World Domination Summit Day 1

20 days to 50.

World Domination Summit Day 1

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The most impactful moment from today was when they brought up WDS attendees to tell their stories. One of the speakers was a woman who decided at 61 years of age to to take a gap year with her husband. Her quote:

Uncertainty doesn’t decrease as you age, it increases.

This was so inspiring to me. We always expect people older than ourselves to be totally confident and to have it all together. It’s so fantastic that this woman is still, like me, figuring it out as she goes along.

I sat next to another woman on the flight to Portland. She was in her mid fifties. She and her husband both used to write for the LA Times until the newspaper cut half their staff. Suddenly unemployed in the middle of their lives, she and her husband packed up their young son and moved to Vietnam for 2 years to teach English. She spoke with love in her eyes about the country and her experiences there. She told me not to worry about Fifty. Fifty is a piece if cake.

I’m optimistic and hopeful about turning fifty in a way I haven’t been before. I’m so grateful I took this opportunity and came to WDS this year. I’m inspired and humbled.

It’s Not About the Stuff

21 days to 50

I’m in Portland for the World Domination Summit. I’m with a dear friend. His parents were kind enough to let us stay with them for the weekend. I’ve been on several trips with his parents, both went on our first trip to Ethiopia then his father went on the trip to Peru with us last year. I’ve spent enough time with them to love them like family. I had a hotel booked downtown for WDS and my friend said, “No, no, please stay with my parents, they would love to spend some time with you.”

His parents recently moved from a really large house on an acre of land to a much smaller house on a manageable property. Since they moved they’ve been trying to downsize, trying to fit all their stuff into a much smaller house. They are overwhelmed and anxious about all the stuff they still have strewn about this house. Consciously they know it will take time to sort through everything but they seem frustrated by the process.

I’m embarrassed to admit that I felt uneasy when we walked into the house. I love both of them and I know it doesn’t matter what their house looks like but I still cringed a little bit. Here’s the thing- this has nothing to do with them. This is completely all about me. I struggle with the concept of stuff. From too many pairs of jeans to closets so overloaded that bags fall off shelves onto the floor all the time, I am embarrassed, ashamed, humiliated by all my stuff. The concept of stuff is a constant source of anxiety for me. So anytime I see too much stuff anywhere in any situation my chest tightens up and I feel fear.

This is a huge problem for me in my office. Our entire creative department looks like a fire hazard. This includes my desk. The managers bring tours of visitors around and they usually gasp and somebody has to make a joke about how messy creative people are. Everybody in that room is uncomfortable by it but nobody has time to stop rushing around catching up on last week’s projects to fix anything. We’re trying to change that, and I hope for all of us we find a way to clean up our area.

This morning I was up early talking to my friend’s mother. I adore her. She has such a good heart and an easy spirit. Everyone who meets her feels right at home. We were talking about the times she met the Dali Lama, and the spiritual path she is on at this point in her life. I was reminded not just of how much I have in common right now with her, but how much we all as humans have in common with each other. I realized how shallow it was of me to look at the state of their house and feel anything but compassion for them. They are truly struggling. Just as I am struggling, and ultimately how we all are struggling. Not just with the physical stuff, but the emotional issues underneath that stuff. Inadequacy, fear, responsibility, and shame. There is hope for them just as there is hope for me.

Fireworks

22 days to 50.

The Fourth of July was a big holiday when I was a kid. We lived in the mountains in Montana outside Helena. On the fourth we would drive into town to my grandmother’s house to get together with all the relatives on my mother’s side of the family. My mother’s sister had 3 kids about the same age as me and my sisters so we loved getting to play with our cousins. We would wear shorts and drink lemonade and count the hours until darkness when we could light sparklers and play with fire.

By pool I don’t mean a pool like you see in the suburbs of California. My grandfather dug a hole and filled it in with concrete. It had to be filled with a garden hose. At it’s deepest it was maybe 2 feet deep. But to us it was absolutely fabulous. Fourth of July was super special because we could spend almost all day in that pool.

13 years ago I was traveling a lot for work. I had to go to Asia for weeks at a time at least four times a year. I remember flying in from Hong Kong on the fourth or July and not associating it with a holiday. I was driving myself home from the airport (after a 14 hour flight) and saw fireworks off to the side of the road in Thousand Oaks. I suddenly realized that I was so out of touch with real life that I didn’t even know it was the 4th of July. I pulled over to the the side of the 101 freeway and sat in my car to watch the fireworks, dumbstruck that I was so wrapped up in work that I didn’t realize what day it was. I vowed right then and there to re-prioritize my life and spend the next 4th of July celebrating like a true American- barbecuing, drinking beer, and experimenting with pyrotechnics.

This year I am in Portland for the World Domination Summit tomorrow. I spent the day with the family of my good friends from LA. What I love about being “of a certain age” is that I can now determine my own definition of family. I don’t have to follow someone else’s rules anymore. I can love as many people as I like. I loved today. It’s always so fulfilling to me to spend time with people who just love to care for each other. It’s almost midnight and the fireworks are still going off but I don’t mind at all. Today was a great day.

World Domination Summit 2013 Pre-Game

23 days to 50.

On my way to Portland for the third World Domination Summit. It’s a conference of people who are willing and eager to change the world. A year and a half ago several projects I funded on Kickstarter mentioned WDS several times. I went online and looked it up and instantly felt called to attend. Last year the 1,000 tickets sold out in a matter of minutes but they allowed ticket transfers until a weekend in May. I got an e-mail from the founder a few days before the ticket transfer deadline and somehow found myself on Twitter (shudder, TWITTER?) sending messages to people I didn’t know looking for tickets.

I found a girl in Canada selling a ticket and was so obsessed I did a google search for her, found her personal blog, and e-mailed her that way. She was astonished that I found her and after a brief discussion to prove I was worthy, I sent a PayPal payment into the ethers and crossed my fingers hoping she and her ticket were legitimate.

I booked a flight and a hotel, summoned all my courage and went. On the flight up to Portland I sat in the same row as a very hip young woman. I knew she was going to WDS because she was hand stamping her business cards with rubber stamps the entire flight. I didn’t find the courage to speak to her until we had landed. She and her friend were also staying at the Ace Hotel and they offered to travel with me on the train.

I was full of trepidation and feelings of worthiness. I knew the conference would be full of hipsters and here I was a middle aged woman flying across the country to crash their party. I wasn’t sure my Tom’s (shoes and sunglasses) would be enough to gain me access to this elusive community.

I was dead wrong. Everyone in the conference I encountered went out of their way to make everyone else feel honored and heard and appreciated. At the end of the first day I walked outside the theater and approached a group of a few people and just asked if I could go to dinner with them. They said, “Sure, we’d love the company.” So I went to dinner with half a dozen total strangers. We laughed, we ate pizza, we drank beer and had a great time.

I pretty much did the same thing all weekend. I never just approach people like that so I was way outside my comfort zone but it was magical. Just to be in a room with a thousand other people who think like I do that the world is troubled but beautiful and we owe it to ourselves to do something to change it was one of the most powerful experiences of my life.

The last night we had a Bollywood dance party and I actually spent HOURS on the dance floor. Me. Hours on a dance floor. I wasn’t worried about who was watching me or how I looked or whether or not I looked cool or fashionable or together. I somehow got to the place where I felt I was allowed just to be myself.

I booked my ticket (and a ticket for my partner in the non-profit) before I left Portland last year.

I left with a tremendous amount of hope and optimism. I had big plans for the past year. Some of them panned out, some of them didn’t, but there has certainly been change.

This year there are 3,000 people coming. That seems like a daunting number for me but isn’t it incredible that there are 3,000 people in the world who fought for a chance to come together this weekend to talk about the things that are important to us.

I’m excited to make new connections this year. I am excited to once again step outside my comfort zone. I am excited to be with my tribe all weekend. To be with a community where I am not an outsider, but an insider. An insider in the I-WILL-make-the-world-a-better-place movement.

It isn’t about how old I am or how old they are, it’s about what we all mutually want to accomplish. I’m excited to feel like I’m home.

Jeans

24 days to 50.

A couple of weeks ago I bought a Vitamix.

Plus I did a few juice cleanses in the last 2 months (hence the rather impulsive Vitamix purchase). Plus I work out A LOT. I lost some weight. No, it hasn’t solved all my problems (yet) and I’m really not where I need to be (yet) but… I was searching in a drawer for a pair of pants this morning and saw my jeans. I pulled out a random pair and bit my lip, arguing with myself- “Should I try them on?” “Will I be devastated if they don’t fit?” “Isn’t it too hot out today for jeans anyway?” I am working on becoming more myself. Taking risks. So I pulled them out, determined they fit well enough and wore them to work.  I could not have anticipated what would happen because of these JEANS.

jeans

People were beside themselves all day, they could not tell me enough how they loved my JEANS. People were running across the room to tell me things like-

You look so different and casual in those JEANS.

I almost didn’t recognize you in those JEANS.

You should wear JEANS more often.

It seems like YEARS since I’ve seen you in JEANS.

Here’s the thing- I haven’t worn jeans in probably a year. I got tired of being disappointed when I tried them on so they are all in the bottoms of my drawers under things I actually wear. Like most women, I have jeans of different sizes. But they all look the same so it can be difficult to differentiate which jeans are the “big” “comfortable” jeans and which jeans are the I-feel-skinny-today jeans. Plus the size doesn’t really mean anything since I’ve had them all tailored and every label fits differently. So I just stopped wearing them. It was a bit of a fluke that I even came across them to wear them today.

The real issue, however- aside from the fact that everyone I come into contact with has an opinion about what type of pants I wear each day- is that I probably own 20 pairs of jeans. I’m embarrassed to admit that. When I was in high school I had ONE pair of jeans and I would save them to wear on Fridays with a special t-shirt that had hundreds of the word “ladybug” assembled to make a larger graphic of a ladybug. I loved that outfit. It was my special Friday outfit. Those jeans were important to me.

Now I am so rich with jeans that I’m not at all sure how many pairs I actually own. These are not Plain Pocket Jeans from JC Penney, they are all hipster friendly hand distressed designer jeans. Obviously all of which really mean nothing to me since I haven’t worn most of them in 3 or 4 years. (OK- maybe even longer) Yet they are in my house, taking up precious room in my closets and drawers.

When I move I will have to look at each and every pair and contemplate what to do with them. “Hmmm- these might fit me again one day.” Or conversely, “I really should keep these “big” “comfortable” jeans (AKA fat jeans) in case I gain any weight back.” I guess I’ve wanted to be prepared with the appropriate pair of jeans for any scenario.

What does that say about my life and my current situation of moving with freight train speed towards my 50th birthday? Shouldn’t I have been able to get it together by now in this one situation? The JEAN situation? Shouldn’t I have 2 perfect pairs of jeans on pant hangers in my closet? One darker wash for evening and one lighter wash for more casual situations? I mean really, why would any woman need more than 2 pairs of jeans?

JEANS are a small microcosm of a much larger problem. A borderline hoarding problem. An I need to be prepared for any event at any time with exactly the right dress/coat/shoe/oblong scarf problem.

I heard Carolyn Myss speak a few years ago at a friend’s graduation ceremony and she used the phrase “stuffologist”. As in- My friend, the stuffologist… Stuffologist. A person who studies stuff. A person obsessed with stuff. A person who worships stuff. A person who thinks that getting more and more stuff will solve problems or make them happier. I thought a lot about this term the last time we were in Africa. In the areas we went to in rural Africa they don’t have any stuff. They are lucky to have a toothbrush or a pen. I decided then that I would try to come back and work towards becoming a recovered stuffologist. I did come back and make some progress. I cleaned out my garage, went through my closets and took a lot of bags of stuff to Goodwill.

But I see today that that wasn’t enough. I don’t need 20 pairs of jeans. As hard as it is to go though all the things I have acquired it is important to let some things go. I may not get to that ideal place where I have 2 and only 2 pairs of freshly cleaned pristine jeans in my closet, but I can start the work to get there.

A Tea Shop in Ethiopia

25 days to 50.

Some things have came up for me based on my post from several days ago- Stop Waiting to be Rescued.

microloans

Four years ago I started a small non-profit in Africa. My partners and I have been doing work with schools in the Northern regions of Ethiopia. This photo is from our last trip there 2 years ago. We received a nice donation and decided to try to start a pilot micro-loan program in the region where we have been doing the most work.

Here’s an abbreviated section of my journal for that day-

Thursday March 24, 2011

We went to the village around the school to meet with some of the villagers to try to arrange a few micro-loans for our pilot micro-finance program. First we met with a priest and his family who needed a motorized pump to get water to their crops, then we met with a farmer and his wife who were tilling their soil by hand with sickles, the wife was doing this barefoot. They asked for help with a hand dug well for irrigation and a motorized pump or a foot pedal pump. When our liaison took us to see a third family I started to get antsy and quietly asked him- “We want to help women! WHERE are the women?” He kept shushing me until we climbed a hill to find a little grove of trees with women waiting for us.

All of these women are the heads of their households. Their husbands are gone or dead. They were really nervous and scared when we first started talking to them. There is no credit in this area, most of them would never have imagined that someone might help them to buy something to make their lives or their business better. Once they got over the shock they started to get excited.

One of them simply needed a rubber hose to get the water from the stream to her water pump. They wear out over time and she couldn’t afford to replace it. It’s a US $50 part. Another asked for a modest investment so she could buy more salts and spices for her trading business.  A very confident woman asked for money so she could buy 2 oxen to plow her fields and 5 sheep and 5 goats. I looked at our guide and made sure he translated to her that this would be a lot of money and she needed to be sure she would be able to repay it. Maybe she wanted to simplify her request? She thought about it and firmly said she needed 2 oxen, 5 sheep, and 5 goats. We agreed. A young mother with a small baby on her hip kept getting flustered, she hadn’t really thought about what it would take to change her situation. The oldest woman there wanted to open a tea shop by the school. Again, I looked at our guide. Was this possible? He said, “Oh, yes, she just needs a corrugated roof and some cups and saucers.

The day itself was exhilarating and exhausting but the story that stayed with me was the one of the older woman who wanted to open a tea shop.

Whenever my life gets difficult or frustrating I have this fantasy that I will move to Montana and open a pie shop. My mother makes the best pies in the world. Montana has always had this romantic pull for me. I was born there but it’s more than that. There is something wild and exciting and beautiful about Montana. I may never have that pie shop in Montana, but now I’m invested in a tea shop in Ethiopia.

I realized under that grove of trees with those women that I had been waiting all my life to be rescued. Waiting for a man to rescue me. Waiting for someone with more authority to rescue me. Really, waiting for almost ANYONE to rescue me. Yet under that grove of trees in the middle of Africa I didn’t need to be rescued, I was finally fully in a position to help people who truly needed it. I felt the mindset I had of myself as a victim shift to that of a person with power. Power to make positive changes in this world. Power to facilitate the small loans that will empower these women to change not only their lives for the better, but to bring opportunity and a brighter future to their children and their children’s children.

To directly quote the last line from my journal on that day-

Hands down, this was the best day of my life.

 

The Timelines We Impose Upon Ourselves

26 days to 50.

When I was 23 I lived in Minneapolis in a fabulous house with a huge stained glass window in the hallway and custom wood details everywhere. My best girlfriend and I really couldn’t afford the house, but we loved it so much that we acquired several roommates to help us pay the rent. One of those roommates, Christine, was OLDER than us. She was 26 or 27.

We worked with her in a ridiculous bar – a “Beach Club” on one of the lakes. She seemed a little desperate, running after any man who would pay any attention to her. Our most common conversation with her- usually over Bailey’s Irish Cream and coffee- was about her timeline to find a man.

It went something like this-

“I want to have kids by the time I’m 30.”

” I want to be married for at least a year before I have a child.”

“I want to date a man for at least 2 years before I get married.”

If you do the math you will see that she needed to find a man right now. TODAY. I think when she first started talking about this she had 2 or 3 months to find her man.

It didn’t happen in the next year or two that I knew her.

We used to make fun of her and laugh about her situation (behind her back- so classy).

But now I realize that I have imposed impossible timelines on myself time and time again. And just like her many of the timelines I thought were so important have not been met. I’m still here. It calls to question all the things I don’t have right now that I thought I would have- A husband. Kids. A house with a front porch and a telephone nook.

Did I make the right decisions? Did I focus on the things that should have mattered the most? I spent so long fighting not to have exactly the same type of life as my parents that I think I neglected figuring out what was really important to me. I didn’t want to stop to take an honest look at my needs, at the real timeline I was facing, choosing instead to focus on the things I could control RIGHT NOW- my career and how much stuff I could fit in my apartment.

I think it’s time to talk a look at the goals I thought I’d get to one day. Maybe some of those impossible goals are important enough to pursue.

Not as THE IF ONLY GIRL-

IF ONLY I made it a priority to find a husband.

IF ONLY I had kids before the option was taken away from me.

IF ONLY I would have been more financially savvy in my twenties.

But as the new empowered Laura- the make it happen girl.

Here’s hoping it’s never too late to start setting goals with an open ended timeline.

Stop Waiting to be Rescued

27 days to 50.

Three of the ten principles governing the City of Joy are (a) tell the truth, (b) stop waiting to be rescued, and (c) give away what you want the most.

Eve Ensler- In the Body of the World

I finished Eve Ensler’s latest book a few days ago. She writes about her battle with advanced colon cancer. City of Joy is a project she has been working on in the Congo for years. This quote really struck me. I’ve noticed at many points in my life I have been waiting around hoping to be rescued.

Rescued by a great job.

Rescued by a great man.

Rescued by a sudden influx of cash.

I have a great job. And I’ve been through several men. And lottery winners usually go bankrupt.

Yet still I feel like I’m waiting to be rescued.

Nobody is coming to rescue me. I am solely responsible for the life I am living. I am solely responsible for whether I eat or not at age 75. I am solely responsible for my own happiness.

It’s time to take stock of my situation. The prince on the white horse is not coming for me. I am my best hope.

My Mother at the Beach

28 days to 50.

I am sick as a dog as I write this so it will be brief. I rarely get sick anymore so when I do it always takes me by surprise. What, me human? I didn’t even go to the gym today. This is serious stuff.

My Mother at the Beach November 2011

My Mother at the Beach November 2011

The photo above was taken almost 2 years ago when my parents came to visit me for Thanksgiving. This was their first trip to see me since I lived in Hawaii when I was 29 years old. They see all 3 of my other sisters a lot, 2 are easily within driving distance and the one who isn’t is still accessible by a very long car ride (and she has the most beautiful daughter in the world).

My live-in boyfriend at the time was a gourmet chef so they ate like Kings and Queens the whole time they were here. This shot was taken when my mother and I went out by ourselves to go to the beach in Santa Monica. My mother LOVES the ocean. When we were children she would clip coupons and shop sales and put all the money she saved in a fund that was earmarked “Her Hawaii fund”. But every year the water heater would break or my sister would need braces or some other urgent financial matter would accost her precious dream of going to Hawaii.

So it was monumental when she, my father, my baby sister (at the time) and my mother’s mother all came to Hawaii to see me 21 years ago. I found a condo for them right on the water with fabulous views and a patio. My mother got up early every morning just to sit on the patio and look out at the ocean.

On this trip she spent about an hour just dipping her feet in the water. She told me when she came back that “If anything happens to your father I just want to find a place by a beach somewhere for a few months while I figure out what to do next.” She questioned me about the live-in boyfriend. I told her I was sure it wouldn’t work, I didn’t like the way he talked to me. She scoffed, “Tell me about it.” This threw me for a loop. I sometimes didn’t like the way my father talked to my mother, but I guess I didn’t realize that she not only was aware of it but that she didn’t like it either. She would later tell one of my sisters how happy she was that she “got Laura all to herself for few hours”, and that “she got to dip her toes in the water over and over again.”

I discovered something new about my mother that day. This photo is my screensaver on my iPhone right now. I want to be reminded that life is never too short to make changes or to find what brings you happiness and joy.

Cry Baby

29 days to 50.

My sister Carolyn and myself on my 40th Birthday

My sister Carolyn and myself on my 40th Birthday

10 years ago, for my 40th birthday I decided to fly to Colorado to spend the night in Boulder with my sister. I had a fabulous plan. We would go to dinner at our favorite restaurant and spend the night in the famous Hotel Boulderado. I would always look at the Hotel Boulderado and wistfully think, IF ONLY I could stay in such a fantastic place one day. The hurdle was to get my boss at the time, the owner of the company, to let me have one day off the week before a major important baton down the hatches meeting. At first he said we were too busy. When I pressed him and told him it was important he let me go. But this entire journey with my boss, the no then yes was extremely stressful for me. My parents and my sisters found out about my plan and the entire family ended up coming to Colorado to celebrate with me. The restaurant was changed and the room in this hotel I had been dreaming about did not meet my expectations, but it was a great way to celebrate.

So, here I am 10 years later. My mother timidly asked on the phone a few weeks ago if we could maybe get the whole family together to celebrate my birthday this year. I have to say, it broke my heart a little. So I started contacting the various members of my family, who all seem to be thrilled at the prospect of having all of us in one place to watch me blow out some candles. My mother is beside herself with joy.

Once again, it is a busy time of year. The week after my birthday there is another major important baton down the hatches meeting. I have another boss now, so I e-mailed her to ask if I could take one day off. She didn’t answer. I e-mailed again. I get 3 weeks vacation, I’ve taken 2 days. It’s not about the time, it’s about the timing. Today I received an e-mail from her that told me that the day I asked for off is the last work day before this major important baton down the hatches meeting. She closed with the line- “I always want to say yes, fine with me but does this seem possible?”

I hate to admit this but I immediately started to cry. I was on a shared computer. My boss was in the room distracted by something else. I closed out, grabbed my sandwich and went upstairs to try to find a quiet spot to eat lunch and calm down. Our company is so crazy busy that there aren’t any quiet areas. I work in an open floor plan with absolutely no privacy. When I went through treatment for breast cancer 5 years ago I took every private intimate phone call in the the middle of a room with a dozen people listening. At first I spoke in quiet hushed tones, by the end I was blurting out all kinds of awkward phrases- “Radiation Oncologist! Breast Biopsy! Mandatory Colonoscopy!” This was much like the cancer journey itself. At first I was embarrassed to have everyone feel me up, in the end I would drop my shirt for anyone.

I did find a room that was not in use and half cried and half ate my lunch. This should not have been a situation that leads to tears. My boss basically said the timing isn’t good. It really isn’t. I hadn’t explained to her that I realized this or why it is important to me. I was sure when I explained the situation to her she’d be fine with me taking the day. So why the tears?

Because I immediately went to a place of shame. “I’m not good enough. I must be a terrible employee. I must be a bad person. Going to see my family for my birthday is a dream that I don’t deserve.” Then following the martyrdom- “I can’t believe this is the way I get treated after 11 years at this company. I’m almost 50 years old and I am being told I can’t do something that is important to me. I am such a LOSER! I’m going to be asking permission from somebody else for the REST OF MY LIFE! When is it MY TURN to make decisions on my own? Will I ever get to the point when life is FAIR? I want to be treated like I’m SPECIAL. I want to be treated with HONOR and RESPECT. If I ask for something it should just be GIVEN to me. I DESERVE IT.”

Granted, when it comes to my family I can come unglued rather quickly. We all live so far apart and we rarely get together anymore. We chose to separate because our priorities were all so important elsewhere and I know that all of us regret not being closer. The quickest way to get me to cry is to bring up my family. Still, I was overreacting today. I realize this birthday is mocking me. I think I’m keeping it together and doing this great thing by planning my method of attack- spending 40 days Preparing. Planning. Moving Forward.

But really, it’s freaking me out. I realize that the tears were a release of the fear and the trepidation I’m feeling about this birthday. I replied to the email from my boss (which really was not aggressive or mean or cruel) and explained why this is important and I’ve no doubt she will approve the vacation day. The reason I go to that place of insecurity and shame with anybody in a position of authority over me is another story. For now just know that I don’t have it all together yet. I have 29 days to get there. Fingers crossed.