2019 Life Olympics

At the end of 2018, I was fried: emotionally, physically, financially. It had been a brutal year that took a huge toll on my health and home. I kept having these episodes where I woke up in the middle of the night with my heart racing so fast that I worried it would explode. My GERD was the worst it had ever been, I was head-cold sick more than not, and I was literally struggling to breathe. The past few years of work were catching up to me and my body was showing it. I was honestly starting to feel like I would certainly die of some stress-related disorder before I turned 40. And then one of my friends died from a heart-attack and I made the decision that some things had to change. My friends tease me that I only do things in my personal life when they benefit Allovue and in many ways, this was true here, too. I realized last year that I wanted to do this work for a long time to come. And I realized that my life’s work would be cut pretty short if I killed myself from stress before I turned 35. When I shared this with my exec coach as well as how past attempts to prioritize my health had always fallen by the wayside she said, “Well. I think you’re just going to have to make up your mind to… do it.” So I did it.

This year was all about getting my body, mind, and heart in a place that allows me to do work that I care about for the rest of my life if I want to (and ensuring that the “rest of my life” is actually a good long time). 2019 was about setting boundaries on my time and energy so that I could be a fully-functioning whole healthy person. And it turned out that in a year in which my general mantra was to “do less” (no more setting +30 annuals goals and working myself into a stress-addled mess), my life felt the fullest. Here we go:

2019 Life Olympics Recap

Career – Gold 

Please try not to laugh at my extremely “duh” realization that the more I took care of myself, the more the company thrived. My exec coach deemed my transition from December 2018 to January 2019 a “DOS to Windows” level upgrade in my general approach to business strategy. In no small part, this is because we were raising money and it’s just a little easier to feel confident with $4M in fresh funding in the bank. But I took that gasoline and poured fire on it – unleashing ideas and plans and ambitions that I had been holding back on for years. One Board member asked me in December, “Do you want to be a large chicken or do you want to be a 10-ft tall murder bird?” Let’s not psychoanalyze this too much but for some reason this image really resonated with me and I spent the better part of this year channeling this vibrant Cassowary:

Don’t ask me why, but it worked. Allovue had a banner year and we’re on track to fulfilling a vision that I have been working towards for 7 nearly years.

Sharply juxtaposed with my murder bird imagery, it’s worth mentioning another consequence from this year of being a whole person: I was kinder. It turns out that sleep and exercise and proper nutrition increase your capacity for patience and kindness, too. I made more time for people and I felt less reactive. I was able to process setbacks more quickly and productively. I had energy for more team outings. I started doing weekly CEO Chats where I spend 30 minutes 1:1 with every member of the company. It’s my favorite part of the week. I even noticed this in small ways, like having the energy to make friendly conversation with Lyft drivers. Being too tired to be friendly is a state of being that I plan I leave in the dust of this decade.

Lastly, this year I felt like I led the company with the most love. Love for the work, love for our team, and love for our partners. While there are many forces and headlines in this capitalist world that may lead you to believe that love and success are incompatible, I humbly, flatly disagree. Leading from a place of love and kindness is the only way that feels right to me. And if the past few years have taught me anything about business: if it feels right, it is right. They don’t call it the golden rule for nothin’.

Home – Silver

This was a tricky one! First: there were no catastrophes this year! After 2018’s cascade of house-related disasters (ceiling caving in! flood! awful tenants! roof leaks!) I was hoping the gods of hearth and home would leave me alone this year. As a peace offering, I gave my bedroom a little makeover and finalized my will. For good measure, I cleaned up my backyard and built a little porch. And my property manager has been an actual gift from the heavens. All was quiet on the homefront this year.

But, um. Finance is also in this category. And on matters of personal finance this year? Well, this was an area of my life considerably devoid of boundaries. Dinners, drinks, wine clubs, concerts, personal training, specialists, massages, travel, shopping, new hobbies, home improvements – I did it all. I was a pure hedonist this whole year, as you probably already know if you follow me on Instagram. So why did this spending spree year not plunge me into the depths of “Did Not Place“? Because I believe in balance in all things. Since starting Allovue, I’ve been very scrappy. In the first year of Allovue, my gross income was $9K. The following year, it was about $20K. It’s risen to more livable wages over the past 5 years, but I’ve still been at-times frugal to a fault. So this year, I let loose a little. I indulged. I explored. I released myself from fretting about whether I should splurge the extra $4 on the meal I really wanted. I tipped very generously. I had a LOT of fun. But I still did all of this within my means, so it’s not as though I drove myself into debt on fancy dinners. I had many wonderful experiences this year and no regrets about a year of limited saving. Next year, though, is going to be a year of saving and mostly free fun. I already canceled the wine club memberships.

Health – Gold

GOOOOOOOLLLLLLLLLDDDDDDD. I’ve never given myself Gold in this category before! I’m actually tearing up a little bit right now because it took me 10 years of working at this entirely self-constructed, self-imposed framework for adult living to feel like I did a good job taking care of my own physical health but I did it and I feel great. I had so much help, though! I worked with an allergist who helped with my persistent colds (non-allergic rhinitis from years of not treating my allergies effectively) and GERD (apparently sinus health is closely connected with digestive health). I worked with a personal trainer to help me learn more about strength training and increased my muscle mass by about 5%. I worked with a nutritionist who helped me identify food triggers and get rid of the GERD entirely and get off all the prescription meds I had been using to treat it. I started working with a therapist to take care of my mental health. I increased my physical activity by 250% and had the most consistent year of exercise ever. I slept well. I took vacations and breaks when I needed them. I reduced my sugar intake. I learned about protein! I figured out the daily breakdown of fat, protein, and carbs that makes me feel best. And perhaps most importantly, I didn’t allow my energy to be drained by things that I had no power over. There is really something to that serenity prayer and I can’t overstate the benefit to physical and mental health by learning to recognize the things that are out of my control and letting that shit go.

So this was a categorical improvement for me this year, but there is still a lot of work I need to do in the next decade on my body image. It’s hard for me to admit this but I think it’s important to be honest about challenges as much as celebrating successes. For as long as I can remember, I have struggled mightily with body dysmorphia, disordered eating, and general body image. At times, I have starved myself on as little as 800-calories a day; I have tried every fast, juice-cleanse, colon-cleanse, fad diet, and magic pill on the market. The negative self-talk is constant and vicious; I often wonder what on earth I could accomplish if I ever managed to free up all that mental energy. I have a near-phobia of taking pictures because I am so paranoid about how I will look. I have a complicated relationship with mirrors. I have extreme anxiety about bread. In the summer of 2016 I contracted a food-borne illness on vacation and couldn’t eat or drink much of anything without vomiting for two months. I had a parasite and it was the best I had ever felt about my body.

I’m not utterly lacking in self-confidence: I have confidence in my ideas, my ability to solve problems, my judgment, my ability to love, and my capacity for creativity. But I live in a world that constantly reminds me that what’s in a woman’s head doesn’t count for much if we can’t count her abs. I have been thus far unsuccessful at squelching that narrative internally. For a while, I was under the impression that this was just a narrative of immaturity. I imagined that when I turned 30, I would suddenly be very wise and self-accepting. When that didn’t happen, the body-hate somehow intensified instead: How are you over 30 and still obsessing over this? Why can’t you let this go?

This is a work in progress and something I’m going to prioritize with my therapist and nutritionist in 2020. My goal is to someday be able to look in the mirror or at a picture of myself and feel proud. Please do not interpret this as an invitation to tell me that I look good or that you think I’m thin or pretty or whatever. It is not invited and it will not help. I do not need any external validation on these matters; this is an inside job. I don’t feel comfortable sharing all of this, but if there’s anyone else out there who always feels like they are 10, 15, or 100 pounds away from happiness, know that you are not alone.

Soul – Gold

Picking up the thread on spending, you can see that I really enjoyed myself this year. I indulged in everything that brings me pleasure and joy this year: delicious gastronomic experiences; travel to Cancun, London, Amsterdam, Vancouver, Miami, and Tulum; concerts; plays; museums; singing. I felt creatively on fire this year and attribute a good chunk of that to surrounding myself with creative energy at every occasion. I also rediscovered a love of camping this year. I bought some new gear and enjoyed several camping trips around Maryland before it got too cold this Fall. My only failing/complaint in this category is that I had a lackluster and uninspired year of reading and writing. I think it was offset enough by my other creative experiences but I do want to reprioritize reading again next year.

Relationships – Gold

I know this category is the only one you care about and that’s why I save it for last. Hopefully, I tricked you into caring about the rest of my life, but if you skipped to the end I’ll forgive you. As many of you know, this year I took a big hiatus from dating. I quietly started my hiatus around September of 2018 and broke my hiatus in August 2019 when I met someone in real life who I actually wanted to go out with. Probably because I was fried in other realms in my life, I was beyond exhausted with dating last year. It became something I completely dreaded and I decided I needed a long hard break from trying. Did it work? Yes. Better than I imagined.

Up until hiatus, dating felt like something I needed to do to fill a missing part of my life or myself. I was operating from a deficit standpoint. I felt like lots of things in my life were great but my singleness represented some hole or flaw that needed correcting. As a result, the act of dating felt extremely high stakes and I always felt anxious and insecure about it. Giving myself the freedom to not care or not try at all was truly liberating. Suddenly, I was not worried about reserving time and space in my life for something or someone that may or may not materialize. I made plans with friends, I went on trips, and I planned my evenings and weekends with zero regards to men who may or may not commit to plans; who may or may not cancel at the last moment. My life felt instantly larger. Time and space just expanded. Instead of feeling like a restriction, my world opened up. I spent so much time with friends this year. And did I mention how much fun I had? I also made more time for my parents and enjoyed trips and concerts and other activities with them, too.

I’m dating again but it feels completely different now. I learned that my life and my heart are already full. Nothing at all is missing or broken. Now dating is a value-add activity only and that is a completely different game – one that doesn’t make me feel anxious at all. I also learned to expand my definition of love this year. All the romantic rhetoric about finding “the one” or finding love “at last” or “saving love” are really… limiting. Taking romantic love off the table for a year allowed me to receive and give love in so many other ways: friend love, parental love, coworker love, self-love, city love, etc. In a year that I thought would require an absence of love, I actually experienced the greatest abundance of love. My definition of love had been narrow; I was being far too precious about it. As I expanded my definition, I experienced love and gave it more abundantly. So I guess it’s true what they say: you find love when you stop looking for it – it just looks and feels differently than I expected.

2020

So that’s a wrap on 10 years of the Life Olympics! Next year, I am planning to bring lots of energy inspired by Baby Yoda and Moira Rose. My theme for 2020 is Intention because I want to take the energy I feel right now and deploy it with more intentionality next year – bringing increased mindfulness to how I spend my time, money, physical and mental energy. And because I love wordplay, I also literally want to spend more time camping “in-tent” to enjoy more peace and quiet and beauty in nature.

When I started working with the nutritionist she gave me a list about “Mindful Eating” which I scoffed at for having tips like “Chew your food” but decided to try anyway. As it turns out, I was not really chewing my food at all, so much as just quickly and eagerly swallowing whole bites – much like the rest of my life. In 2020, instead of swallowing life whole, I’ll learn to chew it.

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Clearing the (mental) clutter

When I read Marie Kondo’s book Tidying Up a few years ago, I promptly purged the overwhelming majority of my clothes (some from high school), knick-knacks, expired makeup, mismatched glassware, paper, and other junk that I had collected and stuffed in drawers and closets over the years. To my surprise, I’ve been able to maintain the system by seasonally going through clothes and systematically discarding stuff that I formerly would have held onto for years. I’ve been more conscious of what I let into my house  – I’ll turn down swag at conferences or ditch it in the hotel room; I donate or share books after reading them; I’m more discerning in the fitting room.

Even amidst a rough 2018 of homeowner problems, my house looked pretty tidy, but my mind still felt cluttered. Throughout much of the last year, I felt scattered, exhausted, and just generally unwell. For years, I had neglected the Health category on my Life Olympics and I was feeling it. I committed to finally making my mental and physical health a priority for 2019… and that was going to require setting some boundaries.

One month into 2019 it is not an exaggeration to say that I feel like a different person. I feel clear-headed, healthy, and full of energy. Perhaps most importantly, I have indeed reignited a feeling of deep joy after removing some mental and emotional clutter. Here are some things I put in place this month to declutter my mind and body:

  • A bedtime routine: Far too often last year, I found myself compiling spreadsheets and compulsively sending emails until the minute I went to bed. Shocking, then, that I wasn’t sleeping well. Technically, I was in bed for 7-8 hours a night, but I was maybe getting 3-4 hours of actual sleep. I woke up feeling groggy and lethargic every morning. I implemented the following routine and I stuck to it for all but 2-3 nights for the month of January when I made exceptions to stay out with friends:
    • 9:00-9:30 – wind down work-mode. I finalized emails and messages; brain-dumped to-do lists, and settled my work devices into their charging stations for the night.
    • 9:30-10 – 30 minutes of yoga. I started the Commit30 planner this year and my January goal was at least 30 minutes of yoga every day. Even with a month of nearly 20 days of travel (my usual excuse for slacking on exercise), I got it in all but two days, which I made up with doubles. I can’t overstate what this does for my mental and physical health.
    • 10-10:15 – get ready for bed and do my new skincare regimen because I see those lines creeping on my face and I am not ready to age gracefully.
    • 10:15-10:45 – light some candles and read for 30 minutes.
    • 10:45-11 – listen to the Daily Calm meditation while I fall asleep.

I actually started waking up before my alarm and not feeling like I’ve been hit by a truck all the time! I also have energy to spare for fun activities on evenings and weekends.

  • Taking control of my calendar: An undeniably important part of my job is taking meetings – with current and potential customers, partners, employees, and investors. It’s a LOT of meetings. And for years I have felt like I should make myself available to all of these people, anytime, anywhere. This often resulted in a calendar that consistently looked like a game-over screen of Tetris. I had meetings all day with 30-45 minutes between them, leaving me no time for deep-focus work (cue late night spreadsheets and such). I sat down and blocked out an ideal weekly calendar with strategic periods of time for 30- or 60-minute meetings and 2-3-hour chunks for focused work. I created appointment slots using Calendly and now use that to schedule meetings. I have occasionally made exceptions for conference schedules and such, but overall my schedule feels more manageable. In addition to carving out more time for strategic work, I also feel more clear-headed and attentive for each meeting that I do schedule.

None of these things is particularly drastic but the cumulative effect has been amazing. So why have these minor schedule improvements felt so impossibly out of reach for me for years? My big transformational life changes involve taking two hours a day of personal time and setting some modest parameters on scheduling?

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But it was, in fact, really hard to make these adjustments. At times, it was nauseatingly difficult for me to say no. I take a lot of pride in being available to my team and partners. There is also a lot of social pressure for entrepreneurs to appear indefatigable and I’m not immune to it. The media hype around the “hustle and grind” image makes it easy to feel like needing time to relax and unwind is a weakness – and there is even more pressure for female CEOs to feel like they can keep up.

I realized that my unwillingness to draw boundaries was rooted in fear. It sounds silly, but when I reflected on it, I realized that saying no/turning off prompted feelings of fear that people would think I was lazy or ungrateful or maybe not worth their time anyway. I am a big believer in the notion that speaking your fears takes away their power. Do I really think this partner won’t ever work with me if I tell them I can’t meet tomorrow? Do I really think a teammate will feel demoralized if I tell them I can’t meet until Thursday? Do I really think people will deem me lazy if I respond at 9am instead of 9pm? Probably not! I’m not totally cured of this insecurity/anxiety. I still feel it, but I’m working on recognizing it for what it is and literally asking myself these questions.

I’m only a month into the year, so I’m not yet ready to award myself the Gold in the 2019 Life Olympics, but this is honestly the longest streak of healthy behavior that I’ve been able to maintain since starting the company, so I’m taking a moment to celebrate. Cheers!

 

 

2018 Life Olympics

Let’s get one thing straight: 2018 was not a year. 2018 was actually a decade in annum’s disguise. Things happened in January or February 2018 that I would have blindly guessed had occurred at least three years ago. The Winter Olympics, for example. How do you measure a year? In heartburn, in wrinkles, in gray hairs, in stress disorders.

Have you ever had a moment when you come face-to-face with your own specific brand of crazy? (I know the answer is yes because you’re reading this and all of my friends and casual observers are a little bit crazy. It takes one to know one). Anywho, the other day I sat down to do my annual reconciliation of goals that I set this time last year… all 32 of them. 32 goals. What the what? What sort of lunatic sets 32 annual goals? Even several days later, I can’t even type this without laughing at myself. Some of these goals are things like “Raise X million dollars” – a months-long affair involving dozens or hundreds of tasks. 1/32! I tallied it up and I somehow managed to hit 20 of these crazy goals, in a year that I had written off as “terrible,” “horrible,” “no good,” and “very bad.”

Coincidentally, my word for 2019 is “boundaries” – may I set them, may I respect them.

2018 Life Olympics Recap

CareerBronze

By objective measures, Allovue had a pretty good year. We are now supporting over $10 billion in school budgets for about one million students – milestones of which I’m very proud. We added terrific people to our team, we made huge improvements to the product, we hosted an awesome Summit, and we brought on exciting new partners.

Personally, I just didn’t feel like it was my best year. This is partly because I set insane expectations for myself and then felt disappointed when I couldn’t match them. My attention was divided across several core functions, which made me feel generally frazzled and unfocused for large swaths of the year. When I get stressed, my instinct is to double-down and work harder, which catalyzes a vicious spiral of overwork/exhaustion.

At least twice this year, I dismissed serious health issues as “probably just from stress” and I got sick more than I have in the past several years combined. Next year, I’m putting boundaries in place to help me focus on the goals that really matter to me and to do so with a clear head and a healthy body.

Home – Did not place

Ooph. The gods of hearth and home were not on my side this year. I had an attempted break-in at my rental house that resulted in someone smashing through my backyard fence Hulk-style. My second-floor ceiling caved-in from water damage. Tenants made a mess of the house, resulting in three months of deep-cleaning and painting (and income-loss). My basement flooded. I discovered (because I smelled gas one night) that the gas line in my house was too small (who even knew that was a thing?) and had to be entirely ripped out and replaced. My taxes increased 300 percent. And to top off the year, a new roof. Throughout all of this, I really tried to exercise gratitude for having house(s) in which things break, but it still sucks to write those checks. I’m praying that all will be quiet on the home-front next year. Please.

::Burns sage::

Health Bronze

While I felt sick and run-down quite a bit this year, I still did some healthy things that I’m proud of. Early in the year, I made the decision to give up my car when the lease was up. I have always characterized my driving as “all of the adrenaline but none of the skill of Batman” and I think it’s maybe safer for everyone if I sit in the passenger seat of cars. I anticipated that I would spend about as much money on transportation with increased rideshare spending, but thought the trade-off of stress and time spent driving would be a net good. I was wrong:

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In 2017, I spent $5,067 on transportation. In 2018, I increased my spending on rideshare 1000% but it still didn’t come close to the total cost of having a car. In 2018, I spent $2,791, which includes the remaining $550 balance on my car payments. If I take that out and factor in post-car rideshare spending, I’m still saving 50% or more on transportation costs. This is wild. One cost not shown here, since it’s a one-time expense, is my new bike. I could buy and outfit a brand new bike every year and still only hit about 75% of my spending level with a car. I’m extremely pleased with this decision.

I also joined a new gym and hired a personal trainer this year. These costs probably offset what I saved in transportation, but I feel good about investing in my health. I exercised more regularly this year than ever before, even if it wasn’t quite at the level of frequency I was aiming for, and I built a lot of muscle with weight training.

My biggest health fails this year were 1) eating like crap during busy travel seasons and 2) generally eating way too much sugar. I’m increasingly seeing studies about the long-term health consequences of processed foods and sugar. I don’t do well with total elimination diets, but I want to dramatically reduce my intake of sugar, refined carbs, and processed foods, as well as managing my diet better when I’m on the road.

Soul – Silver

Shockingly, this was my best category this year. I hit the most goals in this LO category, which included time for writing, singing, traveling, theatre/concert-going, and other activities that make my soul happy. I saw some terrific performances this year, including Audra McDonald and Cynthia Erivo at BSO, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and A Wonder in My Soul at CenterStage, Waitress at Hippodrome, Ingrid Michaelson at the Beacon, Spring Awakening at StillPointe, Remember Jones at Soundstage, Wye Oak at Ottobar, and Once on This Island on Broadway. I didn’t write quite as much as I had hoped (ya’ll, I thought I was going to draft two books this year. My concept of time is WILD.) But I still had op-eds published in The Baltimore Sun and Forbes, as well as a few pieces in Medium and on my own blog. I also sang a lot of songs that I loved this year and played the piano more than I have in years. More of all this. I fell short of my 36-book reading goal, but still clocked in a respectable 32 – my second-best reading year since I started tracking in 2012. For the past several years, I’ve been making a conscious effort to diversify the authors I’m reading. This year, 53% of books I read were authored by people of color and 60% were authored by women. Only 15% were authored by men of color, so that’s an area for improvement next year.

Favorite novel(s): Exit West by Mohsin Hamid, Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

Favorite poetry: Helium by Rudy Francisco, Felicity by Mary Oliver

Favorite business/strategy: The Power of Moments by Chip and Dan Heath; Thinking in Bets by Annie Duke

Favorite memoir/essays: we are never meeting in real life. by Samantha Irby; We’re Going to Need More Wine by Gabrielle Union

Relationships – Bronze

I had a fun time engaging with friends and family in new ways this year. I hosted a wine-tasting night and piano concert at my house. I went on trips and to festivals with friends. I also made peace with letting go of some relationships. I spent time with my family and celebrated 21 years of our Boxing Day tradition with my Dad.

I’m taking a hiatus from dating through 2019; at least, a sabbatical from trying. The various apps and profiles have been deleted; my swiping finger is retired. I’ve been at this game for over a decade with very little success and there’s absolutely nothing else in my life that I would invest this much time in for so little joy or purpose. A big part of my goal for 2018 was to retire old narratives that no longer suit me and I decided around November that this story of infinite first dates is just not working for me. For a while, it was fun, then funny. At some point, though, it turned into an exercise in drudgery. I cannot continue to invest this much time and emotional labor and hope into an activity that continuously drains and disappoints me. There is too much else far more worthy of my time and energy: myself, Allovue, my family, my friends – the true loves of my life.

ListenI see you grinning over there, thinking, “Oh, this is it. Now that she has given up, love is just going to drop right into her lap.” I think you’ve been watching too many Hallmark Holiday movies; this is not The Christmas Crush. This is the real world where men flake and cheat and ghost and zombie and ghost again and I’m all the way over it. Let me be. I can live happily ever after anyway.

Andddd that’s a wrap on 2018. I can’t say I’m sorry to see it go. I’m closing out the year in Mexico, binge-reading novels, listening to the ocean, doing yoga, eating chilaquiles, and setting a reasonable number of goals that (mostly) adhere to the confines of the space-time continuum. See you on the other side.

 

Fashion trends I want to burn with fire

A few weeks ago I tweeted about the tribulations of shopping for a professional wardrobe and it really struck a chord in my little Twitterverse.

I don’t know about you all, but I think women’s fashion is having some sort of collective crisis right now. I am actually having a hard time spending money on clothes and shoes and that is not a typical affliction for me. These are a few fads that need to swiftly die:

bell sleeve

Bell sleeves: These silhouettes are cool… in a tableau. The prospect of wearing bell sleeves when I need to, um, do anything or go anywhere or say anything is terrifying and, frankly, hazardous. When I look at a bell sleeve, all I see are many spilled drinks and my untimely death when I inevitably snag one in a subway door. Someone in my wingspan radius is going to lose an eye the minute I start gesticulating, which is every time I open my mouth. Are these designers just sitting there like, “How can we make women’s lives more fraught? Ooh… let’s cloak their arms in huge cones of fabric!” I can barely tolerate normal sleeves. My wrists and forearms need air and space for angry typing and wild hand gestures.

Cutouts: Is there a textile shortage or something? Why does every women’s garment look like a paper-snowflake activity gone wrong?

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Don’t get me wrong, those cold-shoulder shirts are cute… but, like, one of them. I don’t want random swatches of fabric cut out of every item in my closet. The cutout contagion has spread from shoulders to stomachs, sides, chests, pants, shoes, and bags. Did everyone just get over-excited about their new laser-cut manufacturing equipment? This fad was irritating but tolerable in July. It is now February and you are still trying to die-cut all my clothes. Staaahp it.

V603913_CROP1Bralettes: Just what you want with your support garment: a diminutive suffix. This is some infantalizing nonsense. Bralettes win the form over function award on this list. They are pretty, though… pretty useless. Basically, these are training bras with more lace and less utility. I find it kind of creepy that we’re sexifying a garment that is designed for pre-pubescent girls. The entire sexy-baby fetish can go. I am so ready for the bralette burning party.

Mules: I repeat: do we have a textile shortage? Why can I only buy half of a shoe these days? Why do they still cost as much as a whole shoe? Look, I love a good slip on… in the spring and summer months. Mules are having a moment in the dead of winter for why? Apparently, the footwear options this winter are over-the-knee boots or mules. You can have 710% of a shoe or 40% of a shoe. As a point of practicality, mules are not the best running-for-trains-and-planes shoes. I also have elfin feet, so my shoes fall off if they’re not literally strapped around my ankle.

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Upon further reflection… perhaps I should wear more mules and see if I can contrive some sort of millennial Cinderella story and then write a screenplay called Lost Soles.

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Ruffles: I don’t really have a pragmatic argument for this one, I just hate ruffles on my clothes. I find it very hard to take myself seriously if I’m covered in ruffles. They always seem to be draped over parts of my body that I would rather be as svelte as possible. They never lay right. If they get wrinkled, they’re impossible to iron. They add bulk.Ruffles are my personal nightmare.

Is it too much to ask for unadorned garments in fabrics that travel well and give me free range of motion? Is it??

 

What are the latest fads you want to throw on the fashion pyre?

 

2017 Life Olympics: We lived to tell about it

Another year of the Life Olympics in the books. A few solid milestones of progress. A few respectable efforts. And a few “How are we here again?” disappointments. The mile-markers are fun, but the disappointments are more to the point; the Life Olympics is asymptotic. I’m resisting the urge to put a value judgment on 2017. In turns, I felt depleted and rejuvenated.

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My main takeaway for the year is that I have decidedly outgrown some personal narratives and it’s time to rewrite them. How would you describe yourself in 140 characters? What is your personal elevator pitch? These “I’m a [_______] person” stories that we tell ourselves (and others) shape our sense of identity, our behavior, our ambitions – even our fashion choices. Ultimately, these narratives shape our lives, so what stories are you telling yourself? Are they serving you well?

What do your narratives say about your body? About your capacity to love and be loved? About your ability to do your job well? About your style? About your values? About your worth? Which ones are holding you back?

Some of my narratives, I’ve simply outgrown; what was true five years ago is no longer totally accurate or relevant today. Some of my narratives are just toxic vestiges of adolescence that have never served me well but are deeply ingrained in my sense of self and hard to slough off.

My plan for 2018 is to surround myself with people, ideas, and experiences that will help me construct positive and accurate new narratives.

I still have a few hours to marinate in the triumphs and failures of 2017, so here we go:

Career – Silver

This was a big year for Allovue. We placed a big bet on a new product, reworked our internal processes, and made some big transitions on the team. As we approach the five-year mark of our existence, I’ve been reflecting on how this journey started and where we are today. Last week, I flipped through my 2013-Q1 journal, where I found sketches for what became the product roadmap for the next five years. Every component of our product today is in there (cementing my deep belief in writing things down). As I reflect on Allovue’s narratives, I have perhaps allowed people to focus too much on the improbability of Allovue’s founding. In 2018, Allovue is going to shed its adolescent insecurities, too.

Health Bronze

This damn category. Constant travel continues to destroy my physical health efforts. My sense of well-being is inversely proportional to conference season. Gretchen Rubin’s writing on habits and goals made me rethink my approach to health goals. “Lose 10 pounds” shows up in nearly every quarterly goals page forever. I realized that this goal is kind of meaningless to me because I’m more motivated by action plans than end-states. Sure, it would be nice to lose 10 pounds, but that goal has nothing to do with what I actually care about: feeling healthy and looking fit. The most rational part of my brain knows that losing 10 pounds doesn’t actually have much to do with feeling or looking healthy – I could lose 10 pounds if I were to get a parasite (note: has happened; do not recommend), but that wouldn’t actually mean that I’ve accomplished the spirit of that goal. I started rewriting these goals to be specifically oriented around why I care about this and what I need to do to make it happen. Next, I need to do a better job planning around the constraints in my life, like building workout habits around mobile routines that I can do anywhere.

Home – Gold

I am supremely pleased with this category this year. I bought a new house just a block and a half from our office and I will be turning in my leased car in a couple of weeks. (This should probably also go into Health because it will do wonders for my safety to stop driving.) There are so many mental health consequences to this area of my life, too. While I enjoyed an amazing run with AirBNB for five years, it has been nice to enjoy some privacy at home. I’ve been cooking (mostly in the Instant Pot) and entertaining more, which has made the house feel like home quickly.

Moving inspired a big purge of stuff. Most notably, I decided to give away most of the books I had been hoarding and moving around since college. I had accumulated over 600 books at my previous house and I was determined to part with most of them (I probably didn’t need to hold onto those AP study guides). I used the Kon-Mari method, flipped through each one and whittled down my collection to about 50 books that held a certain joy for me, as well as about 25 that I hadn’t read yet but promised to do so within a year. Marie Kondo is a little wacky, but that method works. I now have my very own real-life Ideal Bookshelf that does, in fact, bring me great joy.

Soul – Bronze

This is borderline Did Not Place. My poor soul. My annual Goodreads Challenge performance was an embarrassment that ruined a six-year streak of reading growth. Woe! The only saving grace is that I did make good on my intention to read books from more diverse authors. This year, 40 percent of authors I read were people of color (compared to 15 percent last year) and 55 percent were women (compared to 48 percent last year). It wasn’t difficult to be mindful of author diversity, but it was necessary.

It was a fun year of (leisure) travel. My friend Ali and I spent a week adventuring in Croatia and Montenegro where we jumped off cliffs into the Adriatic Sea and drove up and down narrow mountain switch-backs at “bee speed,” as we named the speed at which a buzzing bee passes you on the road. Hey, we lived to tell about it. I’m currently sitting on the balcony of a house in beautiful Negril, Jamaica, which isn’t a bad place to ring in the new year. I had great travel experiences with friends this year, but for the first time in a while, I didn’t take any solo sojourns. If you haven’t traveled alone, it may seem lonely, but it’s actually incredibly rejuvenating. I missed the experience this year and need to make time for an independent adventure next year.

Lastly, the state of country hurt my soul this year – daily. America needs to get its act together. On the subject of narratives, this country needs to reclaim its own this year.

Relationships Silver

I want to be able to celebrate the rich relationships I have in my life – with my parents, friends, colleagues – but there’s a preoccupation with my romantic life that seems to overshadow this category of my life. On that, all I will say is this: I refuse to settle until I find what I’m looking for and I’ll let you know when I find it because I’ll know it when I see it.

All in all, a good year of growth and plenty of room for improvement.

Adios 2017!

Bienvenue 2018!

Who are you reading?

I love books – words in general, really. I come from a family of readers. Every summer – in the days before Kindles – my aunts and uncles and grandparents hauled big bags of books to trade at family gatherings. “What are you reading these days?” is a common topic of conversation.

I stopped reading for pleasure at some point in college – it wasn’t exactly a leisurely respite from the thousands of pages of required reading each semester. But after I finished grad school and settled into something like a rhythm of adult life, I found that I missed reading and rededicated myself to it. (Around this time, I also discovered Goodreads and was roundly horrified to see that I had read all of 2 books in 2011.)

I started setting annual reading goals and have been able to increase my reading time steadily each year for the past five years:

screenshot-2017-01-12-15-34-59

Yesterday, I was catching up with my friend Andrew who recently started a new personal reading challenge. We started chatting about what we’ve been reading, how we source recommendations, how we balance fiction and nonfiction texts. Then, Andrew pondered aloud something that I have often wondered myself: whose words am I reading? What’s the breakdown of male and female authors? Am I reading books by mostly White people, or also by Black, Hispanic, and Asian authors? We both suspected there were a lot of white male authors in the mix – particularly because we both read a lot of business books, which are overwhelmingly written by white men.

While I hope that Goodreads will someday allow me to analyze the authorship of my books as easily as the stats on page count or genre (stats from 2015 and 2016 above), I decided to run this analysis myself. Woof.

2014-2016 Analysis of Authors by Gender and Ethnicity

Between 2014 and 2016 I read 92 books. Here’s how those authors (or, in the case of essay anthologies, editors) broke down by gender:

2014-author2015-author-gender2016-author-gender

As you can see, I’m pretty consistently achieving gender parity across authors. I suspect that if I broke this down further, the majority of my nonfiction/business books would be authored by men, so I think that’s the area for improvement here. I would love to find more business books written by women. Right now, I think that list is limited to Sheryl Sandberg and Arianna Huffington.

And here’s the not-so-surprising yet majorly disconcerting breakdown of authors by ethnicity:

2014-author-ethn2015-author-ethn2016-author-ethn

I expected that the majority of these authors would be white, but this was jarring to see. Across 93 authors and editors of books that I’ve read in the past three years, 79 of them were white – nearly 85%. Only five books had Black or Hispanic authors: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2 books), Junot Diaz, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Toni Morrison.

This is startling to me because I have long held the assumption that I have been reading broadly, from a wide range of authors, genres, and perspectives. In reality, I’ve just been reading 50 shades of white.

Why does this matter? I love books and words because I believe they have power. I believe books have the power to challenge and shape our worldview, mold opinions, inspire ideas, and change perspectives. If my worldview, opinions, ideas, and perspectives are being narrated by white authors 85% of the time, they won’t be an accurate reflection of the country or the world. One of the joys and aims of reading for me is to change my thinking or learn something new; reading primarily white authors is more likely to validate my existing worldview and perspective than to challenge me to consider new ones.

This has been an eye-opening exercise for me and something I’ll be paying much closer attention to as I select books from now on. If you have recommendations of favorite books by Black or Hispanic authors, please share in the comments!

Life Olympics 2016

I love a good reset. Birthdays. School years. Fiscal years. Calendar years. New quarters, months, weeks, days. We get a lot of opportunities to pause, reflect, and press the reset button. For all of my post-college adult life, the Life Olympics has helped me take full advantage of these temporal markers, but the annual round-up is still my favorite.

2016 Awards Ceremony:

Career – Bronze

What a weird year for Allovue. We started 2016 fresh off of a Series A raise with big plans and big expectations for the year ahead. 2016 would mark the first full year that our product was in the market. Our team grew from 8 people in November 2015 to 24 by the end of 2016. We moved into a beautiful new office. We expanded to new states, with districts large and small, urban and rural. We hosted our first Future of Education Finance Summit. We launched our blog. We redesigned our product and built a new budget module.

Why the bronze, then? I wish I could tell you I was fully prepared for the nuanced challenges that come with 300% growth in a year, but there’s just no preparing for that. At several points throughout the year, I thought to myself, “So this is why investors don’t like first-time founders, huh?” I reflected a lot on the difference between bad decisions and wrong decisions: with bad decisions, you choose an option that flies in the face of data, advice, and general signs of trouble; with wrong decisions, you choose an option that made a lot of sense at the time, with the information at hand, and it later turned out to be wrong. Wrong decisions tend to be clear in hindsight, and I made a few of those this year. I’m ending the year a little more sobered on the myriad challenges of building something big and transformative, yet just as steadfast on mission and vision. My plan for 2017 is much more concrete and specific. In nearly 4 years of this work, 2016 may have led me up the steepest learning curve yet. In 2017, I’ll need to put those those lessons to good use.

Health – Silver

You know what? Not horrible. This was probably my most consistently healthy year, despite being on the road at least half the year and traveling about 150K miles. I even finally conquered the Whole 30 Challenge and got back down to my college weight before my 30th birthday. Silver because I still get into ruts with exercise and eating well (do you KNOW how hard it is to eat healthy in an airport?), and still prioritize work over health when push comes to shove. I aspire to be the kind person who maintains their diet and exercise regimen no matter what, but I’m not there yet. I’ve done a better job this year of saying, “Hey girl, you can take a 2 hour break for yoga. The spreadsheets will be here when you get back I PROMISE,” but I’m still not very good at keeping health practices sacred. Customer wants me somewhere? Investor calls? Employee has an issue? All those things take precedence. I’m not at all convinced that they shouldn’t. Maybe someday I’ll have a normal job and feel like work can wait, but right now I still prioritize all things Allovue over my personal needs, and I’m kind of ok with that.

Home – Gold

My little house is looking good. I finally fixed a leak that has been plaguing me for years, refinanced my mortgage, installed window treatments throughout the house, and got rid of some nasty overgrown tree branches. I finished redecorating a few rooms, and had a gangbusters year with AirBNB. This year, my AirBNB earnings fully covered the costs of my mortgage, taxes, and internet service. This has afforded me the financial freedom to save, invest, and travel. And ya’ll thought this was a terrible idea. I also hit all my personal finance goals this year by getting myself fully out of “I-floated-the-company-and-my-non-salaried-life-on-my-credit-card-for-a-little-while-debt” and finally prioritized savings.

In college, I made a deal with myself: I could make risk-it-all/you-only-live-once financial choices until I turned 30, and then I had to get serious about saving because I had officially made it out of my twenties alive. I took advantage of this by traveling all over the world with every spare cent, buying a house I couldn’t really afford, and quitting my job and cashing out my pension to chase a dream/vision. I have no regrets about any of this, but I turned 30 in November, so it’s time to hold up my other end of the bargain.

Spirit – Silver

A pretty good year for this old soul. I took trips to Paris, Cancun, Vegas, and back to the Dominican Republic for some good old-fashioned unplugging. I kept up with my singing. I hit my Goodreads goal of 35 books. I went to the symphony a lot. I saw Mike Birbiglia’s live stand-up. I’ve also just started calling bullshit more candidly when I see it, and that’s gotta be good for my soul.

I didn’t write as much as I would have liked to, so that’s a goal for 2017. I also didn’t see as much theatre as I would have liked to. And at this point, I’m really rusty on performing. I miss it, and need to find a way to incorporate it into my life that doesn’t involve 4 hours of rehearsal every night for 3 months.

Relationships – Gold fucking star 

The best thing I did this year on the relationships front was to reconnect with Ali, my best friend from college. She lives in California and we’d mostly fallen out of touch during the past few years. I learned from the Book of Face that she had landed the lead role in a Neil Labute play in Long Beach. I secretly booked a ticket and a flight and surprised her at the stage door. The look on her face (and subsequent mauling) when she realized it was me, is probably one of my top 5 memories. This was in July, and we’ve rendezvoused to Las Vegas, dined in LA, and spent my birthday weekend in Baltimore (her surprise to me) since then.

While I’ll probably never forgive the writers of How I Met Your Mother for their dream-crushing series finale, this Ted Mosby quote sticks with me:

“That’s how it goes kids. The friends, neighbors, drinking buddies, and partners in crime you love so much when you’re young, as the years go by, you just lose touch. You will be shocked, kids, when you discover how easy it is in life to part ways with people forever. That’s why, when you find someone you want to keep around, you do something about it.”

Truth be told, it hasn’t been that hard to meet up with her semi-regularly – it just requires some effort and planning. So, find the people in your life worth the effort, and just make the effort. It’s so worth it.

And my love life? My grandmother is banned from asking about it, and so are you.

In conclusion

So this is interesting: the categories in which I usually suck – not so bad this year! I think I’m doing a better job at being a whole person. I’d still rather be working than doing almost anything else all the time, but so what? My work gives my life meaning and purpose, so it makes sense that I would want to spend as much time as possible on it. I’ve come to accept this, rather than feel bad about it.

I often find myself driving alone across a stretch of America very late at night, on my way to some Residence Inn where I can heat up a frozen Amy’s lasagna from the lobby market before collapsing in a room that looks uncannily similar in every city in the country. I hum a little Taylor Swift, “Midniiiiight, long driiiiives,” headlights piercing the black night.

“There are students in those hills,” I think to myself; and this is my manifest destiny.