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How I Hit The Reset Button On My Life

Maybe it's time for you to do the same.

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illustration of woman going through closet and throwing away old clothes
Delphine Lee
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At long last, the cherry blossoms — my personal ambassadors of hope — have arrived. I have to admit the annual return of color to Washington, D.C., never gets old. “Every spring is the only spring, a perpetual astonishment,” astutely noted British novelist Ellis Peters.

The explosions of pink cotton candy randomly goosing the dreary brown landscape put a spring in my step, too. There’s something about this season that inspires my perennial rebirth. As the tulip and daffodil buds stretch toward the light, I feel that I also have the capacity to grow in new ways.

Not that I have a choice. I have unexpectedly gone from married with two cute kids and an exciting job to divorced, then widowed — if an ex can leave one widowed, which I argue they can when two kids are involved — and jobless.

The open-ended freedom is both exhilarating (I can do anything!) and daunting (Where do I start?). The balance depends on the day. The key to swinging it toward thrilling is filling my schedule with enriching activities before all my time gets nattered away with tasks, chores and obligations.

My daily schedule has several standing “meetings.” The first is with my spiritual mentors, Deepak and Oprah, for 20 minutes of meditation. The second is a three-hour block of uninterrupted writing. Frankly, some days it’s a waste of time. I move paragraphs around, making an incoherent mess of the previous day’s work. Other days it’s Big Magic — as Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert calls it — and the words just flow. Either way, it’s my job to get my butt in the chair and apply myself while my energy is fresh.

Most days I have a lunch date with nature. Both my dog and I can attest to the therapeutic value of “forest bathing,” the Japanese healing practice that that’s actually fancy talk for walking in the woods.

This season is especially inspiring. Eschewing the crowds of tourists at the Tidal Basin, we head to the hidden jewel of Kenwood, the Bethesda neighborhood where the streets are double-lined with over 1,200 pink and white Yoshino trees. As we stroll in the crisp, dappled sunlight, the street looks shot in lace.

I pay close attention not just to nature’s outrageous finery, but to the many walks of life who are out appreciating the ephemeral beauty while it lasts. The only cell phones in use are the ones taking photos. A runner halts midstride to help a couple immortalize the moment. A grandma shimmies out of her wheelchair and steadies herself on a tree trunk to be part of a family portrait. When the planet brings us its best, humanity, it seems, responds in kind.

As spring shrugs off winter, I also feel compelled to adopt a less-is-more lifestyle. Our church’s annual rummage sale offers the perfect excuse to purge my closet. I try on jacket after dress after shirt, vetting more ruthlessly as I go. After an hour I notice several dead personas in heaps on the floor.

I lose much of the corporate attire. What’s left behind is brightly hued and bohemian. These embellished gypsy clothes are fun but faded, and too girly for the person I am now. Finally, I relinquish the aspirational, designer size XSs. Perhaps it’s time to stick with the walking, Pilates and portion control, and learn to accept myself at a more realistic size rather than torture myself with the shoulda-coulda-wouldas.

Speaking of those, I’ve also committed myself to eliminating the habits and crutches that no longer serve, like sugar. Sweet not only is my favorite flavor, but also has been my go-to self-soother for as long as I can remember. But a little is too much, so I’ve quit altogether. It’s true that nothing tastes as good as self-discipline feels.

Recently I had lunch with some former colleagues, all defectors from the same organization. We shared dim sum, laughs, and career updates. I noticed that I wasn’t envious of those who quickly found new employment or who were globetrotting from one fabulous destination to the next.

I’m right where I belong, in the trenches with my kids, working on myself, being actively grateful and writing about the hits and misses so that someone else might relate or learn from my mishaps — like mistaking a mugger for a suitor in the IKEA parking lot, as I once did.

I’m learning, and that’s the point. Pressing the reset button, whether it follows major life upheaval or simply a change in seasons, is the opportunity to laser focus on the game-changing questions: What would I like to see more of (or less of) in my life? What goals can I identify that will bring me a greater sense of joy and meaning? How can I show up more authentically and be a better mother/writer/friend, including to myself? And when I’m not, sit with the discomfort of not automatically knowing the answers without reaching for a brownie.

Spring reminds me that, in due time, the answers will flower. As Anaïs Nin said, “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” It’s only natural.