by Michelle Pierce Hamilton
I recently had the opportunity to step outside of my life for a little while, which afforded me some important reflection. It is no secret that I am a driven passionate person, and I move through life at high speed, multi-tasking, multi-jobbing, reaching for several, sometime quite diverse goals simultaneously. I am usually surprisingly adept at juggling these, along with time for my family, friends and community. As I reflect back, I can see that I’ve always been this way, it’s just that the jobs and the priorities have changed along the way.
This year, more than any other recently, I have found myself at a tipping point. The best of multi-movers (even one who is a tea drinking, yoga practicing, meditating, RHN and Reiki Master), experience times where life compounds to the point of burnout. I could feel it in my body and my close family and friends could feel it in my energy and my spirit. So, in the interest of self-care, I called a needed ‘time out’ on my life. For 7 days I unplugged from all work and responsibilities. I slept. I read. I chopped and juiced. I lay in the sun and walked in the sand, allowing waves to wash over my feet. I walked, biked, sipped excellent tea, wine and beer. I laughed, painted and ‘danced it out’ a few times. Just me, my husband, my kids, my dog, my iTunes playlists, podcasts and a favourite book. It was amazing to me that after 7 days, I felt as if I had only just started to decompress. I could easily have welcomed another 7 days to fully recharge. Alas, my life is not like that.
As we packed up and headed home, a message from an old friend and colleague, reminded me I had one more Hail Mary day in my pocket – Coldplay concert plans made months earlier I had completely forgotten about. I happily left my long ‘to do’ list tucked out of mind for one more day, as I hopped on a via train to Toronto.
They say the only thing constant in the Universe, is Change.
It’s a funny thing for me, traveling to Toronto by train nowadays. I traveled the Toronto-Windsor Via corridor two to three times a week for almost twenty years and almost always in business class. The Via 1 staff used to recognize me and many knew me by name, my preferences, and went out of their way to make me feel special and cared for. On this trip, as I found my seat in coach, a woman approached to scan my ticket. We immediately recognized each other and commented on my past life as a “Via 1 regular”. She shared that she no longer works that car and has moved to a better schedule for her family. I noted these were some of the same reasons I had changed my job and schedule several years ago. She very kindly offered me a vacant seat with a table where I could spread out my things be more comfortable since no one else was scheduled to get on and take that spot. That was a nice throwback to the VIP treatment of years gone by. I graciously accepted the offer. It was a very pleasant ride.
They say the only thing constant in the Universe, is Change. The train cars have been updated (which was long over due), the menu and service has been overhauled and I think most, if not all of these changes are for the better. Arriving in downtown Toronto, so much was the same, but so much has also changed. I noticed so many new businesses, that it seemed to me, downtown Toronto as a whole had developed a fresh new face, and a younger vibe. Perhaps that is because it has been a solid eight years since I lived this lifestyle. It feels a minute ago and forever ago at the same time. The only thing that hasn’t changed, is that Union Station was under construction when I left, and it is still under construction now.
It feels like a minute ago and forever ago at the same time.
My friend and I enjoyed catching up over some food, wine and then the concert. It was a truly great experience. At the end of the night I went to the home of another friend to stay over, and enjoy a quick breakfast and another quick catch-up visit before boarding the train home. I love where this friend lives. Riverdale is an eclectic urban-suburban neighbourhood that oozes character and style, akin to the level of coolness you imagine when watch all those really hip people in movies living in the trendy boroughs of New York. Yeah, it’s like that. I love staying there. We ate a delicious (vegan) breakfast in a hipster cool spot that lives up to the neighbourhood image. Since I had plenty of time before my train, I decided to enjoy the walk to Union Station instead of ordering an Uber. It was on that walk back to Union, back toward my daily life and my long ‘to do list’, that the dramatic pause of my ‘time out’ came undone. As I wandered past old haunts and places where I used to carry out a different daily grind, saw myself as I am today, in the shadow of a starkly different lifestyle that I left behind.
At the entrance of Riverdale park, a group of seniors practicing their morning Tai Chi, swayed in perfect unison. At its end, I returned to the streets, ending eventually on Queen St. E, which I turned up to work toward downtown. I passed the Berkley Church, reminded of a grand end-of-project celebration I had planned there. Soon I came upon other spots co-workers and I used to hang out to decompress from long stressful meeting-packed days on relentlessly difficult projects. Arriving downtown, increasingly familiar sights, sounds and smells rushed my senses: Yonge St, Adelaide & Richmond, TD Centre, several Starbucks and Timothy’s. I had to stop and think about directions, which struck me as odd because I used to know these streets so well, and move about them on autopilot every week. I remembered the two rules of thumb to getting your bearings here: 1) to find south, find the lake 2) if you’re not sure where you are, look up and find the CN tower or other notable buildings.
I saw myself as I am today, in the shadow of a starkly different lifestyle that I left behind.
On Adelaide I entered the PATH to retrace my most familiar route through the Concourse. Some anchor businesses remained, but as many were new, and there was noticeably more presence of healthy, vegan friendly kiosks. A sign of the times I guess, for as trendy as it would have been several years ago, I’d have bet a business like that would have found it hard to survive. Today, in contrast, I’m sure they do extremely well (and let’s face it – a majority of the corporate bots walking the Concourse now, were only in high school eight years ago!).
The concourse hosted a mix of tourists and other non-working folk, but still there were a healthy number of power suits hustling about. It was so strange to realize I used to be one of those hustling power suits with coffee and bagel in hand. Yet, here I was now, in rolled up jean jeggings and an “I love NYC” t-shirt, listening the “Rich Roll podcast” with ear buds in air-dried messy hair and sipping a freshly squeezed 10oz carrot/apple juice. I stood there a minute, watching avatars of my former self. I was struck by how different I have become, and how completely comfortable I now feel, in both my grubbed out clothes and my make-up-less skin.
Measure yourself not by how far you are from your goal, but by how far you have come.
As I sipped my juice, an apparition of the former me whizzed past in her power suit, speaking assertively to the air through a Bluetooth earpiece. She stopped for coffee without halting the air conversation, yet managed the transaction with hand signals, nodding gratefully to the barista for their comprehension. She was likely heading to a meeting in the next building. My avatar looked stressed, wound rather tightly and slightly uncomfortable in those shoes, but no doubt she wears them anyway because they totally rock that suit. She clearly worked so hard to look good today and to keep up with the pace of her demanding job. She’s probably really good at what she does. I wondered though, how much joy she feels? Memories of soul crushing stress and mother’s guilt came rushing back, and I felt sorry for my avatar, and my former self. I wished I could stop to tell her to take better care of herself. Soon, the irony of that thought made me crack a smile, remembering that I was here on this very day because of my recent brush with burnout. I may resemble more of a middle-aged hippie than corporate bot now, but I guess, I’m still wound pretty tight sometimes! 😉
Regardless, the difference in me then versus now, is an amazing juxtaposition. I may not always exude the Zen and togetherness I wish I could at times, but I have moved the needle greatly in the right direction. Like most of us, I remain an earnest work-in-progress. I have more of my priorities straight, I spend more time with people and work that genuinely bring me joy and not just pursuing a paycheck. I try to walk and bike more, and commute less. Instead of trying to impress others, I spend more time trying to impress myself and be someone I’m proud of as whole person rather than career-driven. I turn my cell phone completely off sometimes, I say No to more things, and if I order a drink to-go along the way, I take time to be present and smile at the server, say hello, and please and thank-you. I nourish my body with life-giving foods. I pray more and I try my best to live the Reiki precepts. More often then not, my shoe choices are based on comfort not fashion.
It feels good to let go of judgement of my former self…
Back up to street level I enter the old BCE Place, now known as Brookfield Place. A few great architectural markers remain of the world I used to know: exotic mahogany walls and company name in gold lettering. So many great projects I had the honour of delivering. So many wonderful and talented people I had the pleasure of working and collaborating with. I learned so much in this place, and achieved accomplishments I look back and feel genuinely proud of. It feels good to let go of judgment of my former self, and allow myself to feel pride for who I was, what I accomplished and even deeply grateful for my mistakes, as all of them were my teachers. Despite the struggles, the high stress, and all the things that made me crazy, they genuinely were, in their own way and in their own time, very good times. They are an important part of my journey, and I have no doubt in the world that I would not be where I am right now, had I not made those choices, slayed those dragons, and lived those experiences. I do well to remember that this present burn out (pursuing my joy) is nothing compared to what I used push through! I recalled in this moment, something a wise colleague once counseled me as I embarked on entrepreneurship: “measure yourself not by how far you are from your goal, but by how far you have come”. I’ve come a long way, baby!
One more familiar passage takes me Union Station. One last look back both at the physical space and back in time. This has perhaps been just the long walk I needed to end my ‘time out’. It’s incredibly important for me, and for all of us to listen to our bodies and our spirit, to be kind to ourselves, to make time for self-care, and honour every step along the way of our ‘becoming’. Time now to get back to the journey forward.
I wonder what my future avatar is doing?
Michelle Pierce Hamilton is owner & founder of beTeas Inc. & The Tea Lounge Inc. in London Ontario (a second career). Michelle is also part-time educator in tea, nutrition and healing arts and still practices professional project management on a part-time basis but now in public healthcare, rather than corporate financial services.