This past weekend, I celebrated my 36th birthday.
At my age, birthdays are distinctly less exciting than they once were. I don’t care to have a big party or really whoop it up. I have little interest in expensive presents or flashy displays in my honor.
But I still enjoy the process of looking back and looking forward. Birthdays, to me, are a time to reflect on the past years, where I’ve come from, what I’ve accomplished, how I’ve persevered, and why I’ve progressed. And they are a remarkably powerful time to look out onto the horizon of life and imagine what lies ahead.
This year feels big.
Two Years Ago
Two years ago, my birthday was immensely difficult. I had separated from my husband 4 days earlier. I was finally coming to grips with the fact that my life was a farce. It was so far from what I wanted it to be and how I had spent years portraying it to others.
I was a wreck.
For months, I could barely eat. I’d wake up at 2 am nearly every night in a full-blown panic attack. I knew I’d made the right decision, that over the years, I’d grown so anxious, so unhappy, and so unsure of myself that I was a shell of who I wanted to be, who I believed I was, deep down.
But when you’ve spent years living a fantasy, convincing yourself and your network that your life was somehow better, different than it was on the inside, it is downright devastating to suddenly own up to your own dysfunction.
I had to watch my entire life disintegrate before I could even think about beginning to rebuild it.
But I started to give into my wishes, my dreams. I began listening to that voice deep inside me. Not the mean, critical voice. Not the devil on my shoulder.
I started listening to the angel on my shoulder. To my fairy godmother. To my spirit. To myself.
And I started to care for myself. To strip away all the negative and nourish myself and my life with positivity, goodness, and joy.
I went to weekly therapy to uncover the real me and give me the strength, tools, and wisdom to elevate her.
I joined a Fringe Diplomacy trip to Cuba. I felt wind in my hair and sun on my cheeks. I learned about a country with rich history and vibrant culture. I met incredible people with fascinating careers and stories of passion and entrepreneurship. I felt alive again.
I joined a virtual book club with a group of far-flung women and started reading again…a lot.
I took a carpentry class and build a bench for my entryway.
I spent 10 days in Beirut, Lebanon running workshops and hosting office hours for a group of inspiring young entrepreneurs, sponsored by UNICEF and working on social impact projects. I ate incredible food, visited the birthplaces of my boyfriend's great-grandparents, learned about the violent recent history of a beautiful, dynamic, and resilient people. And I learned I loved helping early-stage entrepreneurs take a big leap forward.
And I struck out on my own and started building a business.
It took a while, but it dawned on me…I was still there. I was surviving. And I was not only going to make it through, but I was becoming a better version of me in the process.
One year ago
Last year on my birthday, I had just been diagnosed with chronic Lyme Disease. After years of many disparate symptoms and 6 months of a rapid decline in my health, I had an answer. Two days before my 35th birthday, I was told that my body was riddled with 5 different types of bacteria and I would likely spend the next several years trying to recover.
About a month earlier, I had discovered I’d developed a topical allergy to vitamin E. It felt like such a low blow. Something that is healthy and healing for 99% of the world is toxic and poisonous to me. I threw out hundreds of dollars of skincare products and makeup. It took months for my skin to begin to heal.
At that stage, my body seemed sensitive to nearly everything I exposed it to. I couldn’t consume alcohol, dairy, wheat, or sugar without disastrous results. I couldn’t put anything with vitamin E on my skin. I couldn’t exercise. I was in pain all the time. All. The. Time.
I had to strip everything back to the bare minimum before I could start to slowly rebuild my daily process and routine of taking care of my skin and my self. And then I began to focus on nourishing my body, giving it the care, love, and nutrients that it so desperately craved.
I started following the Wahls Protocol, which emphasizing eating a tremendous amount of healthy, nutritious fruits and vegetables.
I began sleeping more. Resting more. Focusing on nourishment over deprivation.
I started practicing regular meditation. I still have fits and starts in building this habit, but I'm closer and getting better every day.
Slowly I started to exercise again, feel my muscles flex, and my energy return.
This journey toward optimal health is far from over, but I'm astounded by the progress I've realized over the last year. And it's a continuous reminder that even when you feel utterly hopeless, taking a deep breath and focusing on nourishment and kindness to yourself is always the smart choice.
This year, this birthday feels different.
I feel happier, more at peace, more hopeful for the future, and grateful for the present than I have ever felt before. And that joy, optimism, and gratitude aren’t in spite of the last few years of struggle. They are because of that struggle.
Life isn’t easy. And you’re guaranteed to fuck up. A bunch.
But recognizing the struggle, owning it, and being willing to strip away everything negative in your life to make room for everything that feeds and nourishes you, will lead to tremendous growth.
The same is true for business.
Be willing to take a hard look at your results - whether they’re personal or professional.
If you’re not living the life you want, if you’re not generating the revenue you need, if you’re not creating the reality you crave, stop.
Don’t think that doubling down or speeding up is the answer. Take a cold hard look at the reality and be willing to own up to the fact that maybe what you’re doing is getting you farther from your goal, not closer.
Be willing to stop everything. Strip down to the basics. And slowly rebuild in a way that is more in line with your vision of the future.
It’s terrifying at first. And you’ll feel like you’re giving up or losing the progress you’ve made.
But sometimes you need to take a step back to take a giant leap forward.