Defining 2016

The goal is not to change who you are, but to become more of who you are at your best.”

-Sally Hogshead

The accolade made me laugh, “I just finished a book award.” Someone at my company had remembered the story of when I’d regaled a bunch of and-then-it-rainedcomrades with my biggest accomplishment, only to realize later I’d forgotten to include that I’d finished writing the book. The yearly company awards, had honored me in the best way they could do to a brand new employee, with a cute story about one of my greatest accomplishments.

Even if the accomplishment was a few years old.

This year, the award did not celebrate an accomplishment; but rather, like many others, echoed a quality I’d come to be known by during my now 18-month tenure:

“Freedom of speech award… for never being scared to share her views.”

Several folks in the audience laughed, while others patted me on the back. Me? Instant reflection. Because in contrast to my previous award that celebrated an accomplishment five years earlier, this one seemed to fit precisely with the past 12 months.

In my previous post I noted my lack of international travel this year. Those who know me know how much of my life this particular pastime makes up. It’s not because I consider myself glamorous or charged to do so, but because I simply can’t get enough of seeing and outside-houselearning about new places. This year, when someone would ask where my big trip was to (as they often did), I had to point them to coming years.

In addition to no big trip, there was no big race this year; As I also mentioned in a previous post, I dropped out of the two half-marathons I signed up for. I built a new house, but there was no particularly exciting move to go along with it like previous years. No job changes, but rather a settling in of sorts to my current one. And while a couple of relationships held promise at the beginning, they fizzled out, leaving me again looking for my ideal partner.

As I initially sat down to write my end-of-year post, the lack of “new and exciting” caused me pause. Was it the year of the new house? No — in fact I don’t like harping on that as an accomplishment (I consider it a blessing). Was it the year of domestic travel? Or could my job and career distinguish the year — one of growth and advancement?

What was the lesson? What could define a year so absent fireworks?

The first step in building a house this winter was to put my condo on the market. While I’d secured a place to stay in the event it sold before my new house was ready, a sale in less than 24 hours still caught me off guard. I took it in stride though, and moved my dogs and me into our new locale, which seemed perfectly doable… until the dog there bit me near the eye on the very first day. Not only did I have to seek medical attention (luckily the bite missed my actual eye), but more importantly, with three months to go, I had to figure new living circumstances.

I remember driving over to my mom’s that night for dinner, 75% of my possessions in storage, wondering what in the world I’d do with two dogs and myself. Sure, amazing things lay on the horizon, but in that moment, I had a lot to figure out to get there. To my relief, my mom offered her exposed basement with a bedroom and bathroom for my dogs and me to spend the next few months, and I jumped at it. The generosity proved incredibly humbling, as did 13575920_10103640982269168_1472118726971611899_oactually moving into that 2000-sq foot dream house three months later.

To look at my job and current happiness with it, you’d have hardly guessed the tears and frustration that ensued this summer. Looking back now, the growing pains were normal, learning what was expected of me, figuring out how to navigate internal and external relationships. But the initial constructive yet difficult feedback made me question a few things. Is this the job for me? Is this the company for me? Is this the place in my career I want to be?

That self-reflection produced 3 surefire answers: Yes, Yes, and Yes. And so that same week of my review, I walked into my CEO’s office and said “Can we set up some time to go over what I need to do to be better at this job.” The mentor he is, he immediately put 30 minutes on the calendar that day, and our heart-to-heart sticks with me even months later. That conversation, combined with a lot of “a-ha” moments and other in-depth conversations with company veterans, resulted in a near opposite review 6 months later. One of most prideful notes of feedback?

“It was like someone told her what she needed to do better and she changed overnight.”

Not long after my review this summer, two friends from Arizona came to town and we visited Door County. The three of us dined at the top of the Peninsula our last night, determined to catch one of the brilliant sunsets the “thumb” of Wisconsin is known for. We knew there was a storm coming, but the radar seemed to promise a break at just the right time, and sure enough, we caught one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve seen from a lookout point called “Sunset Beach.”

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Now we just needed to make the 45-minute drive back down the peninsula to our hotel.

The rain started within minutes, and quickly intensified. “How long to our hotel?” My friend who’d volunteered to drive asked.

“Forty-five minutes… but we’ll be fine, just go as slow as you need to.” I glanced at the radar, and held in a gasp.

“How’s it looking, Megan?”

I sighed. “Not great… but just go slow, it’s covering the peninsula, so we don’t have a choice but to just keeping going. We’ll get there, it will be okay.”

“Are you sure?”

The red seemed to jump off the screen. “Yes, it’s not going to be an easy drive, but it’s definitely doable. Hang on.”

Slow and steady, but determined, optimistic, and appreciative, we  arrived at our destination an hour later.

In a similar way as I arrived at the end of this year.

Indeed 2016 (election or no election) wasn’t a hallmark year; It wasn’t the worst year ever as I routinely refer to 2013; it wasn’t the comeback year of 2014. And it didn’t include those major trips or other accomplishments. But as I consider experiences like these from the past 12 months, I recognize an internal theme that makes it feel defining to me still, a mindset and mentality that can only be attributed to the growth and lessons of past years: Pushing through adversity, reflecting on what makes me happy, fighting for what makes me happy, and as that office award stated, not being afraid to express myself.

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In a blog about 2016, I’d indeed be remiss to completely leave out the election cycle –especially given the time contributed a lot to that office award; but I’ll only touch on the subject to tell a story I found extremely relevant to this post’s lesson. Just after the nominations were announced this August, CNN aired a documentary on each of the candidates, and a particular story about Hillary Clinton struck me: After giving a rousing speech at her commencement ceremony (she was chosen as the first student speaker ever), a young Hillary and her classmates had an opportunity to write about aspirations of one another: what job each might end up in, who they might marry. What did Hillary’s classmates write about her in 1969?

“Most likely to be the first woman president.”

Now, Hillary Clinton will of course not be our first woman president; however, considering she came the closest of anyone yet, and considering her graduation era was a time in which women had barely begun to hold any power in politics, it fascinates me to think her actions and statements then made her classmates think she was capable of such a feat.

It also inspires me.

Not to say it matters what other people think — you should of course never let anyone’s opinion of you hold you back. But the thing is, once you truly own who you are, your character becomes reflected in your actions and experiences… and people see that in both big and small ways.

To me, that office award wasn’t just about people noticing I wasn’t afraid to speak up; it was about them noticing I wasn’t afraid to be me.

snowpicI’ve heard people say they dread their 30s, and even more so, their 40s.But as I look back at the last couple of years in particular, I’m kind of enjoying this growing older thing, because as I’ve continued to build on the lessons each one has brought, I’ve found myself continuing to grow more into the person I want to be.

And that’s the ultimate lesson of 2016.

There is no doubt that each year comes with unpredictability. Some bring excruciating heartache; some will bring unfathomable joy. Most? I think most will bring some combination of those things; and through all of that, the best you can do is take what you can from each experience and build on them to discover your best and truest self.

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Cheers to 2017!

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