Have you ever left a long-awaited vacation with dear friends three days early even though you were having a great time? I just did – and felt crazy (literally) for doing it. But I had to get home.

My brain was pushing me with old tactics – telling me I’d been underproducing for months and need to step it up right now. Which is sadly true.

These last few months I uncharacteristically underworked, focusing instead on fully enjoying my youngest daughter’s company. On January 15, I drove her nine hours to Chicago, in the midst of a deadly pandemic, and dropped her off at college (where she is thrilled to be). And then returned to a very empty nest.

A break with my besties seemed like the perfect bridge to solo living – time to frolic in the snow, play games, watch movies. And it was. Except that my brain chatter was so darned mean.

  • “You’ve been slacking for months.
  • “You’re not pulling your own weight.”
  • “Maybe you just don’t have what it takes anymore – maybe the idea factory is closed.”
  • “You’re letting everyone down.” (Did I mention I was actually on vacation with my business partner, who I let down by leaving?)

And bonus:

  • “You’re a lot – kind of annoying really. Maybe shut up for a minute? Quiet down.”
  • “Also, help more. Be useful. Don’t be such a drag.”

Ugh! What’s going on here?

Well, now that I’m sitting in my quiet living room, reunited with my little dog (who absolutely lost his mind when I picked him up from the dog resort), with a fridge full of healthy foods, I realize that I needed to come home.

What I deeply need right now is to fully inhabit my home and my life. I need to watch the sunrise from my window seat, snuggle with my dog, cook nourishing foods for just me, and joyfully work my ass off.

I need to step out of the fog and distraction, stop defining myself via other people, and become my next self.

If you are in an empty nest, or contemplating one, does this resonate? It feels hopelessly self-absorbed. But that’s kind of the point, right? When the nest is full, so much attention and love and care goes to others.

If you’ve lost track of yourself – and a mean brain is a good sign that’s possible – then perhaps an empty nest is just the place to find you? To make the next stage of your life as meaningful and joyful and purposeful as possible?

Yes, I think! So naturally, as an inveterate self-improver, I vow to do all the things that will foster a meaningful, joyful, purposeful life: meditate twice a day, work out on the regular, do more yoga, eat crazy healthy foods that nourish my brain and body, sleep well and long, be in regular touch with friends and family, and above all, work focused and strong, create good things people can use to make a difference in the world.

Which sounds exciting and wonderful … and also daunting. Just typing that list – that eminently do-able, self-loving list – makes me fear failure. Which, I’m pretty sure, sets me up for my brain to remind me once again of all the ways I’m falling short.

Maybe there’s a different way? Yes, I think.

So instead, my vow is simply this: be good to myself and to other people every day. (Maybe stay on vacation?) Show up as best and fully and intentionally as I can in each moment – do so consciously. Consciousness – not self-consciousness – is the goal.

I’ll let you know how it goes. And would so love to hear from you.

Are you dreading the empty nest? Struggling with it? Enjoying it? How are you kind to yourself? Showing up in the world? Seeing yourself differently? Please share in the comments below. We can all find our way together!