As I was walking Tilly on Monday morning, I was in a bit of a fog. I had just completely deleted, closed, and canceled all of the various accounts and services we’d used for our business, which we officially dissolved at the turn of the year, and was jarred by the finality of it all. I had been postponing these cancellations for two weeks — “but maybe someone will need access to…” or “but what if I need to find that email where…”
The truth was that I liked to keep a little bit of the business alive, leaving the door ajar. I’ve been muddling through a wild transition from founder and COO of my own business to full-time writer and mother and maybe, just maybe, I was taking comfort in the loose ends: “yes, there are some final details to attend to,” and “mhm, maybe I should log back in just to see….” as though such trivial tasks meant that I still had a toe in a swimming pool in which I used to lap — and competitively, I might add.
On Monday mornings, I used to message my team on Slack with my top priorities for the day, followed by “an inspiration.” Sometimes my inspiration for the day was inane — “the box of oreos I am looking forward to eating at lunch” or “the unseasonably warm weather” — and sometimes it was heavier-hitting: a team member’s recent demonstration of his above-and-beyond dedication to the job; a bit of hopeful news; a podcast I’d listened to; a missive from a happy customer. My team members followed suit, dutifully, though I would never have required them to do so, and I found this weekly ritual a small, quiet way to develop meaningful relationships with them. Their inspirations fluctuated from weekend plans with friends to “finally getting to the bottom of that damn bug so we could release that latest version” to words of encouragement they’d received from a fellow teammate or Landon or myself.
I liked the forward-looking perspective of this activity. It suggested, to me, that every Monday morning should start with momentum and ambition.
This hasn’t changed, but — as I walked Tilly around the now-familiar-to-me trails of Central Park that spilled out in front of us, marinating on the fact that I’d just deleted the Slack account that once housed such narrow and quiet weekly aspirations — maybe I should have also concluded the week with a twin provocation: what have I learned this week?
Now, I recently mused over what I’ve learned in the past year, and maybe it’s the dawn of the new year or the dissolution of our business in the most specific and mundane of ways (who knew deleting a gmail account would feel so incredibly momentous?), but I am finding that the looking-backwards is just as important as the looking-forwards.
Is this something that happens in the middle of our lives, as we edge towards middle age? We’ve accrued such a wide expanse of experience and memory that the looking back becomes just as natural of an activity as the looking forward? Do we hit some sort of tipping point in our lives where we spend more time in memory than we do in musing over the future?
I don’t know.
I’m encouraged by an anecdote my dear friend Alison recently shared: a big shot producer decided, after a remarkable career at the helm of a big-name company, that she was going to step down. This, without provocation or tension or any sort of behind-the-scenes politicking. She decided, simply, that she needed to do something else. In her mid 40s, she wanted a new challenge. A new beginning. From the outside in, the decision seems impossible: why would you want to step away from what seems to be the pinnacle of her career aspirations? And at a time where you might be able to “lock it up” and enjoy a relatively comfortable career at the top? Alison and I both marveled of her guts, her reinvention.
What this says to me is that there is always time for new beginnings. A few of you wrote me lovely emails about how strongly you related to my flitting thoughts on big decision-making in your 30s (see the turbothot), and I think it’s important to know that while we feel that the decisions we are making now have enormous, heft-y strings (I’m talking Navy-grade hemp ropes) attached to them, that there is always space for changing course.
I digress a bit here but my point is this: at some point in the last few years, I have become just as attuned to the arc of aspiration as I have to the quiet downslope of self-reflection. Meaning this: I find myself spending an increasingly equal proportion of time moving through my day as I do reflecting on what I’ve done.
As I trotted Tilly around the park on that particular Monday morning, I realized I was in a rather poetic position, somehow cast in a perfect microcosm of the very thoughts I’d been mulling over. I found myself caught between two differently-oriented intellectual movements: I was both dragging myself down the familiar lanes of mourning the end of our business, while I was listening to a podcast I’ve recently become obsessed with, “What It Takes,” by the Academy of Achievement, described in the headnotes as “Revealing, intimate conversations with visionaries and leaders in the arts, science, technology, public service, sports and business. These engaging personal stories are drawn from interviews with the American Academy of Achievement, and offer insights you’ll want to apply to your own life.” I was listening that morning to a piece on Edward Teller, “father of the hydrogen bomb” — a sadly relevant voice in today’s climate of nuclear brinkmanship — and exercising a part of my brain that has lain dormant since twelfth grade physics: unstable electrons and all that jazz.
Backwards, forwards, backwards, forwards, but always in a posture of the novitiate.
Now I think I will reprise my habit of forward-looking weekly inspiration while I add to it a new ritual of backward-looking self-reflection — “what have I learned this week?”
Inspiration for the week of 1/22: executing Mr. Magpie’s birthday dinner (roast pork with fennel, celery root and potato puree, and rum raising pudding) to perfection without being flustered by the mess and chaos of our kitchen and our more general lives in the process. (Tilly WILL eat something off the counter; mini WILL need me while I’m knee-deep in mise en place. But dinner WILL be made and I WILL try to enjoy the process.)
Learnings from the week leading up to 1/22:
+that Maya Lin was only 21 when she submitted her proposal for what would eventually become the Vietnam War Memorial for a blind competition, and that she did so after spending a semester of college in a student-organized seminar on the relationship between architecture and cultural conceptions of death (wowza);
+that General Grant did not actually want to join the military;
+that these cookies, which have been something of an Internet/Instagram sensation, have very strange instructions (when have you ever started a cookie with cold butter?!), but are prettttty darn good;
+that I am going to ban the word “unlikable” from my vocabulary, as I tend to only use it when describing a woman with a strident personality — I tend describe men of a similar disposition as “aggressive” (UGH);
+that washing every dish by hand is a horrible burden. (Our dishwasher is broken. And we cook a lot. And minimagpie eats a lot. AHHH. I will never take our dishwasher for granted again.)
What have you learned this week?
+I haven’t been into a Banana Republic in so long, but I was walking by the store on the UWS and I was struck by this chic glen plaid trench! So startling! Glen plaid has been a huge fashion trend over the last season or two, and I liked Banana’s ladylike, conservative take on it. I imagine wearing it with distressed jeans and even some super casual sneakers to mix things up — or, slipped on over some trim black cigarette pants and kitten heels for a killer workday look. Also love this of-the-moment frilled-sleeved utility jacket!
+While we’re on the topic of rain, these umbrellas are the absolute best.
P.S. Need a mental vacation? Check out the book I could literally not put down. It goes wild halfway through and very weird/dark. Mackenzie and I were joking that it’s like the author sat down and brainstormed: “What are the weirdest/grossest things I can possibly imagine? OK, I’ll write those.” I have some thoughts on it that I’ll share for a book club post later this month. Also, more excellent beach reads to get you through these winter doldrums.
P.P.S. I never go anywhere without these anymore, especially after a recent trip to the public library with mini. It was so grubby and germy in there!
P.P.P.S. I always keep my bar stocked with Caspari napkins — I just ordered these.