2016 – Oh Baby, What a Year It’s Been

I always recap the year on New Year’s Eve or some date close to it, so here I am again…but I don’t have nearly as much time to be as detailed as I’d normally be, so I’m going to do my best at summarizing my takeaways over the last 365 days.

The first thing I have to say is that 2016 has been a monumental year. One of my best. I’m ending it in a different place than I started, which is always a feather in my cap, and while my life has taken a dramatic turn from what it once was, it makes me happy that this year I finally found the courage to be myself.

1. I kept my faith first this year, and as a result, I got some of the things I’ve been longing for. No, it wasn’t always easy to choose Jesus first, to not act and wait for His word, and to stick to what He states for us is right. But I did. I chose the hard path. And He rewarded me for it by helping me grow by leaps and bounds.

2. My family is growing! I thought we couldn’t have more kids. I thought something was wrong with me. Something was definitely wrong with me, but it was my thinking, not my reproductive system. Our son will be here in March. Though Kennedy is a fantastic kiddo, she doesn’t deserve to be an only child, and as it’s looking now, she won’t be. (I’m so, so happy for that)

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Just us, the founders of Team Oesterlein. ❤️

3. My marriage is on the upswing, after a long period of downswing. We have no fairytale romance or whirlwind story to speak of. We’re just two imperfect people who like having each other around and tend to do some great stuff when we stick together. I don’t speak for him, but I will go so far as to say that we both learned this year how to put aside the bullshit, and dial up the realness. I’ve enjoyed abandoning the periphery in favor of growing closer to the person I said a vow to grow with almost nine years ago.

4. My career moved in a positive direction this year. I was finally able to move away from teaching in favor of something else related to education. I love the field, but I wasn’t in love with teaching anymore. I’m currently in love with curriculum, though.

5. I stuck to my biggest New Year’s Resolution for 2016 by abandoning Facebook…as well as Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter. Yes, it did mean I had to give up being a Beachbody coach as well, not because it’s impossible to work that business while not on social media, but because I wasn’t willing to invest the time to learn to do so. I walked away. Certain people are still mad. That’s okay, I left on a good note and have nothing bad to say. People’s opinions of me are really none of my business or concern.

6. I got the upper hand on my anxiety this year. I did this through a variety of measures including prayer, meditation, journaling, speaking to a counselor, subscribing to The Anxiety Coaches Podcast, my semicolon tattoo, setting new boundaries, being wholly honest with others about my feelings, and what I view most important: practicing emotional detachment. I found the courage to release myself from the weight of things I was under and didn’t need to be. Don’t ask me why I felt like I had to assume these burdens; in some way, I think I thought I was being a good friend or person by doing so. But no more. Especially when referring to the phenomenon that was #5 of this list, I have learned to confidently view myself as being in control of my life and its direction. I cut my obligations to others by cutting people out who only expect things of me but offer nothing. I toughened up. I’ve learned how to say no, how to stand up for myself, and how to not care about pleasing others. Did it cost me anything? Yeah, I suppose. But what I gained? Priceless. I have clear perspective on who I am. I recognize that my feelings are not my reality and therefore I don’t need to be victimized by them. I’ve learned how to pick up a thought and also put it down so that I can live in the moment. I was never like this when I was a Facebook user. I’m a better wife and mom now. I love who I am. And I’d rather love me and be hated by others than do things the other way around. My husband and daughter seem to love me for this too, and they (as well as our impending arrival) are the only ones I’m interested in making happy. (Mom and dad too, but we’re all 32 years deep, so they can’t really get rid of me. Did I mention they celebrated 35 years married this year?!)

Okay, well, I’m off to take K to my parents’ house for a bit. I can’t effing wait to see you, 2017. Many thanks to 2016 for everything it brought. I couldn’t have written a better year for myself if I’d tried.

Lions, Tigers, and Bears

I’ve been working in management for about seven months now, and the transition from part time to leadership has been…turbulent, exciting, overwhelming, inspiring, and necessary. It was time for me to move on from teaching, and at first I was unsure if this was the right move (I thought I might journey back to marketing and public relations) but now I’m certain it was. When I was studying in the MBA program, I took two courses centered on leadership and management, and in both, I indicated to my instructors that I wasn’t interested in working in management. I felt it was scary, I didn’t want the headache, and most of what I’d read about management seemed like it involved an intense amount of pressure. Those things aren’t untrue; I’ve experienced pressure, headaches, and nervousness since assuming this role. However, I feel like I’m able to grow more in this position than my past one. I’m constantly challenged to grow and get better, and I like that. One of the ways I’ve grown is through my ability to face what I’d been fearing about management: managing.

It’s not as simple as telling people what to do. That’s simple delegation, and even without management or leadership experience, anyone can pass off work to someone else. Managing requires additional accountability, responsibility, and an element of protection. Good managers don’t throw people under the bus when projects go wrong. Good managers work with their team members’ strengths as well as shortcomings. Good managers recognize their own strengths and shortcomings, too. But great managers are not necessarily always leaders. It’s leadership that pulls the team together in the face of difficulty. Leaders keep their team safe from misguided emotions or responsibility that should not be shouldered by their own team members. Leaders are lions.

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The tigris is still my favorite cat, but lioness is a close second!

I’ve had to grow into a lion.

The truth is that in most aspects, I’m a lot more like a tiger.

Tigers are the largest of the big cats. They don’t hold the distinction as “king” or “queen” of anything, as they mostly travel and live in limited groups, or alone. Lions travel and live in prides, large communities of lions all working toward a common purpose. Both are hunters, and tigers are aggressive fighters, but lions (males anyway) are said to have an advantage in combat due to their mane’s ability to protect their necks. Tigers don’t have manes…but they’re giant, thrashing animals.

I’ve always had some sense of aggression about me. My instinct is to challenge authority’s orders because I’m too strong-willed to just blindly obey what someone I don’t know tells me (hence why I would have failed in the military). I’m also a professional loner, and capable of fighting my own battles, performing my own stunts, licking my own wounds. Naturally, I am a tiger. In the professional environment, I have to be a lion.

Lions also do lion shit, like draw blood, growl, patrol, and protect. Lions are leaders. Doing lion shit has been tough, but also gratifying. It’s hard to learn to navigate “drawing blood” through assertiveness, consistency, and courage. I don’t let myself get railroaded anymore because I can’t – I can’t afford to, as railroading means the entire team falls off track. I have no choice but to protect my team members because their time is valuable for our collective goal, and I can’t afford to have them distracted by other people from outside the department or team. It’s a balancing act…but I’ve fallen into it okay.

Then, there are the bears; I work for two of them. One is like a koala – (I know, I know…they aren’t really bears, but bear with me) calm, pensive, subtle, and very approachable. The other is like a grizzly – constantly working toward a greater good, a hunter, one you can learn a lot from, and markedly more aggressive. Navigating between their two differing dynamics is also a challenge, but I don’t think I could have grown into what I am now without them. I’ve worked a lot of jobs, and for a lot of bosses, but I’ve only had one other boss in the past that I respected as much as these two. We aren’t buddies, but we work well together.

There you have it – my animal kingdom analogy for my professional life.

Oh my.

 

I’m grateful I’ve had such an environment in which to grow.
#LionShit

Life Reset

Don’t know what a life reset is? No worries. I don’t exactly know what it is either. I came up with the term when I was throwing around the concept of changing not what I do in my life, but rather my approach to my life.

The infrastructure of my life is beautiful: I have a great job that pays me well and I have fun running a growing business from my house. I’m blessed with a great family and a bright future as a wife, mom, coach, and student of life. I do not want to trade or get rid of any of these things, but I’ve been sort of just, “floating” between them.

I wake up, I go to work, I check in with my challengers and team, I contribute to the curriculum department at my job to create new, cutting edge course material, I exercise, I get other people to exercise, I cook food, I hug and kiss my daughter, I hold hands with my husband…eventually it becomes a really big blur of moving pieces. I love all of these pieces dearly, but I am not truly cherishing them as I know I can. The reason? I’m spread too thin, I’m running in circles, and I’m burning my metaphoric energy candle at both ends most days.

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I was given this life because I’m strong enough to live it; I just need to start living it now. 

 

This need for change has been evident for a while, but I wasn’t truly moved to make a change until: 1) after my enlightening visit to see my cousin and his wife in Chicago, and 2) I gained some perspective on just exactly what being in my 30s means in relation to my 20s, which are already over, and my 40s which are approaching.

Being around my cousin and his wife last week showed me what potential one could have if they utilize some proper planning, but also leave space for the fun. He’s always kind of been more like an older sibling to me and I’ve watched as he’s met and married his wife, and witnessed as they became parents alongside Fabian and I as their daughter is less than three weeks older than Kennedy. They are not perfect people, but they are definitely the kind of people who you want to have rub off on you because of the cohesiveness of their union, the forward progression of their personal and professional lives, and they still manage to remain relatable, lovable people in the process, which is rare. They also enjoy their life. No, not by base jumping or swimming in diamonds or sleeping on sandy beaches every weekend, but by building simple, yet gratifying activities into their day-to-day. I felt a sense of refresh come over me by staying with them for a week because though they wrangle a lot in their lives – business trips, raising a toddler, paying bills, budgeting, and the woes of living far away from family – they still find the time, energy, patience, and ability to enjoy the life they’ve built. This was eye-opening to me.

The second event that woke me up to my need for change, believe it or not, was Ali Wong’s stand-up special, “Baby Cobra,” which I watched while nursing a cold on the couch a few nights ago. My husband watched it first and recommended it, and boy, does he know me.

Ali Wong had me in stitches. I’ll save the review of her show for another platform, as most readers don’t come here for my commentary on television specials. One reason I enjoyed her candid, vulgar set so much is because I could relate on a variety of levels.

She’s a thirtysomething. She wasn’t swept off her feet when she met her now husband (a graduate of Harvard Business School). She struggled with fertility issues before finally conceiving her first child (she’s actually in her second trimester during the special). She isn’t some dainty, pretty girl with dainty, pretty thoughts – the woman explains her obsession with porn, her envy of housewives and stay at home moms, her feelings about her maturing from a hot, young 18-year-old to a still young, but getting older 34 year old, and her resentment of teenage girls for their effortless ability to be firm, tight, gorgeous, and desirable. While maybe not all of those areas apply to me exactly, I laughed along with Ali’s audience because I could relate.

The broad beacon of reason in Ali’s special was that though she, and many other thirtysomething women in the US, might not have it all together, she’s doing her best to make sure that what she does have is freaking awesome. She spoke frankly about the fact that your 30’s are all about recharge, renewal, refocus, and inner growth as she explained that she and her husband enjoy going on yoga retreats, listening to relaxation podcasts, and taking it easy at home. Funny, because I can relate there as well! Though her journey through adulthood has included some embarrassing moments and heartbreak, she’s fixed her gaze upon looking forward and carving out a beautiful path for herself, wherever it may lead.

Funny, you’d think that the two events that moved me to want to change my life so much would be more massive and significant than one trip to see family and a comedy special, but it really is as simple as those two things that put me in a position to write this blog post today.

I am no longer 26. When I was 26, I had what seemed like endless energy. I could run in circles if I wanted to because A) I probably wouldn’t even notice what I was doing and B) I had the gas to push through something like that without becoming weary. At 32, I’m not old, but I’m certainly not as full of energy as I once was. If I’m going to exert myself, I need to be happy about it at the end of the day.

I used to think that the expectations placed on me by my job and by my friends and by my parents were obligations I’d need to live up to. I’ve learned now that the only people I’m truly obligated to are my husband, our daughter, and myself. Everyone and everything else is accessory, especially with regard to my work. I have never been labeled as lazy because I am not, but I am also no longer interested in being a workhorse. I flat out told my boss that I, “may or may not meet” a deadline when approached with a task last week. The Antoinette of 2007 would’ve worked extra hours to appease the boss, and the Antoinette of 2012 would shake in her heels while trying to take a stand. I’ve dropped all pretense.

The question I’ve had to ask myself: Who am I trying to impress? The neighbors? Some group of girls I went to college with? My coworkers? People at a party? I don’t go to parties, ever, and if I lost stature with any of the other aforementioned groups it wouldn’t make a lick of difference in my life. I’d still live in this bangin’ house. I’d still be Mrs. Oesterlein. I’d still be Kennedy’s mom. Jesus would still love me.

So, rather than throw my New Year’s resolutions down the tube for yet another year, I’m going to attempt to turn it around by truly re-centering myself so that I can better attack my anxiety, get a handle on my time management, be a better wife to my husband, be a better mom to my child, and my favorite of this already fantastic list: add more value to the world around me. I want to live purposefully, intentionally, and fully while I still have the time to.

 

Reset.

This will likely manifest in a series of other posts from me, so stay tuned.

 

 

Wrong Label

I don’t do well at creating analogies most of the time, but I’m going to take a stab at one right now.

Imagine, if you will, the assortment of soft drinks that sit neatly stacked inside a vending machine. If one is lucky enough to have the two dollars and some change these cold beverages cost (seriously – the cost of soda is one of the many reasons I don’t drink it!), as well as the patience it takes to slide their dollar bills into the narrow mouth of the machine, they get the option to select their drink of choice by pressing the corresponding button which usually has a picture of their desired soda on it. Soft drinks have come a long way and run the gamut from sugary juices and teas, to energy drinks, to bubbly favorites like Sprite, Pepsi, Fanta, and Mountain Dew. Now, more than ever, there is a wide variety of soft drinks to choose from.

Anywho, in this scenario we have a young, thirsty soda buyer on a quest for cola. It can be Pepsi, it can be Coke, hell, it can even be that dreaded RC knock-off crap, but cola is the end game. The vending patron purchases her soda from an overpriced machine and hurries off to her next destination, be it a class, a shift at work, or home. The brilliant red hue of the can and the curvy letters on the label appear all too familiar, and condensation even begins to form as the icy can makes contact with the much warmer air outside of the vending machine apartment where this soda had once lived.

When she pops the top and takes a swig, the taste is both familiar as well as surprising. It’s definitely cola, and the bubbles spring against her tongue in a familiar way, but something else is there. She drinks a little more, and can’t quite place the difference, but this isn’t cola as she’s used to it. There’s an unexpected finish to it. It isn’t a bad one; in fact, it actually tastes pretty nice. It’s a different flavor, though, and while she finishes the can, she’s left wondering why those 12 ounces of cola hit her so differently from other servings of cola she’s had in the past. This soda drinker hasn’t caught on that the contents of her plain cola can actually contained cherry cola. The sweet finish was pleasant, but not sought after, and the uniqueness of the cherry cola loses its value by being represented by the wrong can.

A similar tale could be told about my temperament.

As a child, I was always friendly, outgoing, and spritely (since I brought up soda). I had my own bouts with nervousness at giving presentations or being put on the spot to speak in school or extracurriculars, but these didn’t keep me from taking to the stage for dance recitals, performing in choir, pursuing a short-lived career in radio, appearing in two music videos for BET Network, performing at my high school’s first ever poetry slam, pledging a sorority, and even wanting to become an educator in the classroom as an adult. I’ve always been typed as “loud,” and indeed, my voice carries. Meet my mom; I get it from her.

But these traits have always garnered me the label of “extrovert,” and before age 16, I just went along because I didn’t know any wiser. It wasn’t until I was in the throes of puberty that I started to question whether or not I was really as open and outgoing as everyone had come to think I was, or if I was just someone who coped with the pressure of being put on the spot better than others around me. I can remember sitting in my 10th grade English class, hating life, watching the clock incessantly, when we (the class) stumbled upon some names within our assigned novel that our teacher had trouble pronouncing. Because my mom had many Chinese, Vietnamese, and Korean coworkers and friends, I learned tricks of pronunciation and was able to spit the names out easily. Suddenly, all eyes turned to me as she asked me to continue reading this section of text. I read it as best I could, and the students around me pressed me with questions about how it was that I spoke so clearly even with words derived from other languages. I shrugged and waited out the final moments of 6th period and booked it.

The next day, this boy I’d had a crush on, who was also my classmate in this class, sat next to me and asked if I wanted to hang out with him and his speech and debate buddies one day after school. They were part of the elitist cool at my high school – not jocks or popular – I wasn’t into those guys. I refer to them as the elitist cool because they were so smart and stuck up they built their own upper echelon. I’d later learn that those types of fake societies matter about as much as two-dollar bills, but when you’re 16 and  have just learned that when you throw on a skirt you have hips, that kind of invitation can make you feel good. But I couldn’t go. Not because mom or dad would object – I could think of a good enough lie to wiggle around them – I just didn’t want to be put on the spot. I didn’t want these people knowing who I was. I couldn’t let him see who I really was. No abuse at home, no bed wetting problems, no Rosemary Kennedy sibling hidden away in my family’s attic. I was just a nerdy girl who liked to play Zelda and listen to music for hours in her own room without fear of someone barging in because there were no siblings to share space with. I liked to research things in my spare time and write poems. I’d spend hours in my room just zoning out after school because my mind was on overload sometimes. So many people and cliques and rumors and trends to keep up on and MTV and people to call and…I didn’t want them knowing any of that about me because it was private.

That was the day my introversion and I shook hands, and we’ve been locked ever since.

Fast forward to now, where I sit in a place where I have nothing left to do but find myself as I live in a still fairly new location, reunited with family I’d been far away from, and still adjusting to my ever-changing role as a wife, mom, career woman, and entrepreneur, and I’m learning to embrace my introversion more tightly. I was always typed as an extrovert because I engage in “outgoing” activities such as socializing with strangers at gatherings and public speaking, but what nobody ever really knew (even I haven’t understood this until recently) was that those activities drained me. I needed my alone time to recover from them, and my home environment was of such where I didn’t have to put forth much effort to get this. Mom and dad were involved, but they gave me my space. I always had my own room and pretty much ruled the upstairs of our house as the guest bedroom had my computer in it. I just thought I was being an only child, and to some degree that may have been true, but as I’m learning, I was also recharging in solitude as introverts often do.

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From The Introvert Advantage by Marti Olsen Laney, Psy.D.

[It’s not the introvert bible – I’ve found a few questionable spots in this book and I’m almost through it – but it gives a nice perspective on what it’s like to date, parent, and be married to introverts if you are or are not one. I’m learning that I can actually relate to the world…if I want to.] 

 

Failure to do this can have grave consequences like panic attacks, sudden mood shifts, and unkind words. I hosted a bridal shower at my home in California and had two anxiety attacks trying to keep myself together as droves of strangers marched through my home, passed my 9-month old daughter around, and peered curiously at pictures of my family on the walls. I shoved my postpartum body into a sundress and tried to play hostess, but all I wanted to do was curl into a ball on the floor and try to process the upcoming move. I like for people to come over, but I don’t like for them to stay long. I can be open, but I prefer to keep myself hidden. Even the glimpses you see of me on this blog, which are more than any I share on other social media, are limited glimpses. The complex and beautiful web that I’m weaving isn’t for others to behold beyond my spouse and someday my daughter, and they even need a road map to navigate it all.

All of this, in summation, is to say that I identify very clearly with that unique cherry cola that was mistaken for classic and undervalued behind an improper label. I sit on the more extroverted side of introversion, but make no mistake that introversion is where I sit. I’ve been on the wrong shelf for quite some time, and have finally been moved, and I like it here better (there’s more room).

I’ll have more to say on this later.

Retiring the Machine

Every walk of life includes peaks and valleys, and for much of the journey we can imagine ourselves participating in an ongoing climb. We strive to do more, be better, achieve things we’ve never had, etc. Look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs if you need further clarification on this part of the life cycle.

I’ve been climbing my own mountain for quite some time now, longer than I had initially imagined. I can remember standing in the den of our house in Vista, holding a then only 4 1/2 month old Kennedy, discussing with Fabian the plan of action for how we would relocate ourselves, our baby, our careers, our cares, and our belongings to the other side of the country for the greater good of our entire family. The clock started then, and so did the climb. After that decision was finalized and we started the process, everything just got faster and faster…

Ever since, I’ve had momentary pauses, but I’ve been in motion the entire time. If not to put together the puzzles of a cross country move, then to learn the new lay of the land here in Florida, to find a job, to get back into school, to find something fun to do as a release, to adjust to online teaching as a career, to run in five directions consecutively in order to keep relationships intact, and to somehow keep my head above water through it all. In the midst of this, I also decided to start a business of my own. Where I found the time to do that I will never ever know, but that’s what I did and I’m just about a year in with it. Oh, and add an escrow to the tail end of that. Those are never ever fun or easy. If you can recall the Myth of Sisyphus, the former king had been condemned by the Greek gods to roll a boulder up a mountain with the aim to maybe leave it at the top or let it roll down the other side only to find that each time he would near the peak, the weight of the boulder would result in its rolling back down the path it had traveled. Sisyphus’ plight demonstrates the concept of insanity to us, because for as long as Sisyphus rolled that boulder, the outcome always remained the same. To do the same thing over and over and expect different results is exactly what insanity is, and week after week, month after month, and (I can actually say) year after year I felt the weight of the insanity that has been my life for two years.

mom and kennedy

One of the momentary pauses I got to have during this two-year period. Kennedy is only 8 months old here, and though the move was happening when this photo was taken, I wasn’t completely buried under my obligations yet. I was still able to freely be a wife mom here, and I’m so, so anxious to get back to this place again. (Photo credit: Primrose Plum Photography)

 

But unlike Sisyphus, I actually get to realize a different, much more triumphant outcome.

I hold two masters degrees now. I run two businesses from home and make my own work schedule. I live in a house that has everything I need in it and is located near people I care about living close to. All of these achievements were goals and milestones I set for myself, so I’m elated to have been blessed to realize each one of them.

But what it took…

Time and energy are just the surface sacrifices. Those moments of watching cartoons with my little one, going on dates with my husband, helping my mom and dad around the house, and sitting still long enough to talk on the phone or have lunch with a friend have also been sacrificed. My personal care has been sacrificed. Don’t worry, I kept showering through all of this 😉 but I could’ve used more sleep. I could’ve used more time to myself to think. My soul could’ve benefitted from more time spent playing my guitar. My body could’ve done better with more exposure to the sun.

I symbolically crossed the finish line on Friday when I defended my way to a perfect score for my MBA capstone, with boxes and blue painter’s tape still strewn about my newly moved into house. On Friday, the journey ended, and so did a chapter of my life that I didn’t even know I was capable of living through. It will go down as the most painful, difficult to budge, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore’ shouted through tears chapter in the Antoinette book, but it was so, 100 percent, absolutely necessary for me to write. I’m a better woman for it.

It’s time for me to retire the machine. A piece of her will always be present because of who I am by nature, but in much smaller doses. It’s time for me to recoup some of what I lost personally while I also process all of the ways in which I’ve been made different.

I would write more, but I hear my daughter calling me…