From surviving to thriving… Brea Griffith’s epic story.

Brea Griffith’s knew how to win. From the classroom to the soccer field, most everything she pursued was met with gold stars. She was continually rewarded for her efforts. Full-ride scholarship to an Ivy-League university in the States? Check. Twice-named Captain of her NCAA women’s soccer team at Princeton? Yup. Boston Marathoner? Indeed. 

You get the picture. She was the kind of girl we all admire, but also resent, just a teeny tiny bit. Crazy intelligence. A natural beauty. Also, an all-round kind human being. 

It goes on from here. Brea married her college sweetheart, became a mother and even spent a year living on a sustainability farm in Venezuela. Eventually, she added to her Degree in Evolutionary Biology & Ecology with a Masters in Forestry from Yale. 

I know, right? Dang

But nobody knocks it out of the park forever. 

Brea’s story would soon evolve into a tale of homelessness. Into months of surviving alone in the desert as a single woman… sleeping outside and trying not to let the howling of nearby coyotes thwart her resolve. She’d face physical pain beyond any capacity to describe. Frustration and depression. And fear, real fear. (Imagine yourself backed into a corner while an unsavoury looking man approaches you with a very large and very pointy hunting knife.) At some point, Brea contemplated her best option to end this suffering. 

She didn’t want to live. Not this way.

So, how did Brea fall so far from all that success? And why did she go from seeming to have it all, to condensing her world down to a literal trash bag and committing to living alone in the desert for six months? Away from her children, as one last-ditch effort to try and heal from crushing pain? How can this be?

The answer starts with how Brea’s doing now: she’s thriving.

Today, Brea is an entirely different woman. Her smile is radiant. Her confidence, contagious. She no longer derives her worth from any accomplishments. She’s learned that she is already deserving of love and acceptance. Just as she is, full stop. Her physical limitations and all that misery, gone. She’s back with her children and living a new, God-filled life. 

Yes, I did just bring up the good man Himself. God. Which raises another curious question: how does a science-trained, atheist come to a place of faith? (Note: this is not a piece about religious doctrine. It’s about conquering fear with faith. And it’s also about surrender, leading to ultimate transformation.)

Brea vividly remembers that moment her world imploded. 

She’d just completed the Boston Marathon in 3 hours, 35 minutes, but following what seemed an impossibly long period of recovery, found she couldn’t run a single 400M lap around the track in her neighbourhood. 

She became — at times — bedridden, struggling to care for herself and her children. Nevertheless, Brea soldiered along, drawing on her training as an elite athlete. But she did everything she could to avoid turning inward, and instead sought her answers from all sorts of external sources. Anyone plugged into the medical community. Anyone who could resolve her slew of debilitating symptoms… Headaches. Chronic pain. Face swelling. Muscle weakness. You name it, she had it. She plunged deep into an unending rabbit hole, searching for the elusive diagnosis and what would hopefully be a corresponding treatment. Her life had shifted from an idyllic dream to a living nightmare. 

“Still, I just kept pushing, because nobody could figure out what was wrong with me. I couldn’t understand how I’d gone from being so carefree and successful — being able to do anything I put my mind to — to this person who couldn’t even get out of bed.” 

Eventually, Brea was diagnosed with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS), a serious, long-term illness that affects multiple body systems. She describes how it manifested in an interview with Princeton University. 

“It’s like living with severe, severe flu 24/7,” she says. “You have vertigo, weakness, pain. You can’t eat. It’s like a five-alarm fire that’s going off in your body at all times. Then you push yourself because you want to do something, you want to live, and you pay the price. You crash. It’s debilitating. I got to points where I didn’t even have the strength to speak.”

As Brea will attest, when you’re facing these kinds of challenges, you become your own worst enemy, and the drama tends to intensify. Cue the next bullet to try and dodge. Following the birth of her third child, daughter Lynleigh, thousands of gallons of water flooded into her basement, morphing into a severe mold situation. You can imagine how this disaster exacerbated her existing symptoms. Among all the other physical challenges, Brea temporarily lost hearing in her right ear and began to contend with extreme nausea. 

She sought relief from Western to Alternative treatments, from Functional medicine to experimenting with a graveyard of supplements. In fact, Brea Griffiths spent a small fortune on treatments! Her journey ultimately led to working with a mold specialist, who informed her that exposure to the dangerous toxins in her basement had switched on a particular mold gene in her body. And once switched on, it could not be switched off. This was not good. 

She was angry. So very angry. And refused to buy into that belief system. 

But in 2017, a defeated and disillusioned Brea was forced to move out of her house due to the intensity of her illness. Even her possessions had begun to make her sick. She began protocols to help her body detox the dangerous biological pathogens replicating inside her. And while she saw some improvement, she found herself on a teeter-totter. There was never any lasting relief. Her body and brain only become more sensitive. At one point, she was experiencing over 82 different symptoms. 

Brea’s journey would eventually lead to a strategy she read about online. It offered her renewed hope. It was also… the last straw

Extreme Mold Avoidance Journey

Brea had learned that some people with similar conditions had seen tremendous impact by living outside in the pristine desert air. As unorthodox as this sounded, she saw no other choice in the matter and decided to give it a go. She committed to a trial of three months and, miraculously, saw some real changes from being out in the wild. 

But when she returned home, all her progress unravelled. What’s more, her husband had had enough and decided to end their marriage. It was all too painful. Brea tried to rebuild and moved into a brand new townhouse; only to plummet once again into a battery of discouraging symptoms. Even when placed on a strict liver detox protocol, she found herself dysfunctional. Her face was on fire — puffed up and burning. Her headaches — splitting. She wound up losing ten pounds that week.

So Brea moved out onto the balcony of her home and saw some gradual improvement. As a Canadian girl, however, she knew this would not be a permanent strategy. It was getting colder and winter loomed near. How would she hang onto her tenuous functionality, when going back inside only triggered her physical symptoms again?

Family and friends came to the house to clean with antimicrobial products. “Sam, they scrubbed every square inch with that stuff!” Unfortunately, it didn’t help. She felt herself sinking into deep despair, as she faced the dreaded likelihood of having to go back out to the desert. She simply had to get well. For her children. For herself. For life. She didn’t have any other cards to play.

“You’re only working six inches in front of you. Just trying to survive this moment. I thought it was my best chance to try and calm my immune system down.” 

Wearing her crocks and with just one set of clothes shoved into a plastic garbage bag, Brea set out for Death Valley in California. She recalls feeling ashamed of her “freakish” appearance; but it didn’t matter, because she believed it would work, if only she could stick it out long enough. 

“I was in five states,” she says. “I spent a lot of time in Death Valley in California. I was in New Mexico, Utah, Nevada and Arizona. It was pretty heinous. I couldn’t be in a campground, because I couldn’t be around people. I had no cell phone service because I was far away from any towers. I was stuck alone, living outside. The chemicals in a tent or a rental car were too much. I had to sleep outside on a cot under the stars in the middle of nowhere, through the winter. I froze my butt off. I had multiple sleeping bags and winter coats. If it rained or snowed, I had to find someplace else to go. I couldn’t tolerate anything by that point. I’m talking about having significant reactions. You start to feel like you’re being attacked from all sides. You’re in complete survival mode from moment to moment.”

But something extraordinary would soon happen. 

It was January, 2019, when Brea was living in the desert for the second time. She had befriended a man who was on his own healing journey in the wilderness, and could not get over the strength of his faith. She became curious about his relationship with God, and how leaning on him seemed to bring him so much peace. Brea would listen to the courage of his convictions and found herself craving that kind of impassioned knowing. So, despite the continued madness of living alone in the desert, she made a conscious choice not to feel alone anymore. She wanted to believe someone could love her enough to care about the mess she was in, and before long, Brea became drawn into a spiritual relationship that knocked her atheist views upside down.  

Her friend introduced her to a few sections in the Bible, and while she felt some initial resistance, she once again decided it couldn’t hurt to try something new. The stories would wash over her and fuel a growing appetite to understand more. This led to her first efforts at praying. Brea admits it felt completely foreign at first, lying on her cot under the stars, asking for a sign from someone she couldn’t see. She’d simply ask, “God, if you’re here for me, please just let me know.” Almost immediately, she’d felt something change. A light and warmth filled her entire body. 

She began to ask questions everyday, like, why she was created? What did He have in store for her? And what should she do to really get better? She started looking for signs of what steps to take next. Inexplicably, Brea felt herself being pulled onto a new path. Admittedly, she labels this a “legit 180.”

“Growing up I had zero interest [nor belief] in the spiritual realm. But all of a sudden, I felt I was being led. I began to believe that I could actually heal. That I’d been through enough, and living in this extreme way of isolation and avoidance was not serving me.”

Her budding faith led her to discover an innovative program called the Dynamic Neural Retraining System — where she’d learn to retrain her brain and ultimately reclaim her life. (This, of course, is a massive over-simplification.) She began to learn she’d been seeking her sense of worthiness from the value society placed on all her accomplishments. She realized she’d been constantly trying to earn people’s love, the effects of which had depleted her completely. She also recognized she’d taken no responsibility for any part of her body breaking down.  

Through the neural plasticity brain retraining, and her faith in God, Brea woke up to the realization that she no longer needed to push so hard. She surrendered into a new way of being. She also stopped comparing herself to others, and worrying if they liked her or not. Her mission became, “What am I meant to be doing? How can I serve in the world?” And with each new epiphany, she felt her body and mind growing stronger. 

She began to function again. This was a complete transformation. A miracle.

Today, Brea is certain that if she’d not endured such a physically painful journey — one fraught with isolation and fear — she’d not have tapped into the thing she claims is the greatest gift available to us all: faith. With unwavering confidence, Brea will tell anyone willing to listen that having a little faith does not make you weak. That you are not meant to go it alone in this world. That your pride should not keep you from surrendering to that which we can’t explain.

I asked Brea to comment on the fear that keeps so many of us stuck in limiting beliefs, unable to move courageously through change. Her response was so… so Brea. 

“There is always this resistance to change. I don’t know what this is going to look like. Is this right? Is this really what I need to do? But I find the more I practise faith, the easier it is to do. Why would I just stay where I am right now? Because that’s not serving anybody. I’m not going to live in fear anymore.”

Brea has discovered that every obstacle we face comes down to fear. In tandem with this is a whole pile of stress we bring on ourselves — the root of which? You’ve got it: fear. She’ll tell you that trying to do things all on your own may net you the same old results. 

“I say, step back, get out of your own way and allow yourself to be led. Take just one step of faith. For me, that means God. He shows me which way to go. I don’t want to go back. Why would I ever live any other way? The world tells us to be strong and independent. But I rely on my faith and that has transformed me.” 

Today, Brea is focussed on helping people reclaim their lives through her robust coaching/brain retraining practise. Coming from a place of love, she uses the principles of things we already know — like mindfulness, gratitude — and amplifies them in a way that brings about real change. Many of her clients are very sick. Some, even bedbound (like she was). They struggle with anxiety and depression, both of which she can relate to. She works with believers and non-believers alike.

And her candle does not burn down by being there for others. As a mother. A daughter. A coach. Her days of just trying to survive… a distant memory in her rearview mirror. For Brea, this is thriving.

I stopped chasing money.

“Money is numbers. And numbers never end. If it takes money to be happy, your search for happiness will never end.”

Bob Marley

On January 17th, 2020, I lugged the last remaining boxes from my office and sat in my frozen car, stunned at what had come to fruition. The “be careful what you wish for” adage poked me in my tear-filled eyes. I didn’t even try to hold them back… Months of stiff-upper-lipping-it meant the floodgates were now safe to open. Whoosh! 

No more client meetings. 
No more financial plans to construct. 
No more market-fluctuation counseling sessions. 
No more proving I had a client’s best interest at heart. 
No more rigorous compliance audits.
No more feeling like an imposter.
And, I hoped, no more stomach-aches.

It had been a ten-year financial slog to re-acquire my client base in exchange for majority share ownership in the family business. And that decade of payments ended the day I chose to exit stage left. The “house”—if you will—was finally paid for. But it was too late. I was done.

Guys, who does this?! I mean, who puts in all that time and abandons the rewards right when they’re finally accessible?

Apparently, I do! As the reality of my situation took hold, I continued to sit in the car like a statue, staring at the door I would never walk through again at will. I had surrendered my key, my clients, and my livelihood. At forty-six years old, I walked away from that little goldmine.

Some thought I had gone completely bonkers—a midlife crisis unfolding before their curious eyes. “Don’t you still have bills to pay?” “The girls are so young!” “You’re throwing away sixteen years!” But my reasons for leaving will become clear as I outline a few life lessons I’m taking with me on my new path. Most of these insights have come directly from helping my clients.

Lesson #1: Life is short. 

Insert eye-rolling, and yawn! Yes, we all know this. But do we really? 

The gift of life is a miracle. That you exist defies all odds—about 1 in 400 trillion, according to Google. While you let that sink in, know that your life also matters. Greatly. And whether you feel the magnitude of that statement yet is immaterial. One day it’ll tap you on the shoulder when you least expect it.

You were put on this earth to have an impact that only you can have. Because, there is no other you.

But what if I told you that vast potential could all be wiped away in one catastrophic, single-engine plane crash? You might say, “Nah, I don’t make it a habit of getting in those things!” Or that you’d soon find out you have an inoperable tumor that will rob you of the chance to see your daughter walk down the aisle next year? “Dude. I’m a vegetarian with no family history of Cancer, so stop with the Debbie Downer sh*t.” 

If this sounds dramatic, I get it. Realistically, we all face life and death at any given moment. The above are the kinds of situations I dealt with all the time in my practice… Walloping, unexpected curveballs that changed everything.

None of us has sorted out the business of living forever. (Except maybe that Wolverine guy. My twelve-year-old says he kicks ass at immortality!) Yet, some bank on the illusion that if we work tirelessly now, we’ll get to enjoy the good times down the road. You know, like, in retirement.

This is fool’s thinking!

My clients showed me the fragility of life. The idea that tomorrow is promised has set us up to live as though we’re in rehearsal, just practicing for the grand event that will eventually be our life. It plays into the “I’ll be happy when” mantra, where we chase an elusive carrot on an ever-turning treadmill. (Only to find we’re going nowhere but around in circles.) We magically expect that once we hit that golden age of retirement, we’ll have made it! Phew! Now, I can really live!

One time, I delivered a life insurance cheque to a young widow whose husband was taken from her at the precise moment she was on the phone with him. Can you even imagine? His truck literally exploded while they shared a routine conversation. Thanks to this level of extreme perspective, I’ve come to a place where I’m not interested in practicing at life.

I’m going to live it. Every day, and on my terms. Not on the assumption that tomorrow will stick around and wait for me. Note: even in saying this, I recognize the privilege and know that many people are just trying to survive, let alone thrive.

Life Lesson #2: You can’t take it with you.

Some of my clients had more money than they could spend in three lifetimes, but they wouldn’t spend any. The truth is, it gave them a sense of security. Most of these people grew up in a time of austerity or came from parents who served in one of the World Wars. They fought hard for every nickel, and their values around money were simple: accumulate and save. I’m not judging, and I understand where the mentality comes from.

But added to this was often a desire to leave a legacy to their children and grandchildren. “When I die, I want to leave all this to the kids.” I found it fascinating that these clients were sacrificing so much of themselves, even though they didn’t see it that way. I always believed that money doesn’t mean anything until you trade it for something. Their altruism for the future generation touched me.

It also bewildered me. I wondered if there wasn’t an opportunity to impact their next-gen-kin while these folks were still young and impressionable? Parcel out bits of that nest egg and play a role in teaching them how to handle money? Or, relieve some of their financial pressure while they duke it out with education, finding jobs, and getting established. It’s not easy being twenty-something today.

And yet, forget that! What about spending some of it on yourself? Get out there and make a bucket load of memories with the people you love! Put it into the world and watch it come back ten-fold, especially when it’s invested in more than just funds. Which brings me to my next life lesson…

Life Lesson #3: Diversify your investment portfolio. Make deposits into your Memory Bank. These will pay dividends that can last a lifetime.

I confess I had a slightly unconventional style when it came to dispensing advice in my financial practice. Sure, I subscribed to the importance of shoring up risk and planning for tomorrow. (None of us wants to eat cat food in retirement!) But you’d never hear me tell a client not to take that trip with their kids just so they could max out retirement contributions.

Screw. That. Noise.

Investing is an interesting phenomenon. You dump the energy you’ve earned (that’s money) into something you hope will make it grow. There’s a headache of upfront homework required, including assessing your risk tolerance, understanding what it is you’re investing in, and then paying attention along the way through the ups and downs of market performance. It takes discipline and patience.

What I think we can all agree on is the end-goal of our investing: to make money on our money. (Let’s not split hairs about feeling good for supporting young entrepreneurs and other social enterprise start-ups. This isn’t about that.)

But what about investing in your Memory Bank? Is that even a thing? Because if it is, boy does it sound hokey!

Guys, it’s a real thing. Four years ago, my husband and I came into a bit of money, giving us the privileged opportunity to get thoughtful about what we should do with it. The options were endless— including, but not limited to, fixing our roof (not sexy), topping up our girls’ education funds (boring), or paring our lives down to one backpack each and hitting the road for a South American adventure. Winner, winner; chicken dinner!

We called ourselves The Traveling Gong Show, because, quite frankly, we were a disaster at the best of times. A family of four: set to bicker and bumble their way through Ecuador and Peru! Our only goals? Slow our lives down, bond hard with the kids, and show them a piece of the world that offers a new cultural perspective. (They were thirteen and eight at the time.) Again, peeps thought we were a little crazy—“Wait, you’re going to be on a bus for fifty-two hours? Are you nuts?!”—but that didn’t stop us.

I’ll admit that we even wound up taking on a bit of debt by the time the three months were up. See, when you don’t work there’s no income (go figure), and, we didn’t know if we’d ever have another chance like this, so we embraced as many opportunities within reasonable proximity as we could.

But the money spent was a fair trade-off for all the memories we made… Hiking the Salkantay Trail to Machu Picchu. Dune-buggying in the Peruvian desert. Swimming with sharks in the Galapagos. These investments were far more epic than reading the Fund Facts for a medium-risk growth portfolio! And while it’s true we short-changed an opportunity to save more for their educational future, we actually wound up shaping their lives in ways I couldn’t have dreamed possible.

Thanks to this experience, my eldest daughter’s goals for her future now include how she could make a difference on a global scale for some of the inequities in the world. Who knew that our bebopping around on a shoestring adventure would inform her budding ideology about life, culture, and social responsibility?

Life Lesson #4:  A career you don’t like—but one that offers a great pension plan—could equal years of misery.

I counseled dozens of clients who were hanging on by a loosely woven thread at their jobs. They were miserable, but the carrot at the end of the treadmill was a guaranteed pension. And that does count for something. A lot, these days, in fact.

As far as lessons go, this one is sensitive. Job security is important. Planning for our futures and self-reliance is important. But churning out eight to twelve hours a day, five to seven days a week at something that kills your soul is not a fair trade for a future life that isn’t guaranteed. At least, not in this girl’s honest opinion.

Even as I type this, I can think of a number of people I know who are virtually miserable in their places of employment, but they’re banking on that guaranteed pension once they hit the age-factor of retirement.

And I can speak with some authority on this. These pensions are called Defined Benefit plans. The employer takes on all risk and future income is a combination of years of service, your top five years of earnings, and their own market investment performance. You just have to show up and work. Every day. Until you hit that magic number.

But pensions like this are concerningly underfunded today, and thus going the way of the dodo bird. People who have access to them (usually those in some sort of civil service) are told over and over how blessed they are.

And, they are.

Only, guess what? If you are literally TOILING and only living for tomorrow, you’re not really living now, are you? I know some people in this situation. Fabulous skills. Talent wasted in a job they loathe, but it offers them a better financial tomorrow than they could likely get anywhere else. So, it’s the age-old today, or tomorrow?

Look, I’m not here to convince you to leave your job. That’s not it. I do believe in challenging the status quo, however. And I believe in remembering that today matters. Today deserves a shot.

Speaking for myself, after sixteen years as a financial advisor, I could have easily stayed in the career and metaphorically cleaned up. Most established practitioners do extremely well if they have the stick-to-it-iveness for the long game.

But the trade-off of all this future money, for me, was control. So much of what I thought, valued, and wanted to pursue in my personal life was distilled down to regulatory policies of what was and was not acceptable. And I’m all for regulation –geez, there are crooks and *ssholes out there! The honest guy pays a price, however. Incessant scrutiny. A feeling of Big Brother watching you. It all became a little too much for my free-spirited, ethical self.

And? There was something else, too. Which leads conveniently into my final life lesson for today.

Life Lesson #5: Being true to yourself is critical to (genuine) happiness.

I consider my time as a financial advisor a massive blessing, but it began to feel disingenuous with my soul. I had poured myself into the career through my thirties and early forties, but along the way lost a bit of who I really was.

There is a much bigger problem at play when you feel like a square peg in a round hole. It can manifest physically, showing up in the form of stomach aches and a chronically watering left eye. (Had this for two years). It’s also a quiet erosion of your spirit—but this is only noticeable when you step completely away from your situation.

Thankfully, I decided to do something about the growing unease I felt in an industry that had been mostly good to me. Once again, I distilled my belongings down to a backpack and set out on a pilgrimage to gain some clarity.

For thirty-three days, I put one foot in front of another, following the famed Camino de Santiago trail in Spain, walking a total of 800 km. With each step, I tuned closer into the frequency of my soul, until it was no longer garbled static, but a loud, booming voice: Samantha! You need to make a change in your life! This career is killing you!

What I discovered was that being true to myself was vital to my growth, my purpose, and the peace I craved. I didn’t want to waste another moment not being the woman I had found on that trail.

So, what now? There’s a pandemic—cue another curveball—and mass global uncertainty. But I’m choosing to plug away at a new dream, one fueled by passion, not wealth. I remain grateful for all of life’s blessings, and even the struggles. For they have taught me that chasing money and status does not ultimately fill a person’s happiness bucket. And that’s gold to me.

This post was originally published on tinybuddha.com on Sept 2nd 2020. You can find the original piece here

Defining the Line.

This post is not meant as a male-bashing rant. I happened to watch an excellent documentary on Netflix last night, Roll Red Roll, and it stirred up some thoughts that have been swirling around my brain over the last few weeks.     

My whole life I’ve been two people: one who seeks out and enjoys attention, and one who prefers to turn the spotlight on others. The former gets old and unbearable quickly, not the seeking part, but the getting. The latter is driven by curiosity — this need to dig in and really understand people. But I recently clued into a blind spot of mine, a feeling of uncertainty over some of my boundaries. I’ve been wondering, what even is the line I don’t want crossed? And, is standing up for my self-respect going to trash a part of my wholly alive feminine identity?

Naturally, these questions generated others:

Am I guilty of sending out mixed signals? Am I incapable of discerning good-humoured jokes from unwanted suggestive comments? When I accept a compliment from a man, does this give a green light for the above uncomfortable stuff?

Cue one of my fave jams from 1991, C&C Music Factory’s Things That Make You Go Hmm… You’re welcome for that bit of nostalgia.

The #metoo movement woke me from a dozy slumber; one where I simply tolerated inappropriate male behaviour, particularly during my younger years in the food and beverage industry. Like the shame I felt in allowing a restaurant owner to pull me onto his lap at a Christmas party, while he rubbed my thighs in front of his friends and other staff. There’s me, awkwardly going with the flow and not wanting to cause a scene, and him, making wildly inappropriate comments about my body. I surmise the other happily imbibing onlookers simply chalked it up to him being drunk as F*** (like that excused him). Internally, I loathed the man, but he signed my paycheck and I happened to like my job, so it was one of those, “just deal with it” situations.

Then, there’s the opposite side of the coin. I flat out enjoyed the playful banter of the young men who nursed their Sunday hangovers at the popular downtown pub. I’ll admit it, in between slinging their hash browns and eggs benny, I flirted right back. In fact, I encouraged it! Was it just an unconscious hustle for better tips? (Some would argue, decidedly not unconscious.) Did I just like the attention? Both? Rather than chalk that up to twenty-something behaviour, I now wonder if we are asking to have it both ways. 

Have we been setting our men up for future behaviour where they don’t clearly know the line?

I look back on a pattern of “boys will be boys” behaviour in other workplaces, such that if it happened today, HR would (in theory) intervene and consequences would be enforced. I’ve mostly allowed this conduct and I can’t help but ask why. But there was one time, about 22 years ago, when I took immediate action in support of my values; though I’m sure any level-headed woman would have likely done the same.

“You don’t have to accept the things you are not ok with.” — unknown

This specific man, whose name shall go with me to my grave, interpreted my interest in accompanying him on an afternoon mountain biking adventure as carte blanche to put the moves on me.  Further, he suggested I’d be fortunate to engage in a threesome with him and his wife. Ummmm …. a what now? In fairness, I did agree to a backyard hot tub after all that crazy biking. But does that in and of itself equal a signpost that reads, please go ahead and make those assumptions about me? I confess I had no clue I’d be putting myself in such a dicey situation, since the dude and his wife were my friends. Plus, he was twice my age (this means nothing), a professional (also means nothing), and knew my father (apparently this doesn’t matter)!

How could I possibly have known he’d try and stick his tongue down my throat? Today I can say that dripping with icky sarcasm, because at the time, I was apparently the Mayor of Naiveville. Good news, though. After an excruciating ride home in his Beamer, I decided the whole thing was S***. I confronted his wife (Did you actually tell your husband you wanted a threesome with me? Because he says it was your idea! What even is that???), and subsequently helped her pick up the pieces as she kicked his ass to the curb, in a move I both championed and revered.

Then there was that time during an innocent ‘post-engagement-break-up’ date with a guy I had long admired. I confess I was excited he’d taken an interest, but found myself flummoxed when he presented me with the cure-all to my wounded heart: his junk. Oh yeah, baby! He literally whipped it out in a Husky parking lot, assuring me that all I really needed was a slice of his meat. Uhhh, too soon, buddy. Much too soon. Needless to say I did not avail myself of his cure-all on our first and only date, and to this day, he is known as “Cock Boy” amongst my closest homies.

Working in a male dominated industry for 15+ years also taught me a thing or two. There were times I longed to speak up and share my insights, but never did, partially because I couldn’t get a word in edgewise, and partially because, did I really want to be “that girl”? The one who dumped everything on its head by proposing some alternative strategy? I did and I didn’t. I had things to contribute and so I would, on occasion. But other times I simply seethed in my chair, not having the energy nor confidence to stand up and say “Hey! How about a little female perspective here!” As a woman, I can say that things are definitely getting better. And yet it’s an exhausting quest, constantly trying to make your voice heard without being “too loud”, or “too opinionated”.

“It is not the answer that enlightens, but the question.” — Eugene Ionesco

A long time male friend of mine recently asked if he had made me uncomfortable when he commented on “all the walking I must have been doing.” We go back so far that I answered him sincerely, his compliment was appreciated, because “yes! I have been walking a whole helluva lot!” (Things tend to get toned when one walks. Which is not why I walk lol.) But his genuine inquiry was indicative of a time of uncertainty for men, too.

Ahem. What is my role in all of this? Why have I not called out sexist behaviour that I witnessed on display at past work functions? Why have I allowed myself to play into the narrative of “boys will be boys”? How and where do signals get crossed? And why am I only thinking about these things now?

I refuse to deny utilizing my skills in the flirting department to get out of a speeding ticket. I also own that, when convenient, these same skills have been deployed to move me closer to the front of a long line-up, or into a more favourable table location at restaurants. Is this overt use of my sexuality contributing to the confusing landscape men now wade through? I dunno. I just. Don’t. Know.

I feel that discussing this is a matter of radical responsibility to myself and others… a chance to inform and educate what the damn line is. Or at least generate some discussion. See, in the past, I’d simply sweep the unsavoury behaviour under the rug, usually by ignoring it. I always hoped this strategy would result in them coming to the conclusion on their own. They’d wake up one day and magically think, “Gee, perhaps I overstepped.” This is fool’s thinking, as we all know. I’m also guilty of simply giggling, and “aw shucks-ing” myself away from the offensive remarks. I think part of this stems from an aversion I have to embarrassing anyone.

The question remains, then, is my silence not a contributor to the problem? I think so.

Back to speaking up and out, the fact is, everyone has something new they can learn about themselves. Always. It’s the same way I own my previous lack of understanding of the specific words “Black Lives Matter” in the BLM movement. I couldn’t understand why we wouldn’t just say, “all lives matter”, since everyone should be treated equally, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religion, etc. I found I needed more education on the matter, and after immersing myself in some youtube (I implore you to watch this), I finally connected with the importance of specificity… BLACK LIVES MATTER. Saying ALL LIVES MATTER is precisely not the point! It’s difficult for me to admit all this, but we don’t know everything, people. Many of us have been asleep on these issues for years… either by default or choice.  

But I digress. If a person has a clear understanding of the boundaries as laid out by the people they meet — then they should be able to stay within those limits, especially if they value the relationship. Are we at a fork in the road? Must we have a review of what is and is not acceptable?

What is the bloody line, then?

Is my line one, where the occasional compliment coming my way from the male species makes me feel good about my aging self? Sure it is.  But my acceptance and appreciation of that does not feed into blanket permission to up the ante! Is my line one, where the use of kissy emojis and hearts  in texts  is open for interpretation? No! Those things are a dime a dozen in today’s techy world and some would even say they devalue the message being sent. (I’m always concerned I will come off as ‘harsh’ or ‘too direct’ lest I pepper each communication with some sort of emoji. Kill. Me. Now.) Is my line one, where my interest and concern for a member of the opposite sex translates into me wanting sex? F*** no! It simply means I’m a human being, and you’re in my circle of people I care about.

The fact is, I’m a mom of two daughters. It is imperative that I set a clear example of these boundaries that aren’t often discussed. Oh sure, the flagrant, “no means no” stuff is discussed. But how will they go out into the world and handle the occasional bout of sexual bullying? Will they be flattered into a rabbit hole of regret? How will they deal with the inevitable attention they’ll get vs totally inappropriate conversations they should not be engaging in in the first place? This know-how is something I need to instill in them. And while they’re blessed to be living in a more enlightened era (the #metoo movement is never going away), they require the tools to tap into their own empowerment.

So let’s circle back. Is it possible for a woman to define a line with seemingly opposing sides? Can she keep the important connection to her femininity and her integrity for herself intact?

The answer is. I want to believe, yes.

What if we saw this whole thing as a delicate dance? A dance where we, the women, set the rules. Eyes up. Hands here. Respectable space between our bodies unless otherwise invited. I think that’s the key difference. We need to lead the dance. For too long it was always only the men who led. Now it’s our turn.

I’ll just say this. I’m gonna lead the dance. And that’s my line. Any questions?

A blank slate. And a fresh new beginning.

Three weeks from today I will wake up to a new beginning. My life will officially become the Blank Slate.

To say that I’m scared would be a complete joke.

Realistically? I’m petrified. As a nifty coping strategy, I’ve buried my attention in other things. Like, tree decorating, once-a-year baking, gift procuring, house cleaning, wine drinking, too-much-junk eating, Netflix binging and husband bickering. All the classic stuff, courtesy of those chaotic holiday pleasures and pressures.

But in the quiet of this Saturday morning, it’s hit me hard that things will be different very soon.  

Last night I went to the annual Open House of a good client and friend. I knew I’d be asked… “So! Sam!! What the heck are you doing with your life then???” And twice the day before, I bumped into clients in the same freaking chiropractor’s office, “Wow! What’s going on? What are you going to do??” The reality is, I don’t have a solid answer for this, so I turtle, leading to a bunch of justifying, which makes me annoyed at myself (and society) for feeling compelled to explain myself away. I know that people are just curious and want to wish me well. That’s cool. 

What I’d like to do is just stop the clock for a few days to collect my thoughts and get my plan in place. Hah! Remember that Twilight Zone episode circa 30-ish years ago? When time stopped altogether? Everyone was just frozen in place. Kind of like that – if I could wave a wand that would be my first move; in one fell swoop I’d stop the clock and restart it once I had my shit together. (But does anyone ever really have theirs together? Their shit, I mean?)

I recognize there are larger forces at work here, orchestrating some of my moves and pulling me towards the things my soul desires. I do have an abundance of faith which is keeping me sane during this transition period. Yet I know intuitively that my intentions for the future will eventually be raw and exposed. This vast area of uncertainty – will it be a thing or won’t it? – is my usual jam. Just get out there and make it happen, type of thing. Naturally, my “I’m-super-capable” attitude has resulted in some full-on flops. Like that time I thought we were the kind of people who wanted to sell everything, buy an RV, throw the kids and dog in it and boogie on down to South America.

That actually happened, lol. RV purchased. Rogue unloading of personal possessions and irresponsible disengaging from life did not. Payments made towards the RV? 18. Number of adventures had in the RV? 1.

To keep myself grounded and for some measure of accountability, I’m laying out my Blank Slate game plan right here, right now. I’m aware it won’t be as straight a line is as this implies. Note: the irony of the year being 2020 and what that typically implies in terms of vision is not lost on me, in my muddled ideas for the future. OMG.

Sam’s 2020 Blank Slate

  1. Breathe: Jan 18th
  2. Don’t panic! Jan 18th
  3. Write. Every. Single. Day.
  4. Launch your new website, shewalksthewalk.com
  5. Work like crazy on your offering.
  6. Send it out into the world, mid to late fall 2020.
  7. Resist putting any label on yourself.

Regarding that last one, my 16-year old daughter has asked me several times what I will be. This makes me chuckle and scowl simultaneously. I love our need to make sense of people and contain their vast scope in a box. Don’t get me wrong, I do it, too. This is this, that is that. We are incessant with our labelling.

Thus. I’ve responded with the best word I could find – a kind of catch-all, since I don’t really have an answer that will satisfy her naïve teenage understanding of the world.

“Well, Piper, I’m going to be an entrepreneur.” Her response was so fitting,

“So, you’re going to preneur???”

“Yup.”

Here’s to 2020, to the Blank Slate we are all given in various facets of our lives, if only we open our hearts and eyes to see them. May your New Year’s Blank Slate be fruitful, exciting, growth-oriented, boundary-blowing and most importantly? Entirely yours, no justifying necessary.  

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