I was supposed to become an engineer. I was supposed to take over the family business, a machine tool manufacturer located in a now rusty small town in Michigan. I was supposed to do a lot of things, be a lot of things that were, well, not me.
I have spent most of my life in service to others—not the ‘good’ kind of service in the space of social progress; but rather, following a path that was not entirely my own. I was responding to ‘shoulds’, tolerating un-serving, toxic relationships, and sometimes compromising my values to please others.
I didn’t completely deny myself, however. I did choose to boldly shift tracks early in my adulthood to pursue a career I was truly excited about: photography. And more recently, I did choose to co-found a digital media brand for self-empowerment and I’m extremely proud of our flagship offering, Best Self Magazine and our other products currently in development. But it was a long and bumpy road to here.
I’ve learned, in these later years, that my real life’s mission is one of serving me. Of not subjugating my time and desires and values to please others and serve their agendas, because that is an unending path to nowhere.
Do I still care about others? Of course. Do I still get up at the crack of dawn to make my stepson breakfast before he sets off to school? Yes. Do I still offer my time to serve professional pro bono projects and volunteer at community events? Yes. But I’m shifting— first asking, Does this align with what is important to me? Does it ‘feel’ right? If it’s a Hell Yes, I’m in. If not, I pass.
And here’s the kicker: When I make decisions through this filter, I always make the right decision. I enjoy, rather than resent, the chores or obligations I commit to. Life is lighter, clearer, and a whole lot more fun.
As my awareness has expanded, I’ve also introduced new regimens of self-care into my life. I meditate (okay, not always, but I’m trying). I am far more conscious of what I consume, be it food, media, or energy (yes, energy, of people, environments, information). I seek alternative forms of exercise that make me feel more flexible and energized vs. sore and bored. And importantly, I connect to nature in some way every day.
It is easy to write these words, but the process of this shift is anything but, especially when you’ve been practicing ‘anything but’ for decades. It requires consciousness at every turn courage to go against the grain and a fierceness to standoff against your ego. Sadly, on our societal stage, it is common that men are commended for being ‘conscious’ only after the money is in the bank.
I’m deeply grateful to have found a life partner who is on her own journey of personal growth and awareness—a soul mate who will challenge me when needed to check in with my intuition, my values, my feelings. Let’s just say that is a far cry from my experience during the first 21 years of adulthood, which culminated in an overdue divorce.
Why does it take us a lifetime to learn the Fundamentals of Life 101? I wish I had that course in school. In fact, we would all benefit from an educational system that included studies in self-care, values, and intuitive thinking. Until then, we’ll have to rely on the School of Hard Knocks.
Without question, the biggest, boldest challenge to my values came with divorce. That’s when it gets real, as they say. When are lives are torn apart, we often become strangers to ourselves, left wondering who you even are. It’s hard to let go of resentment when that is all you feel. But this is also what set me free to finally strip down to my naked, true self and start building back up.
I didn’t do it all right, and there are many things I would do differently with the awareness I now have. My goal was always the high road. Twelve years before Michelle Obama coined the phrase, “When they go low, we go high,” that was my motto.
My ex-wife didn’t understand. My friends didn’t understand. And even my kids didn’t understand, but they are beginning to now. And if there is possibly a joy greater than feeling my own life open up, it’s witnessing theirs do the same, and at a far younger age. I hope that through consistent modeling, my legacy to them will be to follow their heart, trust their intuition, remain open and forever learning, have compassion for all and tap into their highest self every day. Whew! Is that too much to ask?!
“People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.”
~ Maya Angelou
This is one of my favorite quotes. It gives me solace that all the ‘mistakes’ and rough edges I may have put out in this world, especially with regard to my children, will be smoothed a bit. In the end, the people I love in this world will know—will feel—that I loved them.
I certainly can’t blame others for my life struggles. Behind the martinis, I had loving parents who wanted the best for me and my siblings. In fact, my father ‘released’ me to pursue photography with his blessing, with a handwritten letter that I now keep in a frame above my desk. I had decades of opportunities to make a shift in my marriage. And yet, I own that I chose something different: I chose to deny myself—my true self.
So now I am finally connecting the dots, making sense of it all, feeling the pain I never allowed myself to feel, and opening my heart to love and joy, far deeper than I ever experienced before. It is my spring. And I can honestly say, I’ve never loved life more.
As a contributor, Nan Tepper, brilliantly wrote in a piece for our magazine, “I got here as fast as I could.” I couldn’t say it better myself.
Keep on rolling. With a willingness to grow, the journey just keeps getting better—richer, deeper…and more you.