Deep Thoughts, Courtesy of the TSA
While returning home from a long and revelatory 48 hours in San Francisco early this month, my carry-on bag was stopped at the airport security checkpoint. The offending item had traveled with me to California. However, I had apparently broken one of the rules on the mind-numbingly long and irregularly enforced list of items which can fly with your person when I tossed a bottle of spray-on sunscreen in my bag. The skincare-cum-weapon-of-mass-destruction had been detected by the X-ray, and after gingerly examining my bag, a TSA agent held the verboten item out in her hand.
In the robotic voice that can only be trained by endless repetition of precisely the same phrase over far too many months, she informed me that I had two choices. I could resume ownership of the problematic cosmetic and take it back into the ticketing area to mail it to myself. Or, I could "voluntarily abandon" it. My verbal response was a polite "I'll leave it, thank you." The soundtrack in my head played a different tune. Sister, I thought, you have no idea how many things I've already voluntarily abandoned this weekend. Let's just add the *f*ing sunscreen to the list, shall we?
The trip was to celebrate my daughter's bachelorette party, and took place precisely one week before I hosted my second FEenomenon women's retreat. As I was preparing to board my outbound flight, I reflected on the circumstances that had brought me to the airport. Not the winery tours and silly party games, but the personal work that had taken place over the preceding years that made it possible for me to show up for this weekend so close to my retreat.
If you've been reading the blog for a while, you already know that I have a sordid relationship history with hustle, a sort of filthy love triangle between me, control, and excessive hard work. As little as two years ago, there was no way I would have made this trip. I would have been far too involved in my internal romance with hustle, utterly convinced that I didn't have enough time and there was far too much to do. Boarding the plane to California, I felt very much like I was putting a checkmark in a box next to a line labeled "Lesson Learned." I posted on social media about how pleased I was to be enjoying the fruits of my labors as I prepared to fly the friendly skies.
Little did I know, this trip was not about out a lesson that was already complete, a grade indelibly recorded on my permanent record. Instead, on my short jaunt to wine country I was slated to receive a massive final exam of graduate-level proportion.
After landing in San Francisco, my daughter and friends picked me up at the airport and we proceeded downtown to enjoy cocktails cocktails and appetizers at a darling restaurant. We parked our car on a busy street in a bustling pedestrian area, beneath a street light. After a few hours, we split into two groups to return to our vacation rental. I rode away with three other women in an Uber, my daughter and the rest of the crew would take the rental car.
Once we were underway, our driver Isabella asked if we'd like the music on, and when we expressed no preference for what she played, happily blasted Latin dance music. LOUD Latin dance music. Soon she was showing us Zumba moves with one hand while driving with the other, whipping in and out of San Fran traffic while giving us basic dance lessons: when you don't know what to do, just jump! "Jump, jump, jump," she chanted as she bounced up and down in her seat, waving her right arm in a rhythmic circle.
From the back of the van, one of my daughter's friends gasped. "Our rental car was broken into!" Wait, what?? "Jump, jump," yelled Isabella over the throbbing beat pouring from the speakers. The next three hours were like nodding off in a Uber (assuming you could do so with your ear drums strained nearly to bursting) and waking up in an episode of The Twilight Zone.
Our rental car was broken into. Someone smashed a hole through the back window. I thought I might vomit in Isabella's van. My wallet, all of my clothes, my prescription medication...my laptop and the final presentation for my retreat, which I'd written on the plane on the flight south. The longer I thought about it, the more things I realized I'd lost. My prescription glasses. A brand new Starbuck's tumbler I'd just shelled out $30 to buy so I could have hot tea in the airport and on my flights. Hundreds of dollars in essential oils. My snacks, which are surprisingly valuable to a middle-aged woman with dietary restrictions traveling with a group of ladies under 25 whose main focus is drinking wine and playing games with plastic approximations of body parts which shall not be named here. The only consolation was that I'd removed all of my cash, my driver's license, and one credit card from my wallet before we ate. I had those with me. At least I could fly home.
Another text to our group from my daughter; it looked like nothing was stolen. Wait, what?? (Again.) Both suitcases were still in the car. OK, good news. But what about my backpack? The carry-on that contained my laptop, notes, glasses, food, oils, the damned Starbucks tumbler? No backpack present. Was my wallet in there?! I couldn't remember. Before we went to the restaurant I'd had both bags open, gathering bits of this and that to put in the purse I'd pulled from my suitcase. I thought I remembered putting my wallet in the suitcase. The one that was still in the car. But had I? What, exactly, did the thieves have and what could they access with it?
We arrived at the condo, thanking Isabella and watching her drive away trailing Zumba beats into the warm California night. I commenced waiting for my daughter to arrive with my luggage, to find the answer to the $25,000 question--did they have my wallet, or was I still in possession of my credit cards and banking information? It was after 1:00 a.m. when she returned, after filing a police report and exchanging the car for one without a gaping hole in the back window. I was able to pass the time by compiling a list of everything I'd lost for the police, more than $2000 of things that were precious to me and nearly worthless to a thief. Unless they're down with essential oils, have a slight astigmatism, and like cute compression socks. Doubtful.
When she arrived, I tore open my suitcase and breathed a deep sigh of relief upon finding my wallet inside. This question answered, I called my husband and awakened him to share the news. I'd been up for nearly 24 hours. I was exhausted, hungry (nothing much that met my dietary needs at the restaurant, and some asshole took my back-up food), and heartbroken. I'd lost things that meant nothing to anyone else, but were so valuable to me--the Anne Rice novel I'd owned and re-read since I was a teen, a bookmark handmade for me by one of my best friends. The photos and documents on my computer. And my presentation! I now had 6 days left to prepare for my retreat, and in my stolen bag was one of the three presentations I was slated to deliver. Not to mention the docs on my laptop. I felt crushed. I cried. I said to him what I would never have said to my daughter...I don't even want to be here anymore. I just want to go home.
All cried out and truly grateful that I had clean clothes to put on in the morning, as well as a wallet and my meds, I headed off to bed. I did not fall asleep easily. More things that had been in the bag kept coming to mind. More worries about the retreat kept appearing. That thought kept running through my head...I just want to go home. I just want to go home. I began to consider this possibility. I had ID. Airlines are pretty flexible these days. I could do it. I could get up in the morning with the girls, see them safely loaded in the van that was going to take them on winery tours, grab an Uber to the airport (let's skip the radio, thanks for asking), and be on the next flight back to Montana. I could spend the rest of the weekend filing insurance claims and trying to recreate everything I'd lost that I'd be needing the following Friday. Hustle was still there for me, waiting to comfort me with twitching arms.
But...my girl. She's actually my step-daughter. I was so honored that she'd invited me. We love each other deeply, and I truly was proud of my choice to leave the to-do lists at home and join her so close to my event. I felt torn down the middle, the empty space that robbery creates exposed to the noisy and apparently unsafe city streets. I sought a way to make the best choice in what felt like a no-win moment, and remembered a tool I hadn't used in years. I asked myself if the loss of my laptop, notes, and personal items would still matter in 5 years. Nope. Would I remember? Yes! But the laptop I'll have to buy now will be old by then, the retreat just a memory, the other items replaced or forgotten (except when I see the latest tumblers at Starbucks). What about the party? If I skipped out, would that matter in five years. Undoubtedly.
Alright, decision made. I would stay in Cali. I would wait until I returned home to tackle the page-long list of extra things I now had to handle (I know it's that long, because I wrote it out). I would wait to worry about what had been lost and how I would regain the necessary ground before I stood in front of a conference room full of women to deliver a life-changing experience. I would be present, no matter what it took.
Thus began my true lesson, the final exam I had to fly over 1,000 miles to take. Yes, breaking up with hustle was significant. In fact, Leaving Hustle 101 is a pre-requisite for a Master's degree in Presence with a focus in Trust. What was I really willing to "voluntarily abandon?" My exam looked something like this...
Question 1: Can you accept things precisely as they are?
Question 2: Can you apply your attention exclusively to those things you can change, giving zero time or effort to those things with are beyond your control?
Question 3: Can you remain calm and in control of your thoughts and emotions when you feel like the world is burning around you?
Question 4: Can you avoid taking a victim mentality, even when you are truly a victim?
Question 5: Can you trust that you'll be given what you need?
Question 6: Can you allow time to expand without grasping?
Extra credit: Can you show a complete and effective severing of your relationship with hustle? Cite specific examples of how hustle seems like the perfect solution to this issue and explain the faults in this line of reasoning.
Wow. Reams of metaphysical paper dropped onto my soul's desk with a resounding thud. I wondered if there were enough pencils in the world to answer these queries completely. Could I truly turn away from the woman I'd been and embrace the one I'd been striving to become? Could I voluntarily abandon the thoughts, habits, and mindsets that had defined me for so long?
Turns out, I can. I was mistaken in thinking the lesson at hand was to be willing to let hustle go, to walk away from work and give myself fully to the things and people that fill my heart. My crafty shifu, the great omni- energy of the Universe, had a different idea for me. Sit down, child, and show me what you've REALLY learned. Full essay answers are required. This is no multiple choice pop quiz, kid.
And I passed. I can, and I did. I'd really, truly rather not! This exam was among the most uncomfortable I've ever taken. It was the personal development equivalent of Navy SEAL testing--cold, wet, exhausting, terrifying. I was perfectly happy tooting my hustle-less horn and enjoying a couple of days and a couple of glasses in the Napa sunshine.
But I'm totally framing this report card...because I can. I stayed in Cali. I toured wineries. I played the games. I trusted the Universe to carry me through, to hold me up. I came home and spent 5 days pivoting with grace and ease, without a single moment of hustle energy. And then I successfully held space for 25 women to discover their lessons the following weekend. I don't, for one moment, believe that school is out of session. I understand that this course is life-long. But I was wondering...may I request a winter break?! I'm choosing that over summer because I'm fresh out of sunscreen.