Resolutions for Building a Bigger Life

Take Steps to Build Connection.

A bigger life. No, this isn’t a reference to carbo-loading before your next triathlon. Nor is it a call to upsize your house, number of dependents or credit card bill. Towards the end of holiday grazing season, it’s easy to focus on dress sizes over life sizes. But a bigger life, one that is rich in connection, will enable traction on long term goals such as legacy-building and dream achievement, creating credible paths to fulfillment and success.

People generally trek into one of two camps as January approaches: either methodically listing their New Year’s resolutions or categorically shaking their heads at such unmeasured optimism. But the majority of us will at least pause for a brief moment of reflection as we cross the border into a new year. For it’s a marker. A roadside sign that shows how far we’ve traveled and how far we’ve yet to go.

Every other “put your best foot forward” article is going to tell you to set goals for your health, finances and career —which is great advice. So do that. But consider that most of these laudable choices will be more effectively achieved with a powerful interpersonal support system.

So pause and measure. How connected are you? Forget the obligatory work comrades, neighbors with whom you have a nodding acquaintance and those sideline parents who are more of a “familiar face” than functional friend. Consider whom you interact with as opposed to those you stand or sit alongside. A life webbed with strong interpersonal connections holds more opportunities and is worthy of your time and effort to build. If you have a lengthy list of “should call” and “should do lunch” names buried under good intentions —it’s grow time.

     

  • Clear Space. Who has the time? None of us. And yet making strong connections will actually save time in the long run. Your more fully developed network will provide you with recommendations for mechanics, accountants and new hires. It will be your backup when you have a sick child or “not-as-advertised” blind date. Your network will be both your sounding board and your fan club. Admit it. You need this. So it is well worth devoting calendar space to some connection time.
  • Fix Your Focus. Juggling too much? That sounds about normal. Brian Dyson, CEO of Coca-Cola Enterprises, once described multi-tasked living as a process of keeping rubber and glass balls in the air. While our tasks will differ, prioritizing our families requires that we designate them as one of the glass “do not drop” balls. Redesigning your kitchen is a rubber ball that will bounce. You may even be able to double dribble some of your lower priority social connections as well. But bubble-wrap your spouse/significant other and children and keep an attentive eye on that ball.
  • Choose Varied Connections. If all your friends work in HR or have matching company logo coffee mugs, you need to diversify your friendships. This is like having a team of quarterbacks. Who’s going to catch the ball? Surround yourself with women with varied careers and pursuits. You aren’t going to learn anything new from a high-heeled clone of yourself. And if you don’t know how to throw a decent dinner party—and hang out with similarly stunted friends— you aren’t going to eat very well on the weekends. Seek passion, conviction and commitment. Encircle yourself with accomplished and motivated-to-accomplish women. Energy sparks energy, so look for inner momentum. Solid positive connections will create bridges to anywhere you want to go.
  • Double it Up. One terrific strategy for creating connection time is to incorporate another tangent goal. You plan to hit the ground running in January? Literally? Then seek out a running buddy. But don’t stop there. Regular gym workouts with weight work will make the difference between getting older and aging gracefully, and may actually hold the process at bay for a while. Do your weight sets with a female friend to build in accountability and connection. Split the cost of a trainer and you’re making a more economical financial choice as well—all while growing a relationship with a like-minded friend.
  • Find Face-to-Face Options. Phone calls don’t count unless they’re punctuated by actual face-to-face communication. Choosing to create time for someone establishes esteem for both the individual and the relationship. Value your friendships, old and new, by scheduling regular coffees, lunches or happy hours. Aim to create at least two one-on-one friend spaces in each calendar week. And be open to spontaneous opportunities. Maintain growth by seeking out potential friends and business contacts and following through with at least an initial coffee. A certain number of relationships will fade through job, life or location changes—so continue planting seeds to maintain a continuous harvest of connection.
  • Grow with Group Gigs. Growing your connections can be as easy as setting up a regular, open-to-all happy hour meeting. Encourage friends to bring friends to multiply new mutually beneficial links. This low pressure, two-hour commitment will allow you to sift through “contacts” to choose “connections.” And by encouraging an inclusive atmosphere in which all are invited to invite, you create an infinity pool of professional and social possibilities.
  • Include Networking Events. Yawn… Yes, sometimes. But it is difficult to grow a diverse network from an insulated workspace where time constraints force most of us to focus more on culling the flow into inbox, voicemail and calendar than on expanding our sources. Filtering is a necessity, but closing off the stream will eventually dry up the pond, so aim to schedule regular business/social networking events. Remember that you don’t have to score a direct association at an event for it to be construed a success. Contacts have contacts (who have contacts) who could become a connection.
  • Be the Mentor. Remember those early job interviews when you agonized over resume wording and sending the right message via your choice of pumps? There are women—on this very day—laying out conservative earrings and practicing firm-gripped handshakes and friendly greetings for tomorrow morning. Help them. You’ve earned your confidence. Share it with another. What’s in it for you? Connection to someone who will birth new ideas and improve what you’ve begun—and chances are quite good that you will learn something in the teaching of another.
  • Resist Connect-the-Dot Thinking. It’s tempting to view connection as a connect-the-dot sort of endeavor, achieved by working a room with a fistful of business cards augmented by quick phone call “check-ins” between appointments to fan the flame of friendships. But it can—and should—be so much more. Instead of doing the time saving, quick tie knot—”Here’s my card. Let’s connect on LinkedIn”—focus on weaving connection into the fabric of your life. People themselves are the discoveries that lead to innovative ideas and solutions. Your key connections, male and female, will provide valuable support, provide affirmation, spark ideas and help you along the path to being your best self. Having reliable connections—ones you can occasionally lean on and, often, laugh with—is that valuable extra layer that will enable you to weather personal and professional squalls with dignity, grace and assurance. Building a bigger life through connection will perpetuate a better one.

Family Model Trade-In

From Youngest to “Only.”

My middle child noted the upgrades long before I did. Because middles have a special gift for tracking these things. “You actually make his school lunch?”

At first, I was a bit defensive. After all, didn’t I once slice her processed cheese into cute little lunchtime puzzles? Remember how fun those were, honey? “This? It’s just a little sundried tomato wrap with a pesto spread, blackened chicken and aged cheddar…with fresh romaine, arugula, and tomato slices… It’s basically a turkey sandwich.” Move along, nothing to see here… But there were dinner upgrades as well. Menus crafted around her brother’s favorite foods, more frequent non-fast food takeout on the nights I was too weary to microwave. Finally, I had to admit she was right. When Matt segued from being the occasionally forgotten youngest child— “Wait a minute, we have another one!”— to his present-day reign as my in-house link to motherhood, he essentially evolved into an “only.” He’d traded family models, and the new version had a passenger seat pre-equipped to his preferences.

But I grieved for his loss: the banter, the fun, the ready company of his older brother and sisterOur four-bedroom house still held faint echoes of the busy hub it had been, but while I once coordinated schedules with the intensity of an air traffic controller on a holiday weekend, my job had been downgraded to fielding texted ground delays from a single pilot with his own private parking spot.

He gets to park in the garage?!”

Somedays, I missed the chaos. Poor Matt… I broached it once after our dog Lily died. “It’s pretty different, huh? I bet you really miss your brother and sister sometimes.” He shrugged, giving me the hint of a smile. “It’s OK.”

“No, I understand. I’m OK as far as moms go, but I think it’s normal to miss all the excitement of having a bigger group around all the time.”

He smiled again and raised an eyebrow. “Really Mom. It’s all right.”

And it finally dawned on me… Matt was living the life my youngest sister dropped into after three of us left for college. A life with Cocoa Krispies and a new dog instead of the Cheerios and “no pets” policy of my youth; a life with unlimited hot water and phone privileges. On my visits home, her suffering over sibling loss appeared to be, well, minimal. “Hey! Who ate my Cocoa Krispies?!”

And like my youngest sister, Matt seems to be managing the adjustments quite handily. While he’s visibly glad when his brother comes over for dinner and a Scrabble game, and he’ll disappear for long periods of time to talk by phone with his sister at college, the kids have taken their connections outside of this house. They make space for one another in their lives. Which is exactly the kind of family I’d hoped to grow.

I’ve a faint glimmer into why my mom seemed eager to cater to whims and wishes that were unheard of when I lived under the same roof. Maybe she, like me, was simply savoring the end of an era. From this point of motherhood, I can see that it matters not which child lands in the position of youngest, gaining that eventual solo spot, because I find myself pouring my love for each of them through this last remaining funnel named “Matt.”

These truly have been “the best years.” Just as the ones before them were, and as even the ones to come will be. Because I’m fully confident at even this very edge of active motherhood, that while different is strange and often difficult, ultimately, it’s always as good as we allow it to be.

About Date Like a Grownup: So...think you're ready? Great! Not sure? Check out my book. It's kind of a roadmap to dating well. I know, I know... we all have GPS, who needs a map these days? Well... I did. Could definitely have used one if you know what I mean. But many men and women are, shall we say, "directionally challenged" when it comes to dating. Read—and learn—from their stories. And it's OK if you laugh a little...they all know we're laughing with them. Check out my Facebook page, hit "Like" and stay in touch! We'll have fun! I promise!

Coming soon… 

The Friendship Upgrade:

Trade Clickable Connections for Cabernet Coaches and Face-to-Face Friends

Making Room for More

Downsizing a Home to Upsize a Life.

It’s impossible to pinpoint even the year at which my desire for more space morphed into a longing for less. For “simple.” Maybe it coincided with Zak’s or Hannah’s departures for college, or perhaps it was that expensive HVAC replacement a couple of years ago, but it definitely settled into my soul after we lost our dog Lily last spring. Our sweet, but ornery chocolate lab had permitted me to postpone the decision indefinitely. Smaller yard? We couldn’t do that to Lily. Her welfare was my padded excuse to enjoy the serenity of my backyard woods for another season or two. But after her passing last May and as Matt progressed through his senior year of high school, downsizing took on priority status.

In the beginning, I resisted with a little last minute nesting. “Wouldn’t this be great in your room?” Matt didn’t even need to respond. I knew. “Except you won’t be here that much, huh?”

“I’ll have laundry.” 

Mental fist pump for my great wisdom in upgrading the washer and dryer. The Ohio State University won’t give you free detergent and fabric softener, btw…

“And I’ll always have food, you know.” 

As my co-bachelor housemate for almost four years now, Matt knows the quality of my leftovers vary from night to night, but I give quiet thanks that he, alone, enjoys full access to my secret stash of dark chocolate. Unending supply of Ghirardelli Dark with Sea Salt and Almonds in the dorm lobby? I think not! 

Debbie came over to help get me started in the vast basement space, affixing signs to walls: “Sell,” Donate,” “Dump.” And we began… Toys, books, clothing, photos… We spent a couple of hours digging through memories and putting them to rest, her presence compelling final choices. Downsizing is a different experience for the divorced or widowed. The little road trips of the mind follow a single mapped route with no side jaunts for savoring context. The emotional journey may be a solo trip, but it definitely helps to have a friend in the passenger seat.

Eventually I faced my first real dilemma and was glad for Debbie’s steadying presence as I held up a wedding photo of my ex-husband. “Should I give this to the kids?” My own bridal-veiled portrait had already landed in a garbage bag, but the divorced parent strives for fairness.

 “Throw it. They don’t need it.” And she’s right. He has remarried; the man in the photo is long gone. Rest in peace.

More digging, more dumping. Treasures and trash. When the Volunteers of America showed up the following Thursday, they found quite the haul on my front porch. And the trash guys had some heavy lifting down at the driveway curb—balancing out a few of those many days that cans sat forgotten in my garage.

It’s an official beginning, I guess. Of an ending, I suppose. Or, more aptly, a “transition.” From the mom of three that I once was to the mother of adult children I will soon be. And I want to tell them, my kids, as I sift, sort, and remember—that these little smile lines on my face are such a small and inadequate measure of the joy I’ve known in watching them grow.

About Date Like a Grownup: So...think you're ready? Great! Not sure? Check out my book. It's kind of a roadmap to dating well. I know, I know... we all have GPS, who needs a map these days? Well... I did. Could definitely have used one if you know what I mean. But many men and women are, shall we say, "directionally challenged" when it comes to dating. Read—and learn—from their stories. And it's OK if you laugh a little...they all know we're laughing with them. Check out my Facebook page, hit "Like" and stay in touch! We'll have fun! I promise!

Coming soon… 

The Friendship Upgrade:

Trade Clickable Connections for Cabernet Coaches and Face-to-Face Friends

On Being a Single Entrepreneur (radio)

Dating, Parenting and Maintaining Connection (WJCU radio)

On transitioning from “stay-at-home mom” to “single-preneur,” the impact of confidence and accomplishments on dating relationships, how to build effective connection in the family, selecting a “Type A-” approach, how to Date Like A Grownup and more…! (Interview with Deb Hegler, “Minding Your Business”)

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