Day 295 of The 365 Day Experiment. Money, Money, Money.

A friend sent me a word early this morning, asking me to riff on “money.”  Of course, there was zero discussion of what this word mean to either us  - just the request.  So here I go.  And I’ve got a lot of thoughts on this one.

When I was a little kid, my family did not have much money.  My mom got pregnant with me while my father was still in graduate school.  They have famously told me the story of needing to decide whether my father would teach at MIT or start a company with his fraternity brothers.  He rolled the dice and went the company route.  It was a good bet, but it took a while to pay off. 

As a result, we lived modestly our first several years.  Very modestly.  Given my parents’s middle class upbringings, they seemed to be comfortable with this for the time.  But it was short lived.  They had big ambition, and a big work ethic to match.  And money and success followed.  More than I will likely ever see in my lifetime.

With no college education, my father’s father started out slinging steel for U.S. Steel.  He had an insane work ethic, and ended his career as running the European division for the same company.   He handed nothing to my father or his sister.  The expectation was that you make it on your own; nothing is handed to you.  So that is what they did.  My father left his rough Indiana town for MIT and never looked back.

And he taught my brother and I the same thing.  We hand you nothing.   Work your ass off for it.  Money is earned, not given.  So I grew up respecting that.

By the time I was in high school, my parents had ample cash.  I was fortunate enough to be in a family who exposed me to much, and I took full advantage of it.  Of course, part of this was having a job from age fourteen on.  It was expected.  And really important for so many reasons for me.

Because I had been taught that money is earned, not given, I worked really hard to earn it.  And because the only job I could get at that age was as a waitress or a babysitter, I did both.  And I raked in the cash.  

I liked being able to save, and I liked being able to buy myself things without needing my parents help.  Money in this context represented freedom.  As it has ever since.

I like money.  I have worked really, really hard for the money I have earned.  I pride myself on having made some smart choices which have allowed me some great outcomes.  And when I have lost money, like when stock has dipped or in my divorce, I attempt not to be bitter.  It’s just money, I tell myself.  It’s not important.  I have so many more things in my life that are so much more important.  I am grateful for that. 

At the end of the day, however, money represents two big things to me.  The freedom to live the life I want to live, and peace of mind.  I am grateful I have a good job that never has me worrying about whether or not I can pay for my basic necessities or which bill needs to get covered.  

I take pride that I have worked hard to get to a place where I earn a good salary, but it will never be enough.  There is so much I want to do in life, and I could always use more to fund it.  And while I don’t need yachts and mansions and excessive wealth, being able to never think twice before spending would be an incredible luxury.  

Only if earned, though.  If inherited, if won in the lottery, etc, I’m the jerk who you will see at the office the next day.  I do not respect non-earned wealth, at least for me.  

So, to my friend who asked, there’s my take on money.  I love it, I respect it, and I must earn it to appreciate it.  And I work really hard to keep earning…because I’ve got some expensive taste at this point.  

Tags: money

Day 293 of The 365 Day Experiment. Easter Feaster.

Growing up in a non-religious home, Easter has always been more about bunnies, plastic eggs, family meals and togetherness than it has about celebrating its true meaning for me. My family celebrates it like spring Thanksgiving.  Now that my girls are older, I ensure that they have the basic understanding of why the holiday is really celebrated in addition to the “fun” reasons.  Just because we don’t spend the day in church doesn’t mean they shouldn’t understand what the day is really about.

Last week, we spent the Sunday doing an early Easter celebration with my “second family.”  For years now, we have done this together, given that neither of us have our real families nearby.  And unlike our real family, there is no stress, no long standing family dynamics, or the like.  It’s just people you love like family, sharing a meal and making more memories.

This week, we are able to share with my real family.  At least, part of them.  My brother and his family are at home in LA, and they are missed.  However, watching the joy on my parents faces knowing their home is filled with the laughter and antics of their granddaughters is worth almost as much as the smile on Gianna’s face after receiving an iTunes gift card in her Easter basket.

Not unlike Christmas, Easter is a lovely holiday celebrated by so many millions around the world for its religious reasons, and can sometimes be overshadowed for its commerical focus.  No matter what way you celebrate, if you do it all, it’s such a nice day to slow down and enjoy the ones you love.   Especially if it comes with a couple of jelly beans and a chocolate bunny. 

Tags: easter

Day 292 of The 365 Day Experiment. Fences With Open Gates.

This morning a friend sent me a word to write about.  ”Fences.”  And he added, “Not the literal ones.”  I’ll do my best with this one, because I oddly have a visceral reaction to this word. 

When I hear the word fence, I think immediately of two things.  Tom Sawyer having to whitewash one as a form of punishment,  and the proverbial notion of having a white picket fence as the optimal goal for all suburban families to settle their families within.   Both of these seem like notions of eras from long ago, in a world I have flirted with, but don’t belong to anymore.

When my brother was a kid, he starred as Tom Sawyer in his school play. I can still see him on stage, pretending to paint that fence.  He was perfectly cast, as he was always up to something and then being punished for it.  So was I.  I was just a little better at not getting caught.

As for the notion of this state of mind I grew up with about blindly accepting this “white picket fence” ideal of the perfect lifestyle, I have always had a tough time with it.  While I was fortunate enough to have grown up in a family who was fortunate enough to experience this, I was never sure it fit for me. 

And then I grew up, and began to raise a family of my own.  My rebellious, city living ways were soon to be supplemented with a second kid…and a yard of my own.  At the time, we made the tough decision to do what was best for our family - not us - and focus on school systems and  swing sets.  So off to the suburbs we went.

And while there was no picket fence in the home we bought, it was as close to the “ideal” as one could imagine. New construction on a lovely street, filled with all new homes and other young families.  My kids would attend the “new” school in town, meaning the most recently built elementary school with the amazing principal.  It is a beautiful home with a beautiful yard.  It’s just missing the fence.  That’s no accident.  I don’t like fences.  They have always struck me as restrictive and unwelcoming.  

Zoom ahead eleven years.  I decided last night, with my daughters, to say goodbye to our house.  We made this decision together, as we have made most decisions, for the last year and a half.  We decided that this “ideal” that has served our family for their lifetime, no longer fits us.  It’s like we lost a lot of weight, and we find ourselves needing a new smaller wardrobe. 

Ultimately, I am the parent, and need to decide what is best for all of us.  However, having them bought in to what we do is really critical to that decision’s success.  So the lovely condos down the street which offer the just the right amount of space for us and a heck of lot less headaches for me make sense for us right now.  No changing schools, no changing friends, no changing anything significant like that for them. But for the three of us, it’s saying goodbye to the remnants of an old life and a house of memories that often hurt.   Though there is no physical fence in our yard, we have been fenced into our old lives for quite a while.

So a change is needed.  For many personal reasons, it’s time.  This move offers much freedom in a number of ways, and offers us all a fresh start.  And it also confirmed one very big thing to me, as we made this decision together late yesterday.  A house is a just house.  A home is the place where we spend our time together.  

I have never had a fence on my property, as I don’t like the restriction it suggests.  To me it says, “This is my property - don’t enter unless I invite you in.”  No matter how big or small my home, I want it to always feel like the door is open.  Just come in and make yourself welcome.  

Big changes are ahead for this trio.  And it’s all good.  I am raising these kids in an environment like I live the rest of my life.  See the opportunity, rather than fear the change.  I dare say it’s a strategy that’s helping them to grow and thrive.  I guess I won’t really know for another ten years and I hear about their trips to a therapist, but I think I’m right.

So screw the ideal of the white picket fence for us.  This new option is great for now…and then they head off to college, and I head back to the city.  The last thing any of us need right now are boundaries, be it beautiful wooden ones that frame a yard, or mental ones that prevent us from making good choices for us.   

Day 291 of The 365 Day Experiment. Are You Really Going To Wear That?!!

This weekend, I’m headed to Florida with my daughters to visit my parents. They are wonderful people. That said, I am also convinced we all leave our parents homes at eighteen for a reason.  

A friend of mine from work just returned from a week visiting her parents in Florida, aiding her mom’s recovery from a recent surgery.  And as she recounted her honest - and amusing - stories of her time there, I could feel my anxiety for this upcoming trip building.

I am convinced that no matter how old you are, your parents never stop thinking of you as their “kid.”  In talking to numerous friends over the years, no matter what the strength of the relationship with your parents is, this appears to be the case.  And given I tried to declare how independent I was starting at about age fifteen, this has been a friction point in our relationship for a long time now.

My parents are, in my mother’s words, “from another age.”  They were married nearly fifty years ago, and they continue to be happy and supportive of one another.  My dad built a successful career while my mom stayed home, raised my brother and I, and supported my dad.  As intelligent and successful as he is, I am confident, as is he, that he owes much of this to my mom.  They are are true team, and it’s lovely to see.  You don’t see couples like them much these days.  Certainly not a lot  in my generation, and I can’t imagine anything of the kind will exist when my kids get around to marriage.  If they do get married.

HOWEVER.  Marriage is one thing.  How we parent is another.

I think my parents often look at me through different lenses.  If they are feeling glass half full, they see a lovely daughter who is a devoted mother and committed to just about everything she becomes involved in.  If they are seeing me through a glass half empty, I often think they believe I should just be committed.

It’s hard for them to understand this life I lead.  I try to be understanding of that, because even my friends think I’m slightly crazy.  To understand me is to understand them both.  Some of their most notable traits have morphed together to form my odd personality.   I inherited my dad’s insatiable lust for learning and his work ethic, and my mother’s devotion to her children.  Any kindness I may have or compassion for people clearly comes from her.  And any intolerance or or bulls*it detector I have comes directly from him.  It’s an interesting balance.

For them, it works in harmony as a couple.  And fused together in one person, it’s competing personality traits that cause me to have literally created an “on/off” switch for my emotions.  I stay angry for five minutes and then immediately move on.  Or I can be filled with warmth and compassion for someone struggling with a challenge one minute and shift gears to fire someone the next.  I respect it’s not normal.  But it’s how one with my life and lifestyle not just gets by, but attempts to thrive.

None of this is what causes me anxiety about my trip to Florida.  It is the knowledge that within five minutes of arriving the unintended comments will begin.  That my hair is too long for my age, or that I would look better with some lipstick.  Last time we were there, my mom actually made an attempt of putting her arm around me so as to cover one of my tattoos from the friends we were sitting with.  Years ago, these things used to irritate me to the core.  Today, I am at peace with it.  

I am at peace, because I’m an adult. It still stresses me out though, because I know I am in for a week of it.  I do what I want at this point in my life, and if I like the way I look, a comment like “Are you really going wear that?” isn’t going to throw me off anymore.  And I am now old enough not to be a smartass and think “You are worried about my outfit but you guys really going to wear that?!”  And yes, maybe my hair is too long, and maybe I do look better with lipstick.  But if you hadn’t realized, I’m fairly independent, and I wasn’t looking for input.  But thanks.

I consider myself incredibly lucky, as parents go. They are both really good people.  I had a great childhood, and I have a brother I love who lives way too far away.  We certainly argue, as families do, and aren’t always on the same page.  Partially, I think this is how many Italian families communicate.  To argue is to show passion for something.  And then the meal goes on and everyone is fine.  However, the other part of this has to do with the fact that we are all just so similar, and so different, at the same time.  As proud as I know they are of me, my parents will never get their heads around their daughter’s life and some of the choices I’ve made.  Sometimes I think they are in awe, and sometimes in “WTF?” mode.  And I empathize.  It’s got to be tough to be my parent.  I know it was when I was a teenager, so they should know I sure don’t want to be unsolicited parental commentary thirty years later.

So off I go to pack, and get ready for this trip.  I am excited to see my parents, and for them to get ample time to spend with their beloved granddaughters.  I am excited to get some sun on this winter white body.  I am excited to not sit in traffic for an entire week.  But I’m totally not excited for the first “Wow, Chrissy, you’re still trying to wear a bikini?  That’s brave.” comment.  I give it until day two.        

But I will look through the glass half full, as I hope they choose to do with me this week.  I’m spending time with a family who loves us.  No made what comments are made, it doesn’t get better than that.                                   

Day 290 of The 365 Day Experiment. Touched.

I am not a religious person.  As a result, I have formed my way of interacting with the world from the values my parents raised me with.  In addition, I have added my own beliefs and values from those people and experiences I hold in high regard to follow and honor.  Put all together, I just think of it as doing my best to “do good.”  Treat people the way you want to be treated yourself.  Leave the world a better place than when you came into it.  Pay it forward.  Look at the glass half full.  Try not to be a bitch.  You know, stuff like that.

Over the last two days, I have had two incredibly meaningful exchanges with people that I never saw coming.  And those unexpected moments were worth more to me than any raise, or promotion, or pretty much anything could mean to me.  These people told me something I said to them actually made a difference in their lives.  And I was floored.

I was floored because it was not my intent to do any such thing with my interactions with them.  In one case it was cheering on a friend who is attempting to achieve a goal that requires incredible discipline.  He’s an incredibly well liked guy in general, and was getting a lot of public support for his undertaking.  But for whatever reason, what I wrote to him in a sign of support resonated with him.  And a few days ago, several weeks after I had sent it, he sent my words back to me as a way of sharing what they had meant to him. 

That action left me teary.  And it ended up with an interesting exchange about the impact of his action of sending my words back did to me.  What started off in my mind a few weeks ago as just a simple show of backing a friend in a goal turned into a deeply meaningful set of moments for both of us.  

I’m no motivational speaker.  There is nothing unique or special about me, or the words or sentiments about what I share with people. The only notable difference perhaps might be that I am intentional about what I say in that there is true heart and intent behind them.  I am just a normal girl who believes in people.  And when I really believe in them, I like to cheer them on; because sometimes people need to know who’s in their corner.  And twice this week, people took the time out of their lives to let me know that meant something to them.  And as a result, I learned they are actually in my corner. 

What an amazing feeling that is. 

Tags: touched

Day 289 of The 365 Day Experiment. If You Were An Indian…

If you have ever spent more than an hour in a social setting with me, you have probably been on the receiving end of one of my bizarre “get to know you” questions. My mom is convinced I use these as some form of creative psychoanalyzation of people. While it’s true you can learn a lot about people by the answers they share, that’s never been my intent. It is simply my antidote to small talk. Why talk about the weather when you can learn about what magazine cover someone would choose to be on if given the choice?

I started doing this in high school.  It was a way to get to know people better, and I realized it got people talking in a different, more collaborative way.  Suddenly, a big group where several different conversations are taking place turns into one big conversation if the subject is something everyone wants in on.  And if it’s a quirky question that enables people to think and answer creatively, game on.

I’ve learned a ton about others with this tactic.  Also about myself.  Most notably, I’m great at coming up with the weird question, but I hate answering.  Likely, that has something to do with not likely to share a ton about myself.  Umm, yeah, that ship has sailed.

This weird habit of mine came up this weekend when I had friends over, and I was telling a story about one of my favorite experiences with it.   Years ago, I was with a group of work friends at an old company.  I came up with the question, “If you could give yourself an Indian name, what would it be?”  

I didn’t think this took much explanation.  Immediately people started spouting off names.  ”Stands With a Fist.”  ”Shops With An Amex”  And of course mine was “Running With Scissors.”  And then it was my friend Emily’s turn.  Without hesitation she responded, “Sanjay Gupta.”

WHAT?!

"Umm, WTF Emily?" was the response in unison from the group.

She was indignant.  ”You said to pick an Indian name.  I picked Sanjay Gupta. What’s the issue?”

"For starters, did you not get that we are all picking NATIVE AMERICAN Indian names?!  That didn’t appear to require clarification.  And if you were going to go Indian from the sub-continent, why the hell did you pick a guy’s name?"

"He’s on CNN and he’s really smart."

Okay.  There’s some logic.  We laughed at Emily for about five solid minutes.  When I finally came up for air, I said, “I can’t believe you did that.  I bet if we asked anyone else to pick an Indian name, they wouldn’t require that detail.”  And then Emily’s boyfriend walked in to the bar. 

Before she could utter a word, I asked him the question.  And without missing a beat, he answered, “Sanjay Gupta.”  We stared at him in silence.

They have been married for over 10 years now.  They were clearly made for each other.

Tonight at a team dinner, I busted out another question as we tried to quickly indoctrinate one of our newest recruiters.  As I was driving the waitress slightly crazy with my order, one girl tried to explain to the newer team members how I have never had a cheeseburger before.  That stupid revelation turned into “What normal food do most people love that you won’t touch?”  I learned many people on my team have aversions to some pretty funny stuff.  And I am certain they think I’ve got some serious issues with my refusal to eat a cheeseburger or eggs.  

I love this game.  Not just for the interesting answers people inevitably give, but for the rationale behind the answers.  So if you ever want to get to really know me, ask me a weird question.  You are likely to engage me far more by saying “Hey, if you had to bring a backpack to a desert island what would you pack in it?” Or “Who would you love to sit next to at a dinner party?” than by just saying “How are things going with you?”

Day 288 of The Day Experiment. Boston Strong.

When I was a kid growing up in historic Concord, MA, I lived on the same street as the North Bridge.  This is the bridge where the Revolutionary War was fought.  And on April 19th each year, the town celebrates the battle of the 500 Minutemen and their battle against the “red coats” of England.  And I was awoken every April 19th to the sound of a cannon blast commemorating this event.  Though I knew to expect it every year, it still scared the hell out of me each time I heard it.  But on the positive side,  that blast also meant the official start to April vacation. 

The other notable event that took place during that first day of vacation was watching the Boston Marathon.  Whether you watched on television or attended in person, every kid knew who the winner of the Marathon was.  It was in the days of Bill Rodgers, an American runner who won four times.  He was a hometown hero who gave us a real sense of Boston pride.  In those far less complicated days, we had no idea how much we’d be feeling that Boston pride by coming together again for a different Marathon-related reason thirty years later.

Last year on Marathon Monday, I was in Jamaica on vacation with my daughters when I got notice from my team about the bombings.  Our office was on Boylston Street; literally steps from the finish line.  And as was tradition, most of our people were enjoying the Marathon because of its easy access.  Some were at local restaurants and bars.  Some were lining the streets, or at apartments nearby.  And some were running the race.  And I, the one who is responsible for “the people” was on sitting on a lounge chair in the sun when I got the news.  I have never felt so helpless.  In my mind, that annoying cannon blast I grew up with symbolizing the start to vacation immediately morphed into a bomb blast representing the loss of life.   

My team, our CEO, and I worked together virtually to account for everyone.  It took hours.  Thankfully, everyone was safe.  It ultimately changed the way we deal with “crisis” situations at work, which is one small side benefit.  Everything else about it was horrible.  It reminded me of 9/11, when we went through the same drill at another company.  It is a awful feeling, trying to account for so many people in potential danger.  Especially people you really care about.

Today, at 6:00 am when I typically fly into work, traffic was at a standstill as I approached Boston.  The city was filling, people eager to honor those survivors and the lives lost last year.  I didn’t care about the traffic this morning.  Those people deserve that respect.  And while I am certain those who attended the somber events today were somewhat melancholy, the strength and courage the survivors showed and the rallying this entire city has done to show support is what Boston Strong is all about.  

Bill Rogers must be proud.  I know I am.  #bostonstrong.

Tags: bostonstrong