This story starts as so many do: at Target. In late June 2016 I pulled into the Target parking lot alone, a woman on a mission for diapers and nursing bras and some God damned alone time. It was my first solo adventure out of the house in weeks, and I felt like Blast from the Past Brendan Fraser did when he climbed out of his bunker and saw the brave new world that was 1999. I squinted into the sunlight, the Dallas heat radiating up from the parking lot.
Look at all these people just, like…GOING TO TARGET! Like it’s no big deal! How quaint! How carefree!
They were aliens to me.
My postpartum hormones and I had been deadlocked in an eight week long arm wrestle. White knuckled, hormones pushed me and I pushed back–exerting all of my energy and making no headway, but trying not to get pinned down.
I cried a lot.
I spent two glorious hours in Target that afternoon, and I only left because I needed to drive my boobs home to feed my baby. I remember exactly what I bought: two flowy summer dresses because NO THANK YOU, SHORTS, a floral pajama set, and a teal workout outfit.
I tell you this because I walked into Target that day as a person I didn’t recognize. My body, my thoughts, and my emotions were fighting a postpartum battle and losing. Eight weeks into motherhood I had the sudden realization that I should be advancing my career, but I hadn’t put the systems in place (daycare, network, more than a few hours a week of teaching) to allow myself to. I was living in Dallas (which is a long story) without the support system of extended family and decades-old friendships I was used to leaning on. And my sweet little newborn, who didn’t realize that she was supposed to solve all of these problems for me with her magic baby powers…wasn’t. I was tired, resentful, lonely, ashamed.
I walked into Target that day thinking, How did I even get here? I don’t even know who I am anymore!
But y’all. I walked out with dresses and florals and yoga pants and I thought, I am going to get. myself. back.
Then I thought, Shit. I was supposed to get diapers.
I have found my footing since then, and it started with reclaiming small things: fitness reshaped my body while networking reshaped my career. With time, I adjusted to my new normal (and thankfully, so did my hormones). When I had mostly graduated from survival mode, I realized I wanted more than normal. I was ready to thrive and stretch and grow into a bigger self than I was before. Maybe my child does have baby magic powers, because just like she stretched my body (am I the only person whose rib cage expanded??), my heart, and my resilience, she also stretched my desire to PLAY BIG. To keep growing. To LOVE myself in this phase of life, not settle for myself in this phase of life.
I invest in that growth for her, for me, for everyone. Small things have led to big changes in my life and it makes me freaking excited. I’m even more excited about this personal growth than I am those dresses I bought at Target. They both shrunk so much on the first wash I ended up having to wear them with shorts AFTER ALL.
But it doesn’t matter. I am growing and thriving, little by little, and here are five ways I’ve committed to doing it.
#1: Reading, Listening, Creating, and Writing
I stand solidly by my decision to watch 11 seasons of Grey’s Anatomy after my miscarriage. I stand solidly by my decision to watch Gilmore Girls, Parks and Rec, and Downton Abbey during maternity leave. But you know, after a while I needed to start reading books again. But who has the time?
When I read, I read like an addict. I get myself into a good plot line and… bye. I’ll talk to you again when I’ve finished the book. This kind of reading isn’t compatible with having jobs, friends, or children. I realized one day that I’d stopped reading entirely; unless you count The Very Hungry Caterpillar, the first year and a half of Lucy’s life is the longest reading drought I’ve ever had.
For crying out loud–I used to be an English teacher!
I had started listening to podcasts again, though. I stumbled onto Awesome with Alison, which can be all at once ridiculous, eloquent, and motivating. Alison is a badass business owner and mom of three who is constantly quoting the latest book she read in her podcast. How on earth does she read? I asked.
Audio books. Duh.
I’ve since been using my Dallas Public Library card to download and listen to audio books for free on my phone. Why haven’t I been doing this for years AND WHY DOESN’T EVERYONE DO IT? I listen in the morning while I get ready, while I’m driving, or while I play with Lucy. And I’ve rediscovered what I’ve always known about reading: it fills me with ideas.
Reading is my creative fuel. When I started reading again, I naturally started writing. I’ve also used this bubbling creative well to cultivate home decor (we bought a house last year!), play the piano (it has a piano in it!), and landscape our outdoor spaces (it has outdoor spaces!).
Creativity is a muscle that I hadn’t been flexing, and re-introducing it into my system shocked it enough to kickstart my own content creation. With very little effort! I had writer’s block for YEARS, until recently when I wrote a TED Talk, several blog posts (for other sources) and this entire collection–each post flowing more easily than the last because the muscle is getting toned again. Creating has breathed new life into me because CREATING IS LIFE AND LIFE IS CREATING!
Check out my Growth Resource List for some of my favorite podcasts and books, follow me on Goodreads, and get access to your public library’s audio book app, stat. You will feel yourself inflate with new ideas.
#2: Saying "Yes"
Admittedly, this one started out of desperation. I needed money. I needed friends. I needed to leave the house. I started accepting every. single. invitation I received. A faculty reception at the university. An opportunity to work on a nonprofit consulting project. A dinner out with new people. These all came from loose ties in my network (friends of friends, colleagues of colleagues). In my former life I probably would have been comfortable enough with my own friends, work, and colleagues to pass up these invitations. But I was quite desperate for opportunities. I said yes to the few that came my way, and noticed that doing so brought me even more.
My invitations snowballed.
I met someone at the faculty reception who introduced me to a year-long freelance contract (from which I met dozens more contacts). One consulting project turned into four. Dinner with new people became nights out with friends.
Saying yes to everything forced us to come up with some creative childcare solutions, but it was amazing to watch things that I’d previously thought were limitations (childcare, time, capacity, experience) move aside to allow new opportunities into my life. The more I said yes, the more I collected enough confidence to create my own opportunities. Now, I go after my own freelance contracts. I consult my own clients. I invite new friends to Moms’ Night Out (which gets wild, btw).
And it all started with yes.
#3: Building a Tribe
New cities and life changes are jarring. The first time I ever moved was when I went to college. In the early months, I lived in the lonely paradox of being surrounded by friendly new people, but missing the ease of friends that only comes with time. By ease, I mean not having to create plans to be together. Not having a wonder how a person will react to vulnerable parts of you. The ease of just being with a person, and not having to navigate your way through it. The ease of not having to think: who should I call for this?
By the time we moved to Dallas, my next big move, we were full-fledged adults. By the time Lucy was born, we had been living in Dallas about a year, for most of which I was pregnant and for all of which I worked from home. My contact with the outside world had been limited, with the exception of a few friends we knew prior to moving here and some of Alex’s co-workers (for whom I am so grateful). Lucy was born in May, right before the start of the oppressive Dallas summer heat that keeps nearly everyone inside. I was so claustrophobic (I mean, did you read my Target story?) that I looked for just about any excuse I could find to leave the house.
New motherhood can be both the loneliest time and the easiest time to make new friends. I developed a talent for sniffing out and finding new moms in Dallas, and my work was basically done from there. You see, when two new moms meet–newborns in arms, spit up on shirt, desperation in eyes–small talk doesn’t exist. Social boundaries melt away. The moms link eyes across the produce section in Trader Joe’s, run toward each other in slow motion, and four minutes later have exchanged numbers and arranged to meet again tomorrow.
That’s why my friend Mary Beth is still “Mary Beth Trader Joe’s” in my phone.
I met friends at Mommy and Me Yoga, a new moms’ group at a church, a friend’s baby shower, and from existing friends saying, “You know who else just had a baby? I should introduce you.”
I stepped it up and created Moms’ Night Out when I looked around at some dynamic new women in my life and realized that we only knew each other in the singular capacity of motherhood. It wasn’t quite enough. My life has always been enriched by intimate, easy friendships–many of my sweetest memories and most passionate love stories live in my relationships with my girl friends. (OH HI LADIES I LOVE YOU SO MUCH!) Sisterhood fuels my happiness and growth.
I wanted to level up my new relationships and start creating memories that belonged exclusively to us. I wanted to share stories and dreams and interests.
I knew wine would help.
Fast forward to the first moms’ night out. It’s 4 AM and we’re waiting out the Uber surge LAUGHING THE HARDEST. Y’all, this purse is so much tinier than a diaper bag! Hahahahaha!
My tribe (of mom friends, girl friends, colleagues, new friends, old friends) has always had profound impact on my growth. I can lean on my people for job referrals, entertainment, support, recommendations, childcare, advice, laughs–and those are only the tangible benefits.
My people affect my habits, dreams, confidence, accomplishments, and emotional wellbeing. Moms: time spent nurturing and deepening positive relationships is TIME SPENT WELL. Huge bonus: my daughter will grow up surrounded by women who are lawyers, mothers, business owners, artists, teachers, doctors, engineers, dreamers, professionals, and everything in between. And she’ll see me in positive, cooperative, uplifting relationships with them.
I know you don’t need justification for your own moms’ night out, but it is a loving parenting practice to model positive friendships for your children. What I’m saying is, be a responsible parent and go out drinking tonight with your new friends.
#4: Freeing Myself of Limiting Beliefs and Comparison (Or Making a Noble Effort)
When I look back to the times I was at my very lowest (pre-Target me, post miscarriage me, and many times before and after), I was consistently practicing these two toxic habits.
First: Telling myself that I couldn’t do or have things.
Second: Comparing myself to other people who had what I wanted.
I think I’m a confident person. I mean, this is like word #2,000 in a blog post entirely about moi! But I have completely boxed myself in with phrases like these:
I don’t have time.
I don’t have energy.
I’m not creative.
I don’t know how.
I could have done that, but I would have needed to start a long time ago.
You can’t take risks like that once you have kids.
And phrases like these:
Lots of people are already doing what I want to do, and they’re probably better at it.
I should have followed the career path she did.
She’s more talented than I am.
She’s smarter than I am.
She started earlier than I did.
Where does all of their money come from?
They have a perfect life.
Is that what my life would look like if I’d made different choices?
So, that’s depressing.
But when I think instead about the times in my life I was happiest, most ambitious, and highest achieving (Are you thinking about yours? It’s fine–most of mine were from childhood, too.), I wasn’t telling myself any of these things. I made time for friends, family, fun, work, sports, school, writing, creativity–even when I seemed busy. If I didn’t know how to do something, I asked or learned or practiced. I felt creative and energized and capable.
I’m taking a course called Actually, I Can from Sydney and Taylor at What the Eff podcast (which I completely recommend). Sydney challenged us to take our limiting beliefs, write them down, and argue them until they became untrue.
It looks something like this:
I don’t have time.
Actually, you just watched an entire Amazon original series. You could probably squeeze it in.
I can’t multitask without childcare. I can’t work when Lucy’s awake.
Actually, you don’t even know what room she’s in right now because you’ve been on Instagram.
See? Powerful stuff. Joking aside, arguing my limiting beliefs really helped me to break them down and start to push them away. Changing your mind about your capabilities and changing your inner dialogue–it is a personal growth game changer. And comparison? It’s hard for me to completely eliminate that one. But I can say that when I deconstruct my negative thoughts and self doubt, it’s easier to see others as inspiration instead of competition. I challenge you to start.
The hardest and easiest part.
I didn’t walk out of Target that day with a strategy or a timeline, just a desperate itch to grow. I only had enough energy to slightly tweak my daily routine, not to change my life. I downloaded a workout app. I Googled a new moms’ group and signed up. (At least I walked out of Target with outfits for both occasions.)
The first SWEAT with Kayla workout in those yoga pants was depressing and hilarious and I peed, but the tenth one was a little better. I didn’t become close to the new moms in my group until a few months into our gatherings. I drafted quite a few thoughts for this blog project that I’ll likely never use. But starting it gave me momentum.
The thing is, when we decide that growth is the goal, then it’s achieved the moment we start.
Go get your purse and go to Target.