Unfettered 50

The birth of Unfettered50

by Nancy Colasurdo on August 6, 2013

Oh, baby, have I been working. And so has an amazing woman named Jeanne Weierheiser. I am so pleased to share that the result of our energetic collaboration is Unfettered50.com. It launches today and it makes me giddy.

Regular readers of this space know that since last year I often tag some of my posts “Unfettered 50.” I got the idea early in 2012, after turning 50 in late 2011, and I purchased the domain name. But I had a lot going on in my life and I wasn’t prepared to give it a real go despite the Facebook page by that name gifted to me by a friend with a good heart – Todd Lieman.

That brings me to that old saying about one door closing and another opening. As of March 1, this independent contractor ended a five-year column-writing gig. It was admittedly jarring because the column had become a habit, but slowly my soul caught up to my intellect as it told me repeatedly that I had done all there was to do in that forum. A beautiful opportunity that had run its course.

But then, what?

Exploration. I have railed here. I have been impatient. I have questioned. I have opened, opened, opened. Another cliche started overriding all else — build it and they will come. I had to keep turning up the volume on that, humming along with faith and calmly answering well-meaning questions about how it would generate income.

Patience. I have that way more than ever before. Much emotional and spiritual work over the years, but honestly an escalation of the concept the last two months. This took front and center — Follow your marching orders. You hear them. Go. Do. Be.

If not now, when?

I keep joking about how my new job is to figure out how my 50-something self fits in to this new world created by 25-year-olds. I see it pretty clearly now and I’m just sitting back and letting it evolve. Try this. What about that? Open.

I’ve been challenged by me, Nancy (a.k.a. my biggest critic), to shed ideas that are no longer viable and figure out what might be possible instead. I’ll be darned if all kinds of stuff didn’t come rushing in when I removed the filter. That essay I want to write can go from a germ of an idea to published product in a few hours. I’ve known that for a while, right? But I’m just getting the power of it now.

I attached the number to Unfettered 50 because I felt this sudden freedom when I hit this milestone decade, but truly I want readers to come along on the Unfettered journey no matter their age. Just because it took me a while to get here doesn’t mean it’s the same for everyone else. However, I do think many of my 50-something brothers and sisters will especially understand the liberation of getting to this point in life.

Please check out the site. I explain who I am, why I created it and welcome readers to seek Unfettered Advice. There’s a newsletter, connections to social media (Unfettered Pinterest boards, oh my), and even a spot called You May Want to Rethink That for dispensing advice when something hits me off the news cycle. There’s also a place to connect to my weekly Day Brake posts at A Day Well Lived.

I have ideas for moving forward and it will be a fun challenge to execute them all with the vision of Jeanne in the mix. She has a way of making my musings into something better than I could have imagined. Blessings abound on this project and beyond.

Here we go, folks. Here. We. Go.

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On Affecting Lives

by Nancy Colasurdo on July 30, 2013

I recently received a wonderful piece of mail that said this, “Your perspective is unique in the way it resonates and God has put you in this place at this time to change and affect lives.”

This reader went on to share a story about his health and he had written to cheer me on in my efforts regarding my recent blog post Life in the Hypertensive Zone. His issues with cholesterol were similar to mine with blood pressure.

This kindness from a stranger reminded me of several things about life. One, it is hard to keep track of all the people we might be touching, especially if we’re writers in this age of the world wide web. My goodness, what a privilege to have someone tell me I’m affecting lives.

Two, our stories are important because even though sometimes we feel like we’re telling them and no one is listening or caring, they are. They’re listening with rapt attention. They’re caring enough to write and share their own stories. That kind of connection is such a big part of why I do this.

I suppose that’s also why I’m moved to share that I’m in a major state of flux right now. It is filled with big ideas, endless possibility, uncertainty, lean living, physical pain, surges of confidence, groundedness, much introspection and mad bouts of writing. This is a summer of sequestration of sorts. I have no feeling of deprivation around that. It feels peaceful and I’m vicariously enjoying others’ getaways and such via social media.

Sometimes when I ask my life coaching clients what they’re willing to do (sacrifice?) to have that thing they say they want, this is kind of what I mean. I’m one who’s willing to hunker down and say no to dining out and skip a vacation if it means I can make my next vision come to fruition. There is something so primal and cool about scaling way back. The simplest pleasures take front and center. No, I can’t make that dinner at that trendy restaurant, but how about a walk? We can catch up that way.

I see it as temporary. I used to see it as a terrifying failure, a reason to beat myself up for falling short somehow. Now I’m unsure of how this is all going to go, but there’s an underlying joy and purpose and a certainty that it will all work out. In fact, more than work out. Hard to explain, but clearly all the work on self I’ve done up to now is rising to the surface. And this is part of the ebb and flow of being a writer who actually takes the gift seriously.

In the very near future I will be unveiling Unfettered50.com, a venture (website, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest) born of a feeling I had last year when I was new to hitting age 50. I’m so excited about it and have been pouring lots of energy and time into making it shine. Simultaneously, I have clarified some questions I had around a book I’ve been writing that was dormant for a long time and I’m now working on it voraciously. That baby is ready to be born. It wants out.

It’s a special kind of challenge to create on different levels and that’s new to me. Blogging here, generating content for Unfettered50.com and writing for A Day Well Lived on current topics. Going deep into a memoir manuscript that spans a decade I’ve already lived to chronicle past experiences. In an interesting twist, as I’m rereading my own chapters I’m finding it valuable to apply those lessons learned to my life now. What a kick.

In between the writing moments, I’m getting immense satisfaction from clients who are clearing clutter – physical and emotional — to let in new possibilities, revamping resumes to invite new opportunities, proudly honoring their own creativity and working through loss to make life-altering decisions. It’s heady when I actually pause to appreciate it.

In a previous post I spoke of talking to a woman in my community who suggested I learn more about Paul the Apostle. I have borrowed books and even watched a film on him since she gave me that nudge. Last week I watched a documentary about Buddha on PBS and a theme emerged. These men – Paul and Siddhartha — forged their own path, spread their message with little care about mainstream reaction. They did what they were compelled to do – learn, keep the faith, teach.

That feels very right in the life of this coach/writer. I’m so glad I’ve learned to pay attention when others make suggestions and when my gut directs me to something. I get to learn and share and maybe affect some lives.

I’m all in.

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My gratifying gig

by Nancy Colasurdo on July 16, 2013

A few weeks ago I informed my readers here that I’d be writing a new weekly post called Day Brake for A Day Well Lived. The site and newsletter will launch soon, but in the meantime you can find Day Brake on its (public) Facebook page.

What I am finding joyful in the process of contributing original content to ADWL is that it serves two purposes — I get to pause and reflect on what makes a particular day ‘well lived’ and I get the opportunity to share any insights I have around that. You will find these posts anecdotal and reflective but also conversational.

At this point ADWL‘s Facebook page has eclipsed the 150,000 followers mark, a credit to its founder/creator Todd Lieman, and it is beyond exciting to speak to such a wide and diverse readership. We’d love it if you’d take the journey with us.

Here are Day Brake posts No. 2 and 3:

‘Only’ Appreciation (Thoughts on abundance …)

Appreciative Energy (Applying energy to showing appreciation …)

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Life in the Hypertensive Zone

by Nancy Colasurdo on July 10, 2013

I hate writing about health. I glaze over when people talk about it regularly. I am bored to tears when I’m fixated on my own health issues. I don’t seek out articles about it. I guess you could say when it comes to this topic I learn about things on a need-to-know basis.

Courtesy of freeimages.co.uk

All that said, I have been posting a bit more on the topic of health in the last year or so. People other than me tend to respond favorably to these pieces; they like the sharing. Plus, I have vowed to be pretty much split-open vulnerable in my writing, more so than ever before, and this has been a major time suck the last week.

So let’s talk high blood pressure.

To summarize, I learned I was hypertensive in April 2012 while getting pre-op testing for arthroscopic surgery on my knee. Bring it down, I was told, or no surgery. I got on meds, pronto, and they helped, but even the day of the surgery the anesthesiologist was freaked because I was on the borderline. (That’s relaxing for the patient to hear, by the way).

Since then I’ve blown through four different prescription meds. Dark moods, leaden limbs, etc. On to the next.

I figured I’d found my answer with this diuretic concoction (I’m purposely not naming names on here because I don’t want to get bogged down in debating drugs), but since starting it last September I’ve had an increasing problem with throbbing pain in my legs, mild to severe joint stiffness (walking across a room is challenging), cramps in my feet and overall achiness. When I walk or exercise it’s like I’m working against myself. Hard to explain, but that’s close.

I’ve written about this here before, but each time I wind up ending the post with some resolution. In other words, I keep thinking I’ve figured out it’s some other thing or I’ve found the answer (freakin’ pineapple juice, drinking more water, challenging myself more at the gym, etc.) because it goes away for a day or so and returns.

But last week on the 4th of July I went to sit on the ground and couldn’t physically do it. My knees stiffened on the way down. Me, who works out four days a week and walks everywhere (I don’t own a car). Seriously?

The next morning I emailed my doctor. I was firm. Time to go off this drug. It is either causing these problems or there is something else very wrong. We need to conduct an experiment. I know you like my blood pressure in this “sweet spot” but my quality of life is getting progressively worse. I’m an active 51-year-old.

She agreed. Go off the meds, she said, and monitor your blood pressure every other day and then come see me in two weeks. Fabulous.

So here’s where I am. This is Day 6 off the meds. I feel amazing. My workouts feel less leaden. I’ve done the elliptical three of the last five days, something I haven’t been able to do in over a year. Euphoric doesn’t begin to cover it.

Except, except, except … my blood pressure is running high again. Monday it was pretty high. Today it was markedly better but still high. This is going to be a challenge. I am seeing it as an opportunity to take my life up a few notches in every way. It feels like I have been emotionally preparing myself for this. Hard to explain, but true.

The plain truth is that since being diagnosed I’ve never given myself a chance to bring it down naturally with lifestyle changes. I am called to do that now. Out the window – olives (*weeping*), full-sour pickles, salami (say it isn’t so), the few processed items I still consume.

This morning I went to Panera and asked my favorite employee for the “binder” of nutrition info on their products. I went through it and gasped. So my whole grain bagel (I usually eat just half, but slathered with peanut butter) has 400 milligrams of sodium? Are you screwing with me?

Great reality check. I won’t go extreme, but I will be creative about doing this in a way that doesn’t make me feel deprived. That’s the only way it works for me. Exercise will now be easier and more appealing because I won’t have to work through pain, plus I can hopefully get back to walking long distances again. That comes naturally and I enjoy it.

Simultaneously, meditation becomes more a priority and not a luxury. Politics, formerly a favorite ‘sport’ of mine, is getting relegated to passing interest. I’ll stay informed and vote my conscience. I’m pulling out and widening my perspective to seeing us as humanity with lots in common and lots of differences. Period.

I’m in the process of transforming my professional life and staying open to all the possibilities before me. It’s invigorating. In the last few weeks I’ve had coffee with an aspiring life coach, sat down with a homeless man to listen to his story just because, run into a former life coaching client who’s now thriving as a writer of erotica, visited The Cloisters to revel in the feeling of ancient art, and met with an artist to help me realize a part of my new venture.

A few days ago I struck up a conversation with a stranger and wound up sitting and talking to her for over an hour. We talked about religion mostly and she suggested if I wasn’t acquainted with Paul’s writings in the Bible I might check them out. She spoke of how driven he was and how he spoke from an enlightened place and that reminded her of me (*blush*).

When I mentioned this exchange to my friend Kathi she offered to let me borrow a few books. I am well into the first, an old Westminster guide to the Bible called “Light for the Gentiles, Paul and the Growing Church” by Leland Jamison. I always see moments like these as calls to act or at the very least as a breadcrumb to lead me to the next one. My spiritual core is more a swirling combination of various disciplines and teachings than any one, so I welcome more information or even a revisiting of what I studied a long, long time ago and have forgotten. This is one of several lines that gave me pause in Jamison’s book:

Gentile pagans were by no means godless; on the contrary, they worshiped gods many and lords many, in quest of a spiritual salvation that would transcend the insecurity and frustration of the present world.

How timeless.

See how I took this post to something that interests me far more than a discussion of health? I think ultimately it is all of this – the interactions, the being in the world, the learning, the openness, the mindfulness – that will make me the best and healthiest person I can be.

Stay tuned. There will be more.

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The debut of ‘Day Brake’

by Nancy Colasurdo on July 6, 2013

I’m thrilled to be contributing meaningful content to a new venture called A Day Well Lived. My first piece called “Good Grief” was published on its Facebook page last week and Day Brake posts will continue weekly, eventually on its website and in its newsletter.

As the site-in-progress says, A Day Well Lived is “a celebration of the events, people and experiences that, upon reflection, allow us to feel like we ‘did the day right.’ It’s a great feeling.”

Take a look at the Facebook page and ‘like’ it if you’re so inclined, sign up so you’ll know when the site launches and get in there and let us know what you think. It’s a wonderful way to be present in your life, seeing something of value in each day.

I am so gratified by the opportunity to write about topics/events/insights that jazz me and this project is right in my wheelhouse. And there’s more to come. I hope you’ll stay tuned and come along for the ride.

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Unloading a Heap of Freight

by Nancy Colasurdo on June 11, 2013

I recently told a medium that I hate sounding like one of those annoying people whose ship is always coming in, but I feel like I’m on the brink of something. Here’s his response:

“Your ship is already in. You need to take the freight off.”

As Joey Tribbiani might say, “Whoa.”

That was May 11, a month ago today, and trust me, I have spent much of the last month pondering what the heck that freight is.

Now, I’m happy to report, I’ve got it. The freight was my old way of thinking. That has been making its way out of here, escalating the last week like I can’t tell you. Good riddance, man. Take a hike.

But wait. Let’s delve in to this a little.

One of the tools I recommend to my clients is Morning Pages a la Julia Cameron. Three pages of stream of consciousness writing each morning. For me it’s best in a plain spiral notebook accompanied by a cup of coffee. Cameron doesn’t recommend going back and reading them necessarily, as they are not about ‘the writing.’ However, on occasion I find insights when I go back and read them, as I did this morning.

I’m going to do something here that I rarely do – share some thoughts from my raw MPs so you can come along on this journey with me. On May 8, just days before seeing the aforementioned medium, I let the thought stream come out in bullet points (almost never happens that way) and here’s a bit of what channeled through me to the page:

~ I am alone and it’s OK right now with regard to building whatever it is I’m building. I feel like it has to be this way. My visions and feelings and purpose – all mine to figure out. No one else needs to sign on. It’s OK.

~ Trust in self is growing.

~ My ship is coming in, so to speak.

~ I’m supposed to keep doing what I’m doing. My only resistance is around my own conventional thinking. I can keep pushing through that because it gets easier.

~ Not everyone is going to understand and I have to be OK with that. Remove ego.

~ I’m doing OK not focusing too much on the ‘how.’

~ My life is good. On my terms.

~ Brand. Brand. Brand. Consistency of message sounds better. Authenticity. Keep at that. Be more vocal. Take chances.

~ Keep paying attention to ways to bring myself ‘back.’ To stay steady. To love when I’m feeling frustrated or annoyed at another’s inability to communicate.

~ Pay attention to my strengths. Don’t dwell in my weaknesses.

~ Keep reaching out to get pockets of wisdom. In marketing. In writing. In exposure. Stuff that fits.

~ Keep on.

Those are raw. I didn’t edit them to share them here. I realize they may sound cryptic in spots, but that’s going to have to be OK because I’m not ready to share what I’m building yet. It’s a work in progress and I don’t want to build it by committee.

Jumping ahead to today’s MPs, this month later, here’s what came tumbling out (not in bullet points this time!) into my lime-colored notebook:

Ha. I’m free. 

I. AM. FREE. 

It’s official. Just like that. 

Me and a team of fabulous people in my tribe are going to blow this thing out. I have never felt so sure-footed about anything.

I hasten to add here that the sure-footedness stems from realizing every freakin’ thing I’ve done, thought, experienced, agonized over, exulted in or conceived seems to be coming together. It feels powerful. Take note that what poured out of my subconscious a month ago was ‘alone’ and now it’s ‘team’ and ‘tribe.’

And yet the ship is so much lighter. I am overflowing with gratitude.

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Send-off party to welcome mat

by Nancy Colasurdo on June 3, 2013

Last year a friend gave me Guy Kawasaki’s book Enchantment. In the world of me, a person typically not all that interested in reading about marketing, the subtitle – The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions – was the big selling point. I’m not a fan of ‘brand’ speak, so this wording had huge appeal for me.

The book was easy to read and informative, but I didn’t put it to use in 2012 because I was emotionally weary from all kinds of things going on in my life. Now, a year later and in a time of big transition, the book recently called to me from my shelves – Hello, Nancy. It’s time for me. I’ve got what you need, baby.

Indeed it did. Immediately.

This quote from John Maynard Keynes tops the Introduction:

The difficulty lies, not in the new ideas, but in escaping from the old ones, which ramify, for those brought up as most of us have been, into every corner of our minds.

Ah, yes.

Old ideas, you say? In the last week alone, I have vented, lamented and all but held a funeral for journalism as I knew it. In conversation, in An Open Letter to Arianna Huffington, in social media posts about the Chicago Sun-Times (now unemployed) photography staff. That doesn’t count frustration and annoyance expressed for months in various forums.

Clearly I’m in the process of escaping old ideas. Because that’s what they are. That model is giving way to another. And oh, how tightly I’ve been holding on.

I have no regrets about the eulogies. Something I loved that much deserved one or two of those. But what a jolt to open Kawasaki’s book and read words uttered by a British economist before I was even born.

It made me recognize what was/is actually going on with me. How do I not consistently marvel that it’s simple to tell a coaching client in a time of transition that she has to let go of old ways of thinking in order to let in the new, yet not see that very same thing in myself until it’s well under way? At least I’m on to it now.

Perhaps I should have recognized the signs sooner because the truth is, while I’ve been burying an old way of thinking, I’ve also been in the process of building something new. The stale is giving way to fresh. I’m kind of like a vehicle about to go into drive mode, but one that needed to go in reverse just a little first in order to right my course.

Hence the appeal of Kawasaki’s Enchantment, which is helping me think about my idea in terms of story, positioning and labels. It’s getting me excited and propelling me forward. As did today’s Seth Godin blog post titled The free-rider benefit:

“ … [O]nce you can get your head (and your heart) around the idea that ideas that spread, win, there are significant opportunities in a digital world where it’s easier than ever to help people go for a free ride.”

Yes, Nancy. Mourn the death. Then see what is before you. See what can be born. The very technology that spelled the demise of one way of doing things has opened up a plethora of opportunities to do it new and better. If the mission is to have something to say, express it in a way that compels people to read it and also makes them want to come back for more, isn’t it the most glorious challenge to use what other minds have created to disseminate it?

I’m not sure I wanted to embrace that challenge until this day. At least not in a way where I fully understood the nature of the task. I’m no dinosaur. While admittedly slow to embrace change, I partake in social media, I’ve had a blog for years, I own an iPhone and an iPad. I enjoy so much of it.

I’m not going to beat myself up over having a hard time accepting that seasoned journalists all over the land are being offered gigs for the sole reward of a byline. That still feels like someone should be saying “April fool” after it.

The reality, though, is they’re not kidding. So while I’m building my new venture I will continue to read Enchantment and whatever else helps me understand this landscape better.

But wait, no …Kawasaki writes, “I am going to show you how to change the world, not understand it.”

OK, then. You’ve got yourself a deal.

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An Open Letter to Arianna Huffington

by Nancy Colasurdo on May 31, 2013

Dear Ms. Huffington:

The other day I was trying to locate something among newspaper clips of my work and I found an article that begins like this:

“In a land where perpetually blue skies and impeccable beaches serve as the backdrop for the highest mountain peak in the Carribean, Bill and Xiomara McDonnell found something even more beautiful – the art of giving.”

That was the lead that landed me my first front-page story as a journalist. It was July 14, 1989 and I was 28 years old. I had the honor of chronicling the experience of a couple who had discovered bliss by distributing over 200 baseball gloves to children in the Dominican Republic (they had been using their bare hands or sometimes milk cartons to catch a baseball).

Sentimental, perhaps, but this find from my past is what came to mind when I saw your most recent venture — The Huffington Post’s first-ever women’s conference, “The Third Metric: Redefining Success Beyond Money & Power.” Of course I love the idea. Much of my media career was focused on advocating for girls and women. I like how we’re evolving as a gender and that conferences like this exist.

But this one, I’m sorry to say, is tainted for me. And I won’t for a minute pretend I’m objective on this topic. I love journalism. I am crazy about journalism, warts and all. But when I read that you are leading a discussion about the ‘third leg’ of a stool with the first two legs being ‘money’ and ‘power’ my mind instantly reverts to how you amassed so much of yours – by not paying people for content they provide and hence disempowering not just them but all the other real, seasoned journalists who honed a craft that you’ve been instrumental in devaluing.

Do you know the ripple effects of this model? Do you know the major media outlets that now earnestly expect people to write for the sheer joy of being published or – as one of the best reporters I know was recently told – for the privilege of a byline? Are you kidding me? We’re not actors, financial planners, or entrepreneurs looking for “exposure” on your site to help our money-making venture thrive. We’re providing a real service we’ve been trained in and we’re good at it.

And here’s the rub. When I’m not wearing my writing hat, I’m coaching and very often I’m coaching aspiring writers. I love that I can help guide them in creating a portfolio because there are so many ways to get their writing out there. This is where the glory and possibility of the Internet come in handy. This is where it feels like their options are endless. There are plenty of places for them to target for their specific interests/niches.

But what happens after they finetune the portfolio? The writing samples are supposed to lead to something. What am I pointing them to? Do paid writing jobs exist for them?

Your HuffPo business model is brilliant. Unquestionably. That’s why others have been jumping on it. But, in light of what you’re supposed to stand for, is it ethical?

“Right now, the two metrics of success that drive the American workplace are money and power, but by themselves, they make a two-legged stool — fine for balancing on for a short time, but after a while, you’re headed for a fall,” you write. “And guided by this limited definition of success, more and more ‘successful’ people are falling. So what we need is a more humane and sustainable definition of success that includes well-being, wisdom, wonder, empathy, and the ability to give back. But how do we recalibrate our current benchmarks of success?”

I wholeheartedly agree. As is obvious from the 1989 article I wrote above, I’ve been thinking this way for a long time. Empathy. Giving back. It seeps into everything I do. I have no coaching clients who only strive for money and power because otherwise they wouldn’t be my clients. It wouldn’t be a fit.

It’s vital that I add something here. I am not writing this from the standpoint of a victim. I have a good life. I work hard. My creativity is unleashed daily. I live on my terms. I believe we create our lives. That means I have brought myself to this point for a reason. I’m 51 years old and I have evolved with the times and enjoy technology. Feeling the squeeze of my beloved profession’s slow demise disappoints me so, but it also challenges me to my core. I got this far because of a fire in my belly that even people who have loved me for a long time don’t quite get and that flame isn’t going out any time soon.

But that doesn’t make your well-intended conference any less tainted in my eyes.

What we need in the world is more appreciation for each other’s gifts – be they parenting, quilt making, house keeping, gardening, running a Fortune 500 company, fixing a leaky faucet or making a persuasive argument via essay. That is empowering. That facilitates cash flow. That stimulates an economy. That creates harmony and joy and enlivens people.

The third leg is appreciation, Ms. Huffington.

Thanks for listening.
Sincerely,

Nancy Colasurdo

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The Return of Lipstick

by Nancy Colasurdo on May 24, 2013

I went to get my eyebrows threaded the other day and it jarred a memory that made me smile. A few summers ago over an outdoor dinner next to the Hudson River, I was flirtatiously trying to convince a man I had the hots for that I wasn’t high maintenance.

“Uh, Nance, you go into the city to have your eyebrows done by a woman you found in Vogue,” he deadpanned. “The jig is up.”

God, I loved that rapport. The memory feels soothing, pleasant even. No residual sadness. No macabre. Clearly I’m coming out the other side of loss.

I know this because I can talk in retrospect now. Over a year after his death, I can admit unequivocally that for roughly half of 2012 I didn’t wear an ounce of makeup. My favorite sweatpants, the ones I won’t be seen in outside of my apartment, are worn thin. The drawstring long gone, they now droop so low on my hips that I look like I listen to hip hop. (I’m so not cool enough for that, as is evidenced by the fact that I use the word ‘cool’).

Something in me feels so strongly about writing this down and sharing it with the masses. Probably because I took readers along on the grief journey when it was fresh and raw (thank you for listening). And then later, after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December, I offered thoughts on How We Can Be of Comfort to the Grieving based on what I had learned.

The past month or so I’ve begun to feel like Nancy again. There is something about being in a fog of sustained, high-functioning vulnerability that makes you realize this — at every point in time someone in your life is going through something of emotional significance. So, bottom line, we should be much more patient and understanding of people a great deal more of the time.

One of the things I remember so well about the last year is a select few friends on Facebook whose lives were on an amazing upswing. They were in their own fog, the kind that comes with newfound love or blissfully growing their family. The contrast to how I was feeling was so stark that I saw their stories as a little lifeline. Regular updates on how the romance was progressing or what a miracle the new child was.

Real life is all of it, side by side, isn’t it? The person desperately trying to get pregnant mustering the strength to be happy for her friend who is expecting. The woman in the throes of divorce sharing in her brother’s joy at his wedding. The laid off high-fiving the recently promoted. The person in loss cracking a smile at the person in love.

It’s not easy. It’s just the way it is. Sometimes we are going through the motions in our lives. If we’ve cultivated quality relationships, those around us learn how to respect and back off sometimes, nurture and prod other times, as we find our way back.

I can feel my own shift now. The need to indulge sadness with certain songs has dissipated, thoughts of the person who has passed on don’t sting, and lipstick has been making a more regular appearance in the daily routine. But unquestionably there is something more significantly different about me now – a palpable depth, an almost fierce empathy, broadened faith, and heightened urgency to live well. There is also a knowledge of what can be, from profound connection to crushing blow.

Aside from working through loss, last year also brought Sandy, the storm that showed us who was boss (Hint: Not us). Control? Har-dee-har-har. Everything else seems pretty laid back after you see your town under water and your state battered and collectively praying for lights and heat.

Right now, in my tiny pocket of the world, I am going through a major life transition and you know what? I am more comfortable taking risks, focusing on what I want to do instead of what I ‘should’ do and relaxing into what my gut is telling me. Getting knocked around a little has made me more sure-footed. The inevitable anxiety is there, too, but the bouts are brief, overridden by a “what do I have to lose?” mindset and at times even a bit of an eye roll.

I can do this life thing. I can. Full out.

The other day I went to the Macy’s cosmetics counter because I’d run out of foundation. I tried a new powdered one the salesperson recommended and wound up buying it. It feels nice. And it’s easier to apply than the liquid one I had before. Sweet.

High maintenance is back, maybe taken down a fraction of a notch.

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Our Evolving Beauty

by Nancy Colasurdo on May 16, 2013

What makes us women? What makes us beautiful?

There is a scene in the movie Funny Girl where Fanny Brice, played by Barbra Streisand, marvels at her infant daughter and exclaims to her close friend, “She’s pretty, isn’t she?” We know what that means coming from Fanny, known for her voice and her comic timing but not her looks. She is enthralled with the fact that her child is good-looking and wonders why her handsome husband would ever give her a second look.

Sigh.

I daresay there is little we can do about the concept of what’s beautiful in our culture. The aesthetically beautiful seem so much more valued than the spiritually beautiful. Sometimes a spiritual radiance will turn our heads as we walk down the street, but of course more often it’s the conventional definition of beauty that makes our neck swivel for a better look.

As each day goes by and another story or poster or social media image appears on our radar, it challenges our sensibilities. Then comes the barrage of opinions, not necessarily informed ones, and they range from frighteningly shallow to ardently moving.

The Dove advertising campaign where we see how women perceive themselves and how others perceive them was illuminating. We think everyone is focused on that flaw that so stands out to us when we look in the mirror. The truth is, they’re not. They see us more in a big picture way. How heartening.

But wait, don’t get too caught up in your elation. The CEO of Abercrombie and Fitch wants to make sure you know that your elephant butt is not getting in his company’s clothes any time soon. And by elephant butt I mean above a size 10. You aren’t cool. They have an image to uphold, after all. Size matters and don’t you forget it.

This ain’t the Renaissance, zaftig ladies. Where once we were lush and juicy, now we’re portrayed as unable to control ourselves.

My teen-aged self thought she was fat. I look at pictures now and realize she wasn’t. This mentality, excruciatingly and repeatedly chronicled in my earliest diaries, continued on through decades. If only. When I am thinner. Blah, blah, blah. What a waste of emotional energy.

I recently shared a vintage newspaper advertisement someone posted on Facebook (see insert). On the left was an angular woman with small breasts and hips and on the right was a much curvier woman. Both have hands on hips. The curvier woman is smiling and the other isn’t. The copy on top reads: How Do You Look in Your Bathing Suit? As it turns out, the ad is for something called “ironized yeast” that promises to add 10 to 25 pounds. The kicker is the tagline – “Gives thousands natural sex-appealing curves.”

Unquestionably most of us, on first glance, think this ad is for weight loss. That is how conditioned we are now. I’m not going to get into the whole “when women were women” thing, as that only serves as a putdown to my thinner sisters. But what could really work on me if I let it is this idea that we’ve been led down a path to believe we are more or less worthy depending on how well we line up with the accepted image of the era we happen to be born into.

There is something about being in my 50s, let’s call it a maturity, that keeps me from dwelling on such things. Why expend energy on what other people think? I’ve probably already lopped a year off my life if I combine all the past hand-wringing I did on this. Are you with me?

Maybe this gets to the root of why I think Angelina Jolie’s recent announcement about her double mastectomy is so remarkable. Putting aside all the important conversations it prompted about what any of us would do in that situation, I think at its base the decision was about maturity. The role of mother put before being the object of fantasy. Children before fans/glory. Better odds at life before marketability. Self-worth based on a higher consciousness of what ‘self’ means. Living and the rest be damned.

Our bodies are to be treasured, aren’t they? What that means to Jolie may not mean what it does to you or me or anyone else, but that is what’s underneath it all. It is the impressive woman who can shun the construct and seize her power. And that goes from surface to way deep inside.

Let’s take this down to a more surface, non life-and-death level.

I’ve lamented a bit recently on Facebook that with the ripple effects of knee injury has come a need to wear shoes I consider ‘granny.’ I’ve asked friends to indulge in my ‘first-world’ problem, to let me vent that spending considerable money on ugly shoes is difficult when with that same cash I could be buying pretty flat sandals that look more like foot jewelry adorning my well-pedicured feet. Shoes that make me feel more womanly.

I know there are more important things. I know I need to get over it. I even know that if the goal is looking my best that will be better achieved by taking care of my knees and joints and the rest of my body. I will stand taller, feel grander, exude better energy.

What makes us women? Scrutinizing our body parts? Torturing ourselves?

What makes us beautiful? The fashion? Or the person wearing it?

We decide.

We. Decide.

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