Collections and Websites and Wholesale, Oh My!

 

 

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Chalice Earrings – New for Spring 2017

Things are about to get real here at Door 44 Jewelry! I have a full year of sales under my belt, and I somehow managed to exceed my wildest expectations for my first year in business. That said, 2016 was a particularly challenging year for my family. It was a year of financial instability and uncertainty for we three Reamys. My husband was out of work twice last year, through no fault of his own. It’s just the nature of his business. Sometimes one contract ends before the next one is lined up, and sometimes it takes longer to line up the next gig than we expect.

 

We were without an income for four of the last thirteen months as a result of two such incidents of poor timing, and that made me realize how vulnerable we are as a single income household. So, what’s a busy mom with an even busier 6th grader to do?

I considered going back to work full time, naturally, but there are a multitude of reasons why that’s a less than ideal solution for our family. What really needs to happen, I decided, is that it’s time to level up my jewelry business to a point where it replaces my former salary as a project manager in the tech sector. Last year when I launched Door 44 Jewelry, that felt like a pipe dream. Today it feels totally doable, and I’m going for it.

I kicked off this year by participating in the 2017 Jewelry Brand Makeover Bootcamp hosted by Flourish & Thrive Academy, and what an eye-opener that was. I learned more about growing a jewelry business in that 10-day Bootcamp than I learned in an entire year of promoting my Etsy shop. The biggest revelation for me, though, is how much I’ve yet to learn. So, I’ll be dedicating the next eight weeks to a more in-depth Flourish & Thrive Academy course called Laying the Foundation.

I’ve always suspected that I would ultimately end up working for myself someday. It’s not that I don’t play well with others. I do, when I’m on the right team. It’s finding that team that’s been a constant source of struggle for me in the corporate world. Too few companies are willing to do the right things for the right reasons. Corporate America is plagued with incompetent and unethical management, and the situation has only gotten worse since I joined the workforce as a young woman. I made a lot of money for some of my former employers through the years, but for all that hard work, I have little to show for it. I was never the prime beneficiary of my own effort, but that’s about to change.

That 10-day Jewelry Brand Makeover Bootcamp showed me that it is completely within my own power to turn my love of jewelry into a lucrative business that will benefit my family in ways I’d only dreamed of until now. It’s high time that my family and I become the direct beneficiaries of my hard work.

You can expect to see a lot of changes behind Door 44 soon. You may have already noticed some changes, but there is so much more to come. I see now how I can leverage my background in manufacturing and production management to produce more jewelry more efficiently so I can sell wholesale to my favorite boutiques and galleries around the country–maybe even around the globe! I see how I can leverage my project management

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Twig Earrings with Picasso Czech Glass – New for Spring 2017

experience and my accounting education to set up scalable and sustainable business systems that will make my business run like a finely tuned machine. I see how I can tap into my web development and copy writing experience to build an engaging web presence for my jewelry, and I can’t wait to showcase the new collections I’m currently developing on the new website I’ll be building in February as I work through the Laying the Foundation course.

 

2017 is the year that I stop dreaming and start making those dreams my reality. I hope you’ll stay along for the ride because it’s going to be a lot of fun. A lot of work, yes, but it’s the kind of work that I can fully get behind because, for the first time in my working life, I’m totally free to do it my way.

Why should the shareholders of some nameless, faceless corporation be the ones to benefit from your blood, sweat, and tears? Life is much too short for that nonsense. Do something you love, and do it well so you’re the one who reaps those rewards.

 

 

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Ask Not What My Child Can Do For You…

My daughter is a talented cellist. I knew from the moment she first held a bow that she’d found her instrument. She started playing two years ago, but to hear her play, you’d think she’s been studying music for much, much longer. She’s talented, yes. More importantly, she’s passionately committed to mastering her instrument. She practices for at least an hour every day after school, and she works with her private teacher every Saturday. I occasionally have to remind her to clean the cat’s litter box, but I never have to remind her to practice her cello.

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’re probably aware that I am new to parenting. I’ve been a stepmom for about three years, and I’ve only been a full-time mom for a little over a year and a half. Although it’s been quite a challenge to get a handle on being a parent, one major advantage I think I have is that I’ve not been completely desensitized to the dysfunction of our public education system. Most parents I know are resigned to the fact that their children aren’t getting a solid education. Those who are fully engaged in parenting try to fill in the gaps where they can, but so many more parents just send their kids off to school and hope for the best.

My husband and I have taken a more proactive approach to our daughter’s education. We’ve gone so far as to relocate to another city just to get her into a particular school that we feel will give her the best opportunity to achieve her full potential. It’s a charter school with a classical approach to education and a rigorous curriculum. Unlike our current public school system where the bar is set so low that no child can possibly be left behind, the standards at our daughter’s new school are set so high that even the best and brightest will have to stretch to hit the mark.

I may be new to parenting, but I am certainly not new to teaching or learning. I’ve trained dogs and people for decades. I’m also a self-taught jewelry artisan and a life-long learner. It’s been my observation that, whether you set the bar high or set it low, any student (quadruped or biped) will almost always hit the mark. So, why not set the bar high?

That said, I’ll get back to my original point about my daughter’s musical ability. We had an unusual experience at her recent solo and ensemble competition, and it’s been bothering me for weeks. This was her second solo and ensemble competition, and (just as we expected) she did extremely well. She received a superior rating for her solo. Last year she also achieved a superior score for her first solo, and we were able to collect her blue medal on site after her score was posted.

Being in a different school district this year, we weren’t sure how or where she would get her medal as there were no vendors present at the competition. So, we stopped one of the district orchestra conductors in the hallway and asked him how our daughter could get her medal. He explained that the district buys the blue medals for those students who received superior scores, and that parents could purchase medals online from the vendor for lower scores. I mentioned that our daughter achieved a superior score, and then I watched the man transform, right before my eyes, from helpful educator to hard-core recruiter. He immediately started grilling my daughter with questions about where she planned to go to high school, and then he pitched his high school to us.

I could sense his frustration when I informed him that our daughter would be transferring to a charter school next year, and as that she would be completing her secondary education there (the charter school serves students from sixth through twelfth grade). I get it. Public school teachers hate seeing their best and brightest transfer out of the public education system into charter schools and private schools.

It must be incredibly disheartening for those teachers who love to teach to lose the few students in their classrooms who love to learn. But as a parent, my only concern is for my daughter’s best interests. She’s a straight-A student at her current school. She’s in advanced classes across the board, yet she’s not being challenged academically. Frankly, the bar at her current public middle school isn’t set high enough to stretch our daughter’s mind or her imagination. She readily admits that she’s not challenged, and this is where I think the public education system is truly failing our children. The commitment to leaving no child behind is admirable and well-intentioned, I’m sure, but it comes at the expense of smart kids like my daughter.

The talents and intellects of our best and brightest aren’t being challenged in public schools because of a bizarre national obsession with leveling the playing field. As parents with an obligation to prepare our daughter to face the real world, where the playing field is most certainly not level, we’ve opted to raise the bar considerably when it comes to her education. I’d much rather see her struggle to get Bs and Cs in calculus and Socratic seminars than watch her get straight As in her current school’s curriculum with little to no effort.

My daughter already has a strong work ethic. I see it every day in her commitment to cello practice. Her work ethic alone will take her far in life, but imagine how much further she can go with a strong work ethic and a great education. Our public education system is irretrievably broken, and I understand that that’s not the fault of the teachers alone. I’m weary, though, of seeing teachers greedily eyeing my daughter as if she’s some sort of solution to the deficiencies in their classrooms. The same education system that is failing to challenge my daughter desperately wants her to remain in that system–not so she can be educated, but so she can elevate test scores and win awards and scholarships that will reflect positively on the school.

Again, I get it. But my job as a parent is to make sure my daughter is adequately prepared for a future that, frankly, is looking pretty bleak given the current political state of this country. I’m not at all interested in boosting the ego of a high school orchestra conductor by allowing him to lay claim to her musical talent and prodigious ability. Nor am I interested in boosting the test scores of a public school by allowing my daughter to languish in an unstimulating environment for the next six years.

Education is not supposed to be about what our kids can do for the system. It’s about what the system can do for our kids. My daughter’s new school understands the difference, and it’s committed to doing precisely what public schools have failed to do: educate the best and brightest by providing a challenging environment and maintaining high academic standards.

 

 

I Have a Thing for Connections

For as long as I can remember, I’ve felt compelled to connect the dots all around me. As a child, I remember observing strange and erratic behavior in many of the adults in my life. My childhood was, well… let’s just say it was chaotic at best. The way that I coped with the chaos is that I learned to order it.

I started paying attention to the nature of cause and effect, and the more I paid attention to those things, the more I began to see how all things are connected. The more I understood those connections, the more I was able to create some semblance of order in a world that could erupt in chaos at any moment.

Creating jewelry is, for me, a personal expression of my understanding of connections. I suppose that’s why I’m so intensely (perhaps even compulsively) drawn to art forms that involve connections. As I look around at my workspace and the materials I choose to work with, what jumps out at me is that they all have one thing in common: they’re all used for various forms of weaving.

The chains I weave are intricately connected together, link by link, in various forms that are as pleasing to the eye and to touch as they are mechanically strong and sound. The wire work that I do is similar to basket weaving in that it allows me to create forms that are both functional and beautiful. More importantly, it allows me to create forms that will last. Pieces that are timeless.

As I begin my foray into working with knotting cords and micro macramé, I find myself once again exploring an art form that centers on connections. What starts out on my workbench as a chaotic jumble of individual cords gradually comes together to form a cohesive, ordered design. The sum of those once chaotic and disconnected individual parts join together as one to create a beautifully ordered and functional whole.

 

I create jewelry in order to make sense of the chaos around me. And through the process of creating, I rediscover daily how I am connected to everything and everyone else around me. When you like a piece of Door 44 Jewelry that you see on Facebook, Pinterest or Twitter, I feel an instant connection to you. When you buy a piece of Door 44 Jewelry, I’m acutely aware of all the connections that might come from that single exchange–from my hands to yours–for better or worse.

Perhaps that piece will go on to form another link in a chain of sisterhood, from your hands to those of someone you love. Maybe even on through multiple generations from you to a daughter, granddaughter, or niece who may pass it on again to the next generation of women of your family–all of whom will be irrevocably connected to me and perhaps my own daughter, should she choose to follow in my footsteps.

Jewelry, as it turns out, is a wonderful means for me to connect with my 12-year-old stepdaughter. We’ve only known one another for about three years now, and we still have a great deal to learn about each other. But I do know for certain that we share a common love of jewelry. Teaching her to make jewelry and to appreciate it is proving to be perhaps the most powerful path toward an unbreakable bond that we share at this fragile phase of our mother/daughter relationship.

A dear friend got me thinking today about why I make jewelry, and what (ultimately) I hope to achieve by sharing my jewelry with you. I realized that the heart of the matter is this: Our mutual love and appreciation for beauty is what binds us together. We may have disparate political ideologies or wildly different world views that seem to divide us. What inevitably binds us together, though–what restores our sense of connectedness–is a return to those essential elements of life for which we all share a mutual appreciation: love, beauty and harmony. Sisterhood. Compassion…

 

Jewelry is all about connections, and I have a thing for connections.

Thanks for allowing me to connect with you today.

Raising the Bar

I was never the sort of supervisor anyone wanted to work for when I worked in the corporate world. I had a reputation for being demanding and “all business”, as if that’s a negative quality in a manager. Given the choice, most people would prefer to work for someone who expects little and who is content to be perceived as “one of the gang.” I was never that boss, and I’m not that parent. Neither is my husband.

People will generally achieve whatever expectations you set for them, so you might as well set the bar high.

As both a supervisor and a parent, I have always subscribed to the philosophy that people will generally achieve whatever expectations you set for them. Whether you set the bar high or set it low, your staff or your kids will consistently be right on target; so you might as well set the bar high. There are always exceptions, of course. There will be the occasional overachiever who will consistently surpass your expectations. Likewise, there will be the odd underachiever who will rarely be on target. I have some ideas about how to deal with those exceptions, but that’s a topic for another post and another day.

I received a very interesting phone call from my daughter’s 6th grade math teacher this morning. Apparently my daughter’s name came up in the core education team’s weekly meeting, and the team agreed that my daughter should be bumped up to the advanced placement curriculum for all of her core courses. The chairman of the team just wanted to clear the move with us before they went ahead and placed her on the AP track.

When I replayed the voice message for my daughter, her eyes grew wide with amazement. She didn’t really know what to expect when I told her I’d received an interesting message from her math teacher, but a promotion to the AP track was clearly not on her radar.

The discussion that followed went something like this:

Me: Are you interested in moving up to all advanced courses?

Dear Daughter: Yes.

Me: You realize that this is going to mean more work, right? The classes are going to be more difficult, and you’re probably going to have more homework.

DD: That’s okay. I’m up for the challenge.

I’m up for the challenge.

Those words are sweet, sweet music to this mom’s ears, and here’s why: Two years ago, shortly after we got married, my husband and I discovered that our little girl was struggling in math. At the time, my husband didn’t have primary custody, so we only had her every other weekend. We know our daughter to be very bright, so we had no reason to suspect that she was struggling in school. As we began to test her understanding of math with simple problems involving money or distance, however, we realized that she didn’t have a solid understanding of basic math functions. And so began our quest to gain primary custody so we could have more control over her education.

We were incredibly lucky. Not all custody cases work out in the best interests of the child(ren), and so many dads face an uphill battle when it comes to convincing a court that they are the stronger custodial parent. If I had any doubts about the existence of God prior to our custody case, those doubts would have been obliterated by the time our case was settled because everything worked in our favor. From the timing and circumstances to the random assignment of a district judge, it all flowed seamlessly, as if guided through divine intervention.

And all the while, we were working overtime to get our daughter caught up academically. We had her tested through Sylvan Learning  in the middle of her 4th grade year. At that time, her math skills were somewhere in the 3rd grade range, while her language skills were a little above her current grade level.

She spent the summer between her 4th and 5th grade years learning her multiplication tables inside out and backwards. During her 5th grade year, she discovered the payoff for all that effort when her friends started referring to her as “the calculator”. We had her re-assessed at the end of her 5th grade year, and (not surprisingly) she tested well above grade level in both math and language skills. Today, she readily admits that she’s glad we forced her to memorize her multiplication tables, which brings me back to my original point that kids will hit whatever target you set for them.

What’s most rewarding for me after all the tears and frustration over the past two years of working to fill the gaps in our daughter’s education are the tremendous leaps she’s made in terms of her overall willingness to take risks and the ferocity with which she rises to a challenge. The growth in her academic performance, as remarkable as it is, pales in comparison to the growth we’ve seen in her self-confidence and her work ethic. School is fun for her again, and she’s back on track to achieving her full potential.

We don’t do our kids any favors by setting low to no expectations for them. Too many parents are disengaged and disinterested in their child’s education. As a society, we all complain about the quality of our education system, and we’re quick to blame teachers when our kids fail to be prepared for the next phase of their lives upon their high school graduation.

What my daughter has clearly demonstrated for me, however, is that it’s not the school’s fault that she was falling behind in the 4th grade. It was clearly our fault as parents. The Ex is the sort of parent who was never fully engaged in her daughter’s education while my husband and I took it for granted that our very bright child was breezing her way through elementary school. Once we took a more active role in her education (and once we set some very clear expectations) our daughter went from struggling to keep up in 4th grade to leading the pack in the 5th and 6th grades.

Whether you’re a supervisor or a parent, set your expectations high, and establish clear standards. It’s the greatest thing you’ll ever do for your organization or your children. They may grumble about it in the beginning, but there will undoubtedly come a time when they’ll be grateful that you cared enough to raise the bar.

Simple Pleasures

At what point do newlyweds stop being newly wed?

My husband and I are coming up on our second anniversary soon. We tied the knot on October 29th, 2013 at the Jefferson County Courthouse. It was a cool, rainy morning, which must have kept everyone else at home because we were the only two customers in the County Clerk’s office that morning. We didn’t plan to get married on the spot, but we did. No lines. No waiting. No drama. Why wait?

Matt and I are big fans of simplicity, a fact that’s plainly evident by the title of his blog, Simplify. We’ve been a low-key, easy-going couple from the start. And one of the ways we maintain that ease is that we appreciate the little things, like simply spending time together.

In the first year of our marriage, one of the most simple pleasures we shared was a standing lunch date on Mondays. I’d drive to his office to pick him up, and we’d go out for lunch together. It became something we both looked forward to because it was a pleasant diversion from the inevitable Monday madness.

We came to appreciate our Monday lunches all the more when our daughter came to live with us full time in July 2014 and our former couple time turned into family time. Then last November Matt took a short-term gig in downtown Denver. I love my husband dearly, and there’s not much I won’t do for him. But driving into the bowels of downtown Denver at lunch time on a weekday? Um, no.

Such was the end of our standing weekly lunch date. For the next nine months, we didn’t get to see each other at all during the day. Until we left Denver, that is. Matt’s current office is just a 10-minute drive from our new apartment in Colorado Springs. Not only have we been able to resume our regular Monday lunch dates, but he’s also able to come home for lunch most days.

One of the things I’m enjoying most about living in Colorado Springs so far is getting to spend quality time with my husband again. Sometimes it’s the simplest things that make the biggest differences in our lives.

Mastering the Impetuous, Impulsive Id

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I grew up in an abusive home dominated by a violent alcoholic. Certain friends and family members have expressed concern (and in some cases, extreme displeasure), that I am “airing dirty laundry” here on my blog, and I get it. I understand their concern, and I respect their view. I share neither their concern nor their view, however. I believe that the only way to effectively address our darkest impulses and behaviors is to shine a light on them and examine them objectively.

I vividly recall a certain argument I once had with my (then) fiancé way back in 1995. I was just 25 years old at the time, and I’d very recently moved to Seward, Alaska to be with the man I planned to marry. The image of that argument is so clearly etched in my mind that I can literally close my eyes and watch the replay like a movie. Occasionally I’ll experience something in my present life that will bring that memory flooding back to the forefront of my mind.  I had one of those experiences yesterday, and that memory is now keeping me awake—compelling me to write about it at 3:48 AM.

We’d only been ‘home’ in Seward for three days after spending the three days prior driving from Fort Collins, CO to Alaska. The trip was extremely stressful, and I found myself continually on edge from the moment “Sam” (not his real name) arrived at Denver International Airport. We fought a lot on the drive to Alaska. We were completely out of synch with one another, and it seemed that the more we tried to get back in synch, the further out of phase we ended up. I finally resorted to sleep as a means of escape. The 3-day drive (which should really have taken more like 5-6 days) was mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausting. So much so that I was basically reduced to a petulant toddler ready to throw a raging tantrum at the slightest provocation.

My third day as a resident of Seward, AK was gloriously sunny and clear—a rarity in that tiny coastal town. I woke up that morning determined to get back on the same page with Sam, and we got off to a really good start. I made breakfast and promised to help him do some work in the yard as soon as I tidied up the kitchen. Meanwhile, he went out and washed my Bronco, which was still caked with mud and road grime from the long drive to Alaska. We were both clearly trying, and the bright sunny day seemed like a positive sign that things were going to be okay. Almost immediately after I joined Sam outside, however, the energy between us shifted back out of phase. We were stacking some wood together when my approach to the job prompted Sam to mildly criticize my technique. He wasn’t particularly tactful with his criticism, but he wasn’t malicious about it either. Yet, the fact that he had (what I assumed was) the audacity to criticize me at all ignited the hair-triggered temper I had back then, and I flew into a rage.

We both started shouting over one other, and then he suddenly lowered his voice and asked me, “Why are you so angry?” I was stunned silent because I didn’t have an answer to his question. I racked my brain to come up with a particular slight he’d made that was at the root of my rage, but I couldn’t pinpoint anything specific. So, with all the maturity and grace of a petulant toddler, I stormed off into the house and refused to speak to him for the rest of the day.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but that moment marked a major turning point in my life. It was in that moment that my quest to truly understand myself, my past, and the ways in which my upbringing influenced my behavior began. Until Sam stumped me with that very pointed question, I’d never seriously questioned my past or how it shaped me. Once the urgency to break away from my father’s tyranny had passed when I first moved 250 miles away from home, I naively assumed that I was free of my past. I later realized, of course, that I had a lot of work to do in order to shake the influence of my volatile father.

Things didn’t work out with Sam. We struggled to hold it together for about three months before we finally gave up and went our separate ways. When I reflect back on that experience, however, I’m incredibly grateful to him for asking me that crucially important question at a critical juncture in my life:

Why are you so angry?

Those words became sort of a mantra for me from that day forward. I began to monitor my moods and my behavior, and whenever I became aware that I might be overreacting to something trivial, I’d ask myself that question. Gradually I realize that the perceived slights that ignited my temper—someone cutting me off in traffic, a snarky remark from a coworker, bad service at a restaurant, etc.—were not worth the energy I gave them. Yet I still struggled to come up with an answer to that question. Why was I so angry, anyway?

To this day I can’t put my finger on it. The rage that I’d unconsciously internalized at some point in my life, and that I’d been blind to until Sam called it to my attention, couldn’t be tied to a specific person, place, or thing. The closest I ever came to identifying the root of my internal rage was acknowledging that I’d experienced more betrayals of trust than the average individual. I was betrayed by several family members in early childhood and later by friends, classmates and peers. My first boyfriend cruelly executed a malicious act of revenge against me that I think stunned even him once he realized how badly he’d wounded me. My discomfort with vulnerability can be clearly traced to that very specific event, but not my anger. So, where does the anger come from?

I don’t know. I spent years seeking a definitive answer to that question, but somewhere along the way I realized that it ultimately doesn’t matter. All that really does matter is that I’m willing and self-aware enough to ask myself that pointed question (which, to this day, I still hear in in Sam’s voice in my mind) in the heat of a moment so I can re-balance my perspective and behave accordingly.

Why are you so angry?

I’m able to recognize that the things that make me angry today aren’t big enough to allow my impetuous, impulsive id to throw a temper tantrum. And now that I’m a parent and a role model for a very perceptive preteen who grows more independent every day, I’m acutely aware that I may be influencing her through my own reactions to the perceived slights we all encounter daily on the road, at work, and in our daily interactions with random strangers.

The next time you find yourself seething with rage because someone cut in front of you in the checkout line or because they weren’t driving fast enough for you to make it through an intersection before the light turned yellow, ask yourself:

Why are you so angry?

I’ll bet you’ll learn that the answer to that question has nothing to do with the woman who cut in line or the driver who was more engaged in conversation with his passenger than he was with the act of driving at the moment you happened to be behind him. Like me, you may never be able to pinpoint a specific answer to that question, but in this instance, just asking the question is far more important than answering it.

Internalized anger is like a ticking time bomb waiting to explode at the slightest provocation. Take it from someone who survived the volatile temper of a raging alcoholic as a child and then spent a lifetime working to master her own impetuous, impulsive id as a result: get a grip on your internalized anger before it turns destructive.

Don’t allow it to hurt someone you love or to destroy your relationships. It’s just not worth it.

New Beginnings

We’ve been living in Colorado Springs for just over two weeks now, and it’s already starting to feel like home. Our little 6th grader thoroughly enjoyed her first week of middle school, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how competent and organized the school’s administration and staff have proved to be thus far. They took virtually all of the fear and anxiety out of the first day of middle school for the 6th graders by breaking them into small teams of 10-15 students and assigning an 8th grade mentor to help show them the ropes and make them feel welcome. The mentors are called WEB (Where Everyone Belongs) Kids, and they are some of the brightest, friendliest, and most polite 8th graders I’ve ever met. All this from our second choice school. And a public school at that! Not bad, Colorado Springs. Not bad at all.

Things are going to work out for us here, I think. My husband likes his job. Our daughter loves her school. As for me, I am cautiously optimistic that I’ll find my own brand of personal satisfaction and fulfillment here, too. Just as soon as I finish unpacking boxes and getting our new home in order.

Duality

My husband and I are in our second year of marriage, and this weekend we will be moving into our second apartment in the second city in which we’ve lived together. According to certain schools of thought, 2015 is the second year of a new energy on this planet. Human nature is changing. Evolving, hopefully. And the new energy consciousness is in its second year of development. The terrible twos. Duality.

As I’ve been packing up our household this week, I’ve had a lot of time to think about how the duality of this new age is manifesting in my life. I’ve heard estimates that 90,000 people are planning to move to the Denver Metro Area this year. Meanwhile, we three Reamys are happily moving out.

Denver has never been a city with which I’ve resonated. Since moving back to Colorado in 2006, many friends and relatives have tried to convince me to move to Denver. I flat out rejected that idea until Matt asked me to move to Denver with him in 2013. I didn’t even hesitate to say yes to him. I’d never consider living in Denver as a single woman, but when it comes to my husband–my heart–home is with him, wherever that may be.

Things fell into place for us so easily at first, it seemed obvious that we were on exactly the right path. We found the perfect apartment in the perfect neighborhood next to one of the best green belts in the metro area. Matt had a good job that he enjoyed. We didn’t realize it at the time, but we also managed to land in the perfect elementary school boundary for our daughter, who ended up coming to live with us less than a year after we got married. That first year was pretty near perfect. Neither of us loved Denver, but we were happy enough to think maybe things would work out for us here. Denver started to lose its shine over this past year, however.

Professionally, Matt started to feel like he was slogging through mud. Organizational issues at one company created unnecessary and frustrating barriers for him and his team, so he switched jobs. He met some top professionals and learned some useful skills at his second gig in Denver, but the corporate culture wasn’t a good fit. That, combined with a brutal commute to and from LoDo every day took a heavy toll on my poor husband.

Meanwhile, I was feeling restless and uncomfortable in my own skin while being continually surrounded by 1.2 million people. I started noticing how angry Denver drivers are, and how disconnected people are from reality. Once our daughter came to live with us, I started noticing a conspicuous lack of family friendliness. On weekends, we inevitably found ourselves getting out of town. We either went west into the mountains or south to Colorado Springs, which is where Matt lived before we got married. On one of those trips to Springs, I realized that’s where we should be living.

Every city has it’s own vibe and Denver’s energy has always felt scattered and frenetic to me. Living near a green belt helped to mitigate the effects of that energy for a while, but the longer we stayed here, the harder it’s been for me to stay centered and balanced amidst Denver’s chaos. I suggested to Matt that maybe we should consider moving to Colorado Springs, and once again we found ourselves back in a good energetic flow.

Matt landed a great job almost immediately after letting his head hunter know he was interested in finding work in Springs. We found a fabulous school for our daughter and learned that Springs has a world class youth symphony, which is something that Denver (a city more than four times the size of Springs) lacks. As I researched schools and the youth symphony, it was clear that Colorado Springs is a much more family-friendly city than Denver. Not surprisingly, it’s a conservative enclave in an increasingly liberal state.

We’re under no illusions that life in Colorado Springs is going to be perfect. It is still located, after all, in the state I like to call Middle California. Colorado’s politics is bizarre, to say the least. I’m not sure it’ll ever be a good fit for us in that regard, but it’s where we’re at for now. And living in a considerably smaller, more family-friendly, more politically conservative city will undoubtedly be more comfortable for Matt and me. More importantly, it’s a city where our amazingly talented young cellist will have access to the kinds of educational opportunities that will allow her to achieve her full potential.

Large/small, light/dark, right/left. Duality.

What living in Denver has confirmed for me (and I suspect for my husband as well) is that the choices we make in terms of community matter. The environment in which we choose to live affects us profoundly. We gave Denver a fair shot–two years of our lives, and the first two years of our marriage. As we prepare to move to Colorado Springs, though, I feel like we’re taking a giant step in the right direction. Springs may not be where we ultimately decide to settle down, but it already feels more like home than Denver.

Three Steps to a Drama-Free Life

I’m ashamed to admit that there was a time in my life when I was addicted to drama. I’d stir it up in my relationships. I’d engage in it with gossipy coworkers and friends. I’d continually find ways to get myself spinning in drama just so I could complain about how drama seemed to dominate my life. 2005 marked a major turning point for me and my relationship with drama, however. That was the year I decided it was time to break the addiction before it completely destroyed my chances of living a happy and meaningful life.

Since then, I have been systematically eliminating all sources of drama from my life. De-dramatizing your life is easier than you might think, but it does require an unwavering commitment to your own peace of mind above all else. This is perhaps the biggest challenge because, as you work through the process, you’ll have to make the painful choice to break up with certain friends and family members who have probably been with you your entire life.

Step 1: Identify the Toxic People in Your Life

You may be surprised by how many toxic people you interact with on a daily basis, and it will undoubtedly be difficult to admit that those interactions are not serving you well. This is perhaps the hardest step of the process, but it’s absolutely necessary that you examine each and every relationship you have with friends, family, and coworkers to determine its level of toxicity.

This step also involves a considerable amount of introspection, so be prepared to discover the ways in which you either stir up the drama in your relationships or react when the toxic people in your life push your buttons. It’s not a pleasant process, I know, but it’s absolutely necessary if you hope to break free of this addiction.

Once you’ve identified the toxic relationships in your life, you’re ready to move on to the next step.

Step 2: Pick Your Poison

This step requires a tremendous amount of fortitude, but it’s absolutely crucial to your success. Once you’ve identified the toxic people in your life, it’s time to start sorting and prioritizing those relationships. You can do this any way you like, but I’m all about efficiency. As soon as I realized that I wanted–needed, actually–to break my addiction to drama, I sorted my relationships into two categories: salvageable and unsalvageable.

Harsh, you say? Absolutely, but this is serious business. Drama eats away at your soul. It distracts you from what’s really important, and it keeps you from achieving your full potential. It’s also the primary means through which cycles of abuse are perpetuated from one generation to the next. You owe it to yourself and especially to your children to break those cycles so you can be free to build healthier and happier home environments.

Step 3: Prune and Shape The Branches of Your Life

If you’re a gardener you no doubt understand the necessity of pruning and shaping if you want your garden to flourish. Your personal relationships create an environment not unlike a garden, so the analogy of pruning and shaping is a good one to apply here. It’s time to cut away the deadwood. For me, that means cutting my ties to those relationships in the unsalvageable category.

Pruning relationships with toxic acquaintances and those on the fringes of your inner circle is as easy as removing them from your contacts list or unfollowing them on Facebook. When it comes to your inner circle, however, you’ll have to make some very difficult choices. Some of those choices will be painful. Some may temporarily set you back professionally, but every toxic relationship you prune away will make space in the garden of your life for healthier and more fulfilling relationships to grow and flourish.

I’ve quit jobs where the management was unsupportive, ineffective, or oppressive. I’ve broken up with life-long friends as soon as I realized that our relationships were out of balance. In one case, it became plainly evident that an old high school “friend” never truly respected me or valued my friendship. In another case (and this one broke my heart) one of my oldest and dearest childhood friends mercilessly harassed and bullied a mutual acquaintance who came forward with allegations of sexual assault against one of our former teachers. I can’t tolerate bullies under any circumstances, but this situation was particularly intolerable because the bully knows the allegations are true, as do I.

Relatives, of course, can be particularly tricky to prune as these relationships are old growth. They’ve been a part of your life since birth, but the question you need to ask yourself is do they contribute to your wellbeing, or do they just bring stress and drama into your life?

My husband and I are approaching our two-year anniversary this fall, and these past two years have been perhaps the most enlightening years of my life. The remarkably healthy and fulfilling relationship I have with my husband and his family has forced me to critically examine the unhealthy and dysfunctional dynamics of my own family. And now that I am a parent, I’ve been forced to acknowledge that certain members of my family simply can not be trusted around my daughter.

In a perfect world, no relationship would be unsalvageable, but in the real world, you can only control one side of any relationship, and that’s your side. You can’t control the way that others behave, and if they’re determined to bully and abuse you, your only real choice is to cut the cord. This is essentially what I have been doing for the past two years. I’d already pruned most of the toxic friends and coworkers from my life when I started dating my husband in 2013, but it wasn’t until I became a parent that I found the strength to prune my familial relationships. There are two particularly angry and bitter bullies in my family with whom I had to cut off all contact for my own sake as well as for my daughter’s sake. One of those two is stubbornly resistant to letting go, but when her attempts to provoke me continue to be ignored, she’ll eventually move on to bullying more reactive members of our family.

Life it too short for drama. It’s one thing to heal or repair salvageable relationships, but there’s no honor in maintaining toxic relationships. There’s nothing to be gained by allowing yourself to be the target for someone’s bitterness or repressed rage. Your children don’t stand to gain anything from witnessing abusive family dynamics, or worse, by being targeted by abusive family members. Sometimes choosing to walk away is the healthiest choice you can make. And for all their howling and righteous indignation, even those you choose to walk away from recognize that truth.

Shape and prune the garden of your life, and watch it flourish.

 

Selective Compassion

I heard a great phrase today: selective compassion.

These words resonate with me for a couple of reasons. First of all, I have to admit that I’m guilty of selective compassion. I have a strong tendency to identify with those I feel are innocent victims of circumstance—children, the elderly, animals, etc. Compassion for the innocent comes easily and naturally to me. I am far less inclined to feel compassion for grown adults whose circumstances are purely the result of their personal choices, however. This is perhaps most evident in my lack of compassion for The Ex.

The second reason selective compassion resonated with me today is because my last two blog posts were met with highly irrational and verbally abusive responses from an angry reader. This reader left a long, rambling response to one of those blog posts. I moderate all initial comments from readers, and I chose not to approve this particular response for publication because I don’t feel it adds any value to the conversation. I did respond to the comment privately, however, and my reply was met with more bitterness and hatefulness. Among other things, this angry reader (who is not The Ex, in case you’re wondering) accused me of being a narcissist and a lousy parent.

Being the introspective sort, I’ve given a great deal of thought to these accusations. I’ve examined them from every angle in order to determine if there’s any truth to those remarks. Although I’m far from perfect, I am definitely not a narcissist. On the contrary, I was consistently cast in the role of Echo to many a Narcissus prior to meeting my husband, Matt. My attraction to men who couldn’t love me was actually the subject of many therapy sessions during my late 20s and early 30s. Even though I know I’m not a narcissist by any stretch of the definition, being accused as such stung nonetheless.

As for the quality of my parenting, I’ve questioned this myself in an earlier blog post. I am nowhere near perfect in that role, either. I have so much to learn, and I’ll be the first to admit that I struggle with parenting daily. It’s easy to believe that I am a “lousy parent” because I already doubt myself in that regard, but it’s much too early to make any firm conclusions about my parenting. I’ve only been a full-time parent for just over one year, after all. By all indications, however, my husband and I seem to be doing a pretty good job thus far.

Over the course of the past year, our daughter seems increasingly happier and more confident. She’s blossomed socially and makes friends more easily than ever. She went from testing a full grade below her current level in math to testing a grade and a half above her current level. She’s found an outlet for her passion for music in the cello, which is in turn helping her develop the ability to commit to goals and the work ethic to achieve them. It’s impossible to say at this point how successful my daughter will ultimately be or how much of her future success can ever be attributed to my influence. It is reasonable to conclude, however, that these are not the sort of results typically achieved with lousy parenting.

As I’ve processed these deeply personal and hateful attacks on my character, the most dominant emotion I’ve felt toward my accuser is anger. Today, though, I realized that selective compassion is what allowed that anger to take root in the first place. The moment I recognized myself as someone who doles out compassion discriminately, the anger dissipated. Likewise, the moment I recognized selective compassion in my accuser, her words lost any power to hurt me.

The next time someone tries to provoke you, ask yourself where compassion fits into the picture. Are you choosing to forgo compassion by engaging in their drama? Are they choosing to forgo compassion with their provocative words or actions? Chances are, the answer to both questions is a resounding yes. That is certainly true in my experience with the Angry Reader.

I don’t know how consistently or universally I can really expect to feel compassion for others, but expanding the depth and breadth of my compassion is something I plan to consciously work on now that I understand how quickly and easily compassion neutralizes drama.