2017 was my first full calendar year working as a self-employed consultant. Self-employment has its challenges and it isn’t always easy or glamorous. I am proud of myself for quitting my full-time salaried job on a leap of faith and a commitment to continuing my values-based work while learning to prioritize my own self-care. Since it can be hard to pause and reflect on what I am doing when I’m in the weeds, I decided that I would do a personal year in review to celebrate some of the things I have accomplished and learned both personally and professionally. Because I am trying to write and share more about what I am up to, I decided that using my blog would be a good step in that direction.
When I left my job in May of 2016, I was burnt out and I was in bad shape mentally and physically. I was emaciated and malnourished and I had run my body into the ground. I had fallen into old patterns of neglecting my basic needs and was living in a constant state of anxiety, pressure, stress, exhaustion, hunger, shame and guilt. I’d lost touch with many people I loved, as I was either in full on work mode or I was shut down, non-functioning, and in need of solitude. My leadership coach, Dewey Schott, introduced me to the Trauma Exposure Response from the book Trauma Stewardship which I immediately read. This was the turning point for me when I realized that the only way I could get back to a healthy baseline was to find a dramatically different way to do my work and live my life.
This year I am proud that I have stayed alive and am healthier than I have been in many years. I have learned that I am much better equipped to handle stress and keep my depression and anxiety at bay when I consistently get good sleep, eat regularly, stay on a routine and have permission to pace myself. For me this means avoiding staying in bed all day and sleeping too much, as well as not getting enough sleep. This year I was able to create new routines and stick to them (though trust me, I still totally do days in bed and nights without enough sleep on occasion!) I only recently realized just how sick I was as I have started to feel strong, healthy and connected again.
Even the stressful or high-pressure parts of what I do seem much more manageable because how I approach my work has changed, as has my ability to set and hold boundaries without guilt. I am able to be present, step back when needed and identify what my triggers are. I still have patterns that pop up, but I am able to notice and anticipate them in a way that gives me permission and space to imagine and then try new ways to navigate them.
I have learned to continue to listen to and trust my instincts, my gut and my body. Throughout my life I have made many decisions that are outside of what people have expected me to do, and at times this has likely led me down a harder path to where I was going. Ultimately, living true to myself and trusting that I already know what I need has generally worked out for me in the long run. I have learned resilience, survival, discipline, frugality, and creating new ways to break into the places people say me and those I love can not go. What I call my “work” is not really work in the traditional sense, it is my life and how I live. But I have to stay alive and healthy to do it well and with integrity.
As usual, none of this would have been possible without a strong community of friends, family, mentors, colleagues and co-conspirators. I am immensely privileged to be so connected, loved and supported by an incredible community of people. Thank you to everyone who has been a part of my year and have given me strength, made me laugh, connected me to work opportunities, challenged me, taught me something, told me their story, fed me and/or helped to keep me afloat in the more difficult moments. I think you know who you are, but I will keep working to do a better job of telling you directly.
Here are some of the other things that happened for me personally and professionally in 2017:
- I worked my first legislative session as a Lobbyist and Legislative Consultant in the Georgia General Assembly and SB185 was introduced to lower the standard of proof for intellectual disability in death penalty cases. Though the bill did not pass in 2017, we had a hearing on the on the bill by the Senate Judiciary Committee and I provided testimony in support. I will continue my work to pass this legislation during the upcoming 2018 legislative session.
- I helped to organize a celebration of the life of my friend and mentor Dottie Adams, who died at the end of 2016.
- My friend Gabby and I completed over 75 individual quilt squares designed by folks who attended Dottie’s workshop at the 2016 Georgia Gathering.
- I facilitated an introductory Asset-Based Community Development workshop for a the Beloved Community in Statesboro, GA.
- I completed a 1-day graphic facilitation training and a 2-day MAPS/PATH training facilitated by Lynda Kahn and Jack Pearpoint.
- I applied for and got an interview for a dream job.
- I designed and facilitated 6 trainings on Intellectual Disability and the Death Penalty in Georgia.
- I presented about community building for inclusion alongside my dear friend DeAmon Harges to a group of folks involved with Neigbours Inc. in New Jersey.
- I co-designed and co-facilitated two workshops,”Equity and Community Engagement in Grantmaking” and “Leading by Stepping Back: Meaningful Resident Partnership in Service Provision and Community Development” with DeAmon Harges and Lisa Duran in Denver, sponsored by Grassroots Grantmakers, the Denver Foundation and The Learning Tree.
- I organized a quilt photo shoot with photographer Robin Rayne Nelson (in space donated by Pride School Atlanta) of some of Dottie Adams’ quilts.
- I celebrated 19 years of veganism in April.
- I celebrated a year of self-employment in May.
- I got to work with and support some of my favorite Community Builders in different ways.
- I realized that many of the people I worked with over the years have become my close friends and I have enjoyed spending more social time with them.
- I stayed connected with my with my mentors and colleagues and continually found ways to stretch, learn and challenge myself personally and professionally.
- I participated in the Hall County Relay for Life in honor of Dottie Adams.
- I met with many legislators and got to explore new towns in rural Georgia that I had never been to before.
- I served as a group leader for Power of Roles trainings in Morrow, Dublin, Tifton and Columbus.
- I spoke at the launch of a Lush Cosmetics bath bomb at Perimeter Mall which gave proceeds to groups working to abolish the death penalty.
- I went to San Francisco for a vacation with some of my closest friends and didn’t just do family stuff.
- I celebrated my partner, Lis, getting a new job in June and we celebrated 2 years together in July.
- I paid my quarterly federal taxes and stayed super organized with my receipts, mileage logs, and book keeping.
- I helped my best friend pack up several generations of stuff at his parents house and box up important family heirlooms.
- I helped organize the Georgia Disability History Symposium at the University of Georgia and facilitated a panel as part of the event.
- I traveled to Savannah for the annual birthday party we throw for my friend, Johnny.
- I hosted my brilliant, young, cat-loving and aspiring attorney friend, DeJanae, for a week. I got to introduce her to some of my favorite ATLiens, take her to the Cat Cafe and bring her along to some of my work meetings that were law-related, including one at the State Bar of Georgia.
- I applied for and didn’t get a fellowship I really wanted.
- I talked to a group of local high school students about community building and why I love my neighborhood.
- I successfully completed and assisted with a 4-day Introduction to Social Role Valorization training in Tifton, GA.
- I threw a party for one of my best friends to celebrate 10 years since we almost lost him in a motorcycle accident.
- I celebrated the marriage of a dear friend.
- I applied for and got a grant.
- I said “no” when I needed to and “yes” when I wanted to.
- I was able to show up and support friends in ways that I wouldn’t have been able to a couple years ago.
- I reconnected with many friends I’d lost touch with when I was working way too much.
- I attended the Georgia Advocacy Office‘s 40th anniversary gala.
- I co-designed and co-facilitated the workshop “Equity and Community Engagement in Grantmaking: How Grantmaking Benefits When Residents Are Involved In Philanthropy” with Lisa Duran and DeAmon Harges in Atlanta sponsored by Grassroots Grantmakers, The Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation.
- I group led What is a Home and assistant group led Meaningful Day workshops in Savannah.
- I took on a freelance writing project for a group that I love and I got to hire a talented friend to do the layout and design.
- I was able to drop everything and make a last minute trip to visit my grandmother in San Francisco when she had been in the hospital.
- I co-designed and co-facilitated a 4 hour “Community Building for Inclusion” workshop at TASH in Atlanta with Basmat Ahmed, Jenna Quigley, and Teri Schell and it was a huge success!
- I secured 4 contracts for work in 2018 before the end of 2017.
- I remembered how much I love designing and facilitating spaces for folks to come together to learn.
- I finally made it down to Monroeville, AL and got to leave a camellia on Harper Lee’s grave.
- I read more books.
- I wrote (which is something I plan to do more of next year!)
- I kept a beautiful and lush garden of flowers alive and thriving with only a few casualties. I also successfully grew vegetables in the container garden on my porch.
- I kept a dog alive and helped her to learn how to trust again (and honestly, she could probably say the same about me!)
- I drove 4,965.65 miles for work in my car (and way more if I count the miles I drove on other people’s cars!)
Here’s to these lessons learned and adventures had in 2017 and the ones yet to come in 2018!