Expand Yourself

“Do not shrink. Your voice matters.” 

I was in the back room at a journalism conference 6-ish years ago and Dori Maynard was giving me a pep talk. I don’t remember why but my morale was low and I felt lost (not too dissimilar from now, actually!) Dori listened before using that moment to issue a call to action for me to see that I’d start feeling less lost as soon as I got to work on making my own path. “Everything is changing, nothing is guaranteed… create, invent, show up. Do not shrink. Your voice matters.

Tonight I attended the DC memorial service for Dori and it was beautiful and sweet, painful and real. I still cannot believe she is gone because I see her everywhere: in my work, on mastheads around the world, honoring good journalism, pushing where we can do better, asking hard questions, pushing us, pushing me. Do not shrink.

“The country’s greatest achievements came about because somebody believed in something, whether it was in a steam engine, an airplane or a space shuttle. Only when we lose hope in great possibilities are we really doomed. Reversals and tough times inspire some people to work harder for what they believe in.” — Dori’s father, Robert C. Maynard wrote.

Dori was our relentless champion. Not just a champion for diversity in journalism, for media we all deserve. She saw an inclusive world most people in media could not even begin to imagine, one where diverse voices can shape our media and drive the future. At the Maynard Institute her heart and soul was committed to making this future come alive: create, invent, show up.

“She spoke truth to power even when addressing the most formidable audience. Her voice can now only be heard by those willing to carry on her work.

Geneva Overholser said tonight “Being around Dori was like being called to expand yourself.” That is the essence of Dori I always try to hold with me. I work in industries which usually render women that look like me invisible. Yet with Dori I always felt seen and that gave me faith to expand myself and work hard for a future I believe in, for a better world we all deserve. I will always, always cherish her for that. She made me brave.

Do not shrink. Your voice matters.

On being alone, together.

Sparked by inspiring friends in my writing group, I’m kicking off a 30 day blogging challenge here. This is Day 1. On y va…

I had no idea I was in such good company.

Though I don’t like this also meant I am probably not the one who felt spent, empty and exhausted.

And I have been for awhile but I finally took advice from good, caring friends and took some days off to recharge. Four days later I sit here feeling like a new woman— better, re-energized, and happier. It was such a clear, obvious fix that I also sit here wondering: what the hell took me so long?

Now I see why it was hard to recognize— this is not how I usually get exhausted. Instead of maintaining an intense international travel schedule, deploying to various disasters, visiting with field projects or speaking at conferences, I’ve been on a just-as-intense meeting grind though never really leaving DC or New York. Constantly on, with so many people, in so many meetings that I usually didn’t have a voice by the end of the week while also still working across different time zones. Not to mention managing the usual high-stress demands that comes in tow with being from a large intergenerational immigrant family. For some reason, because I wasn’t jet-lagged or decompressing from intense/sad trips, my exhaustion didn’t fully register until I was checking in with a good friend, dreading the meeting-people-packed day ahead. Empty, exhausted, out of gas it clicked.

“I am a motherfucking introvert,” I declared.

It is interesting being an outgoing person with a large personality and a genuine love of people… who also almost always would love to just to sit with those people she genuinely loves and have a quiet meal or read a book rather than hang out in a bar. I grew up in a large family, constantly surrounded by people all the time. But in that loud house full of people, I bifurcated like a boss: the unofficial kid-bossypants organizing neighborhood games but also carving out my own moments of zen constantly lost in books or exploring. Once I literally created my own reading cave in a set of bushes and was there so long, so focused on 1001 Arabian Nights and tuned out to world around me that there was a full-out search party organized.

This is all to say, I present to the world as an extrovert but I am a motherfucking introvert.

And was totally in denial about that for a long time.

I was in denial each time I tried to sit in bars reading a book and get ridiculously annoyed when someone inevitably tries to ask me about what I was reading.

Finally conceding that night on the phone with my friend spent and empty: I am a motherfucking introvert.

Later I tweeted/FB this joke:

And was genuinely surprised how much it resonated with my friends on FB who had excellent suggestions for introvert-friendly social spots. I didn’t realize I had so many introvert friends, that so many other public-facing leaders also crave quiet and that they hand intel on so many A+ spots… hold outs!

“Wow. I’m really not alone in this…” I thought to myself. “Well I am alone… but so very not.”

That night on the phone with my friend, we talked through what I could do to refill my energy well. Listening and acting on that counsel was such a tremendous gift for myself. I’ve always been proud to be someone who derives strength from solitude and perfectly happy being alone with myself — when did I accept army crawling on empty the only option rather than a call to create the space I need to thrive?

The core of this tale is quite basic: Area Woman Takes Break, Feels Better. But for a post about solitude the essence of the outcome is even more awesome: giving space to discover more about ourselves and sharing what we need to show up as our best self can create a stronger connection with others. We can get even better at being alone, together and it will make us closer friends, stronger leaders and happier people.

“Have your own revelations… we can all stand to unplug and get inside our own heads a little more often.” – Susan Cain

What magical things did I do on this tiny break?

Nothing spectacular: read, sit in quiet, exercise, write. Alone.

And it was motherfucking glorious.