In honor of my 39th birthday.
I turned 39 on Labor Day. The weeks leading to my birthday, I got repeated questions from family members and friends about my thoughts on being 40 next year, and what I planned to do to celebrate.
After the bazillionth inquiry, I thought to myself, “I’m not even 39 yet!”
It’s funny how we have the tendency to do that — put emphasis on the things far ahead of us and without knowing it, negate what is immediately in front of us. If anyone knows a thing or two about that, it would be me.
As a quick backstory, I would say I could be classified as a “save it up for a rainy day” person. If I bought a cute top or pair of shoes, I would hold it until the perfect occasion. If I got an unexpected bonus, I would save it instead of shop. And when I went to a party and my song came on, I was more likely to groove from my chair than get up and dance. I started my first job at 16, and by the time I truly looked up to assess my career path as a part of my overall life, I was 35. I am wired to think far ahead. It’s a survival mechanism for me.
I currently run my own company, am an adjunct professor, the mom of two and have been married for nine years. I worked in Public Relations for nearly 20 years. My career was a rocket-ride to the top, going from intern to CEO all before 35, working with some of the most renowned brands in the world.
A couple of years ago, I found myself at a crossroads. I was out of work and expecting my second child. I was nervous and liberated all at the same time. Lacking clarity on the best way to go, I declared a self proclaimed sabbatical — to get through maternity leave and then figure it out. I ended up instead accepting a role as an adjunct professor, and starting my own company — immediately landing clients — all before the baby arrived.
Taking a slight detour from traditional Public Relations, I decided I wanted to align my new work more with my passion. I took all the tenets I learned in PR and built a company that helps conscious companies and organizations harness their culture as a tool for innovation, inclusion and sustainability, as well as a business driver. My mission: to shift the culture of business around the world from transactional to transformational.
Getting back to this 39th birthday. I decided the best way to hug the moment was to honor it as if it was the milestone everyone else assumed wasn’t worth celebrating until 40. “Hug the moment” is my personal mantra for nudging myself to live in the now.
What followed was an introspective look and a sweet reminder of how important it is for me (and all of us) to fully embrace each moment — right where we are.
Without much thought, I texted a few of my closest friends and said, I’m going to start a 39-Day Challenge in celebration of my 39th birthday. Beginning September 6, the day after my birthday, here are nine mindful things I commit to doing daily for 39 days:
1. Do something kind for myself.
2. Create a special moment with my family.
3. Do something kind for someone else.
4. Do something intentional to grow my business.
5. Be physically active for 39 consecutive minutes.
6. Be completely silent and still for 39 consecutive minutes.
7. Modify my diet (no bread, sweets, or fried foods); increase my water intake and refrain from alcohol. As a note, this may not be a big deal for some people, but sweets and bread are a HUGE deal for me.
8. Read something meaningful (other than an email or text message).
9. Keep a gratitude journal.
I kid you not, this started as something really simple that was solely about me being in tune with myself and defusing what was becoming a pain point hovering at “almost 40”. What ended up happening was a reintroduction to a fun, creative, fearless, compassionate, passionate, and purpose-driven spirit that I hadn’t spent this much time with since I was a teenager. What started off as a to-do-list of nine things turned into a mindful and spiritual process that transformed me — inside, out.
Prior to this Challenge, and many days during it, I would get anxiety about my very monster to-do-list. I sometimes spent so much time trying to prioritize the list, it delayed actually getting things done. The first lesson I learned was this: anxiety is a distraction to fulfillment. Spending time worrying about anything (not just a to-do-list) is counterproductive and prevents us from savoring the moment we are in.
In itself, the Challenge took away the pressure of prioritizing. These nine things (for me) represent what truly matters. They support me in my existence and the overall path to my purpose. Yes, grading papers, developing a client module for a merger and acquisition cultural strategy, and picking up clothes from the dry cleaners, are important. But, they are momentary tasks, not sustainable strategies for soulfulness.
What surprised me the most was how much more time I seemed to have, when I at first questioned whether I could make any time at all for this. The first thing every morning, I shifted my energy around what matters most, what was real. Silence and stillness came first. It also was more seamless when the physical activity was in the morning, because it gave me momentum to be productive in other areas for the rest of the day.
The most challenging aspect of the Challenge initially was doing something kind for myself every day. I had to figure out what kindness was to me, and commit to being deliberate about it. The most fulfilling was the golden moments with my family. Being fully present and celebrating the magic happening in my own home reminded me of how awesome life is — and how little things mean everything. The most exhilarating part was the 39 minutes of physical activity daily. Taking time out to honor my physical being as a daily practice was a priceless deposit toward my mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing.
The investment in my business motivated me. The shift in diet energized me. The quiet time and stillness centered me. The meaningful reading replenished me. The kind acts toward others blessed me. And the gratitude journal uplifted me.
Over the course of 39 days, I took boxing, zumba, yoga, saw a Reiki master, had several acupuncture sessions, walked, jogged, danced, kissed, hugged, savored the taste of my food, held hands, read some great new articles and books, reread a few favorites, prayed, forgave, prayed some more, purged old stuff from my personal and work spaces, watched the sun rise, watched the sun set, laughed, heard laughter, cried, dried tears, helped, asked for help, drove to Cleveland to see Joel Osteen live in a Night of Hope (can someone say “road trip!”), lost almost 10 pounds, hugged myself 39 times in one day, and did absolutely nothing more times than I can count.
The most unexpected outcome of the Challenge was the shedding of emotions, habits and mental hang ups that no longer serve me well. All the invisible roadblocks, fears, quietly held shame and other disappointments — I let go. I forgave. And I moved on.
The expectation of unlimited, amazing moments is now my standard — my new normal. I’m happy to say I have continued with each of these nine commitments as a regular part of my regimen moving forward.
I was re-inspired to look up and take it all in. I am a business owner, teacher (and student), mom, wife, sister, daughter and friend. And as much as I cherish each of those roles, not a single one defines me. The same applies for all of us.
Transformation is not an event, it is a process. There are things we all want to do — places we all want to go. In many cases, this results in the desire to build a strong legacy and be known for something great.
Maybe few or none of these nine things resonate with you. The point is, we all have motivators that can support us in maximizing the moment and living more fulfilled lives. Whether you’re a student, executive, artist, athlete, entrepreneur, retiree — starting out or starting over — it doesn’t matter. I believe we all are right where we are supposed to be and have everything we need to do and be everything we are supposed to do and be. The rest will come more from our being than our doing.
I am still wired to plan for the future. That won’t change. Only now I’m more engaged and present, so I don’t sacrifice where I am while focusing on where I want to be.
You always wanted to travel but haven’t gotten around to it? Start by getting your passport or putting in vacation time from work. You don’t have enough money so can’t start a business? Start by getting your business plan down on paper? If you only had more money, maybe you would do many things differently in your life? Start by picking one thing you’re passionate about that you can do for free.
Isn’t it something how I made it my professional mission to shift the culture of business around the world from transactional to transformational, and through an unplanned series of events, life ended up doing just that for me.
So how about this: let’s all stop, right where we are. Forget about what may or may not be ahead. Don’t try to make anything happen. Breathe. Smile. This is it.
Give yourself a hug. Now, hug the moment.
Originally published at medium.com