The Adult Hangover

I woke up this morning with what I’ve decided is the new version of a hangover. My daily, obnoxious alarm rang out at 5:30 a.m. and was promptly snoozed…3 times. Somehow, the glue fairy must have snuck into our room during the night and securely fastened me to the bed. I could not peel myself off that mattress with all my might. And whatever mumbled, post-awakened conversation I had with Mr. Rathroy has been wiped from my memory. Did the dog get fed this morning? I’m still not sure. I feel fairly certain that I showered with my eyes closed and don’t think for a second that I bothered to wash my hair today. I was simultaneously starving and averse to food – coffee was the only thing I wanted – and putting on shoes was torture. Did heels seriously always hurt this bad?! I dragged my ass to an office that was completely empty and proceeded to march through my day. I’m an adult now – with a career and a house and a dog and a hangover. Only problem is, there was no alcohol involved.

As I creep toward 30, so does my social media feed. My entire network is making the transition into real adulthood. Not the adulthood that I panicked about when I turned 20 because my teens were officially over, and not the adulthood I stared at blankly when I graduated college (because really, does college prepare you for adulthood at all? Personally, I was at my most immature in college…). We all seem to be slowly absorbing and experiencing individual things that cumulatively make us grown ups – one wedding or baby’s first birthday at a time, and suddenly we’re slammed with the realization that we’re now the adults that some of us swore we’d never be.

Last night, rather than earning a hangover with booze and dancing and poor decisions about late night taco bell, I was at a work event. I mingled and scanned the silent auction and walked like 7 miles around the venue in heels. I even presented an award to someone on stage. It was a seriously grown up evening. But after a 13 hour day and not nearly enough sleep, I fear there’s not enough coffee in the world to pull me through this adult hangover.

Everyone talks about how much harder it is to deal with hangovers as you get older. I’ll admit that I’ve had some bad ones in my day. You know, the kind where you lay on the couch half dead all day trying to force down some ice water and pizza without gagging? And they have, admittedly, gotten worse as I get older. The open bar at the last wedding we attended almost killed me. But this…this exhausted, dehydration induced non-functioning adult hangover is maddening. Where are the funny stories or ridiculous pictures or confidence that you’re just enjoying life while you can? You know what picture I took last night? This one right after presenting an award to a wonderful colleague in my field.

Tree Hero Awards

And as lovely as that photo is and for how great the work event was, doesn’t it just make the 22 year-old inside cringe a little? I mean, if I’m going to be nonfunctional for an entire day, I’d at least like to have earned it with Jameson.

But, I guess I’ll eventually have to accept that I can’t stop adulthood from rushing toward me. And truthfully, I’ve been enjoying it more than I thought I would. There’s brunch and meaningful careers and silly spouse humor (mostly because Mr. Rathroy brings it to the table) and, if you’re lucky, disposable income so you can do things like go to Patagonia.

Patagonia

So while I’m not particularly overjoyed that working too hard gives me a hangover now, I can’t complain about working hard on something I love. Let’s be honest, I can’t complain about any of this at all.

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Powers and Passions

Well, this was unexpected. In the span of 48 hours, I applied for, interviewed, and was offered a job. And even though I went into the interview thinking the job wouldn’t be for me, I was severely torn when I got the offer.

The process had been a whirlwind and they expressed such excitement over my application that the situation immediately escalated in my mind. I began to imagine my future with the company – full of pencil skirts, hand shakes and promotions in the heart of downtown. Truly, the opposite of my current path – full of muddy boots, low paychecks, and uncertainties. Wallowing on the floor of our living room, trying to decide between the two jobs, I watched my life divide into two possibilities in front of me.

After hours of conversations, pro-con lists, and even tears, I finally circled back around to the basics – the job that I was currently being offered was not what I wanted. Imagination and potential aside, the reality of the situation lent itself to a very easy decision. So when I got the call with an updated offer, I felt prepared. What I had not prepared for was a conference call with the position’s supervisor and the Executive Director of the organization selling me on the imagination and potential in this job. These two, successful, leading women called me to very earnestly persuade me to join them in a path filled with opportunity (and pencil skirts and promotions).

And I lost it.

Which direction should I choose? Where should I be steering my career? What if an opportunity like this never comes again? I circled through the exact same conversations, the same “what ifs” and the same wallowing. And then my mind exploded. I’ve spent my career educating and inspiring youth to become future environmental leaders. Was it time for me to realize that maybe I was one of them? Maybe this was my chance to kick “saving the world” up a notch and lead an organization into the next generation of environmental battlefields. But, instead of using my passion for education and direct interaction, I would be using my personality powers and morphing into a professional event organizer, fundraiser, and shmoozer. And holy hell would I be good at it. Almost everyone I talked to mentioned how perfectly suited I would be for that role – how naturally those things come to me. There was no question that I would excel at it, so was I just afraid to take the plunge?

I’m certainly no stranger to fear, and I have no problem calling it by name. I was very much afraid – of change, of failure, of making the wrong decision. But what I feared more than anything else on the list was turning away from my passion.

An amazing friend, who was also the first person to hire me out of college and catapulted me into the world of environmental education, talked through every step with me. We analyzed the nuances, the possibilities, the feelings and then we discovered it. It was the difference between my powers and my passions.

I possess certain personality traits – my boss qualities if you will – that make me really good at things this job was asking for. But those powers are innate and while I’ve chosen to own them, I didn’t really ask for them. What I have asked for, and what I strive every day for, is to make the world a better place by igniting a love of nature in others. My passions drive me to ignore salary ranges and promotion potential for the promise of watching a person realize for the first time that they are part of something so much bigger than themselves. My passions have caused me to chase ducks and hug trees and work weekends and suffer from farmer’s tans. They’re the entire reason that I work at all (I mean, aside from bills and stuff, but you get the idea). The path I’ve chosen is the only reason I have any faith left in humanity – if I can make them feel why it’s worth saving, maybe they’ll help me save it.

Chasing Ducks

So, while I’m still young, while I have Mr. Rathroy to support me (in my decisions and our finances), and while I succumb to tears when I consider diverting from this path I’ve chosen, I’m going to push forward. I can always fall back on my personality powers, but not pursuing my passions for as long as possible is a choice I would forever regret. Maybe one day I’ll have the opportunity to combine them both and save the world single handedly. Until then, I’ll be out chasing ducks and hugging trees and watching other people light up when they do it too.

Loving Trees

The Lion, The Witch, and The Entryway Bench

It has been a week, folks. A week that started with me reciting, “Kelly and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day,” on Monday morning and feels like it may never end.

I’m transitioning out of two of my jobs and back into just the one full time original job. Which, I guess in this awful land of grown ups, just means that I get more work to do. If someone could do the math on that and let me know how it makes any sense at all, that would be great.

We’re also in the throes of a monster furniture build. Good friends contributed pretty heavily to our electronics collection (i.e. Xbox) so when they mentioned they wanted an entry way bench, we were all like, “Tradesies?”

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This project has raised the bar – for our tool collection, our skill set, our patience, and our tolerance for working after work. Between Mr. Rathroy’s creative vision (and extreme talent) and my organizational brainpower, we created a design, calendared our deliverables, delegated actions, and went full-bore into the business of building. And it has been no joke.

Our evenings are filled with sawdust and power tools. And with 8:30 p.m. dinners and bedtimes that are way too late for us. And since Mr. Rathroy’s techniques often lead to artisan joints and precision routing that can only be done by one person, I support however I can.

Router Sawdust

I man the shop-vac. I round corners with the hand-sander (and they are smooth corners, let me tell you). I pick up all the things that he throws down throughout the house after his office job because he needs to get to work in the garage as quickly as possible. And I cook. And oh sweet Jesus do I hate defaulting to that stereotype.

Hand Sanding

Because I’ve had a more flexible schedule, I usually take it upon myself to plan the menu and do the shopping. And I’m usually head chef when it comes time to cook, but I always know that Mr. Rathroy will help anytime (and has been known to kick me out of the kitchen completely for throwing a tantrum about how much I hate being stuck in the kitchen). But with my sub-par woodworking skills, and a quickly approaching deadline, it’s clear that my service to our marital partnership is needed elsewhere. And I made it up until tonight.

Routing

Tonight, I ordered pizza. And while it soothed my rage toward our stovetop, it did not remove the dark cloud brooding over my head. The dark cloud that made me snap at Mr. Rathroy and loose patience with Piper. The dark cloud that has been hovering over my optimism and makes me resent this bench, our tiny garage, and even my husband’s work-ethic because they’re all taking away the relaxation time with Mr. Rathroy that I so look forward to each day. They’re all the reason that I only get to see my husband through clouds of sawdust and the reason we can’t have a conversation because his mind is too pre-occupied with the details of his design. It’s the bench’s fault that the pizza was so expensive and that my dog barks at the mailman and that I’m still tired when I wake up in the morning. Right? RIGHT?!

The Hustle

I wish I could blame this project, but I know that’s not a real solution. We chose to take this on, just like we always choose the most challenging of all the options. We bought an old house. We got married in the forest during wildfire season. We honeymooned in one of the harshest places in the world. And it just is not always sunshine and butterflies. Sometimes it’s tense, scary, infuriating and unbelievably frustrating. Sometimes I have meltdowns and sometimes Mr. Rathroy gets tired of dealing with them. And sometimes, he finds me stress eating spoonfuls of Nutella before bed.

But after each adventure is over, we’re immediately looking for the next one, and I don’t think it’s because we’re gluttons for punishment. I think it’s because we love to learn, love to create, love to challenge ourselves, and love to strengthen our relationship through working together. Most of the time, we laugh at our stupid mistakes, we dance when a good song comes on, we find the fun in the work we’re doing together. The sunshine and butterflies might not always be obvious, but you can create them if you try.

Priorities 101

Welcome to your crash course in adult priorities. The class is Pass/Fail and there will be a test every single day. Some days, you won’t even know it’s a test, and on those days you can rest assured that you are failing.

For the last few weeks, I’ve been on a parkour course between the workplace and the home place – trying to keep a handle on the revolving door of adult life. You mean I have to do laundry again this week? And why are people still sending work e-mails at 8:00pm? Nothing ever settles or stays clean or is laid to rest and I’m left with an ever increasing list of tasks that need tending. And on the opposite team are my beloved Mr. Rathroy, our dogchild, my new favorite workout routine, and the oh so anticipated drama of House of Cards. Not to mention quiet time that a person might use for some light reading or blog writing…

Despite the juggle routine, I had been feeling pretty smug about my pass to fail ratio these last few weeks. Sure, I haven’t blogged in a while, and our house is a tad less tidy than I would prefer, but I was killing it at work, finding time to exercise, and everyone had clean underwear. That sounds like winning to me. That is, until a particularly rough Monday landed me and Mr. Rathroy on the couch with beers and a couple House of Cards episodes. Normally, I would allocate that time in my mind as a deserved break or fun bonding time with my husband, until I realized the next morning that there was no food in the house.

Mr. Rathroy would have Carl’s Jr. for lunch the next day (not that he minded), and I would spiral into guilt-town for spending an entire evening on my ass instead of taking care of something, anything productive. Where were my priorities? And from there, the snowball grew. It chased me down my mountain of to-dos like a bad Indiana Jones dream until I found myself on the floor of our bedroom, huddled in the corner next to the outlet so that my phone could charge while I held it to my ear to discuss a work emergency at 9:30pm. Smug doesn’t last long in the corner…

I’ve been hearing a lot about the rule of thirds lately. It’s been applied to everything from social media posts to personal finances, and it might be time that it applies to my own priorities. I still feel like I’m being chased by the insatiable snowball at times, but I’m hoping that setting goals and standards for task hierarchy will help me stop running and start accomplishing.

1/3 Work

1/3 Home

1/3 Fun

This is, so far, just a theory. I am currently not the leading expert on setting appropriate priorities as indicated by my muddling through these words after an 11 hour work day on a laptop in bed with a snoring husband next to me. There are a lot of things about this current picture that would change according to the Rule of Thirds, and that’s exactly what I’m hoping for. Whether it stands the test of time as the greatest Priorities 101 lesson remains to be seen. But it will be a shift toward balance, and I think all of the thirds in my life will appreciate that.

A Swift Kick in the Ass

I finished my book today. I sat down to read through what promised to be another insightful chapter only to realize that it would be the last. Only pages upon pages of references would follow this chapter, and then what?

Sheryl Sandberg_Lean In_Book Cover

For the last few weeks, I’ve been thoughtfully and ravenously making my way through Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In. It’s been a daily dose of inspiration, motivation, and learning about my own inner boss. Since starting the book, I’ve made long term career goals for the first time in my life, we’ve started shifting toward an equal division of labor in our household (because I finally let go of the need to do everything myself), and I’ve even registered for my first continued education course since graduating college in 2007.

It’s been a big couple of weeks.

So when I turned over the last page of narrative, I went a little pale. The Acknowledgements and References at the end of the book made it look like there was still so much to read – so much wisdom to gain and mental power to build. But, alas, it was over. I had underlined and dog-eared my way to the end. And now I was done.

In a daze, I surveyed the room, looking for something, anything with meaning that could fill the unexpected void. I sent a text to Mr. Rathroy knowing that he would sympathize or joke or somehow make it better. And boy, did he deliver.

Text_Book

He responded immediately and my eyes welled up with tears before I could even open my lock screen. It could be literal. It could be metaphorical. It could be anything I wanted it to be, and that’s exactly the point. I needed the swift kick in the ass that Sandberg’s words gave me, but all of the follow-up was of my own doing. I’ve started making moves and leaning into my own career and for the first time in a long time, I feel like I’m capable of creating whatever life I want.

So, yes. I will write my own book. It may never be in print, but it will be a powerful, real life example. And I hope it helps inspire someone else to create the same for themselves.

The Plight of Pretty Girls

Trying to write a blog post in a coffee shop on a rainy Sunday afternoon is a serious test of my focus powers.

Two women are speaking emphatically about something and the only word I keep picking up is, “lesbians.” For some reason, I keep smelling cocktail olives. Like, really overwhelming vinegar and I’m pretty sure my mocha shouldn’t contain either of those ingredients. And espresso machines are really loud.

And finally, two men have been sitting on the comfy coffee house chairs interviewing a series of women. I have no idea what the interview is for, but their body language is fascinating and, if I’m not careful, I get caught staring at them.

Both men are probably in their 30s, dressed casually, and not overwhelmingly attractive or unattractive. And the first woman they interviewed was a twenty-something, smiley, long-haired blonde. I have no idea what they were discussing but, boy were those men leaning into whatever she had to say. Lots of agreement, smiles, and hand gestures and the men were dominating the conversation. As I watched the interaction, I found myself wincing and thinking about how hard it is for attractive women to be taken seriously. I agree with all of the studies (and have seen it happen in real life) stating that attractive people have it easier in life – they tend to succeed more naturally because their looks become an unfair (and hopefully subconscious) advantage. But, having things handed to you because you’re pretty is not the same as being taken seriously. Women can be pretty and smart. Beautiful and boss material. And those two traits shouldn’t influence each other. But when a room full of men deciding someone’s professional fate just smile and turn off their ears, it marginalizes their abilities, their brains, their accomplishments.

I know that the plight of attractive women is about as popular as the argument that young, white males are unfairly pressured to succeed. Poor, beautiful girls. Life is so easy and all you want is to prove yourself with brains in this world. I don’t expect everyone to get it, or care, but watching these coffee shop interviews unfold is just too interesting not to provide commentary.

The next interviewee is equally smiley. She’s using lots of hand gestures and gives no hesitation after the questions. This time, the men are leaned back in their leather chairs. Both with hands on their faces – stroking a goatee or resting their head on their hands – and legs crossed. They smile and talk less than in the previous interview but are taking notes this time while the woman answers their questions. It looks more like an interview and less like a date – and the woman looks less like a high school cheerleader (sorry for the stereotype in a post about how unfair female stereotypes are…).

There’s a third woman in the hot seat now and I’m so preoccupied with large-scale physical biases in society that I can’t watch anymore. Reflecting on my own professional journey, I realize I’ve benefited from unfair advantage. I’m pretty sure I’ve been hired, promoted, and mentored before because I reminded the male decision makers of their daughters. Since before I was a teenager, I learned to play to non-verbal communication and that my smile would work faster than my words (which is disheartening because I sure love words). It’s knowledge that I’ve been working to unlearn as I progress in the workforce and try to let my accomplishments and ambition speak for themselves. A smile should go a long way in this world, but it should go the same length no matter who’s face it’s on.

Life Among the Trees

In the 4th grade, we did a huge rainforest project. Each student selected one flower, one animal, one fungus, and one bug that lived in the rainforest and researched it extensively (as extensively as a 4th grader could research before the internet was invented). Our finished product was a life size rainforest display in our school cafeteria for open house. Complete with a rainforest sound track, water misters, and 3D artistic renditions of each researched critter, this project was the peak of my elementary school career. It was the reason that I traveled alone to the jungles of Costa Rica and one of many motivations for my two trips to Africa. It’s the reason that Madagascar is still on my bucket list and why I appreciate decomposers like the dung beetle.  But it’s not the only experience that pushed me to be a professional in the environmental field.

From being told to go play outside when I was bored to camping trips with my family, I was repeatedly exposed to the outdoor world and how much bigger it was than me. It wasn’t until I became an adult that I started thinking the world revolved around me (my parents might contest that based on some of my teen years). As a kid, I understood that I was a small part of something really big. Something worth having around. Something that made me feel magical and calm and happy.

Tree Planting

After a stint working with ducks that taught me how to do tick checks and made me face my fear of fish (seriously), good timing and a solid reference got me a job with trees. I knew that I was passionate enough about broad environmental issues that I could peddle trees no problem, even if I didn’t have specific arboricultural experience. It was expected to be a 6 month, grant funded position so I tried not to get too attached. Two years later, I’m still peddling trees and it’s given me similar feelings of magic, calm and happiness that I felt when I was a kid. It’s been obtuse and difficult to pinpoint, so I just enjoy the dirt under my nails and the smile in my heart.

Tree planting hands

I talk about trees all day, every day. I notice trees no matter where I am. I judge entire cities based on their trees. Mr. Rathroy is sick to death of trees. Because it’s my job. But, while I couldn’t articulate the driving force behind it for a long time, I really REALLY care about trees above and beyond my job duties. And yesterday, I finally learned why.

I attended a 9 hour workshop about trees yesterday. Yeah, we talked about trees for 9 hours. I met people doing research on the economics of wildfire (an issue near and dear to my drought-ridden Californian heart), people that have received national awards for their work in climate change, people that cared even more about trees than me. I learned about research that links faster rates of recovery from stress to a view of trees. I learned that life expectancy can be predicted based on the amount of available green space and tree canopy in your zip code. I learned that trees can improve your focus, prevent asthma, reduce crime, and benefit your psychological and physical well-being. I saw numbers and graphs and references and scientific proof of how important trees are to our communities.

Staking a young tree

And after the 9 hour science based workshop, I went to a 3 hour dinner with speakers, board members, and executive committees to debrief on the day. After we settled around the table with wine and ravioli, we were asked to individually share our “tree story.” Having worked in the tree world for a couple years, of course I knew my tree story – a peach tree that my parents planted where I sat for many afternoons reading aloud and sharing stories with its leaves. But as we went around the table, I was amazed at the breadth and depth of others’ stories – trees connected people at this table to their marriages, their parents that passed away, their childhood home, their favorite memories. And after all of the science and all of the logic behind the importance of trees, the most important fact of the day was that trees make you feel. Whether it’s magic or calm or happy or any other emotion, trees are deeply rooted in our hearts.

Not everyone is interested in the facts and figures, but everyone has a tree story. Maybe it’s a tree from your youth. Maybe it’s a tree that you have yet to meet. Whatever it is, honor the memory and the emotion that it brings you. Plant a tree. Hug a tree. Read aloud to a tree. I bet that if you reconnect with trees, you’ll feel that magic all over again.

What’s your tree story?

California redwoods

For extra inspiration, check out this video from one of the tree organizations that I work for. I even have a cameo in it!