The clock reads 5:15 AM when the alarm goes off in our tiny hotel room located at the far end of town in Aguas Calientes. My two siblings and I get out of bed with more spring in our step than usual considering the early hour as we are anxious to begin the day's adventure. I first started thinking about this trip nearly three years ago and now feel like a young child getting in the car to go to Disneyland for the very first time -- will it be all that I dreamt it could be? Within a matter of minutes we are dressed and out the door excited for all the possibilities that can come from experiencing sunrise while perched atop a small hill overlooking Machu Picchu.
I have always been a fan of big adventures because, for me, they bring with them the realization of big dreams. I was told by many friends and acquaintances back home that it would be spiritual, awe striking, humbling, and simply incredible. I would realize just hours later that it was all that and more.
The clouds hung low when we first arrived and a heavy mist canvased the ruins that lie in a small valley surrounded by mountain tops and glaciers. Machu Picchu is full of mystery and intrigue at first sight. Our guide is full of stories and information and after three hours of talking and walking much of it begins to jumble together in my mind. After all, I didn't have a chance to even grab a coffee before running out the door to meet our bus. What I do remember is that she started the morning by telling us that the Inkas spent an estimated 70 years building their beloved mountain retreat and many historians believe they never had the chance to finish.
70 years?! To build one mountain town?! In a world of fast flying airplanes, immediate access to a world of information via the Internet, cell phones that can recommend anything from restaurants to weather forecasts, and bosses that expect a completed project yesterday -- to say we are constantly on the run is putting it mildly. A question digs in my mind all morning long as we traverse this ancient village: have we lost sight of the strength and power found in living with intention?
Each rock was hand picked and then carefully smoothed and shaped. The astronomy room enlightens and informs the villagers using the language of the sky and even today can still speak truth. Hard to believe that this place of wonder and beauty, according to many archaeologists, is well passed its 500th birthday.
There is so much to be said about a morning spent at Machu Picchu and I wrestled for days with what could be the most relatable story "out of the gate" and my mind kept returning to a common theme: slow down and live with intention if there is to be any hope of leaving your mark on the world.
I tip my hat to those that labored for decades while building Machu Picchu. Their craftsmanship will impact me for a lifetime. I can only hope that future generations have the opportunity to experience the same paralyzing awe and wonder that come with watching the clouds move aside as the sun peaks through to light up the top of Machu Picchu.
Thursday, May 17, 2012
A group of girls had decided to all get together for dinner and drinks on a Saturday night and we made plans to try a new and trendy restaurant in town. As is typical with my fashionista gal pals, one checked in with me via text to find out what outfit I planned on showcasing that evening. My response: "I will be wearing all black as I am mourning the death of my metabolism."
My entire young adult life my weight has fluctuated between 123-128 lbs. A healthy weight for a moderately active female of about 5'5". At some point during the last 6 months my metabolism decided to let off the accelerator and without any real changes in diet or exercise I found myself weighing in at 135 lbs. I have never been that weight in my entire life and not a single pair of pants would fit. I don't remember much of a gradual change, I simply remember the day that my favorite pair of skinny black jeans could no longer be pulled over my legs and the scale registered a weight I had never seen. I was on the verge of a full blown emotional breakdown fueled by my plummeting self esteem.
I have spent the last 3 months battling these extra 10 lbs that have mostly taken residency on my ass and thighs. I began addressing this issue by trying to watch what I ate and complaining about it to friends and loved ones. The typical response was to empathize, feed me the compliment that I was fishing for, and then shrug and change the subject.
That is, until I turned to my younger sister who happily fills out her jeans with a rounder butt than the average magazine cover model. She found an image on Pinterest with a quote and showed it to me: "The only thing keeping you from achieving your ideal weight is YOU". It was a wakeup call.
I really never paid much attention to my lifestyle as a young female constantly 'on the go' because my health seemed to be on autopilot. I enjoy salads as much as pasta, I feel no guilt indulging in cheese and wine, and every now and then I go to yoga or on a walk for exercise. I'm quickly approaching 30, my body is changing, and the reading on the scale quickly called my attention to the notion of consciously living a healthy lifestyle.
Body image issues are rampant in females and I am in no way supporting the notion that we all need to be a Size 2 in order to feel beautiful. However, I do believe that we feel most beautiful simply when we feel our best. For me, that means drinking more water, exercising more regularly, reaching for sugary sweets less often, and trying to substitute a heavy lunch with a power juice at least once a week. I am consciously striving to be healthy while still allowing myself the (less) occasional indulgence in pasta or wine and cheese nights.
The result? I now weigh in at 132 lbs, dating someone new who compliments me frequently on my personality and character, and wearing dresses to play up my femininity when I don't feel like facing the pinch of my jeans from my early 20's. It's a work in progress, but not a bad start! I encourage you to make healthy lifestyle decisions about diet and exercise so that the smile in your eyes is reflective of how good you feel inside and out.
This past weekend has been a whirlwind of events. Scratch that -- it's been a marathon. In the past four days I have had the pleasure of celebrating family and friends through attending graduation ceremonies and dinners, bachelorette parties and bridal showers, and Mother's Day brunches and barbeques. As is typical with me, I participated in all of the fun events and then during my drives along the 405/110/10/210/605/5/73 freeways -- yes, I am the living version of an SNL skit -- I ruminated on all of the life lessons and inspiration to be derived from the company that surrounded me.
Looking back on it all, the most powerful event actually occurred in the very beginning of the weekend at the Commencement Ceremony for the University of Southern California. The key note address was given by Christiane Amanpour and she managed to captivate and inspire the entire crowd of 40,000 with her story. Instead of re-capping for your her thirty minute speech, I am simply going to list out the most impactful takeaways and hope that they make you smile, open your eyes, and move you to stand a little straighter as you walk through the world tomorrow.
- Everything happens for a reason, including failures. Christiane failed her medical board exams and had to pick a new career after her dreams of being a doctor were shattered.
- Work hard and don't feel entitled. You might need to fetch coffee or dry cleaning when first starting out, but darn it, be the best assistant on the job. Christiane began her career as an intern with a young broadcasting station dubbed "Chicken Noodle News" by the industry. Today we call that station CNN.
- Strive for success, but know that it doesn't happen overnight. It takes time and diligence. Christiane has been in the business for over twenty years.
- You will need to work your way up a corporate ladder -- do your best to enjoy every rung because the journey is what will define you.
- Once you get to the top, do not become a power hungry dictator and egocentric. Instead, look back at your journey of climbing the ladder and respect those now walking a similar path while working for you.
One last note that I cannot recall if it was part of Christiane's concluding remarks or simply a theme from the many speakers throughout the day: Pay it Forward. The student speaker prior to Christiane taking the stage told the crowd that those with a Bachelor's Degree are among the top 7% of the most educated people in the world. Opportunities will abound for those that work hard and life will move faster than we anticipate. At some point, we are called to look back and acknowledge those that supported and granted us opportunity. We need to pay it forward and offer that same support and opportunity to the generations behind us.
Tuesday, May 15, 2012
I love to look at the timeline of a year and establish 'Seasons' by major life events. May is the beginning of Wedding Season and also Graduation Season. It is a time marked by new beginnings and driven by passion. The passion brought into these chapters from the very beginning is most effective when combined with a sense of direction. Hopefully, couples entering into marriage have an idea of where they hope to see their lives go together as they prepare to build a home and family. But what about the new graduates about to embark on the journey of young adulthood? It is a time when one must start to lay the foundation for which he or she will ultimately build their life upon.
If the momentous occasion of college graduation is an event of your past then I ask you take a moment and look back and try to remember if you, like many, had a passion and sense of direction fueled by hope and optimism. Are those hopes and dreams still related to how you live your life today? Has life taken a different course by either choice or chance?
I lived in my sorority house my senior year of college with a dear friend of mine and we shared a small room on the third floor. We had matching Pottery Barn bedspreads, hair product galore, and many a night of talking about our hopes and dreams for the future -- and boys, of course. I was sitting on my bed working on a paper one afternoon when my roommate bounced into the room with a huge grin on her face and stars in her eyes. Naturally, I inquired about her day and the cause of her heightened energy. She told me, in a very 'matter of fact' way that she had an epiphany during her writing class and was so excited about this life-changing realization. She sat down, I braced myself for whatever wild news was about to come, and she simply stated "I have decided that I would like to be the Editor in Chief of Vogue one day. I know I will be good at it and I know that I am capable of making it happen." I smiled, provided some encouraging words, and the two of us went on with our day. It was her 'Ah Ha! Moment' Today, I am still in touch with this dear friend and she might not be the Editor in Chief of Vogue, but she is a very successful branding and PR specialist in the fashion and beauty industry with her own firm and list of clients. Sometimes I think she figured out that it would be more fun to make the editors work for her and decided to change course in order to make that happen.
Not all of us are so lucky to have an epiphany about our greater purpose and destiny in life before grabbing our college diploma, but at some point we have to look in the mirror and decide who we see ourselves to truly BE. To all the upcoming graduates, and those of us needing to look back and revisit the frame of mind leading up to graduation, I offer this insight from Nelson Mandela and encourage you to follow his lead:
Monday, May 14, 2012
Saturday morning started with a long hot shower, some fresh coffee, and a sundress -- then off to the hair dresser. It was a big day for our family as we prepared to attend an awards gala honoring my father. The day was reminiscent of preparing for prom where your whole day is dedicated to feeling refreshed and pretty in time for the 'Big Event'. As the five o'clock hour came around we were all ready to go wearing our floor length gowns, tuxedos, and enough hairspray to be considered a fire hazard. The event venue was stunning. Chandeliers, floral arrangements, a full theatrical stage, and plenty of local 'VIP's' in attendance. I wandered the room with my Pinot Grigio in hand and anxiously awaited for the ceremony to begin and highlight the people associated with my Alma Mater that were making a true impact on our world.
The event began by presenting The Young Alumni award to an extremely impressive entrepreneur with a lightning bolt of energy attached to him. The following Service Awards were inspiring and humbling with their heartfelt speeches. But what really captivated my attention this particular evening was the common thread found in the two speeches made by the Grand Honorees: Humility & Gratitude. The founder of Vizio got up to make his speech and I was anticipating a powerhouse story of hard work and sacrifice, but instead he delivered a speech centered around the encouragement received by loved ones and his dedication towards overcoming his failures in order to carry on with his career. It was charming, humble, and full of admiration for his wife of mother.
The concluding speech for the evening was made by the wife of the current CEO of Trader Joes who could not attend the event as he was home ill from his chemotherapy treatments necessary for battling Leukemia. She eloquently presented the speech that her husband had written and, again, it was filled with humility and gratitude towards loved ones.
She captivated the entire audience of 1,500 people for the duration of her 15 minute presentation and she undoubtedly deserved the standing ovation. Her speech opened by acknowledging each family member in attendance and mentioning a thoughtful detail about their accomplishments. She then talked about the 32 year marriage that she and Dan have enjoyed together and pictures flashed of the many family occasions they celebrated. Only for a few minutes did she talk about his time with Trader Joes and what this company meant to them.
The financial success achieved by each of these men, as indicated by their speeches, was only a small piece of what defined their lives and character. They emphasized family, unconditional love and support, and gratitude for the opportunity to make a difference. In a world emphasizing the ever powerful E-G-O, they were a breath of fresh air and a poignant reminder to 'Leggo the Ego'.