In Celebration of You.

A daughter dabs gently at her mother’s mouth, as she feeds the older woman and holds the thin, papery hand that once dried her tears over a broken toy or a broken heart.

A professor challenges her class to pose a dynamic solution to the problem before them.

A newlywed grieves a job lost, a dream deferred for her partner, who got laid off today.

As women, we embrace compassion and support, selflessly playing cheerleader to others. We listen, coax, encourage and boost our loved ones in their quests, ushering them through their dark times. We remind them of their successes, their accomplishments, and their creativity.

Why then, are we sometimes slow to recognize our own achievements? Our uniqueness? And why are we equally hesitant to celebrate them?

As girls, we are often raised to accord more significance to the needs— and even the whims— of others, more importance than our own. There is a time and place for that, as any mother knows. But when we carve out some time for ourselves—even mere minutes— we are sending a powerful message, both to those around us, and to ourselves.

We need to own our skills, to embrace our mindsets and to value our way of engaging the world. We need to claim time to recharge and rejuvenate.

My challenge to you:  find a way to celebrate yourself— this week, this month, this year. Hang a sign on the door—literally or metaphorically—and declare this hour, this day, this weekend yours.

It’s vital.

It’s graceful.

It’s overdue.

How do you take time out to celebrate yourself?

The Year of No.

[HAPPY NEW YEAR! I allow myself one re-post each year, around now. I offer it as a reminder to us all - myself included - of the need to become/stay comfortable with saying no when people or obligations tip the scale and become toxic. Please consider. Also, while I have you, we've just switched to the domain savvylife.net, and doing so meant we lost social media data on the posts. Please know how much we appreciate the tweets, "likes" and "shares". - Thanks, Alicia.]

Could you organize the group gift?

Could you babysit this weekend?

Could you lend me some money (again)?

Meet Carla. She said yes to all these requests—this past weekend.

People who meet her see a dynamic, caring and accomplished woman.

They’re right.They’re just missing something—Carla is a people-pleaser. You won’t find it highlighted on her resume, or part of her online profile, but it’s there.

Carla struggles to say no. She is warm and caring at her core, so it’s no act—she wants to help. But then she feels resentful later, when her time is stretched.

Have you ever suffered a little bout of the “the disease to please”? Sure, there are short-term payoffs when we say yes: we feel good, we see the other person’s relief, we hear and feel their appreciation…then later, it hits: how am I going to juggle this?

What’s a Savvy Girl to do?

She starts with a little naval gazing: how many times has she found herself in this position recently (be honest, then pass the chocolate.)? What motivated her? Was it pressure or guilt (more chocolate)? Did it stem from a desire to be liked (break out the Belgian truffles)?

Practice saying no. It seems like petulant toddlers are the only ones allowed to declare “No!” with utter defiance.

Let’s reclaim it.

Say no to small things at first, then work your way up.

If you’re not up to that, buy time: say you’ll think about it, or you’ll need to check, and you’ll get back to them; then email or text, if you’re not comfortable yet saying no in person or on the phone.

Anticipate the guilt trip and the broken-record responses, so that you’re not blindsided by them.

Respect and protect your free time.

Remind yourself that you can support your friends, but you don’t need to take on their problems.

Make this year about saying no.

Then get ready to say yes to the things that you really want to do in your free time.

What sort of things do you find are sticky to say no to? What works for you?

Cheers,

Alicia

Five touching moments in 2013:

5. Selflessness: Our little neighbor, who shared her birthday toys with children at a local shelter.
4. Generosity & discretion: Strangers help blind man to keep his aging guide dog. NYC resident Cecil Williams had expected he would soon have to give up his faithful companion, Orlando, as his insurance doesn’t cover a non-working service dog. In December, Orlando helped save his master’s life when Mr. Williams fell on to the tracks of the New York subway. Donors covered costs to ensure the pair stay together.
3. Grace: Nine-year old swimmer presents championship trophy to his rival. Florida boy Josh Zuchowski won five gold medals at an annual swim meet – and gave his trophy to Reece Branzell, who was in hospital with an infected hip. Josh’s note read: “… I have looked up to you since I was seven. You were an inspiration for me wanting to swim fast. I would rather get second with you at the meet then win with you absent. I won this trophy for you today …”
2. Compassion: At Nelson Mandela’s funeral, the touching image of his widow, Graca Machel, and his former wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, comforting each other in their loss.
1. Non-judgment: Pope Francis inspired many when he asked, “..who am I to judge?”

What image stands out for you this year?

As we say goodbye to 2013, I’d like to thank you for your support. Your warmth, insight and encouragement, both on and off these pages, has been a lesson in grace for me. Here’s to a joyful 2014 for us all!

Best wishes,
Alicia

What makes a life happy or successful?

Over the weekend, I delivered a talk on success in different cultures. What constitutes a happy or successful life? We all use a different yardstick, of course. Maybe a combination of family time, career accomplishment and financial security? A Mercedes in the driveway? Designer clothes? An Oscar?

Let me tell you about one of the most successful people I’ve met. I’m not talking about a world leader, nor a famous athlete … in fact, no-one who would headline a Vegas show, walk the red carpet or stand on a dais.

She was a six year old girl, and I met her while I worked for a time at a rural leprosy hospital in India.

Every morning at first light, she would appear, holding the hand of her four year old brother. Her baby sister, perhaps six or eight months old, was tied to her back with cloth. Each was smaller than the last, like a set of Russian nesting dolls.

Every dawn she got them up, organized and saw to it that their faces were scrubbed clean. She then presented them for their first meal of the day. Often, it was their only meal of the day. Apparently one parent had died, the other had disappeared, no one seemed to know for sure. I often wonder how she is today.

What does a happy or successful life mean to you? From the smallest thing to the big picture, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

At your fingertips …

This weekend’s New York Times magazine (p11) had a rundown of quirky items you could buy from vending machines around the world:

Gold bars – Abu Dhabi (just how many coins would you need to put in?)

Cupcakes – LA (sold!)

Nail Polish – Paris. Hmm.

Bras – Tokyo. Seriously.

Live Bait – Reading, Pennyslvania. (eek).

Marijuana – Boulder, Colorado.

What would you like to find in a vending machine that would make your day easier? Here’s mine:

  • A  flask of uber-confidence, to be swigged before a big presentation, a job interview or when you’re about to meet your ex’s new partner.
  • The perfect LBD (if it’s not an urban myth).
  • The five food groups aka. actual tasty, healthy snacks not dating back to the Clinton administration.

Over to you.

Words to live by: our favorite quotes.

They’re scrawled on restroom walls, brimming with gritty wisdom. Etched on rings, on lockets, in hearts. Scrawled in diaries that reflect our journeys.

Favorite words, phrases and other sayings find their way into our days. I once read that actress Sarah Jessica Parker used the word “grace” as a password, to remind her of this essential element. Here’s some of mine:

People come into our lives for a reason, a season or a lifetime.”  – Author unknown. Not every player in our lives will be a permanent cast member. Sometimes they cross paths, play their role, and bow out.

I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t laugh.” – Maya Angelou. So true!

Success is not final, and failure is not fatal.” – Churchill.  Enjoy our successes, to be sure, but this nudges us not to get complacent.  And it reminds us that growth (and fun!) comes from trying something new, even when we crash and burn the first time.

A Savvy Girl always have a few words up her sleeve to sustain her, amuse her, or to lend perspective. What favorite phrases or quotes resonate for you?

A “coincidence” saved my life.

Except, I don’t believe it was a coincidence, though many would label it that way.

In college, I caught three buses to class. I wanted a place close to campus and was delighted to find one right across the road. I could sleep in and still be on time – love it! It was a Monday and I had a lecture at 11am; I arranged to meet the guy straight after, at noon.

I missed my bus that day. That alone was rare; I like to arrive early. Instead, I scrambled to class with minutes to spare, and couldn’t see a single seat in the sea of students in a huge lecture hall. Finally, I spotted one, way over on the far side.

I scooched  past everyone, and sat down by two girls talking in horror about a friend’s experience. She had moved in with a male roommate, and everything was fine.  Then one day, he apparently assaulted her & locked her in her room. He then marched around the perimeter of the house – dressed in combat fatigues,  brandishing a rifle and muttering about the end of the world.

Of course, he was the very man I was supposed to meet with, just one hour later.

Have you ever had a close call, or felt protected?

Gifts that inspire.

[NOTE: My first post since May. Thanks for your patience, as I pushed through the last few months of the book. See sample chapters via the Amazon link at right.]

I was inspired today by a fabulous friend (thanks, Blossom!) whose FB post shows the impact of a gift. Let me paraphrase:

A young struggling writer once received a gift of a year’s salary from a friend, with a note that read: “You have a year off from your job to write whatever you please. Merry Christmas.”

That young writer was Harper Lee. And of course, she wrote, To Kill a Mocking Bird.

What an incredible gesture! Not only the sheer generosity in gifting someone a year’s salary, but the generosity of spirit to invest in her as a person. The film was recently re-broadcast in the US, with an introduction by President Obama, paying tribute to its cultural value to entertain and educate in equal measure.

Gifts punctuate our lives for myriad reasons… from an amusing gag gift, to thoughtful help when we’re sick. They herald milestones, and soothe us in times of despair. They ease home life with practical help. The gift of a simple but pivotal recommendation can boost our plans, project or dreams.

I’m so grateful for the gift of my husband’s support through my book journey. It took time away from us, but he never wavered in encouraging me to the finish line.

What gift or gesture has left an impression on you?

Laughter

Laughter is surprisingly canny (as opposed to, say, canned laughter). On the surface, it’s just an amused reaction to something funny: lighthearted, guttural, fleeting. Yet it has surprising power to ease tension at the highest levels or seal instant friendships, and its healing benefits have long been touted. You can even enroll for laughter therapy. In California. Of course.

A baby’s laughter is surely one of life’s intoxicating sounds. When little ones are amused, their joyous gurgles bubble up from within. They’re fully in the moment, sometimes unaware of anyone else, perhaps fully engaged in their own toes. And it’s always genuine. A baby doesn’t chortle dryly at some wry political joke, or at their own witty observation, and they certainly don’t laugh at someone else’s misfortune (that dreaded schadenfreude).

Today there’s serious competition to make us laugh, from “Funny or Die” videos, to pay-per-view comedy routines, to any amount of animal antics online to drive traffic to sites.

A sense of humor is a finely tuned instrument; what makes one of us dissolve into fits, could leave someone else bored or scratching their head. Years ago, there was aTV ad that made me laugh every time. It was a sausage. In psychotherapy. You had to be there…

What makes you laugh? And how much is laughter a part of your day, or your relationships with family, friends or colleagues?

Time

“I’ve been on a calendar, but I’ve never been on time.” —Marilyn Monroe.

Each of us has a relationship with time. We might bluster through our day, lurching from appointment to appointment, or we might move like molasses, unperturbed.

Society vows “faster” is better. I found a spray called a “sixty-second shower” —apparently, a few good squirts, and you’re good to go. A fast food ad proclaims “Served in nine minutes—or it’s free.”

Carl Honoré is an international journalist, always jetting off to exotic locales—and always battling the clock as he races to file the story. A pivotal moment inspired him to write In Praise of Slowness (Harper Collins, 2004). He was skimming a newspaper between connecting flights, when he spotted an ad for one-minute fairy tales. On the surface, it seemed heaven-sent for a harried father. Then it struck him: why would he want to fast-track that precious time with his two year old?

Consider the language we use around time; we often approach it as a statement of lack, not a statement of abundance. And we equate time to money, that other yardstick of value.
A boss yells, “Where are those reports? Time is money!”
A daughter rolls her eyes and bleats, “Mom, I just can’t spend all day on that!”
Someone else sighs, “My time is stretched so thin right now…”
There simply never seems enough hours in the day.

Except, there is. Consider this: Helen Keller had twenty-four hours in her day. So does Hilary Clinton. So did Mother Teresa.
I appreciate there will always be demands on our time.

What minutes or moments count most in your day?