Today, a bride and dear friend asked me for advice

My friends at the beautiful bride's engagement party. I cannot wait to celebrate their wedding with these wonderful humans in my life.

My friends at the beautiful bride's engagement party. I cannot wait to celebrate their wedding with these wonderful humans in my life.

This morning, a soon-to-be-bride who's a dear friend asked me on the phone as we were working on her day-of timeline, "any other advice? I've never done this getting married thing before!" I laughed and gave her some trivial advice about the wedding day itself, but the truth is, the wisdom I have to share at this season in my life isn't bright trivialities. This year has been the hardest of my life, dealing with love, loss, running out of time, forgiveness, and knowing myself. I've started at least half a dozen times in the past year to write about where life has taken me, but haven't succeeded yet. A quick rundown of events: 

  • 18 months ago, I leaned in and took a promotion I wasn't ready for but seemed like a natural, dreamed-for next step. Professionally, it was the hardest thing I'd ever done. Every day at my office since has been a struggle.
  • At about the same time as I took the promotion (impeccable timing on my part), I started finally facing the music that my long-term relationship was in real trouble, and started trying to fix it.
  • 12 months ago almost exactly, that relationship ended as I'd known it in a therapist's office on a beautiful sunny Monday afternoon. The buzzing sound in my head didn't stop for three days. A month later, I moved into an apartment on my own again. It was the hardest thing, at that point, that I'd ever experienced.
  • 10 months ago (give or take), my dad was diagnosed with cancer. 3 months ago, he successfully completed radiation.
  • 9 months ago, a dear friend my own age died of complications from alcoholism.
  • 2 months ago (just 3 days before I was scheduled to fly to Ohio for my first visit in two years) my mom called to say they were at the hospital, and were planning on life-flighting my dad to a major medical center. He died of an embolism before they could. It beat out the loss of my relationship as the hardest thing I'd ever experienced. 

...all of this happened to me while keeping up a successful photography business. And with a few blips, you'd never know it from my online presence. That's a big part of why I'm sharing now.

The last time I saw my friend Eric (far right), in California last summer before he died.

The last time I saw my friend Eric (far right), in California last summer before he died.

The 20th anniversary gala at my office, after my promotion

The 20th anniversary gala at my office, after my promotion

So here it is, my imperfect narrative of the past year. A photographer I like and admire asked me the other day via email, "how do you do it all?" I wrote back, "poorly! Every day is a struggle, and I feel like something is always getting shortchanged." I guess, overall, that's why I'm sharing. Many days, we're all just barely holding it together. But we are holding it together, and this little pale blue dot we all exist on keeps spinning. And I'm so, so grateful. Amid everything that's happened this past year, the following has also happened:

  • The last conversation I ever had with my dad was a loving, positive, guilt-free one, on Father's Day
  • When we most needed it, community rallied around my family, and then my mom and me, around my dad's illness and death. When he was diagnosed, I asked on social media for people to send him postcards of encouragement. When I went home after his death, mom shared them with me, and how much they meant to my dad. I counted -- there were over 80 cards and letters, some from friends of friends I've never even met. Holy. Shit.
  • Asked to coffee to give career advice to a friend, I stumbled into helping catalyze a tiny community of professional peers -- women I meet for coffee once a month to lift each other up and swap professional struggles and solutions. These women remind me I don't have to do it all alone. 
  • I've been on a few amazingly, deliciously not-right-for-me dates (and a few good ones, too) that made for good stories and helped me remember that I do know what I want for myself.
  • I spent two unbelievable weeks in Iceland and Paris with my dear, longtime friend Gabby. International travel isn't a big deal to many of the people in my life, but I'd never travelled without Kian before, and it was incredibly empowering and uplifting to travel with Gabby and have such an amazing time.
  • My relationship with Kian has transmuted with time and effort on both our parts into a healthier friendship, complete with its own challenges, but I'm so grateful we both put in the work to not give up on it entirely 
  • I met (and photographed) my best friend's daughter. Talk about a life milestone. Larkin nestled her way into my heart way more deeply and immediately than I'd expected, and I'm now one of those people who actually looks forward to an abundance of others' baby photos. 
  • I've made new friendships of a kind and depth it's rare to develop as an adult, and deepened others in unexpected and awesome ways. 
  • I am rekindling a closer relationship with my mom than I've had since I left home for college 15 years ago.

It has been a season of struggle, and loss, and struggle. It's been difficult, but also a growing season. I've learned so much. I'm not sure it's ready-made advice, but for what it's worth, here's the advice I've gathered for myself over the past 18 months. 

  • I don't always have the time I think I have. Time is finite.
  • Stop waiting to do things until I know the right thing to do or say. 
  • Relationships don't work with people who aren't willing to commit to the relationship (any relationship, whatever kind). Myself included. No amount of wishing on my end will change this.
  • A huge part of making things work is just not giving up on them, no matter how hard they get.
  • Sometimes I have to do things when I'm not ready. I'll never be ready. So I might as well jump in. It's okay to get it wrong the first 2 or 3 times. There will be consequences to screwing it up, but they're usually better consequences than not doing it at all.
  • Things don't always turn out the way I expected, or a way I'd even fathomed was possible. But that's not always bad. If they hadn't turned out they way the did, I wouldn't be where I am.
  • Take care of my body, and listen to it. If I listen, it'll almost always tell me if I'm okay or not, and help me take care of myself. My body almost always knows I'm in trouble before my brain does.
  • The road to hell really is paved with good intentions. Unfortunately, good intentions aren't enough, and what gets measured is outcomes. 
  • I won't always know when I'm hurting people. But when I realize I have, I should apologize. It may not fix it, but I should apologize anyway.
  • Giving out second chances is almost always worth the effort; but I can't expect to receive as many second chances as I give, because I won't always get them. Cherish the second chances I do get.
  • Love comes in so many forms. Cherish and cultivate them all, including the unexpected and even unlooked-for ones.
  • Given half a chance, people will surprise me in the best of ways. 
  • The people who really matter don't value how much time I spend working. Even the very best, most fulfilling jobs aren't as important as the people I choose to care about. 
  • Gratitude is the single most transformative human emotion. Practice it.
Iceland in June.

Iceland in June.

My mom and I wandered serendipitously wandered into this exhibit at the Hirschhorn.

My mom and I wandered serendipitously wandered into this exhibit at the Hirschhorn.