“Do great work, and love–that is the meaning of life.”
Bali, bliss, and a big old birthday.
It all started with a single post in February, 2010.
I had just gotten an extra job as a writer paying $10 per post, and I snapped it up. It was my side project. My writing was terrible. I was paid to give advice to new college graduates on how to navigate the corporate world, and despite being a few years into my own career, I still felt like I didn’t know what I was doing.
I started my blog–a friend set me up on a wordpress site and domain (which I didn’t quite understand). I wrote about not working too hard, how to recover from long work days, staying motivated, and allocating for food costs on measly budgets. I wrote book reviews and interviewed my professional friends in sports medicine, biotech, web design and more–to get their insights on what they’d learned on the job and how they crafted their careers.
Did I know what I was doing with the blog? Nope. No idea.
I just knew I wanted to write. So I wrote, every time I felt like I wanted to write about something.
I probably didn’t hit my stride until well after the first year, and I’m still learning. Each post, each month, and each iteration I continued to refine and hone my writing. I wandered through styles and posts and wrote about topics that felt like I should write about, but that truthfully I didn’t adore. But even though I didn’t know what to write about, I still wrote. I whittled. It got better. I adjusted. I said more about what I was thinking and feeling, less about what I thought people wanted to hear. It got better.
Fast-forward nearly four years later:
I’m celebrating. Big time.
I love (LOVE) what I do. I discovered an incredible connection with the written word, and I write as often as I can. I get to share it in community with other like-minded and incredible souls. I am blown away by the people I’ve met, and I’m so grateful to be a part of this. I celebrate through hard work, through experimentation, through hugs, and through trial-and-error. Tears and laughter are part of the process.
Because I’m celebrating a lot of things in this life right now, I’d love for you to join me in celebrating my birthday, this blog, and the community we share.
When I left my job earlier this year, I left in order to focus on a couple of things: movement (or health in my body), writing, and teaching. In the last few months, I’ve also started my own business, enrolled in yoga teacher training, launched several programs, and taken action on several dreams that had been sidelined for too long.
In order to do this, I saved for five years, paid down big piles of debt; gave up clothes shopping for a year; experimented with minimalism, sewing machines, and free-cycling; worked several side jobs, and hustled to make things work. I sold my car (finally), soaked up and swept up as much knowledge as I could, met incredible souls, friends and teachers, created new things, and built project after project.
Big, sweeping changes have happened alongside smaller, less outwardly-visible changes. Across all of this has been an emphasis on health, healing, and happiness. On mindfulness, movement, and growth.
Beyond the tactical and structural (quitting my job! signing up for yoga! moving! God, it sounds so much easier writing it!), there are also mental shifts changing, aligning, and expanding as I spend time listening and growing.
“You don’t have to be so busy,” the softer voice in my mind reminds me. “It’s okay to pause, reflect, and live inside of this quiet, vibrant stillness.” When I feel things–the sadness, the anger, the fear, the totality of being human–I spend more time resting in it, moving in it, moving through it. We work together, me and my emotions. It’s the human condition.
Amber Zuckswert teaching yoga in Bali.
Birthday bliss: taking a break in Bali.
In the spirit of health and healing, for my 30th birthday–and in honor of the work I’ve done over the past several years–I’m taking a digital sabbatical and sojourning to beautiful Bali paradise with Amy Rachelle and Amber Zuckswert for two weeks of meditation, yoga, reflection, and emotional healing. Bali is known as one of the most healing places in the world, and I’m joining a retreat group that’s focused on learning how to craft raw foods, heal the soul, and engage in mindfulness and meditation practices.
Nearly a decade ago, I started my career in architecture and design and I’ve been working nonstop ever since. For the last few years, I’ve been dreaming of taking a restful vacation–and yet I kept pushing it off. I promised myself that when I hit thirty, I’d take at least a few weeks to rest, recover, and recalibrate.
Beyond just a “vacation,” I’m opening up the mental space (and nooks and crannies!) for a reconsideration and reflection on what I’ve done, who I’ve become, and what I want to build. This marks the beginning of a different year in my life: one that’s less focused on being frenetic and more focused on being present. It’s time to celebrate, reflect, restore, and be fully Sarah–in the present, and in the moment.
I’ll be offline while I’m gone – completely unplugged and digitally unavailable – but in advance, I’ve written a series of essays that are coming out over the next few weeks.
In the spirit of reflection, birthdays, and changing decades:
This week I’ll transition out of the twenty-something decade and into the next decade (Holy smokes! I’m turning 30!). Last year we celebrated by raising $32,398 for charity: water for my 29th birthday, and the year before I wrote 28 in 52 notes, a years’ worth of lessons in one post.
In the spirit of letting things go, moving forward, taking care of yourself, and celebrating the year, here’s my annual birthday post–although I’m sure I’ll have a bigger round-up of notes and thoughts from unplugging in Bali. It can’t be a birthday without a bit of reflection on some of the learnings and highlights from the year. Here’s what I’ve learned (and am always learning):
Going pro, turning 30, and the biggest lessons from this year.
Place a lot of bets.
Try a lot of things. A year is a long time, and five years is a great amount of time to make more than just one thing happen. You can work a side hustle on the side of your day gig in a few minutes a day–write one page every other day and see what happens in a couple of months. Throw your work into the ring, and keep making your work. Try one connection or conference, and another. Don’t put all your money on one thing if you’re just starting. Get started, and test out a few things.
Build in iterative, successive capacities. Try things until something works, then adjust it so it works better. Put it out there. Keep going.
Do not work in isolation.
Ask for help.
Ask for everything. The more you ask, the more you get.
You don’t have to do what anyone else does.
You can do things no one has done before, you can be weird, you can be strange, and you can decide to do it differently than anything you’ve seen before. Be aware of the sheep mentality. Ask for exceptions. Modify the program to fit your needs. Learn about yourself, and make it better so you get better.
Take care of yourself.
You are the only one who can take care, and those small things—like going to sleep early, giving hugs, smiling, eating good food? They mean the world. Take very good care of yourself.
When you get better, the world benefits.
It’s not selfish.
The more you push, the more resistance there might be. Do it anyway.
The ego yells a lot of loud and scary things at you when you’re heading into moments of insight and brilliance. The more brilliantly you shine, the louder your ego–the voice that wants you to worry, to stay comfortable, to stay the same, to do things that feel safe–the louder it shouts. Listen to it like the dull roar of a stadium filled with fans, and not the shouty-shout voice it’s trying to be.
It really can be wonderful.
“Be Sarah,” I write on my wall. (Thank you, Gretchen Rubin for the reminder to “Be Gretchen.”) Be you. “There’s nobody you-er than you,” says Doctor Seuss. Let yourself be you, deliciously and deliriously you. And the more YOU you are, the more wonder there is.
We all have self-doubts, demons, and critics.
And we all have stories. The person across from you is holding pain, hurt, and fear just like you are. We’ve all got something. Be kind and generous with their soul, and kind and generous with your own. Cradle your heart in the softness of the hammock of your ribs. Let it rest, fully, in the feeling of a breathe. Fill your lungs with love for you and the world around you, despite the pain.
Give up on dreams that you’ve tried on or dreams that you realize aren’t yours.
It’s not giving up if you don’t want it. For the longest time I had a dream to run a marathon by age 30–until I realized that I loved swimming, singing, dancing and yoga far, far more than running. And picturing myself at the end of a marathon just made me feel tired, not thrilled or excited. So sweep! I let that dream head on out the door. It wasn’t mine–it was just visiting. Finish it or punt. Know when to quit.
You don’t have to know how to explain yourself perfectly.
You can use as many words as you like, and you can screw up many times. It’s all fine. Start somewhere, tell a little story, and bit by bit we’ll get the picture.
Stories are how we understand and see the world.
We use stories to understand complex phenomenon and hang onto information. Watch, study, and listen carefully to the stories you’ve programmed in your brain and the stories you tell yourself about who you are. Changing the stories you tell yourself (through visualization, practice, and manifestation) can be incredibly powerful.
If it’s too big to do, make it smaller.
Seeing is an art, a study.
We’re designed to throw away most of the stimulus we receive because it’s too much to comprehend—we’re constantly simplifying things in our mind in order to understand them. The challenge of writing and of art is to learn how to see the world around us anew. If you want to learn how something works or how its made and marvel at it, try to draw it. Pull out a pen or pencil, a sheet of paper, and practice mapping the object onto the page. Rather than say that it’s impossible, or say that you’re terrible at drawing, study why you drew what you did. This is your brain schema, at work. This is the translation of space in the world into products in your hand. Keep practicing. Fix the little wiggles. Notice when you make a simple curve instead of the parabolic curves of the real thing.
Good is the enemy of the great.
(From Jim Collins): Iterate towards great, but also remember that complacency, comfort, and “good enough” are some of the most insidious enemies of making great work.
Being comfortable is not my end goal.
There’s so much joy on the other side of myriad discomforts: freedom, expression, learning, connection – many of these things can come after a bit of leaning into your edge. Yoga poses unlock freedom despite various levels of discomfort held in our joints. The payoff is expansion, self-awareness, reducing pain, and freedom. It’s worth it.
At the same time, understand when you’re pushing too hard, and when to yield to the universe.
When to soften, because the things will arrive in their good time. When to yield to grace, and move without force. Leaning into discomfort is not the same thing as pushing forcefully into all arenas.
Healing, health, and care are critical.
We all work too hard. It’s not about hustling indefinitely, although many folks hustle for decades before getting a break–it’s also about taking the time to heal yourself, help yourself, and be kind to yourself in the present moment. Health is critical. In my pursuit of projects, I’ve often sacrificed wellness in the aim to create great works. I’m softening this, and attempting to learn how to receive rest and healing even amidst the busy-ness.
And when I get back…
When I return, I’ll be hosting a micro-workshop focused on cultivating gratitude and grace in your spirit, life, and daily practices. It will begin on December 1st, and I’ll share the full details when I return. If you’re looking for inspiration to reflect, restore, and to practice more grace and gratitude in your lives, I encourage you to check back in late November for how to join the workshop. It will be delightful.
And as my birthday present:
By the time this post goes live, I’ll be curled up into a sleeping position with my jammies and my hat in an airplane heading forward in time to my destination. I’d love to hear from you while I’m gone, however, in the comments: share with me something–a gift, joy, or grace–that you’re giving to yourself of someone else this week.
How are you taking care of yourself? What gifts of grace can you give to yourself? What does healing look like for you?
With big internet hugs,