Break Open


They say your life changes when you have a baby.  No matter how many times I heard this cliche, it still hit me like a turbulent wave.  Last October, my life transformed the moment my son was born.

Pregnant at nearly 41 weeks, I felt I was ready enough.  Ready to give birth.  Ready to be a new mom.  Ready for the sleepless nights with a newborn.  Didn’t the pregnancy serve as the training ground to prepare for the real event?  I was eating a healthy diet, careful to avoid high-mercury seafood and alcohol.  I drank a daily green smoothie or protein shake.  I regularly practiced yoga and stretching exercises.  I went for walks.  I prepared frozen meals to have available.  I meditated and listened to positive affirmations each night.  In the final week before I went into labor, I had a few sessions of gentle labor-inducing acupuncture and a labor-ready massage.  My pregnancy was thankfully a smooth journey, so I was hopeful it would carry over into the birth.

You have a sense where this is all going, right?  The course of life is not a predictable one.  As valuable as my health practices were, it could not guarantee any outcome during labor and delivery.  I was blindsided.  Over the course of 36 hours, many complications occurred that ultimately led to a frightening C-section experience.  I would spend three days in the hospital unable to walk.  I would need to recover indoors for another 6 painful weeks, my mobility and independence severely limited.  I would feel trauma and fear following my son’s birth, uncertain of myself, and suddenly feeling betrayed by my own body.  As ready as I thought I was for the birth, I was not ready for the aftermath.

My first month as a mother was an intense and lonely time.  I burst into tears whenever I recounted the night of the delivery.  I was angry at my body for being in pain whenever I moved or from being too uncomfortable to get the sleep I desperately needed.  The first few weeks of adjusting to a newborn required my husband and I to take separate shifts caring for the baby.  The backdrop of the nightmarish election and reading the news coverage added an ominous layer of fear.  All of this was certainly difficult, but there was something that made it much worse.  My inner critic.  That voice constantly looped: What did I do wrong?  Motherhood shouldn’t be like this.  I shouldn’t feel this way.  I should be appreciative that I’m alive and that my baby is alive.  I felt ashamed of my thoughts and my emotions, like I could not voice them without sounding ungrateful or that I was too weak to deal with the challenges of motherhood.  The self-judgement and shoulds added to my pain, what mindfulness teacher Tara Brach calls the second arrow that brings suffering.        

None of this is easy to write about, but it’s important to share.  Many women face postpartum baby blues or depression.  Given my work with college students and in teaching the importance of mental health, I took the first crucial step: I reached out for support.  I shared my deepest fears with my husband.  I connected with close friends, many who are also mothers.  I listened to encouraging podcasts like Tara Brach and The Longest Shortest Time.  I went to counseling, where I learned that I was going through multiple complex processes:  grieving my former life, adjusting to motherhood, and recovering from trauma.  All of that takes time and patience.  Self-love and kindness.  I couldn’t fix or force my way out of this.  I could only meet each day with grace.  My counselor gently reminded me to tell myself: Whatever I’m feeling, thinking, or doing, it’s okay.  Even if I don’t like it, that’s okay, too.  I learned not to feel bad for feeling bad.  And when I had days where I was able to take care of one small thing, like putting the laundry away or writing a paragraph in my journal, that was to be celebrated.  Celebrate the small wins.

When I felt isolated and helpless, it was easy to believe that it would be like this forever.  I didn’t believe people when they reassured me it would get easier; it would get better.  Cognitively, I knew it was true, but it took awhile for the rest of my emotions to understand that.  My counselor said that I didn’t need to believe it in order to take action.  I could still make positive choices every day that will help me heal, like contacting a friend or going for a walk.

Gradually, it did get better.  The physical and emotional healing happened simultaneously.  As my body healed, my competence and confidence as a mother improved, and my baby began to develop sleep and feeding patterns.  The turning point was around six weeks – the day I officially recovered and was able to take my son out for the first time on my own.  It was a milestone moment for both of us.

As difficult as it was, I wouldn’t wish for a different experience.  I am learning to find strength in my birth story, one that has deeply humbled me and broken me open.  One that showed me the profound lesson of practicing self-love, the foundation from which all else springs.  One of my good friends told me that one day I would feel empowered by my birth story, not fearful of it.  I am starting to believe her.

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Any day now

Any day now 2
I’m approaching the end of my pregnancy. The strange thing is not knowing when that day will happen. It could be today, tomorrow, next week. All I know is that it will not go beyond two weeks from now! I’ve been asked by everyone – friends, family, even grocery cashiers – if I’m ready or how I feel as it’s steadily approaching.

Here’s how it feels. It feels like I’m living in this perpetual present day. It feels like I can’t really make future plans because I don’t know how today will dictate tomorrow or next week. It feels like in any instant, my life will change dramatically. In the meantime, I still have to go about my day as normally as possible – getting groceries, doing chores, sleeping, checking email, seeing friends. I’ve also run out of baby preparation tasks. The newborn and 0-3 month sized laundry has been cleaned and folded, the nursery is ready to go, the hospital bags are packed, the freezer is filled with ready-to-make food, and the birth plan is ready to be implemented/modified/disregarded entirely.

This sounds morbid, but anticipating labor is like knowing I’m going to die someday. I don’t know the details of when or how it will happen, but I know it will happen. The idea of it is scary, yet an inevitable, somber truth I have to accept. Dear Sugar describes the moment her son was born as “my life ending and beginning at once.”

Well if it has to end, then so be it. These last few weeks off of maternity leave have given me the space to ease into that transition. It’s been an incredible gift. I’m privileged and appreciative that my job, supervisor, husband, mothers, and financial situation have allowed me the opportunity to take off a year. I wasn’t sure what I’d do with this time, but a dear friend told me that this would be the last time I’ll ever have all to myself before being a mother. Take it. Savor it.

I had grand ideas of what I could do with 3 weeks off. Pre-pregnant Pauline would have swooned over such luxurious time wealth. I could start a creative project! Read lots of books! Write more blog posts! Cook more! Learn watercolor! Go to yoga classes! Binge watch Netflix and Hulu shows!

I did some of those things, but not nearly to the degree I imagined I would. Mostly, I caught up with friends and family, took trips to the grocery store during off-times (going to Whole Foods is my new favorite hobby) to cook simple dinners, did light reading and journaling at coffee shops, and stretched a lot at home.  J and I were blessed to have two weekends where we could take small day trips to the beach. These activities weren’t what I had planned, but they were better than planned: they made me happy.

Any day now

Any day now

I learned that I could be completely happy in the present moment. The present was all that I had, and I could either accept and embrace it, or I could resist it. I chose to accept the uncertainty of my days. And I spent that time listening to my intuition and deciding how I wanted my days to look every morning. Some mornings, I had the energy to see people, to try a new recipe. Other mornings, I wanted to stay at home nestled in my pink robe and reading a book or listening to a podcast.  The following books are currently on rotation in my nightstand: The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp, Changing My Mind by Zadie Smith, and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz. Every morning represents a different book and a different mood.

Any day now

I learned that I don’t need to be tied to my work or a creative project to feel fulfilled. I do miss working with my colleagues and students along with the energy of running programs under an academic timeline. I was worried that I didn’t know who I would become without the identity of my job. It’s still a layer of myself that I’m continuing to shed. It will be an ongoing process throughout the remainder of my year off. I still don’t know who I’ll become, but I’m excited to discover this new side of myself.

The truth is, the end is already here, even if the baby isn’t yet. My former life has already ended and a new one is beginning to emerge. And yes, I am ready for it.

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Life Lately

When I started writing this post, I was 30 weeks pregnant.  30 weeks!  That’s the same number as my last milestone birthday.  That’s 10 (more or less) weeks away from the end of pregnancy.  30!  The number itself sounds so momentous.

Now that I’ve reached this point, I can see why pregnancy lasts 9 months and three trimesters.  It takes that long for everything to make sense and for my mind and body to sync up.

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27 Weeks. Right before the third trimester.

My first trimester was all about getting oriented to myself.  Getting adjusted to a new diet, a new body, a new lifestyle.  Feeling uncertain about everything and questioning every decision as if it were life or death.  Like puberty and middle school all over again.

My second trimester was filled with a surge of energy and confidence.  I found a way to make peace with my growing belly.  Even embraced it.  I knew what my physical and energy limits were in terms of exercise, how much I could eat before I felt like a stretched watermelon, and the type of clothes that were flattering.  Dresses, flowy tops, and belts became my fashion staples.  I even had the energy to tackle projects like learning watercolor, decluttering the closets, painting the nursery/office room, and researching baby products and books.  The baby no longer felt abstract.  Now there are actual aspects of parenthood to get excited about. The baby room!  Those cute little onesies and sleep sacks!  The positive attention of friends, family, and strangers!  Second trimester was when I got this pregnancy DOWN.

The third trimester is the light at the end of the tunnel.  It’s good, it’s sad, and it’s bittersweet.  This is the time when my body is in transition again, although it’s not as abrupt of a shock as the first trimester.  Mostly noticing things like not being able to comfortably strap on my sandals, squeezing into my parked car, feeling sore in my shoulders and hips from sleeping on my side, and waking up to my baby boy (lovingly) kicking me at 5am.  My focus and concentration are waning from the second trimester.  Forget trying to read a book.  I can barely finish even one chapter.  Also, the thought of labor and delivery is becoming more real.  Eek.

Below are some snippets from different areas of my life lately, which I’ve dubbed as The PBJ Project (Pauline + Baby + J).  Nestled in there are links and resources that I’ve found valuable during my pregnancy journey.  I feel they will carry me through to the finish line.

Pregnancy Reads & Resources

The Happiest Baby on the Block book by Dr. Harvey Karp *Great, positive insight into the needs of newborns and his “5 S’s Cuddle Cure.”

Parenting Without Borders book by Christine Gross-Loh *Love the global-wide perspective this book gave me and had me question what was considered “normal” in the U.S.  

What to Expect When You’re Expecting book by Heidi Murkoff *I mostly used this as a weekly and monthly reference.  Plus ever since I saw the film Nine Months, I somehow felt it was some rite of passage to own this book.  

Gentle Birth program & affirmation tracks *A friend lent me the book and shared a few affirmation tracks with me.  Calming, mindfulness-focused program that can be used with any type of birth plan.  

Aha! Parenting website *Wonderful, holistic parenting resource shared by a friend.  

The Longest Shortest Time podcast *Funny, heartfelt, and informative stories and interviews about parenting.  

Life Lately 2

Maternity Leave Meals 

Nut & Seed Banana Oat Snack Bars via Eat Your Greens *a winner!  I tested a few batches of these, and J and I love them instead of buying KIND bars or protein bars.  

My Spring Project: Stock Up On Freezer Meals via The Kitchn & Eat Your Greens *very aspirational.  Let’s see how many meals I have the energy to actually cook.  

Life Lately post

Baby Bump Fashion & Beauty 

Cupcakes and Cashmere

Oh Joy!

The Chriselle Factor


Pregnancy Health & Fitness 

Cat/Cow Yoga Pose video *I do this every night.  My workouts consisted mostly of taking walks around the neighborhood, yoga (modified poses), and prenatal yoga.      

Pregnancy Swiss Ball Pelvic Tilts video *I loved using my core stability ball for my office desk at work!  This will come in handy later for different labor positions.  

Simple Green Smoothies recipe *Or anything with spinach and fruit.  

Can Mommy Eat…? website *Type in whatever you think you can or can’t eat, and it spits out the answer.  So much better than Googling and scrolling through forums and articles.  

This and That Items 

Snoogle body pillow *A total life-saver.    

Mama Bee Belly Butter

Whole Foods DIY Belly Balm

Headspace Meditation App: Pregnancy Pack *We started with the free 10-pack version to test it out.  Then J bought the yearly subscription, and we’ve been listening to Headspace’s simple 10-minute guided meditations every night since then.  Most nights, I just fall asleep halfway through, but I consider that a win.

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Creative Projects For Maternity Leave 

Amanda Palmer’s letter “No, I Am Not Crowdfunding This Baby (an open letter to a worried fan” via Medium. *Reading this inspired and challenged me to continue finding ways to express myself creatively during motherhood.  Why can’t there be space for both identities to co-exist?  I decided to treat my year of maternity leave as my stay-at-home-creative-sabbatical and am excited to explore the world of ink & watercolor and experimenting with a new cookbook.  Of course, I hope to document these projects here on the blog.  

Wonder Forest’s Watercolor Basics for Beginners YouTube video

Food52 Genius Recipes cookbook

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The Motherland

At 18 years old, my mother faced a life-changing choice.

It was 1975 – the year Vietnam fell to Communism in the war.  My grandfather had asked my mother if she wanted to stay behind in Vietnam or flee the war-ravaged country with him and her younger brothers and sisters.  Stay where she had her friends and other family members, the familiarity of where she grew up.  Or to escape the Communist rule on a rickety fishing boat into the ocean, unsure of whether they would survive the journey.  My grandfather despised the Communists and would rather risk a deadly escape than to live under their regime.  My uncles and aunts were just kids, but my mother was a young woman who could decide the life she wanted for herself.  Stay or go?

She chose to go.

On their final night out in the ocean, their boat sprang a leak.  A storm was predicted to hit the next day.  As my mother and her brothers took turns throughout the night emptying out the water with buckets, everyone thought they were going to die.  The following day, a miracle happened.  They were rescued by a Pilipino captain on a ship.  He brought my family to safety in the Philippines, where they resided in a refugee camp before coming to America.


My grandparents in San Francisco. One of my favorite photos of all time.

When I was 18, I faced different choices than my mother.  Privileged choices.  Choices like where to go to college and what dress to wear for prom.  I never had to question whether I would live or die.  I’ve heard the stories from my mom, my aunts and uncles, and other family members.  Nearly every Vietnamese family I know has their own traumatic version of a refugee story.  They all had to face hard choices.

I didn’t truly appreciate or understand what these hardships meant for my family.  Until last March when I visited Vietnam, my mother’s country, the motherland.  Until I found out that I was pregnant.

A lot of people say that pregnancy is hard.  Being a parent is hard, the most difficult job in the world, the hardest thing a person will ever experience.  Before my trip, I would have agreed.  However, going to Vietnam made me critically look at hardships and difficulties in a different way.

This was not my usual vacation.  For one thing, it was not filled with rest and relaxation.  Physically and emotionally, it was an overwhelming and exhausting trip.  I was still in my first trimester, barely 8 weeks pregnant.  It was a huge adjustment for my changing body and energy levels, while navigating the humidity and culture shock of a developing country.  I panicked over the food and drinks that I could eat.

Was this fruit washed with the local water?  Can I drink anything with ice cubes in it?  Are there bean sprouts in this spring roll…in this salad…in this soup?  Is condensed milk in cafe sua da pasteurized?  How do I ask for pasteurized or decaf in Vietnamese —does that even exist here?!  Oh my god, I’m going to starve on this trip. 


Bun Cha in Hanoi. I only ate the fried part.

For two weeks, I selectively ate fully cooked or fried items or whatever seemed clean, while surviving off of Kind bars, Whole Foods trail mix, and protein shakes with green supplements.  The foodie side of me was sad and deprived.  There was the exhaustion on my body – jet lag mixed with hours of sitting on a plane or bumpy van ride between cities and the countryside.  I didn’t know whether to scream at the thought of being stuck in the van AGAIN for 3 hours traveling or to be grateful that I was in an air conditioned vehicle.  There was incessant smoke and pollution from the motorcycles that clogged the streets.  Smoking was a natural part of most nightlife settings like lounges, clubs, and cafes.  Partying at night was clearly out of the question for me.

In contrast, my husband and his friends had a blast in Vietnam.  Granted, his friends had stayed in nice hotels, partied every night, and ate every delicious thing sold in the food stalls.  One friend claimed Vietnam as his favorite place in the world to travel.  Even Anthony Bourdain LOVES Vietnam.  He always raves about the cafe sua da and the street food.  I was the exact opposite of the adventurous, exciting Anthony Bourdain: prudish, pregnant, and paranoid.  As a result, this is not my typical travel post with a list of places or recommendations.  For that, you can refer to Bourdain, the Ravenous Couple, and Michelle Phan.

While this was not the travel experience I imagined when visiting the Motherland for the first time, I do (want to) believe that my pregnancy state affected my experience in Vietnam.  And even though I didn’t get to do or eat what I wanted, I am humbled for what I did gain in abundance:  perspective.  

I was seeing Vietnam as a daughter of refugees, as a mother-to-be.  Even though the country has changed dramatically since the war, I still saw glimpses of the country where my parents grew up.  School children in uniforms riding their bicycles home together on a dirt road.  Families spending their days sitting by the front door, often set up as a tiny shop or food stall.  Kids taking naps on the kitchen floor for relief from the sweltering heat.  People making a living by selling lottery tickets on the street or rowing a boat for tourists.  Families of 3 to 4 riding on one motorcycle, a baby secured by just his mother’s arms.  Chickens and fruit trees in the backyard as staples for food.  It was a humble lifestyle with just the essentials.  Only what was needed to survive.  Life was still hard for much of the country, unless they were wealthy and living in the metropolitan areas of Ho Chi Minh or Hanoi.  Yet in the people I encountered and the extended family members we met, the spirit and resiliency of the Vietnamese people shone through.  They found a way to find happiness in the simplicity and in their struggles.

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I observed my husband’s cousins, uncles, and aunts with their families and saw how their worries hardly reflected the common anxieties of modern parenting in America.  They didn’t have nurseries, so they didn’t worry about what crib or play yard to buy.  They didn’t worry about their babies eating organic food.  They didn’t worry about their careers or identities changing as a result of parenthood.  They didn’t even worry about the delivery.  One of his cousins said that she’d heard of women going into labor right in the streets!  She  had laughed heartily at my horrified expression.  In Vietnam, they just cared that their kids had food to eat and a place to sleep.

In contrast, what exactly was I so worried about?  So scared of?

It’s easy to fall into the common narrative of being anxious about being a new parent.  If I search for something to worry about, I’m guaranteed to find it.  And there’s an abundance of prospective worries awaiting me – the lack of sleep, the change in my marriage, the change in my friendships, the loss of my identity as a creative or career-driven person (see my previous post), the lack of alone time, the constant stress and anxiety about raising my baby right, the brand of strollers to buy, the sleep techniques I want to use, my birth plan, the design of the nursery, etc.  In the American view of modern parenting, there seems to be more to fear than to appreciate.  From conversations with friends and acquaintances, books, and blogs, there are two prevailing messages:  1) having a baby is the hardest thing ever, and 2) having a baby means life as you know it will be over.

I’m lucky that my first introduction to pregnancy were neither of those messages.  I hardly had time to worry about any of those things when I found out I was pregnant one month before my Vietnam trip.  The only thing that preoccupied my mind was: How can I keep myself and my baby safe while traveling?  Survival became the most important thing.

I’m now in my sixth month of pregnancy.  Even with the perspective fresh from my Vietnam trip, I occasionally feel overwhelmed.  Whether solicted or not, my husband and I have received our fair share of advice from family, friends, acquaintances, and books. Most of it comes in the form of “you should…”, “you can’t…”, and “you won’t…”  

You should enjoy your sleep now.  You won’t get any later.  
You should do all of your travelling now.  You can’t travel with a baby.
You should move into a bigger home.
You should have a natural birth.
You should get the epidural.
You shouldn’t rely on a birth plan.
You won’t have any time to work out when the baby is here.
You won’t have any time to yourself.

These cautionary warnings are well-intentioned and come from a place of love.  It’s intended to keep the parenthood experience real, not as an impossible ideal.  I do understand that.  And taken one by one, it’s not so bad.  However, once the shoulds, can’ts, and won’ts pile up, they morph into something terrifying.  These messages, oftentimes conflicting, are so ingrained in our culture that even people who ARE NOT parents unknowingly pass it onto others.  I was one of those people.

I have a co-worker friend, also the blogger and creator of Thin Line Collective, who is a new father.  Last year, he was preparing for paternity leave and was excited to stay home with his daughter.  He shared with me his plans of using the time off to learn Spanish, start an exercise program, and write more entries for his website.  I wasn’t pregnant yet, but I had plenty of close friends with babies and heard enough of their stories to believe I had insight to share.  I thought his aspirations were wonderful, but I didn’t want him to feel disappointed once he realized how much time and energy a new baby would take.

“You won’t have time to do all of that,” I told him.

He was amused.  “You really believe that in an ENTIRE day, I’m not going to find some time to do ANY of it?”

“I really do.  You’re going to be more tired than you think,” I replied in earnest.

“Well, my friends with kids have told me the same thing.  I’m sure I’ll find a way to make it work,” he said with a smile.

And to my surprise, he did it.  Everything he intended to do, he did it.  He was able to do a 30-minute workout every day, listen to Rosetta Stone tapes during in-between moments with his daughter, and write a bunch of articles for his website, such as his excellent series on sports, race, & fatherhood.  He even squeezed in frequent rounds of playing video games!  To the shock of his friends, he stayed in good shape.  He was delighted to prove them wrong, to prove me wrong.  I’m so happy that he did.  Happy that he didn’t listen to me and that my negative comments didn’t deter him from trying.

I’ve reflected on that conversation often and why I believed those things.  Recently, I approached him about it and apologized for my discouraging comments.  I was embarrassed that I imposed my limited view of parenthood onto my friend. In my attempt to be helpful, I was also projecting my assumptions onto his unique experience of being a father.

Being on the other side now, I can empathize with the feeling of going against the status quo.  To resist and overcome the won’ts and can’ts of being a parent.  Every now and then, I receive comfort in the positive messages people share.  Everyone’s pregnancy and parenting experience will be different and unique.  I’ll know what my baby needs when the time comes.  With effort and intention, I can build the life I want with my husband.  It will take some creative strategizing, but we can still do the activities that are most important to us.  Like traveling, staying active, pursuing creative projects, and going on date nights.  Hopefully, our baby will be folded into these parts of our lives.

Even with all of the unknowns that come with having a baby, I know that I have choices.  I can choose to do my best as a new mother.  I can choose to lead with love, not fear.  I can choose to believe that everything I give my baby will be enough.  I know this because over 40 years ago, everything my family fought to give me— my freedom, my survival, my opportunities—was enough.  It was more than enough.  It shaped the course of my entire life.  For this and for my future baby, I am deeply humbled and grateful.

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Waiting to Be Found


“Will I face the fear of today or the regret of forever?”

Jon Acuff, the first keynote speaker at the World Domination Summit, was sharing his story of how he overcame his fear of becoming a writer and eventually became a bestselling author of five books. One of them was fittingly titled Start: Punch Fear in the Face, Escape Average. The audience, who were gathered in Portland’s beautiful Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, murmured and nodded their heads in agreement. I was soaking it all in, scribbling notes in my workbook. As a writer, everything Acuff said resonated with me. It’s like he was speaking directly to me and not to the thousands of other aspiring writers, bloggers, authors, and creatives in the room.

“Your voice is never lost; it’s always waiting to be found.”

The theater erupted in applause.  Acuff grinned as our host Chris Guillebeau came out to shake his hand. It was clear that this was not the first time he had delivered this talk. He had a boyish humor and sincere way of telling stories, whether joking about his children or throwing in some self-deprecating anecdotes about his struggle to find peace with his writing and insecurities. As inspiring as a TED talk, he had done his job with opening up the World Domination Summit that July 2015. He encouraged us all to dream bigger and believe that our creative selves just needed to surpass our fears before it could really soar. In that moment, surrounded by the positive energy of the cheering crowd, it all felt true.



It was my husband who encouraged me to finally attend that summer’s World Domination Summit. Ever since I began blogging and writing years ago, I had heard of this annual gathering of creatives, writers, and lifestyle entrepreneurs. I aspired to be like them, but I never saw myself at the level where I could join their community. Late December of 2014, we both decided to go for it.

Another important thing happened to me before we flew to Portland and began our nearly one-month excursion to the Pacific Northwest. While working on a creative video project for work, I serendipitously discovered a graduate program – the online Masters in Instructional Science & Technology program at CSU Monterey Bay. I had been searching for the next step in my career, especially one that let me combine my creativity and educational skills. It seemed perfect. My full-time job would cover the tuition, my boss was supportive of the program, and it was fully online. That spring, I applied, and I was accepted into the program.

With both WDS and MIST on the horizon for me that summer, I felt like I was on the cusp of a creative and professional breakthrough. I was bursting with optimism for what would come next in my career and life.


While I was in Portland, Oregon for WDS, a tiny seed was planted. It was so small that I didn’t notice it at first. I couldn’t yet know that it would blossom and spread like dandelions in the next several weeks and months to come. But it happened sometime during Day 3 of WDS with another full day of listening to a line up of talented, inspiring speakers. Everyone who spoke had an amazing story to tell of how they lived an unconventional life and career – able to turn the loss of loved ones and moments of trauma into a calling to create and to serve others. We laughed, cried, and cheered alongside the speakers.   Their stories resonated with vulnerability.  They were daring greatly in the arena of the stage and of their lives.  These people were our role models, our champions who proved it could be true. A true passion, a calling, a vocation existed for us if we were willing to take risks to discover it. We could do anything we wanted. We could leave the safety net of our 9 – 5 jobs and travel the world and find ourselves again. We could put everything on the line for the sake of pursuing our art. Our art could change the world. The energy in the room pulsated with this hope.

And then I noticed something odd. Beyond the hungry eyes of the attendees, the ones who could cite passages from Tim Ferriss’s The Four Hour Work Week, the couple who was traveling the world for one year, the ones who were writing a memoir, the gentleman who proclaimed that he had attended WDS every year in search of his passion. Beyond the impassioned calls from the speakers – whether on stage, or in their books, their programs, or in their podcasts – for us to pursue our calling, whether it be in art, writing, or business. Beyond all of that passion lurked a layer of discontentment. One that could never be satiated, no matter how many countries they visited, how many books they wrote, how many businesses they ran, how many fans they impacted.  This approach seemed like the unconventional version of climbing the success ladder.  Instead of money as the fuel, it was the need for constant fulfillment and achievements.  The tiny seed came with a cautious message.  Is that life really what I wanted?

I tried to shake it away. I took more notes and let the words of the speakers seep in. I tried to be in the moment of WDS – this long awaited event I’d envisioned years ago. I was crazy to stop this momentum now. Not when I was in a conference surrounded by my tribe of creatives. Not when I was about to hit a breakthrough in my work and professional life. And yet, it stayed. My intuition knew – the ball of truth that rested in my gut knew – this path would not make me happy.


For the next several weeks after my trip, I felt like I was waking up from a foggy, hypnotic dream. Except I was now part of a world I no longer recognized. A mirror was held up to me, and I felt betrayed by its reflection.

I had always been driven by the pursuit of a meaningful career. A calling. It was that drive that led me to write, go through graduate school, take up freelance writing, start a blog, dabble in a side business, teach a course at a community college, and be involved in conferences and volunteer organizations. I was always adding another layer to the never-ending resume of my life’s work. I read business and productivity books and blogs, I listened to creative and professional podcasts, and I was always brainstorming ideas for new businesses and projects to start. But that summer, when I came home, I stopped completely. I stopped reading, I stopped writing, I stopped creating, and I stopped pursuing. And while it was a long, complicated decision involving other personal factors, I also dropped out of my MIST graduate program. I no longer had the heart to pursue any of it.

That summer, I had indeed reached a breakthrough in my career and creative work, and it was one that changed the trajectory of my life that year.

Now a gaping hole lingered where these projects and pursuits once lived comfortably in my daily existence. I actually had free time to reclaim! And instead of seeking productive ways to use this time, I could now refocus on what was fun. Freeing. Fulfilling.

For the next several months, I used this energy to restore my body and my spirit. I went for hikes and joined a running group, attended group fitness classes on a regular basis, and attempted intimidating new activities like bouldering and pole-dancing. It felt good to be out of my head. To stop building my resume for some unknown future career.  To stop hustling.

I spent quality time with loved ones, who for too long, were seen as “affectionate distractions” to my writing and career endeavors. I spent more time with my husband and hanging out with our friends, whether it was spontaneous day trips to Santa Cruz beach grilling mussels or a weekend exploring San Francisco. I spent time with my younger sister as she prepared for her October wedding, visiting her in LA for a sisters’ weekend, getting our nails done together, and helping her prepare for an intense night of cake pop making. I helped my best friend shop for her daughter’s first-year birthday party and got to be the photographer on that special day. For my friend’s baby shower, I coordinated baby shower games and helped set-up the party with her sister. Clearly, a lot of life milestones happened that fall and winter for many of the people I loved. Milestones that, in the past, I would have been too busy to fully participate in. This break allowed me to be present for all of it. It gave me the space to appreciate my life just as it was.


The break lasted for nearly half a year.  I like to think of that period as a forced creative sabbatical.  Sometime in April, I felt the urge to write again. The once-familiar sense to write and create slowly returned, like tired joints coming back to life after they had fallen asleep. It can be a little painful in the beginning. Time had granted me a safe distance from the emotional turbulence of last summer. When I was caught up in the the thick of my day-to-day life, it was hard to see the bigger picture. To find the lesson in the experience. But time and a bit of insight had given me something to say. It feels full-circle that my first piece is sharing this story of how I left and found writing again.

I’m welcoming my creativity back like an old friend. Happy to catch up and see how much has changed since the last time we were in each other’s lives.

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