Design the Life you Love: part 1

Over the past three years I’ve been in a committed relationship. From late nights when we’re so tired we whisper ourselves to sleep, to jaunts across the country at dawn, to emails feverishly exchanged, to grand, sweeping proclamations of our mutual respect and affection— this has all the makings (or trappings) of a great love. Only the object of my affection doesn’t have a name and it’s not a person, rather I’ve handed over my still-beating heart to a company, and my home has become an office whose lights burn way too far into the gloaming. My love, once passionate and resolute, has fallen to blight. My lover looks pale, run down, like a lady’s lipstick kissed off one too many times, and a house once illuminated — the place to which I gained keycard access three years ago — now flickers dim. Suddenly it’s cold, demanding and heartless because all of the lights have blown, the fire has gone out and we’re scrambling for warmth and shelter.

I’m afraid of low-flying planes. Giant machines suspended in midair frighten me. No amount of physics, soften-spoken flight attendants or brochures depicting calm figures enduring a catastrophe, can comfort me. Every time I set foot on a plane I wonder if this will be the flight that will break sky and plunge into the ocean.

I travel often for my job, so much so that I’ve achieved a certain kind of status, which affords me the luxury of boarding an aircraft early so I have time to quietly panic. A few weeks ago I found myself at LaGuardia Airport, watching the wind rattle the windows. Storm warnings along the East seaboard had been announced, but I had to take this trip. There’s no other way. Our miniature plane appeared frail, you could almost almost imagine the wings folding sheepishly into themselves, but I boarded nonetheless. By rote, I clipped my seatbelt, tucked in my magazines and answered the emails tumbling in from the night before. I’m always working. I’m always connected. I’m always tired.

Then the violence. The sky was dark, ominous, and our small plane began to shake. The pilots were determined to find a pocket of smooth air and we experienced severe drops. A man wearing a suit and spectacles suppressed a shout, while another man in the back screamed. The plane dipped sideways and my body went numb. I shook my hands; I couldn’t feel them. TSA regulations prevent crowding around the lavatories and in the aisles, the flight attendant crooned. Passengers laughed through their tears because getting up was the last thing anyone could do.

And all the while, I thought, why am I doing this?

When we landed in Washington, D.C., I told myself that I was done. Great love, we need to say our farewells, see other people.

I want to fall in love again. A deep, all-consuming love that will not alter. A love that won’t break from the enormity of it. I see a man who tells me that I’m using the wrong vernacular, that I’m not seeking a life/work balance, but I crave a life/life balance. This put my heart on pause. I suddenly woke up. Here I was trying to compartmentalize all of the things that make me, me: my predilection for business and social marketing, my affection for unearthing hot cakes from an oven, and making sense of my life through prose. I tried to give each of these passions my undivided attention, while the other two were tossed aside, treated like changelings, and every few years I found myself back to where I started. Frustrated that the supposed love of my life didn’t give me everything I needed. Then I realized that I need to design a life that gives each one of my loves the devotion and attention it deserves. Equal time on the playing field, if you will.

I make lists. This is how I think. I create a map for myself of all the people who have inspired, challenged or mentored me and I dissect their character. I’m hoping for commonalities. I diagram all of the jobs I’ve had and the characteristics about each one of them that excite and torment me. I’m hoping for commonalities. Finally, I jot down the core values that I hold close to my heart — I think I only have three or four, but as it turns out I’ve well over 50. Integrity, creativity, empowerment, collaboration, risk, fearlessness, sense of humor, hunger, are but a few of the traits that I’ve committed to paper. And then I start drawing arrows and lines, trying to find commonalities. Sifting through the noise and discovering what’s next…