At the end of 2018, I was fried: emotionally, physically, financially. It had been a brutal year that took a huge toll on my health and home. I kept having these episodes where I woke up in the middle of the night with my heart racing so fast that I worried it would explode. My GERD was the worst it had ever been, I was head-cold sick more than not, and I was literally struggling to breathe. The past few years of work were catching up to me and my body was showing it. I was honestly starting to feel like I would certainly die of some stress-related disorder before I turned 40. And then one of my friends died from a heart-attack and I made the decision that some things had to change. My friends tease me that I only do things in my personal life when they benefit Allovue and in many ways, this was true here, too. I realized last year that I wanted to do this work for a long time to come. And I realized that my life’s work would be cut pretty short if I killed myself from stress before I turned 35. When I shared this with my exec coach as well as how past attempts to prioritize my health had always fallen by the wayside she said, “Well. I think you’re just going to have to make up your mind to… do it.” So I did it.
This year was all about getting my body, mind, and heart in a place that allows me to do work that I care about for the rest of my life if I want to (and ensuring that the “rest of my life” is actually a good long time). 2019 was about setting boundaries on my time and energy so that I could be a fully-functioning whole healthy person. And it turned out that in a year in which my general mantra was to “do less” (no more setting +30 annuals goals and working myself into a stress-addled mess), my life felt the fullest. Here we go:
2019 Life Olympics Recap
Career – Gold
Please try not to laugh at my extremely “duh” realization that the more I took care of myself, the more the company thrived. My exec coach deemed my transition from December 2018 to January 2019 a “DOS to Windows” level upgrade in my general approach to business strategy. In no small part, this is because we were raising money and it’s just a little easier to feel confident with $4M in fresh funding in the bank. But I took that gasoline and poured fire on it – unleashing ideas and plans and ambitions that I had been holding back on for years. One Board member asked me in December, “Do you want to be a large chicken or do you want to be a 10-ft tall murder bird?” Let’s not psychoanalyze this too much but for some reason this image really resonated with me and I spent the better part of this year channeling this vibrant Cassowary:
Don’t ask me why, but it worked. Allovue had a banner year and we’re on track to fulfilling a vision that I have been working towards for 7 nearly years.
Sharply juxtaposed with my murder bird imagery, it’s worth mentioning another consequence from this year of being a whole person: I was kinder. It turns out that sleep and exercise and proper nutrition increase your capacity for patience and kindness, too. I made more time for people and I felt less reactive. I was able to process setbacks more quickly and productively. I had energy for more team outings. I started doing weekly CEO Chats where I spend 30 minutes 1:1 with every member of the company. It’s my favorite part of the week. I even noticed this in small ways, like having the energy to make friendly conversation with Lyft drivers. Being too tired to be friendly is a state of being that I plan I leave in the dust of this decade.
Lastly, this year I felt like I led the company with the most love. Love for the work, love for our team, and love for our partners. While there are many forces and headlines in this capitalist world that may lead you to believe that love and success are incompatible, I humbly, flatly disagree. Leading from a place of love and kindness is the only way that feels right to me. And if the past few years have taught me anything about business: if it feels right, it is right. They don’t call it the golden rule for nothin’.
Home – Silver
This was a tricky one! First: there were no catastrophes this year! After 2018’s cascade of house-related disasters (ceiling caving in! flood! awful tenants! roof leaks!) I was hoping the gods of hearth and home would leave me alone this year. As a peace offering, I gave my bedroom a little makeover and finalized my will. For good measure, I cleaned up my backyard and built a little porch. And my property manager has been an actual gift from the heavens. All was quiet on the homefront this year.
But, um. Finance is also in this category. And on matters of personal finance this year? Well, this was an area of my life considerably devoid of boundaries. Dinners, drinks, wine clubs, concerts, personal training, specialists, massages, travel, shopping, new hobbies, home improvements – I did it all. I was a pure hedonist this whole year, as you probably already know if you follow me on Instagram. So why did this spending spree year not plunge me into the depths of “Did Not Place“? Because I believe in balance in all things. Since starting Allovue, I’ve been very scrappy. In the first year of Allovue, my gross income was $9K. The following year, it was about $20K. It’s risen to more livable wages over the past 5 years, but I’ve still been at-times frugal to a fault. So this year, I let loose a little. I indulged. I explored. I released myself from fretting about whether I should splurge the extra $4 on the meal I really wanted. I tipped very generously. I had a LOT of fun. But I still did all of this within my means, so it’s not as though I drove myself into debt on fancy dinners. I had many wonderful experiences this year and no regrets about a year of limited saving. Next year, though, is going to be a year of saving and mostly free fun. I already canceled the wine club memberships.
Health – Gold
GOOOOOOOLLLLLLLLLDDDDDDD. I’ve never given myself Gold in this category before! I’m actually tearing up a little bit right now because it took me 10 years of working at this entirely self-constructed, self-imposed framework for adult living to feel like I did a good job taking care of my own physical health but I did it and I feel great. I had so much help, though! I worked with an allergist who helped with my persistent colds (non-allergic rhinitis from years of not treating my allergies effectively) and GERD (apparently sinus health is closely connected with digestive health). I worked with a personal trainer to help me learn more about strength training and increased my muscle mass by about 5%. I worked with a nutritionist who helped me identify food triggers and get rid of the GERD entirely and get off all the prescription meds I had been using to treat it. I started working with a therapist to take care of my mental health. I increased my physical activity by 250% and had the most consistent year of exercise ever. I slept well. I took vacations and breaks when I needed them. I reduced my sugar intake. I learned about protein! I figured out the daily breakdown of fat, protein, and carbs that makes me feel best. And perhaps most importantly, I didn’t allow my energy to be drained by things that I had no power over. There is really something to that serenity prayer and I can’t overstate the benefit to physical and mental health by learning to recognize the things that are out of my control and letting that shit go.
So this was a categorical improvement for me this year, but there is still a lot of work I need to do in the next decade on my body image. It’s hard for me to admit this but I think it’s important to be honest about challenges as much as celebrating successes. For as long as I can remember, I have struggled mightily with body dysmorphia, disordered eating, and general body image. At times, I have starved myself on as little as 800-calories a day; I have tried every fast, juice-cleanse, colon-cleanse, fad diet, and magic pill on the market. The negative self-talk is constant and vicious; I often wonder what on earth I could accomplish if I ever managed to free up all that mental energy. I have a near-phobia of taking pictures because I am so paranoid about how I will look. I have a complicated relationship with mirrors. I have extreme anxiety about bread. In the summer of 2016 I contracted a food-borne illness on vacation and couldn’t eat or drink much of anything without vomiting for two months. I had a parasite and it was the best I had ever felt about my body.
I’m not utterly lacking in self-confidence: I have confidence in my ideas, my ability to solve problems, my judgment, my ability to love, and my capacity for creativity. But I live in a world that constantly reminds me that what’s in a woman’s head doesn’t count for much if we can’t count her abs. I have been thus far unsuccessful at squelching that narrative internally. For a while, I was under the impression that this was just a narrative of immaturity. I imagined that when I turned 30, I would suddenly be very wise and self-accepting. When that didn’t happen, the body-hate somehow intensified instead: How are you over 30 and still obsessing over this? Why can’t you let this go?
This is a work in progress and something I’m going to prioritize with my therapist and nutritionist in 2020. My goal is to someday be able to look in the mirror or at a picture of myself and feel proud. Please do not interpret this as an invitation to tell me that I look good or that you think I’m thin or pretty or whatever. It is not invited and it will not help. I do not need any external validation on these matters; this is an inside job. I don’t feel comfortable sharing all of this, but if there’s anyone else out there who always feels like they are 10, 15, or 100 pounds away from happiness, know that you are not alone.
Soul – Gold
Picking up the thread on spending, you can see that I really enjoyed myself this year. I indulged in everything that brings me pleasure and joy this year: delicious gastronomic experiences; travel to Cancun, London, Amsterdam, Vancouver, Miami, and Tulum; concerts; plays; museums; singing. I felt creatively on fire this year and attribute a good chunk of that to surrounding myself with creative energy at every occasion. I also rediscovered a love of camping this year. I bought some new gear and enjoyed several camping trips around Maryland before it got too cold this Fall. My only failing/complaint in this category is that I had a lackluster and uninspired year of reading and writing. I think it was offset enough by my other creative experiences but I do want to reprioritize reading again next year.
Relationships – Gold
I know this category is the only one you care about and that’s why I save it for last. Hopefully, I tricked you into caring about the rest of my life, but if you skipped to the end I’ll forgive you. As many of you know, this year I took a big hiatus from dating. I quietly started my hiatus around September of 2018 and broke my hiatus in August 2019 when I met someone in real life who I actually wanted to go out with. Probably because I was fried in other realms in my life, I was beyond exhausted with dating last year. It became something I completely dreaded and I decided I needed a long hard break from trying. Did it work? Yes. Better than I imagined.
Up until hiatus, dating felt like something I needed to do to fill a missing part of my life or myself. I was operating from a deficit standpoint. I felt like lots of things in my life were great but my singleness represented some hole or flaw that needed correcting. As a result, the act of dating felt extremely high stakes and I always felt anxious and insecure about it. Giving myself the freedom to not care or not try at all was truly liberating. Suddenly, I was not worried about reserving time and space in my life for something or someone that may or may not materialize. I made plans with friends, I went on trips, and I planned my evenings and weekends with zero regards to men who may or may not commit to plans; who may or may not cancel at the last moment. My life felt instantly larger. Time and space just expanded. Instead of feeling like a restriction, my world opened up. I spent so much time with friends this year. And did I mention how much fun I had? I also made more time for my parents and enjoyed trips and concerts and other activities with them, too.
I’m dating again but it feels completely different now. I learned that my life and my heart are already full. Nothing at all is missing or broken. Now dating is a value-add activity only and that is a completely different game – one that doesn’t make me feel anxious at all. I also learned to expand my definition of love this year. All the romantic rhetoric about finding “the one” or finding love “at last” or “saving love” are really… limiting. Taking romantic love off the table for a year allowed me to receive and give love in so many other ways: friend love, parental love, coworker love, self-love, city love, etc. In a year that I thought would require an absence of love, I actually experienced the greatest abundance of love. My definition of love had been narrow; I was being far too precious about it. As I expanded my definition, I experienced love and gave it more abundantly. So I guess it’s true what they say: you find love when you stop looking for it – it just looks and feels differently than I expected.
So that’s a wrap on 10 years of the Life Olympics! Next year, I am planning to bring lots of energy inspired by Baby Yoda and Moira Rose. My theme for 2020 is Intention because I want to take the energy I feel right now and deploy it with more intentionality next year – bringing increased mindfulness to how I spend my time, money, physical and mental energy. And because I love wordplay, I also literally want to spend more time camping “in-tent” to enjoy more peace and quiet and beauty in nature.
When I started working with the nutritionist she gave me a list about “Mindful Eating” which I scoffed at for having tips like “Chew your food” but decided to try anyway. As it turns out, I was not really chewing my food at all, so much as just quickly and eagerly swallowing whole bites – much like the rest of my life. In 2020, instead of swallowing life whole, I’ll learn to chew it.