This is 40

As I sit in my Georgetown office with a cup of coffee on this crisp fall morning, my phone beeping every few minutes with a new call, text, or social media note wishing me a happy birthday, I am happy, grateful, and excited. Today is my 40th birthday, and it feels fabulous and free.

I have so many reasons to be grateful.

I work in an industry that makes people feel better about themselves, surrounded by team members that I have the privilege of coaching and mentoring. My skin care brand is growing in sales and visibility, I am working with my sisters on a new spa project in Lausanne, and I contribute to my husband’s family business. Thank you for the opportunity to do work I love, which often doesn’t feel like work.

I am surrounded by girlfriends who help me be my best self. I am in a four-person accountability group who weekly keeps me focused on the right things, working on the right things. I am in the most amazing book club where we discuss the books we read, and also life, love, marriage, children, and more. I have girlfriends who take me to Wizards games on my birthday eve, I have girlfriends who come with me to SoulCycle at 6 am on my birthday morning. Thank you for your friendship.

I have a husband who understands me like no one else does. He understands that today, I wanted to wake up in my own bed, alone. He understands I need solitude and quiet time by myself. He understands living together in the traditional way husbands and wives do would not work for me. He understands I don’t want children and love being a step-mom to his son and a godmother to five amazing kids. And he respects those desires, embraces them. Thank you for your unconditional love.   

I can’t remember what I used to think it would be like to be 40. But I never thought it would feel this good.

As I look forward to this next decade and beyond, I am reminded of the advice and notes of a few people.

  • One’s career peaks around 42. I can’t wait to test that theory!
  • Your forties feel free. I can already feel it…
  • Your body changes. Embrace it, accept it, and adjust your strategies as need be. This I need to work on.
  • Your eyes will start to see things differently. Yep, my driver’s license now says I need glasses to drive.
  • Add a retinol serum to your routine and spend one more minute on your beauty routine. Luckily I am testing a retinol formulation for Alchimie and more time with my skin care products has never been a problem!

If you have any words of wisdom about embracing this 4th decade, please comment below!

Negotiating with age… wisdom from Dr. Barbara Polla

Mom (aka Dr. Barbara S. Polla) came to visit me in DC and Louisiana over Labor Day weekend – her first visit to “my world” in 5+ years. We had many plans, including a beautiful boat ride on the Natalbany River.

Not planned: mechanical boat problems.

Not a problem: while people who know about boat things worked on the boat, we sat on the dock and patiently waited and talked. This “broken boat moment” was a blessing in disguise, as she shared some of her secrets about looking great at every age (for the record, she is 67). “I negotiate” she explains. Not with someone else – but with herself, with her body. “As we age, our body changes. Our metabolism slows. Our bones become more fragile. Our skin changes. To name a few.” Mom explained to me that the way to handle this is to accept these changes, embrace them, and make compromises – what she refers to as negotiating with yourself.

Fascinated, I asked for more details and examples. This is what I learned.

  1. For every year you age, spend one more minute in your bathroom taking care of your face and body.
  2. Eat less. More protein, fewer carbs.
  3. She also shared with me her supplement secrets. This is what she takes:
  • For her asthma, a non-steroid anti-inflammatory, every day. Singulair. While she is taking it for asthma, she feels it helps with various inflammatory conditions related to aging.
  • 1 gram of vitamin C per day. Her brand of choice: Bioganic GIsand. She has been taking this for the past 10 years.
  • To make the vitamin C more effective and protect it from oxidation: 200 md of vitamin E, by Burgerstein.
  • She avoids any supplement that contains iron –based on her research that excess iron accelerates aging and the formation of free radicals.
  • A lot of coffee. Coffee is a great antioxidant– actually, a cup of coffee contains more antioxidants than many fruits. Coffee is also an excellent source of magnesium, vitamins B2 and B3, ad copper. Coffee decreases the absorption of iron by the body – meaning it slows aging (see above). “Coffee is magical,” she says.
  • To keep her hair thick and beautiful, she takes 2 Pantogar pills daily during the fall, 1 during the rest of the year.
  • Calcium for her bones: Calcimagon D3 Forte, which contains 1000 mg calcium and 800 IE Vit D. One every 2-3 days.
  • And finally, when her travels involve a change of time zone (more than 3 hours), she takes Melatonin (Circadine 2 mg) for 3 weeks.

As my birthday month approaches, these are recommendations I must heed.

What is on your stop doing list?

I love the first week of September. I think this is from way back when, when I was in school – the first week of September always represented a new beginning, new pencils and notepads, a new plan. To this day, I have these same feelings, which are grounded in Labor Day weekend and the week following.

I usually spend much of Labor Day weekend evaluating my current year goals, planning for the rest of the calendar year, strategizing about the busy fall and holiday season. This Labor Day weekend was no different. I did all of these things – and I added one new question to ponder. “What am I going to stop doing between now and the end of the year?”. If you know me, you know I am a lover of lists – in particular to-do lists. I have them for every day, every week, every month, all with different levels of granularity.

I know about Stop Doing lists thanks to Jim Collins.  This is not a new concept to me, I just have never implemented it until now. I also love the way Danielle LaPorte speaks about Stop Doing lists.

So this past weekend, I started my own Stop Doing List. I have to say it took a lot more thinking than I thought it would. And I haven’t yet decided if that is because I am doing only things I should be doing (somehow I doubt it), or because I am having a hard time letting go of certain things. For now, I only have two items on this list. I am hoping it grows a bit longer…  

Stop Doing List.

  • I am going to stop printing out so many things and filing them in files I never really look at. A saved file on my computer is just fine – and it’s better for the environment.
  • I am going to stop spending time on fantasy football (fine print: this commitment is for one season at a time).

Do you have a Stop Doing List? What is on it?

Houston has my heart in 2017

It is not until this year that I started going to Texas on a regular basis, and that I fell in love with Houston. My past experiences there were centered around heading to Austin in October for ACL, and one work trip to Dallas. ACL of course is fabulous, although Austin has always been a bit too weird for my taste. The best Tex Mex food I had was probably in Dallas, but, well, Dallas is the home of the Cowboys, which is not my favorite football team, and of big hair, which is not my favorite style.

This year to date, I have been to Houston three times – and I have to admit – Houston is my favorite city in Texas. And I’m not saying this because Houston is in everyone’s hearts this week. Houston has been in my heart for all of 2017.

I love Houston because:

It is big. I now know, everything is bigger in Texas. And as they say, bigger is better… I love how powerful it seems, how big it is, how populated it is.

It is diverse. At a recent dinner there, I talked beauty with Latinas, African-Americans, and a Eurasian. I was the only Caucasian at the dinner table. I love the diversity of Houston, and how many languages are spoken there.

The people are kind, real, unassuming. The people I have met in Houston have been universally warm and welcoming. They aren’t weird; they don’t put on airs; they are unassuming.  

The highways are fascinating. The first time I drove around Houston, I was rerouted a few times because I was so mesmerized by the highway landscape I kept missing my exit. 6-lane highways, highways above highways, highways across highways… It looks like the future.  

There are strange places next to each other. I was telling a friend about how I love the eclectic mix of residential home next to a high rise next to a business next to a restaurant. I looks messy, human. He explained to me that the city has no zoning. That might explain that…  

I love Pass and Provisions and La Table. I have only begun to discover the restaurant scene in Houston – and I am not making much progress mostly because every time I travel there, I go to the same two places.

Houstonians love Alchimie. The reason I started going to Houston more frequently is business. Alchimie Forever is doing great in that area – after NYC, Houston is our second best market. And that in itself is reason enough to love Houston above all other Texas cities!

As my heart goes out to Houston this week more than ever, please consider helping this amazing city and its residents. Here are some links on how to help, checked and cross-checked by NPR and the New York Times:

The Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund of Houston’s mayor, Sylvester Turner, which is administered by the Greater Houston Community Foundation.

Houston Food Bank is asking for donations.

Thank you!

Vector #3: Kindness

Over the last three weeks, I shared with you how my three life vectors came about, and explained two of my three vectors, Choice and Harmony.

As I explained last week, choosing silence often helps my inner harmony. Sometimes, choosing silence also equates to being kinder. And Kindness is my third vector.

One of the most powerful articles about kindness I have read is a 2014 piece published in The Atlantic by Emily Esfahani Smith. She discussed kindness in marriage specifically– but her narrative applies to all relationships and to life in general. A short passage from her story:

“Kindness … glues couples together. Research … has shown that kindness (along with emotional stability) is the most important predictor of satisfaction and stability in a marriage. Kindness makes each partner feel cared for, understood, and validated—feel loved. …

There are two ways to think about kindness. You can think about it as a fixed trait: either you have it or you don’t. Or you could think of kindness as a muscle. In some people, that muscle is naturally stronger than in others, but it can grow stronger in everyone with exercise. Masters tend to think about kindness as a muscle. They know that they have to exercise it to keep it in shape. They know, in other words, that a good relationship requires sustained hard work.”

Her message—that you never lose by being kind—has stuck with me. I have learned to choose kindness or choose silence. Remember: people fight battles you know nothing about. So always be kinder than you feel or you think is necessary. Interestingly, I am the kindest on days I am the saddest. The first time I had my heart broken, I remember thinking: at some point everyone’s heart gets broken like mine. I need to be more gentle and more kind because everyone needs more kindness in their life.

In her book How to Communicate Like a Buddhist, Cynthia Kane reminds us that It is hardest to be kind to those closest to you. She asks her reader to imagine screaming at our UPS guy the way that we sometimes scream at our partner. We would never. Yet who do we love more? I know that it usually (still!) takes me the most thought and intention to be kind to my father – one of the men I love and admire the most. That’s a harder conscious choice than being kind to the waiter who served my breakfast this morning. Random acts are needed. Conscious acts of kindness towards our loved ones are even more necessary.

Kindness as manners

My maternal grandmother, who came from a distinguished Swiss family, taught me good manners. From the age of 10 I spent one night a week at her home. She would cook dinner, and we would sit together and she would place a broom handle in between my elbows if I did not sit up straight enough. Her intention was that if I were ever to be invited to dinner by royalty, I live up to my maternal family name. I learned proper posture. I learned proper table manners. I learned to always say please and thank you. And how to always acknowledge everyone when I walked into a room or sat down at dinner. She explained to me that manners are not about being a snob. Manners are a way to express grace and kindness in the most mundane way.  

Nana also taught me to set a nice table, no matter the occasion. She had nice china (one set only, though, as she never subscribed to the idea of everyday china versus special china). She had silverware. She had linens. She lit candles. I am not suggesting that everyone has the privilege of eating with real silver. But I did learn from her that no matter your means, you owe it to your guests and to yourself (especially to yourself and if you are eating alone), to make that moment as beautiful, as elegant as possible. My mother reminds me of this precept every time I am invited to her house for a meal. She also sees it as an expression of kindness – to herself or to her guests.  

Finally, Nana taught me to send hand-written thank you notes –following specific rules: within a week of receiving a gift and always mentioning one detail about it.

In his book 365 Thank Yous, John Kralick talks about the power of sending a thank you note every day for a year. He was in a bad place in his life and thought that focusing on everything he had to be grateful for would help him through his own hardship. This perfectly illustrates the selfish reason to be kind – because it makes you feel better. Don’t just do it for others – do it for yourself.  

Concluding thought…

My three vectors, Choice, Harmony, and Kindness, came about over the years, as I processed various experiences, defined my priorities, and acknowledged my feelings. This self-analysis is a daily practice, which I follow to make sure I don’t just “go with the flow.” To quote Robin Sharma one more time time: “Don’t live the same year 75 times and call it a life.” Instead, chart your own course, choose your own path. One day at a time. One silence at a time. One act of kindness at a time. One choice at a time. Starting now.

Vector #2: Harmony

Over the last two weeks, I shared with you how my three life vectors came about, and explained my first vector, Choice.

In this week’s post, I want to share with you my second vector, Harmony, which grew out of my choice to not have children.

When I was little, I used to think that my life would follow the typical milestones – you are born, you grow up, you go to school, then to college; you meet your love, get a job, then get engaged, get married, have one child, then a second, and maybe add a dog in the mix. This is the expected path of life. If I had not stopped to think about my choices, I would still be married to my first husband, living in a house with a cute white picket fence probably with two kids. There is nothing wrong with this scenario, but it is not my scenario. It is not what I want. I love children, but only other people’s children.

What I love more than the idea of having my own children is independence, freedom, silence, solitude.

In the book The Leader who had no Title, its author Robin Sharma talks about the 10 human regrets. Number 8 is the one I have always feared the most – it’s my own personal version of hell:

“You reach your last day with the awareness that you ended up living the life that society trained you to want versus leading the life you truly wanted to have.” I have been working my whole adult life to live the life I truly want to have– and I have achieved it by making choices.

The choice I made was to not have children. Choosing is only the first step however. The second step is living that choice every day. This is what I call Harmony.

I am a Libra. In French, the word for Libra is “Balance.” We value harmony and balance. By harmony, I mean the alignment between my values, my emotions, and my actions. When my thinking, my feeling, and my doing are aligned, I feel whole and happy. When they are not, I am not.

Harmony comes from making a choice – and from self-awareness, self-honesty, and introspection. The harmony I seek is between values, emotions, and actions.

Let’s use my lack of desire to have children as an example: 

What I’m Thinking: I have given it much thought, and I do not want children.

How I’m Feeling: I do not feel guilty about my choice or bad because I am not following the social norm. 

What I’m Doing: I use birth control and don’t get pregnant. 

My thinking, feeling, and doing are all aligned. My life choices are in accordance with my values.  

Let’s imagine what would happen if the three were not:

What I’m Thinking: I have given it much thought, and I do not want children.

How I’m Feeling: I feel pressure from from society or from my husband to have children; I feel bad about not having children. 

What I’m Doing: I give in to the pressure and have kids. 

Or What else I could be Doing: I stick to my guns and don’t have children but feel bad about my actions. 

Emotions

In either of these scenarios, somehow the three pillars are not in alignment. While neither scenario is the stuff of horror movies, it is also not the stuff of the happiest life. 

In this triad of actions, values, and emotions, changing my feelings is always the hardest and most challenging for me. When it comes to my feelings, I often go back to the Buddhist proverb: “You are not your emotions.” 

The best explanation I have found of this precept is from the book Sapiens: A Brief History of HumanKind by Yuval Noah Harari. My favorite quote from it: 

“According to Buddhism… the real root of suffering is this never-ending and pointless pursuit of ephemeral feelings, which causes us to be in a constant state of tension, restlessness, and dissatisfaction. … People are liberated from suffering not when they experience this or that fleeting pleasure, but rather when they understand the impermanent nature of all their feelings, and stop craving them. … All kinds of feelings go on arising and passing – joy, anger, boredom, lust – but once you stop craving particular feelings, you can just accept them for what they are.”

Indeed, I think about my emotions as feelings that “I have” instead of feelings that “I am.” As happiness researcher Dr. Beth Cabrera says in her book Beyond Happy, “Emotions are what we feel, not who we are.”

Compare the English language to Spanish for example: in English, you are hungry. You are afraid. The verbiage of emotion expression defines you, the person, as the emotion. 

Instead, in Spanish, you have hunger. You have fear. These emotions are things that you possess, not things that define you. You have them for a while, and then you lose them. Yet you remain. 

So, in dealing with harmony, I have come to recognize that when my three pillars are not aligned, and my feelings require shifting, what I really need is time. If I can’t shift my feelings, I set them aside for a moment. I don’t ignore them – I know they are there, I recognize them, I accept them. But I also know that often, they are transient. They do not define me. And while I am not always strong enough to shift them, if my decisions on thinking and acting are right, my feelings eventually follow and fall into place. 

Silence

When my emotions aren’t in alignment with my values, one of the strategies I have implemented to help me process my feelings is silence. One of the most important ways in which I exercise choice in my life is through the words I use or don’t use. One of my mantras is “Choose silence.” When I was growing up, my Nana always told me, “If you have nothing nice to say, do not say anything.” Words can never be unsaid – just as toothpaste can’t be put back into the tube once it’s out. Again, the link between choice and control: choosing silence is a way for me to exercise control over my emotions.

When my emotions get the better of me, I say things I don’t mean, and words come out that are neither kind nor constructive.

When choosing silence, I remind myself that I can always come back to a feeling or conversation. Then I have more control over the timing, positioning, and languaging of my message. I have nothing to lose by choosing silence. But I have everything to lose by saying the wrong words, at the wrong time, in the wrong way. 

Silence is the space between the emotional stimulus of a conversation and our response. As Holocaust survivor and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl says, “In that space lies our power to choose our response.”