Sunday, September 11, 2011

Quiet Courage

Today marks a decade of our country living in a state of persistent war and global terrorism, but it also commemorates acts of incredible courage.  Not just from the passengers of the hijacked planes, the firefighters and rescue workers, but also the survivors whose loved ones perished in the 9/11 attacks and the rest of us who watched helplessly as our fellow Americans suffered.  That day marked a line in the sand for us: we can be sad about these tragic events and we will never forget, but we must go on and we must live, with gratitude and with intention.

I spent this morning with a dear friend of mine, whom I met while working on the college paper.  We sat next to each other at graduation, swigging champagne from a bottle under her seat.  She got me my very first job after school, at a PR firm (which I sucked at, and I had to quit or risk being fired; seriously, I wasn't cut out for the pressure), then found me my first apartment (right next to hers in Hollywood). Because of that magical apartment, I met my neighbor's brother Rafael... and the rest is history.  In addition, she showed me how to smoke pot gracefully, taught me how to make trifle, and took me to my first yoga class.  I can hardly express how much I have gained simply by saying hello to a very pretty blonde girl in the newsroom more than 20 years ago.

Anyway, we met at a yoga studio and did an intense 90 minutes of flow yoga and breathing, then had breakfast nearby to catch up.  After I jumped off the PR train, she continued on, advancing to bigger and better jobs in the entertainment industry.  The last time we spoke - I'm ashamed to admit that, apart from Facebook chit-chat, it's been about a year - she was at a big network with all sorts of glossy reality shows.  It was stressful and fast-paced and she was expected to keep her BlackBerry on her hip at all times.  

As we ate breakfast, a former colleague of hers came to the table to say hello and it became clear to me that she no longer worked at that network; instead, she works for a much smaller, lower-profile network.  "What happened?" I asked.  In PR, generally, you climb the ranks higher and higher, dealing with more and more stress, and your main reward is the cache of where you work and the money that rolls in.  But you pay for it, working so hard that you can barely recognize your priorities.  It's like, "Oh man, I want to see my kid's preschool Christmas play, but I'm supposed to go to the Botox party of a 'reality star' that's going to be in People Magazine..."  Her life was a juggling act and I was constantly in awe of how even-keeled she remained, in spite of the chaos that's inherent in Hollywood.

Anyway, she mentioned that the BlackBerry thing ended up being her undoing.  By a twist of fate, she didn't have it with her on a Sunday afternoon as she and her family took her parents to a garden show. A PR "emergency" (meaning: no one died, nothing happened, someone just didn't show up for an interview) sprung up and my friend was caught without her BB.  Her boss in NYC wanted proof of something from an email that my friend couldn't access while she was out with her family.  On a Sunday.  It was a thing, and it came up in her review (don't even get me started on this -- my friend helped launch so many of the media phenomenons that are in our TV culture now that it baffles me how her boss could single out the BB incident and berate her for it).

My friend was disappointed but, with years of mindful thinking and yoga under her belt, went back to her office and let it all go.  Let it wash over her and out of her system.  And went back to work with a quiet resolve to just do her job, do it well, but keep things in perspective.

A week later, she got called by a woman who wanted her to work with the smaller network. It was a lot less stress, an easier commute, shorter hours, a reasonable boss... and MORE money.  The main catch was that she would no longer have the high profile shows she was used to... and that really made her think. But the kicker was quality of life - she could have a great job AND have a great life, too.  Naturally, she took it, and she hasn't looked back. Her health, family, psyche and soul have benefited greatly from this leap of faith and courageous first step toward a new life.

On this day of remembering courage, I wanted to point out that courage comes not only in tidal waves, but also small ripples.  Each wave, each ripple, makes a difference.  It seems the only fitting tribute to those who lost their lives: to live well for them, to do right by their memories, and to continue making our best choices despite the inherent fears around us. We may live in a world filled with terror, but we do not need to be terror-filled.

Take a deep breath with me here.  Inhale courage.  Exhale fear.  It only takes one step.

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