Loss of Self

Death and grief are funny things. In the months since my mother’s passing, I’ve been grieving her over and over again — not in the big way one might immediately after a death, but in all the little ways, at all the times that person would have been there for you or with you.

A disagreement with my boyfriend that I wish I could have called her during for her comfort. Holidays. My birthday. Her wedding anniversary, my dad’s first without her. When I see a movie she’d love.

But there was an unexpected partner to grieving that I didn’t expect: a profound sense of that somehow I was no longer the same person. Grief changes you, both in ways that are good and not. Without my mom here, I don’t have her to turn to when I need advice or comfort or acceptance — those are things I need to find within myself and from other people. And there’s a fear too that I didn’t expect: a fear of using my time wrong, of getting sick the way she did, of not fully living, of not being the whole person I truly am, of not making her proud.

I’ve been asking myself lately to look at my relationships and spend time building the ones with friends and family members who I want to keep close. I’ve been trying to figure out what it is in my life that makes me feel most like myself, what activities or habits or moments. There was a lot I put on hold during the months caretaking: archery, writing, motorcycle riding, seeing friends, taking care of myself in some ways.

The time now is like a void, a container, asking me who I want to step up and be, how I want to affect people, how I want to live. There are thrummings of what I desire inside of me, which I need to give voice to.

This moment isn’t about settling on answers quickly. It’s about exploration to find the answers that truly align.

Rediscovering Balance

I’ve started writing letters to my mother. By hand. In a journal I opened not with this purpose in mind but that’s what it became.

Since losing my mom, I’m not sure how to relate to her anymore, now that she’s not physically with me. I can’t pick up my phone and speed dial her the way I used to, though I want to all the time and once or twice my fingers have instinctively gone there.

So there are letters. I tell her my stories, my frustrations, my joys.

I really told my mom about everything when she was alive. She didn’t understand business the way I do, but she understood people so well. At her last job, she held the title Patient Care Coordinator and her primary responsibility was making sure people were comfortable and calm and felt supported during the process. She really knew how to talk to people and bring out their stories about what they loved.

There are some days that my job is primarily care coordination as well: care of clients, care of my team, care of friends, care of family, care of myself.

But what I’ve learned both having been one of my mother’s caretakers over the past 9 months of her life as well as caretaker for my business is that it’s all about boundaries. You say Yes when it makes sense and works in everyone’s interest and you say No if it’s not or your own wellbeing feels violated. It doesn’t mean that you don’t still go above and beyond when you can, but you only do that if it’s healthy. If you’re constantly overextending yourself or your resources or your time, you eventually hit a really solid concrete wall. And that recovery takes time.

I spent some time this weekend thinking a lot about balance and boundaries — what I want in my business, what I need in my life, who I need to show up as for clients or friends or family, and who I need to be for myself.

Boundaries work isn’t as easy as setting boundaries and then you’re done. It’s an ongoing process.

And so I’ve been talking to my mom lately about how off my whole world feels without her in it, about how I’ve overextended myself and violated my own personal and professional values trying to make people happy, and how if things don’t change, I’ll be drained. She may not be here to answer, but I hope she’s listening and I know she’s supporting me.

Perfectly Imperfect

You are not perfect. You will never achieve perfection. You will cry and have you heart broken. You’ll get too tipsy on a bottle of good wine and snort when you laugh sometimes. You’ll skip your morning run because you want to sleep in. Your job will have its highs and lows, and your relationships too.

I am not perfect either. I break down frequently, struggle, and make mistakes. I eat too much chocolate or ice cream in a sitting at times, and I don’t always take care of myself. I get lost in my work and feel alone sometimes, and when I do, I discovered a renewed commitment to reconnection.

We are perfectly imperfect. We have rough edges that we learn from. When we’re afraid, we lean into that fear and discover its gift for us. We fall in love and break up and fall in love again.

We are something better than perfect. We are growing, we are evolving. We are glorious. 

And yes, it’s hard often. We want to hold ourselves to the ideals society creates, to the ideals that we create. We want to accomplish and achieve, we want to impress.

But chasing perfectionism holds us back. We wait until the conditions are just right, though they will never be. That’s where I was two years ago. I hated my job, but was waiting for an out — ideally, a husband, so I could start my own business but have his health insurance as a safety net. I grew tired of waiting. I wanted the change and I decided to do it. Success or failure, it was mine.

I’ve seen a lot of friends and clients fall into the same trap of waiting for ideal conditions, waiting for perfect to happen. They obsess over their website, convinced every element must be in the perfect place, every word must be carefully picked, and as a result, they never launch.

Here’s what I’ve learned and here’s what I tell clients and friends all the time: Success comes from imperfect action. It comes from being willing to start somewhere and grow from there.

My friends know me to be a skilled baker, but when I first started, results were often inedible, or worse, so hard that they could dent a car (ah, killer muffins…). I learned, I kept experimenting, and eventually, the final products were not only edible but heavenly.

Where are you holding back, waiting for perfectionism to arrive? Where will you take imperfection action today?


Prioritizing Your Life

I had a near breakdown last week. The New Yorker in me came out with her full classy vocabulary of four letter words and expletives as if I were having a bad case of road rage on the New Jersey Turnpike at 5:30pm on a Friday evening.

It all came down to this: my boss is a bitch.

She overworks me, asks me to stay late every night and work on weekends. She means well, but she doesn’t believe in time off…or even just time spent doing something besides working. She’s incredibly single-minded.

We had a talk and decided things need to change.

My business is not my life, and I need to start running my business rather than let it run me.

I need to prioritize my life and dedicate time to my creativity and to those things that bring me delight. I’m tired of being a spectator in my life — I want to get out there and live it.

I want time to read and dance, to go to museums and hike, to get a facial or have a leisurely lunch, to ride a bicycle or wander around the farmer’s market…and to do all of that without feeling rushed, without the worries of managing a growing business at the forefront of my mind.

It starts with forgiveness.

Before I could schedule or prioritize anything, I needed to start by making amends with the business owner in me. She’s amazing and totally gets things accomplished, but she needs to ease up. I forgave her, forgave myself for the long hours, for the constant focus on business matters.

It’s completely natural for entrepreneurs in the early stages of their business to find the lines between work and life severely blurred. The long hours are sometimes a necessity when the business is growing. You sometimes have to sacrifice personal time to put systems into place that will in the long-term create a sustainable business, with a healthy personal life to match.

Prioritizing happens in threes.

In order to find a better balance in my life, I’ve started with threes: three business priorities for the week and three personal ones. Each of the personal priorities cover one of three key areas: play, creativity, and health.

This week:
Play – Finish reading an awesome fiction book I’ve been getting lost in.
Creativity – Attend a musical performance or art exhibit in the area (if the snow will allow it).
Health – Get to the gym two times besides my two trainer sessions (which may be once because of the snow).

Where are you starting this week?

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Jane Reaction

(logo and original branding) is a graphic design and art director who works with with small businesses and creative entrepreneurs, creating cohesive and interesting brands and websites.

Carrie Coleman

(photography) is a wedding photographer, whose goal is to capture the visual expression of a couple's love through timeless, organic images. She is based in Charlottesville, Virginia.