Friday, January 1, 2016

Thoughts on the eve of my 40th birthday (and 2016)

As I reflect on the first 40 years of my life, I’m so grateful for all of the opportunities that I’ve had and all of the people who have pushed me to try all of the closed doors in the long, vast hallway I wandered down aimlessly during my first 25 years. As I turn the page to the next chapter, I can honestly say that I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished so far. Twenty years ago, I never could have imagined in my wildest dreams that I would be where I am.

I lived a lifetime in the first 25 years of my life. The self-worth and esteem that I should have developed while growing up was stifled, and I ended up, unsurprisingly, being financially and emotionally dependent on other people. As sure as I knew that the sun would rise, I knew that my life was going to be meaningless, that I would merely exist and do the things that I thought I was supposed to do until I died.

And then I suddenly realized that it didn’t have to be like that. Life didn’t have to be prescribed, and I didn’t have to stay in unhealthy situations. I couldn’t be quite sure at that point, but I may be worth more than that. It was early 2002 in Philly. The memories of commuter lots full of cars whose owners would never return were still very fresh after 9/11. The news was full of people talking about living for today and following your dreams. There was no reason I couldn’t do the same.

As many people now know, I decided to leave Philadelphia for California and start my life over, not unlike millions of others who came to California before me. I found a graduate program that perfectly covered my interests and spent eight days driving across the country to start my new life. I was optimistic. I thought I might have some potential, and I was determined to find out. I spent the next few years doing exactly that.

I had several amazing opportunities in rapid succession of which I took full advantage. I met someone who seemed nice, and who was very patient when I said that I wasn’t interested in a relationship because I was busy focusing on myself. I took one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever been given when a friend suggested that I accept an internship that I was unsure of, saying, “You may end up not liking it, but you’ll learn so much.” I went to Mexico City to teach and do research. I reached out for an informational interview for a job that was perfect for me. I followed another friend’s advice to “have a look” at a program that helps women in politics.

Ultimately, of course, that “nice” someone—Matt—ended up being the most incredible, supportive, loving, generous partner and father. That internship ended up changing the course of my career and introducing me to the world of policy and politics. That teaching gig in Mexico ended up teaching me several lessons. That informational interview ended up giving me the edge to getting the job in San Francisco (and finally getting me the hell out of Fresno). That program that I looked into ended up being Emerge California, to which I was accepted to the class of 2010.

I spent my late 20s and early 30s really learning about myself—who I was, what my likes and dislikes were, what I wanted in life. I spent my mid to late 30s implementing everything I had learned. All of that learning helped me during the last 3 years, which have been among the most amazing and fulfilling yet challenging years of my life.

In late 2011 I decided to run for San Francisco’s Community College Board. Running for office is intense, and running for office in San Francisco, whose politics is a special kind of crazy, is unlike anything that one can imagine. I’ve blogged about that experience before. While running, I was planning my wedding back in Philly. I ended up losing that election in November 2012 by about 500 votes, but I was undeterred. In 2013, Matt and I had a beautiful wedding in Fairmount Park and then set off for Europe for a few weeks. By the end of 2013 I was pregnant. The pregnancy started out pretty easy—we were travelling in South America at the end of my first trimester with no problems—but the pregnancy became very hard, with several complications and trips to the hospital. By summer of 2014, just before my due date, I had to decide whether I was going to run for the Board again. I spoke with many people and received great advice, and at the last minute waddled into the Department of Elections and filed my papers to run again. The only way I was able to make it happen was with the help and support of some of San Francisco’s most amazing women who attended endorsement meetings on my behalf while I gave birth and tried to keep my sanity with a newborn. I won that election, and have been so thrilled to serve the college and the community.

Adjusting to motherhood was hard. Really hard. I learned pretty quickly that I don’t do well on sleep deprivation. And I ignored signs of postpartum depression, chalking it up to sheer exhaustion. By the time I realized it, I was in pretty deep. That first year was so, so hard. Infancy sucks. But now that The Bean is 16 months, we’re having a blast! I love watching her take it all in and see her curiosity drive her. I love watching her learn something new. I love hearing her say new words every day. I love seeing how smart she is and how quickly she learns things and makes connections. I love seeing her on the playground, cracking up when she goes down the slide (although, strangely, she’s still terrified of the swing). She’s so funny, and she brings so much to our family. She also makes me desperate to be a good parent and to give her all of the love and stability and security that all kids should have.

I realize that all of the things that I’ve been through in my life helped shape who I am today and inform all of the decisions that I make, good and bad. I know that I have baggage that I’m still trying to shed. And I know that I’ll probably never get over certain things. But I live my life the best that I can. And I truly believe that I am so, so lucky. I sometimes pinch myself, wondering if this is really my life. I think about how helpless and hopeless I felt throughout the first 25 years of my life, and I am so incredibly grateful for the people who have pushed me to this point. I’ve had so many amazing opportunities. I’ve traveled around the world. I’ve met world leaders. I’m surrounded by some of the most amazing and inspiring women (and men who love us) a society can have. Personally, I couldn’t ask for a more supportive and loving group of friends and partner. Politically, I try to live by the philosophy that leaders should want to “do” something rather than “be” something. Professionally, I still have many goals, and hopefully the next decade of my life will give me the courage to pursue them.

But in the meantime, on the eve of turning 40, I’m very proud of my accomplishments so far. I’m looking forward to the next chapter. 

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