the hang-ups and the baggage that each person brings to the conversation, that is, our little knapsack of experiences, arguments, and daily frustrations that grows heavier as we age. Conflict then becomes about how we let that knapsack weigh us down, and permit our past experiences and interactions to shape our future conversations and experiences.

But what if we unload that knapsack? What if we drop our baggage? What if we remember the simple lessons our parents told us as children, and apply them to our adult lives? Treat everyone with equal love and respect. And what if we add to that: No matter what. No matter if the person is orange, purple, or green. And more importantly, no matter what baggage you are carrying in your knapsack. Simply, let it go. It's NOT about YOU.

I recently had this conversation with a group of friends over dinner, and one friend related this Toltec philosophy to the 4:8 Principle, which I had neither studied nor heard of prior to last week. The 4:8 Principle is based upon the New Testament passage from Paul's Letter to the Philippians, Chapter 4, Verse 8, which states,
"...[W]hatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."
The author Tommy Newberry has created a following by embracing this principle, which he set forth in his book, The 4:8 Principle. I have not read the book, but choose to interpret this passage in the context of my past week. To me, this simply means letting go of the knapsack of crap that holds me back. Letting go of my fights, failures, shortcomings, disappointments, and whatever else ails me. Don't keep tabs, don't get into tit-for-tat pettiness, don't let ego overcrowd thoughts, and don't worry about the things that cannot change. Literally, we should purge ourselves of the nonsense.

Once we let go of the baggage, we make ourselves lighter and freer. We are no longer weighed down by negativity. We open ourselves up to the good things in life, and all that God has to offer us. And, all that goodness is there for the taking. We just have to prepare ourselves to focus on it.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

I Fought the Law, and the Law Won

Since I was 12, I wanted to be a lawyer... or so I thought. Part of me also thought that, given that my knowledge of the job market was limited to my New Jersey beachside community, I probably was not yet aware of where my future job lay. Because my parents were teachers with limited means, and because half our family lived in Colorado, my childhood experiences were more or less confined to New Jersey and Colorado. Thus, books became my escape. With each novel I devoured, I would learn about the rest of the world that I had yet to explore, and the people I hoped to one day meet.

Books also became a type of career guidance counselor for me, as I wanted whatever the job was of the protagonist in the latest novel I was reading. So it made perfect sense that when I became obsessed with John Grisham books at age 12, I wanted to become a lawyer. I loved how the protagonist-lawyers in his novels were always uncovering conspiracies or fighting the law in nontraditional ways. I guess I can blame John Grisham for my early career choice, considering I had absolutely zero real world contact with the law, and knew not one lawyer. (I come from a family of teachers, accountants, and engineers).

So, I went through high school and most of college on the notion that I would go to law school and then my post-graduate life would somehow magically become a legal thriller novel. It was not until the last year of college, when I spent a semester in the nation's capital, that I was introduced to a whole world of opportunities-- careers I never knew existed because of my limited exposure. That semester, I worked in an international non-profit that helped the developing world put into place the building blocks of democracy. I found the work interesting, but still felt compelled to complete my goal of becoming a lawyer.

Shortly after graduating from college, I got a paralegal job offer from a large law firm in Manhattan, called Cleary Gottlieb. I knew the firm would pay for my LSAT and preparation courses, and would be a good "in" to the big firm opportunities later on in life. The HR woman who hired me, Paula, was wonderful. I remember that during the interview she told me that she loved her job, and was able to find her passion by listening to her friends. Her exact words, "We can learn more about ourselves from others, than we can from our own head sometimes."

I thought about her words, and decided not to take the job... even though I had spent 30 hours a week for the last six months applying to big law firm jobs, and had spent the greater part of the last decade of my life dreaming of becoming a lawyer. Instead, I took a job at a start-up consulting firm in DC, because it excited me. I loved the idea of being back in DC, using Spanish everyday, and helping companies bring new commerce and industry to the developing world. I wrote Paula a letter, thanking her for the opportunity, but letting her know that it was ultimately her own advice that lead me to take a different opportunity that was more fitting for me.

As it turned out, the consulting firm was a partnership between former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, and ex-White House oficios from the Clinton administration. (Though, they did not advertise that in the interview because they did not want to attract people who were there simply for the prestige and network). It was my first professional job, and my first real taste of working with big businesses. I threw myself into my work, and was excited to learn each morning what my day would bring. To this day, that job experience was one of the most amazing and eye-opening experiences of my life. Even when I had days at work when I wanted to cry, I never looked back.

It was only when I started law school that I began to have regrets, and constant bad dreams. I always felt like a circle trying to fit into a square. I constantly felt like I was forcing myself into a mold, while suppressing qualities that came natural to me. For example, law is about finding the precedent in the past that might allow us to make a move in the future. But I believe that we make our own futures, and the only limits in life are the ones we create. Even now, a year later, I cannot force myself to like being a lawyer simply because it is the path I happen to be on. Every day I come to work, I feel like I am living a big lie. I feel a strong sense of dissonance between who I am, and what I am doing.

Fortunately, I have people in my life who keep me focused on following my heart (which is currently calling me to pursue my passion for connecting people, and start a career in PR/consulting). I have a wonderful boyfriend (and his family), who believes in stopping at nothing to pursue your dream. I have supportive friends, who I know will be there for me no matter what happens. And most recently, and perhaps most importantly, I have amazing co-workers at lululemon, with whom I can be myself and talk freely about my goals and ideas, and who inspire me to pursue my dreams relentlessly.

Little did I know how important and to my life the words of Paula the HR lady would become. By listening to others, I am learning about who I am, and what I am supposed to do with my life.

I don't think I will look back and have regrets for leaving the law and exploring something that excites me. The only things I ever regret are the decisions I make with my head and not my heart. Perhaps I fought the law until I let it beat me down, until the law made me realize that I am not cut out for it. In the end, I fought the law and the law won. And I am perfectly okay with that.