Category Archives: Nicole’s Soapbox

Meet Marissa Mayer: Chief Progress Thwarter

This just in from Yahoo: CEO Marissa “My Baby is Easy” Mayer has pissed off working women for the second time – and managed to get under the skin of working parents, introverts, creative business types, hard-core software developers, and basically anyone who isn’t exactly like Marissa.

Her latest mandate puts the kibosh on work-at-home arrangements, requiring all employees to work full-time in the Yahoo offices. Her explanation for this nonsense is that flexible work arrangements inhibit innovation and that “face-to-face interaction among employees fosters a more collaborative culture.” Pundits and academics everywhere are pointing to her attempt to mirror Google’s culture, including this New York Times quote from an analyst: “She brings all the Google lessons to the table, and Google is very focused on having your life revolve around their campus so you can spend a significantly larger chunk of time at work.”

Isn’t that FANTASTIC?! At a time when work/life balance is spinning off its axis, yet we have more tools than ever to recalibrate it, we’ve got this Woman in a Bubble with 17 Nannies telling people how, when, and where to work. First, women were up in arms over Marissa’s own virtually non-existent maternity leave. But despite the fact that family leave in the U.S. is sorely lacking in comparison to other countries, I was willing to give her some leeway. Regardless of how much parental leave is available, the amount of leave one takes is a personal choice. If Marissa loves her work and its intrinsic rewards make her a better mother, then far be it for me to judge. The question is whether she expects other women at Yahoo to make the same choice – and that is the core of the work/family debate, particularly for mothers. The beauty of where we’re at today isn’t whether it’s best for a woman to stay home versus work, or to take gobs of maternity leave versus just a few short weeks, but that she can choose. And that all of us, as women, support those individual choices. Bashing other women and insisting that our way is the right way isn’t really what sisterhood is all about. So long as Marissa’s on that bandwagon, I can overlook the maternity leave thing.

But that need to support individual choices is the foundation of why I cannot and will not accept this abolishment of the flexible working arrangements that allow so many parents to feel like they are – for the first time in history – given the resources to strike a balance between a fulfilling career and caring for their families. And it’s more than a working mom/dad thing. It’s also a work style thing. I agree with Marissa that face-to-face interaction is crucial to innovation; the “mindmelds” and “brain dumps” that occur throughout the day are critical in the product groups, where specs are written and features managed. Indeed, this is Marissa’s background, the hallmark of her days at Google – and she was exceptional at her job. But this new policy makes the assumption that everyone works as she does; and frankly, that everyone does the same job (or at least the job she deems most important). And THAT is a giant management misstep.

What about the employees who aren’t tasked with innovating? What about those who are executing on specs and strategy – the developers, designers, writers, marketers? Many of these people work best alone, away from the distractions of the office, in order to tap into their creativity, to access the all-important “flow” that allows them to produce. Clearly Marissa hasn’t read Susan Cain’s influential “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.” The book features a case study of one notorious introvert who took full advantage of flexible working: Steve Wozniak. (Perhaps you’ve heard of him, Marissa? He’s kind of a big deal in the Valley.)

An effective manager understands that people work in different ways – and empowers their employees to work in a manner that garners optimal results. They trust their people and give them choices. This is why, during my time at Microsoft, flexible hours and telecommuting were customary. In fact, if you needed to hang your desk from the ceiling, plaster your office walls in aluminum foil, or communicate with colleagues via puppets (pinky swear – on all accounts) in order to produce, so be it. The proof in this pudding comes from one of my favorite former Microsoft execs, Brian Valentine, who led the Windows team in its heyday: “I make sure everyone on my team understands their role and that they have what they need to execute. Then I stay the hell out of the way.”

Let’s also not forget that Marissa’s sought-after innovation is what allowed a global, virtual workplace to emerge – it’s what gave rise to email, Skype, and Live Meeting. A move like hers flies in the face of what thousands of high-tech employees have bled, sweated, and teared to create. And while I understand that not everyone is productive while working from home, if you’ve got issues with people being distracted by Judge Judy and piles of laundry, you have a people problem, not a policy problem. Manage out the dead wood, Marissa – don’t assume they’ll shape up if you insist they work like you. (And P.S. – just because it’s a high-tech company doesn’t mean it’s Google. Best practices, yes. Copycat bullshit you think will automatically translate, no.)

I had high hopes for Marissa. Not only is she the youngest CEO of a Fortune 500 company, she’s the youngest female CEO, and a member of my generation. But her timebomb back to 1962 is an incredible slight to the women who blazed the trail before us, who in all honesty laid the groundwork that’s allowed Marissa to be where she is today. It’s not clear whether she’s unaware of or apathetic about these stalwart efforts – but either way, it’s a problem. So many of us Gen X women were hoping she’d serve as a beacon for progress, that she’d own all parts of herself – the masculine and feminine sides we’d peeked at and wanted more of: the math/science whiz, techie, cupcake baker, fashion fiend. That’s the example we want to set for future generations – of both women and men: that you can be anything and EVERYTHING you are. That you have choices and can decide what’s best for you.

With that in mind, we loved Marissa for her strength and independence, and hoped there was a nurturing, team-spirit side as well – the true definition of being a whole woman. Instead, she distanced herself from the pack and, through her actions (always louder than words), has seemingly shamed choices different from her own. That’s simply not sisterhood. It’s not even humankind.

And it’s nowhere near progress.

Holiday Wit & Wisdom – 2012 Edition

 surrender

Everyone collects something – vinyl records, microbrewery pint glasses, Facebook friends.

I collect quotes.

They’re splashed all over my home and hundreds of them are stashed in a running Word document on my laptop. They span the breadth of great philosophers like the 17th century’s Blaise Pascale to our modern-day Alain de Botton. There are wise words from Pushkin, Dostoyevsky, e.e. cummings, Thomas Edison, Leonard Cohen, Helen Keller, Anais Nin, and Clay Shirky. And where would we be in 2012 without a few choice musings from Carrie Bradshaw, “thirtysomething”’s Miles Drentel, and of course, Ron Burgundy.

Maybe it’s this whole being-a-writer thing, but these words of wisdom and revelation help ground me. They serve as a muse when it’s time to sit in front of a blank page. And they’re also a diary of sorts; I can scroll through the document and see the lessons I was learning at different points in my life: self-discovery, independence, creative struggles, love, connection, happiness, motivation.

As many of you know, this has been a big year for me – filled with change, adventure, and uncertainty. Such is the drill when you meet an amazing man and, nine days later, he learns he’s being relocated to Montreal (details here). That whole experience + turning 40 (!) + a painfully slow first six months of the business year = a sizable chunk of time spent reflecting on what I’ve learned over the past four decades, and the lessons I want to carry with me into this next phase of life. Without a doubt, the most significant is the one at the top of this post: “Surrender to what is. Let go of what was. Have faith in what will be.”

Throughout 2012, I’ve often sat down to sift through the quotes, add a few more to the list, and think about what I’ve learned. In doing so, I also started jotting down quotes of my own – words that have tumbled from my lips in conversation, leapt from my fingertips in blog posts, and illuminated my brain during personal light bulb moments. Some of them were fairly quick and simple revelations that struck me out of the blue; others were gleaned through painstaking, lengthy, sometimes-heartbreaking experiences whose lessons didn’t register for years.

I believe one of the greatest gifts is that of story and wisdom gleaned from a life lived. So in this season of giving, I’m passing along my “40 Things I Know at 40.” Although all those philosophers and visionaries and whatnot are inspiring, these are my own words. My hope in sharing them is that you’ll think about your life lessons and pay them forward – to lift someone’s spirits, soothe them during strife, encourage them to step back, or inspire them to push forward.

Wishing you love, laughs, wit, wisdom, and many blessings this season and in 2013,

Nicole

40 Things I Know at 40

  1. If you have your health, people you love, and meaningful work that brings you joy, you have the cake AND the icing. Everything else is just sprinkles.
  2. Surround yourself with authentic, positive people. But first – cultivate your own authenticity and positive outlook. Then you won’t depend on anyone else to define your life direction or mood.
  3. Whoever you’re with, whatever you’re doing, make it the center of your world at that moment.
  4. We can’t control the behavior of others, but we have the power to tell them what’s bothering us. It’s up to them if they want to change – and it’s up to us if we want to wait or walk.
  5. It’s much scarier – but far more rewarding – to blaze your own trail. As Elle’s great E. Jean Carroll says, “Never look for a job when you can create a job.”
  6. Chasing prestige guarantees you will always feel empty. Instead, chase what feels good, brings meaning, makes you lose track of time, and makes other people smile.
  7. It’s better to be alone than be with someone and feel alone.
  8. Wheat, dairy, and sugar hate pretty much everyone’s guts.
  9. If you find yourself feeling hopeless, rattled, pessimistic, or drained in someone’s presence, stop spending time with them.
  10. Whatever you imagine will happen, often will. Be aware of the worst outcome, but assume the best one will occur. Nothing is foolproof but it certainly feels a hell of a lot better to believe the future warrants Ray-Bans.
  11. Always take the risk. Failure is better than forever wondering “what if.” And success never sucks.
  12. If you’re alive, it’s not too late.
  13. Always make time for rest and fun. Burnout is real and will slowly kill you.
  14. Learn to love your own company – hold court at a table for one, take solo vacations, attend concerts and museums and movies alone.
  15. We actually control very little in our lives. Almost everything is a transaction, and thus dependent on the action of someone else. All we can do is get out of bed and try. The rest is up to the world.
  16. The certain past often seems less daunting than the uncertain future, but going backwards is rarely the answer.
  17. Be a dabbler. Try new things, try lots of things, even if you’re just sticking your toe in the water. Life is really fun if you’re a jack of many trades AND a master of something.
  18. Success on anyone’s terms but your own is not success.
  19. There is great power in vulnerability. Only when you make yourself vulnerable – and make your needs known, even if the anxiety of expressing them makes your knees buckle – can you get your needs met and make progress in your relationships.
  20. Just because it worked for you doesn’t mean it will work for somebody else. (That goes for this list, BTW! Take or leave any of it…no hard feelings. :->)
  21. Everyone is worthy of love and kindness. Other than that, no one owes you anything.
  22. If you’ve been knocking on one door for a long time – to the point where you’re taking an axe to it – you’re probably missing dozens of open doors behind you. At least one of them probably leads to something much better than what’s behind the closed door. Put down the axe and turn around.
  23. Learn the difference between your gut instinct and fear – they feel eerily similar.
  24. Forget the expectations you had last year or five years ago or when you graduated college. What do you want based on who you are today and who you want to be tomorrow?
  25. Life scripts are boring, and well-paved paths are the best way to get stuck in a traffic jam.
  26. Strive to be a whole person – embrace and express all sides of yourself.
  27. Having it all depends on how you define “all.” Figure out what that means to you.
  28. Whether in life or behind the wheel, detours are fun – and often lead you to places you never imagined.
  29. Life is not a case of “either/or” but of “yes AND” (props to my improv training :->)
  30. Busyness is not a virtue. It’s usually an escape.
  31. Sometimes you have to let go of what you want and love what’s on your plate.
  32. Constantly striving for the next thing – job, relationship, whatever – and assuming that THEN you’ll be happy is bullshit. Stop moving the goal posts and find a way to be happy now. The rest will take care of itself.
  33. Define what you want – visualize it, write it down. As clearly as you can. Then let it go. Some people will tell you to do one or the other…do BOTH.
  34. Focusing on what’s wrong just begets more of what’s wrong.
  35. Hatred, judgment, and intolerance are never the answer. Try love, compassion, and kindness instead.
  36. It’s not anyone else’s job to take care of our feelings or make sure our needs are met.
  37. “Life is short” is not an excuse to behave irresponsibly.
  38. The first thing we do to take care of ourselves is put a roof over our heads, food on the table, clothes on our backs, and money in the bank. If you’re not meeting these essentials, everything else you’re doing to “take care of yourself” is extraneous.
  39. If you can learn to forgive yourself – and be gentle with yourself – you’ll find you have more compassion for others. And it improves your interactions with everyone around you.
  40. We often hear, “Life is about the journey, not the destination.” But there’s actually no destination. Life IS the journey. When the journey’s over, you’re dead. So enjoy it, embrace it, squeeze the love out of every minute.

And now the part where I punch IBS in the face

My friend Jen Worick just published her book, “Things I Want to Punch in the Face” – a collection of posts from her popular and totally hi-larious blog of the same name. This past Friday, I attended one of her book signings/readings/”Punch Parties” where she read a bit from the book, engaged us all in a rousing game of “Punch in the Face or Make Out With” (players had to guess which she’d do – like with lima beans or Katy Perry), and invited a few of her writerly friends to read their own punches. I had the great honor of being invited to do so and – in true Nicole fashion – I stood in front of a room of people and talked about….

Shitting my pants. Because I feel the inherently human is the thread of continuity that connects us all. Therefore I have no shame. No scruples. And so my punch of Irritable Bowel Syndrome – herein referred to as IBS – went like this:

I don’t care that everyone has a medical cross to bear. I will delightedly trade my IBS for your eczema, sinusitis, or wonky ACL just to never again hear the words, “Did you just SHIT on my new sofa?!” come out of my boyfriend’s mouth.

Ever. Again.

What’s most annoying about this is that I spent the first few decades of my life all GI-Jammed-Up, and as soon as I hit 35, it’s been a non-stop porcelain bus ride, often preceded by a sprint previously only achieved by FloJo. And, clearly, it’s not always a successful run.

Then there’s the arduous keeping of a diary in effort to figure out what triggers this all-hallowed mess. Is it gluten? Sugar? Soy? Thai food? Dairy, chocolate, stress, too much hormones, too little hormones, gamma rays, kryptonite, the empathetic emotional distress for that guy who just swan-dived from space? It’s a mystery so puzzling even Columbo, Miss Marple, and that weird Hodges guy from CSI couldn’t figure it out if they were locked in a padded cell with nothing but food diaries and stool samples.

I do declare that without IBS, we would live in a world of equality. One where IBS sufferers will not sneer at, but instead stand beside those who suck down deep-dish pizza, cheesecake, and ooey gooey brownies without so much as a pit stop at the commode. One where we can all enjoy food – and life – as it’s offered to us. Without a Gas-X chaser. Without Prilosec. And where sofa slipcovers are always pristine.

Holiday Wishes and Wisdom

Holiday greetings, tidings, and well wishes to you, dear family and friends! I hope this finds you healthy, happy, and looking forward to the new year.

After seven years of major metamorphosis – divorce, two cross-country moves, performing on various stages, selling a home, buying another, starting a business, growing a business, stabilizing a business – 2011 marked a slowing of change in my outer world. There were, of course, highlights: bidding adieu to clients I’d outgrown (no offense, Microsoft); welcoming new clients – including HTC, where my friend and former colleague, Michele, is creating the internal communications function from the ground up, and has enlisted me to help her in this exciting endeavor. There was also a fair amount of travel: Palm Springs, NYC, Maui (photos here), Lake Chelan – mostly with cherished friends, as well as some rejuvenating solo time. And I awoke my dormant performer by joining the Seattle Ladies Choir for their premiere season. Given that my last forays onstage were of the improv / comedic nature during my time in NYC, it was wonderful to exercise the lungs through song – for the first time in 25 years.

But perhaps the most interesting development of 2011 was the realization that many people are in periods of significant transformation. Over the course of the year, a number of them found their way to me – either through mutual friends or just as we got to know one another better – and I found myself repeatedly being asked, “How did you do it?” How did you recover from the loss of a 15-year relationship? How did you build a successful consulting business, doing what you love? How did you buy a home and create financial security when you’re single and self-employed?

When people ask these questions, I sense they’re seeking a clear answer, a sage bit of wisdom that will help them find their way through the dust clouds, fog, and cobwebs that life repeatedly throws our way. But our lives are an amalgam of the many choices we’ve made throughout our journey – thus, no one move someone makes, even if it was revolutionary for them, will cause the same effect in another person’s life.

What I can offer, however, is this: all too often, when the dust swirls and blurs our view of what’s ahead, we freak out and start looking for detours to escape the uncertainty. But compare this to driving when visibility is so poor even the fog lights don’t cut it – panicking and detouring could send you off the road and into a ditch, or over a cliff. Instead, you’d be wise to stop and wait for conditions to clear, for the road to reveal itself. And the same applies in life: stop, breathe, tune into your inner voice…and let it show you the way.

That’s the best piece of advice I have, the one I credit most for helping me get to this point. But it really pisses some people off because they want something concrete, some step-by-step guide to barreling through the unknown. Believe me, I’ve been there. It’s unnerving to just pull over and get quiet for a while. And allowing that inner voice to come alive and guide you requires a lot of time, a lot of soul searching, a lot of brutal self-honesty, a lot of risk-taking, a lot of courage, a lot of tackling life alone, a lot of tears, a lot of teeth-gritting, and a lot of letting go. When that inner voice narrates the GPS of your life, you have to be ready to accept that it’s lonely out there on the road paved by choices all your own. You’ll veer away from some of your relationships and activities as you make room for new people and opportunities better suited to who you really are – and, more importantly, who you’re becoming.

So – if you have an inner voice you suffocate with a pillow, stop it. And if you think you don’t have an inner voice, you’re wrong. It just got so sick of you not listening, it finally gave you the finger and went into hibernation. Either way, you can jab an IV of Jolt Cola into its jugular by asking yourself this question:

“If I had only six months to live, what would I at least try to accomplish?”

Close your eyes and really imagine a doctor giving you this jarring prognosis. What comes to mind arrives courtesy of your inner voice – these things are your passions, your purpose. Sure, there’s bucket list stuff like skydiving and traveling to India and riding naked on a Harley (no judgment). But then there’s the real stuff, the Six Months to Live list. We’re talking going to medical school, figuring out how to sell your art, boot-scooting your mega-yum cookies out of the kitchen and into the cases of your own bakery. Remember, you only have six months left – you may not actually get your M.D. or see a painting sold, or proffer that first double-chocolate-cherry-macadamia bite of sinfulness, but you’ll literally die trying.

My wish for you in the coming year is that, even with the hustle and bustle and electronic madness of modern life, you’ll carve out some quiet time to listen to your inner voice. And that you’ll start letting it guide you – from the bucket list stuff all the way to the real, Six Months to Live List stuff. I also hope you’ll keep in mind that no one ever “arrives” or is fully enlightened. We’re always evolving on this topsy-turvy ride called life, though I believe we arrive at certain mile markers along the way that indicate our preparedness for various challenges – relationships, career success, children, unearthing our unique gifts and giving them back to the world. Because there is something you can do better than any other. Your inner voice knows what that is and, if you obey it, you’ll do it – before the ride is over.

Blessings, peace, health, and happiness to you and those you love – this season and throughout 2012.

With much love,
Nicole

Generation X bites reality right back

One of my favorite topics (my generation) by a great writer (from my generati0n). (Thanks for this, Scott O.)

And my additional $.02/$200:

Damn straight, we were latchkey kids. Damn straight, we only got trophies when we placed, not when we participated.

Damn straight, we brought you Google and Twitter – and VitaminWater and Pearl Jam. We were also the generation who convinced employers that working remotely, flex time, and casual attire were worth more than corner offices and gold watches. And that an individual contributor was just as critical – if not more so – than middle management waste. You have us to thank for that.

And P.S. I lived at home during college and for four years after college – first to save money on room & board, and then to save money for a down payment on a condo. I drove a 1981 Toyota Tercel that I bought myself for $1,700. I ponied up for the insurance and gas too. I worked part-time all through high school and college. And for the record, I made $14,750 a year in my first “real” job out of college – in 1995. My then-boyfriend-now-ex-husband couldn’t even find a job out of college – for two straight years. He used his mechanical engineering degree to work at a frame shop while living at home, paying off his student loans, and saving for that aforementioned down payment.

I didn’t have opportunities to travel the world until I was nearly 30 and had a good chunk of corporate slavery under my belt to foot the bill. I also spent most of my twenties working for less than $35,000 a year and often cleaning conference room coffee pots and pitchers of curdled cream. But I sucked it up and did it with a smile and to the best of my abilities – because that’s just part of the deal sometimes.

It may seem that I’m embodying the “whininess” my generation is often touted for. But I just want to make it clear that times haven’t changed too much in terms of the struggle that awaits post-Pomp-and-Circumstance. Everything happens when it’s supposed to. And it often isn’t easy. It also gets harder and scarier the older you get – but you grow more resilient and trusting of the blessings of time. You learn that it truly is all about the journey – because the destination is a myth. There may be milestones along the way, but when the journey ends, you haven’t arrived. You’re dead.

In the meantime, attitude is everything. And entitlement is non-existent.

Manifesto 39: Pure Intentions

So here we are – just you and me, birthday #39.

I tend to get especially pensive at b-day time. I guess that’s not uncommon at the conclusion of one personal year and the beginning of another. Of course, I’m also a very big fan of the examined life – regardless of time of year. I can’t imagine a life lived without intense introspection, questioning, realigning, shifting – all in pursuit of a life lived not just happily (as fairy tales would have it) but with intention, purpose, and above all, authenticity.

I’ve talked a lot about authenticity in this blog, in conversations with many of you, even in last year’s holiday letter. It’s also been an on-fire topic in popular culture, almost to the point of annoyance. Personally, I feel I’ve gotten a pretty good handle on it – coming to understand what’s important to me in this life, what I feel called to do as opposed to what outside influences would like to see me do, what family, friends, religious doctrine, and group associations would likely lay as my path. So lately I’ve been shifting my thinking more to intentions – why do we do what we do? And how pure are the intentions behind our choices and behaviors?

Over the past 12 months, I’ve come across a good deal of questionable intentions that gnaw at me. People who have said, “I just want to make a lot of money and not work that hard.” Or, “I need to make a lot of money so I can pay off all my credit card debt.” Or, “How come <enter any celebrity name here> is famous and I’m not?”

You have no idea how hard it is for me to choke back my judgmental tendencies to keep from responding: “I wouldn’t expect much with such a shitty attitude.”

YECH. I hate the fact that this thought even crosses my mind, so I don’t dare let it cross my lips. But there’s truth to it. When your intentions are fame, fortune, attention, making people like you, and trying to get others to cover the consequences of your past irresponsible behaviors, I gotta tell ya – it’s gonna be a bumpy road.

To some degree, I speak from personal experience. I spent a lot of years (seven, to be exact) locked in a “reward mindset.” (This revelation courtesy of the Greatest Therapist Alive, whose services I “graduated” from after ten painful and expensive but completely life-altering months of serious inner grunt work). This means I spent a lot of time moaning about not being given what I felt I rightly deserved – usually in the form of a healthy romantic relationship – because I had “paid my dues.” I’d been through a divorce! I’d uprooted my life to follow a cherished dream! I’d been courageous and conscientious and done my best and started my own business and made a success of it and lived well on my own in New York City and bought my own home in Seattle and, damn it, I’d proved I could do it ALL BY MYSELF! I’d suffered and martyred and thrown myself upon my sword! WTF! Where was my prize?

I shouldn’t have expected much with such a shitty attitude.

The world doesn’t owe me anything. It doesn’t owe you anything. It doesn’t owe ANYONE anything. There’s something to be said for karma but we can all tick off instances of bad things happening to good people, and good things happening to bad people. This doesn’t mean you can’t hope for things, want for things, ask for things. It just means you need to be honest with yourself about where your intentions lie.

I recently had my natal chart read by a lovely, non-cuckaloo astrologer. During the course of our discussion, she asked if I wanted a romantic relationship in my life. I explained to her that, for the first time – and largely in thanks to the Greatest Therapist Alive – I recently arrived at a place where I’m happy and content on my own, AND also want to share my life with someone. In the past, it was always one or the other – I was “happy” on my own (which, in retrospect, was really false bravado under a layer of bitterness) or I was desperately wanting to be with someone. When I was in the former state, I paid no attention to men and probably gave off full-on “I-don’t-need-you-fuck-off” vibes. And in the latter state, a piece of low-hanging fruit would drop into my lap and – believing this was my “reward” for being “happy on my own” – I’d sink my claws into it and try to force the relationship to be something it wasn’t. When I explained this to the astrologer, she asked, “Have you ever said what you want from a relationship? What this person you’re looking for is like?”

I explained that I’d tip-toed around it and even made some lists of what I wanted in a partner, but that I didn’t think my intentions were in the right place when those lists were drawn up. That was the first time I really grasped the meaning of “intentions” and how loosely engaged mine had been – particularly in the romantic realm – for quite some time. When she asked me to tell her what I wanted in someone, what this person “looked like” (in terms of virtues, not physicality), I got a little sheepish. And nervous.

“I’ve never really said it out loud,” I said.

“Why not?” she asked.

“Because.” I paused as tiny tears teased my eyelids. “I’m afraid that it doesn’t exist – so if I say it out loud and then start really searching for that person, I’ll never find them. Or I don’t REALLY know what’s right for me in a partner, so I’ll say it out loud, which will cause me to put blinders on, and then I’ll totally miss this lovely person.”

My astrologer friend smiled. “And how’s that working for you?”

“It’s not!” I laughed. “For seven years, I’ve been telling myself to be ‘open’ and have just dug into everything that’s crossed my path. Completely sunk my teeth into it and gave so much of myself away, and tried to make these people, these relationships, into what I’m afraid to ask for out loud.”

“So do it now.”

And with these few words of encouragement, all sorts of wishes, wants, desires started tumbling out of my mouth at sports car speed. But they weren’t the typical “kind, good job, handsome, funny, blahblah” that people toss out when asked to list what they want in a mate. These were desires about what kind of person he is, what type of life he leads, what’s important to him. Stuff that sits at the meat of the question, “Who ARE you?” Not what do you do, what sorts of activities are you into, who’s your family, your friends, your religion, your group association, your decorating preferences – all that shit that looks great on paper, but really doesn’t matter when it comes to compatibility, much less building a life with someone. Gwyneth Paltrow’s late father, Bruce, said it best, “You have to want the same dreams. One of you can’t plan to walk the streets of Paris while the other wants to work in a coal mine.” (He also added, “You can never want to get divorced at the same time.” Wise man.)

So as the clock flips to October 19, 2011 and I look at what’s ahead in this last year of what has been a very challenging and transforming decade, I’m eyeball-deep in life examination. And when I look at what I’ve done, where I’ve been, and what’s left to do, where I have yet to go, I realize there are two things I want more than anything in life. And that, sadly – particularly over the past couple of years – I’ve done little to nothing to get them. The funny thing is that I want them both so badly, I’m terrified. Both will force me to put myself, my gifts, my capacity to love fully out into the world. And that means there’s a risk of rejection and failure. Or, possibly worse – a risk of acceptance and success. Because sometimes the idea of getting what we most want in life – that which comes from a pure, authentic place – is really scary. It’s scary to imagine getting something because then there’s nothing to hope for. When things are ahead of you on the path of life, there’s possibility. You can think, “Oh I’ll write my book someday, get married someday, quit my job someday, start a company someday.” And there’s always the fear that, if you succeed – at a job, a relationship, as an artist or entrepreneur – the bar will be raised. And you won’t be able to scale it.

But here’s what I know: Whatever it is that scares the living shit out of you is what you’re called to do and who you’re meant to be. And that whatever-it-is-whoever-you-are comes from a place of pure intention. It’s your calling, your soul purpose, and it peels back your layers and leaves you raw and exposed. That’s why it’s so fucking horrifying.

So. I’ll tell you my plan and you can tell me yours. Maybe that way, we’ll hold each other accountable – because Lord (and the Beatles) knows we all get by with a little help from our friends. I’ll go first:

#1: Write and publish my essays. A LOT. I’m tired of giving my life to internal communications work. I’m exceptional at it, I have a great reputation in this field, it’s the heart of this entrepreneurial venture I’ve built and am immensely proud of. Also, it certainly pays the bills – and pays them well – so I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to say goodbye to it forever. But I’m sure as fuck going to try. I’ve just shipped my last projects for 2011 and, after I take two weeks of vacation for the first time in eight years (Maui, baby!), I’ll have a very limited workload for 2012. Again – enough to pay the bills. But that’s it. I’ve taken myself on as a client (albeit a pro bono one). I’ve even put myself on my project plan so I can track progress and deliverables.

Here’s what’s up: in January, a new nicolechristie.com will launch (for realz this time – my exceptionally talented designer friend Amy is working on it now and even launched a temporary site just to get that horrific lime green circa-1999 FrontPage-created site off the internet). Also in January, I’ll launch a new blog on nicolechristie.com where I’ll write one essay per week. If you subscribe, you’ll get each essay, which I hope will move you in some way – make you laugh, cry, get pissed off, and alwaysalwaysalways think. My intent is to entertain you with my stories and give myself the accountability of a “public” deadline and an audience hopefully anticipating the latest weekly installment. I’ll also be entering the world of Twitter and will tweet my essays and related posts, so I hope you’ll follow me come January as well. Details on the blog, subscription, and Twitter account coming soon. 🙂

The second part of this project is that I’ll pitch my essays twice a month – something HAS to at least get sent to some editor somewhere, no matter what. Of course all of this means I’m scared shitless of writer’s block, my work not being good enough, rejection, and even taunting from the Twittersphere. I’m even terrified of losing my privacy, to whatever small degree. But if I were to channel Oprah and tell you “what I know for sure,” it would be this – I was put on this earth to tell stories and make people think and feel. That’s my gift. It’s time for me to put my effort where my intentions lie.

#2: Be in a healthy, committed relationship. I’m serious. I’m not turning 40 without a great man in my life. One who has a strong sense of self and makes me – and US – a priority. Enough of these flip-floppy emotional entanglements. This is not a codependent thing, nor is it a desperation thing, though you may have thought that a few sentences ago. This is me realizing it’s been a great run of building this incredible life for myself in my thirties and wanting to share it with someone else in my forties and beyond. It’s about balance and realizing that solo time and girlfriend time is and always will be a big part of my life, but there’s something to be said for the benefits of a healthy, committed relationship. I had one for 15 years and – for at least 13 of them – it was one of the most enriching experiences of my life. I wouldn’t be who I am today without it. So bring it, people – I’m going balls to the wall and am prepared to do a lot of wheat-from-chaff sorting that I’ve never been up for. I simply didn’t have the emotional resilience over the past seven years. But I no longer believe that failed relationships and weird dudes reflect on me or my judgment – nor do they mean  I’m an unworthy, unlovable person. (You’re damn straight I thought this for a very long time – and just the thought these days makes me weepy. Again, one of many painful revelations that occurred on the office couch of the Greatest Therapist Alive).

Finally, I give you this: there is nothing, nothing, NOTHING I hold off on in life because I’m waiting for a man. But this – THIS is the one thing I’m waiting to experience with an incredible guy:

PARIS.

How about for the big 4-0? Say it with me: “Next year in Paris. With published essays and fabulous dude.”

I have every intention.

I need a girly moment, please

I’m not a big shopper – at least in the sense of traditional “womanshopping,” defined as wandering aimlessly from store to store, leaving a trail of impulse buys. Rather, I’m a focused shopper – hitting stores about three times a year, armed with a list, and having done a fairly hefty amount of research before setting foot near any brick-and-mortar establishment, so as to limit the amount of time I must spend in said establishment. I also stand behind the “quality over quantity” premise, so while I don’t buy much, what I buy is generally not inexpensive. I tend to purchase things that are well made, thoughtfully designed, stylish but not overly trendy, and wear/use them (or display them – if we’re talking furniture and whatnot) for a very, very long time. As in years. And sometimes decades.

Despite my general disdain for the shopping experience, I take extreme pleasure in finding just-the-right whatever-it-may-be, particularly when it suits me just-so. My friend Erica is a stylist; three years ago, she helped me round out my wardrobe and, as part of the process, asked me to define my personal style. Without hesitation, I spouted “fresh and modern – with an edge.” (Think Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon, Claire Danes, Giada De Laurentiis.) In particular, I have a penchant for structured, streamlined pieces; anything black and silver; and metal adornments like studs, grommets, and zippers make me positively squee in delight.

While, as mentioned, I have a tendency to wear my clothes for a long time, I think every woman should have three “investment pieces” she can wear for a lifetime: a great trench, a fabulous bag, and a rockin’ pair of shoes. Of course, the trick with lifetime finds is that they need to be classic enough to wear forever, but still make a statement that’s uniquely YOU. Like any lifelong mate, this can be an arduous search.

I feel fortunate to have found two of the three in the past five years: in 2006, I bid on a Marc Jacobs Venetia bag (black leather with gray stitching, ivory suede lining, and silver hardware – natch). It was the day after Christmas, when most of the world was exhausted, broke, and overwhelmed with stuff – an ideal day for eBay shopping! I snagged the then-$1,200 bag for $350. It’s heavy as fuck but I’ll have it forever. It’s so beautiful, it requires its own chair at restaurants. On more than one occasion in New York, upon being seated and placing it gingerly on a chair, I announced to the hostess, “Marc needs his own seat.” (Only in NYC does this garner a sincere nod of understanding.)

The following year, I landed a big consulting gig and decided it was time to splash out on an awesome trench. I marched straight to the Burberry boutique in SoHo and declared my desires to the super-chic, attentive, and ridonkulously gay gentleman who approached me: “I need a lightweight black trench. Single-breasted. Chrome, brushed nickel, or titanium hardware. No gold. No buttons.”

When you’re serious at Burberry, you’re whisked away into the back of the store and placed on a platform where at least two associates dote on you with coats galore. I didn’t require much doting however – the first trench brought to me was perfect. At $600, it was at least half the cost of most Burberry beauties. Four years later, I’m still wearing it and loving it.

Which brings me to my final item – the shoes. I’ve not been in a hurry on this one because I think it’s a much taller order than the bag or the coat. At least for me. Finding a pair of shoes that meets my requirements – classic, while still uniquely me – isn’t easy. Most shoes are classic but boring (read: black leather slingbacks, however beautifully made they may be…ahem, Manolo) or outrageous and ridiculous (feather-adorned pink suede platforms…hello, Monsieur Louboutin). So rather than hunt, I just keep my eyes peeled.

And I do believe my answer has arrived on the feet of Katie Holmes in this month’s InStyle. If you’ve been paying any attention thus far, you’ll see why. They’re so fantastic, I’d wear nothing but them while naked in a bedroom.

Let’s just note for the record that I have five new projects in the pipeline. When one hits, I’ll celebrate by dialing 1-800-Get-These-Fuckers-On-My-Feet.