What etiquette really means

What comes to mind when you think of the word etiquette? Using the correct fork when you eat a five course meal? Etiquette expert and founder of the Protocol School of Palm Beach, Jacqueline Whitmore says it’s so much more than that. Really, it’s about making other people feel good. I chatted with Jacqueline about what drew her to the field what etiquette really means to her.

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Caitlin: So, Jacqueline, tell me how you became interested in etiquette?

Jacqueline: Well, I’m the founder and director of the Protocol School of Palm Beach and I’ve had my own company since 1998.

Prior to starting my own company, I worked at the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach as their Assistant Director of Public Relations. As part of my job responsibilities, I put together etiquette camps for kids every summer. So, my job was to hire the instructor and to organize the camps. In my search for an instructor, I found someone I liked and admired and she came down every summer (to teach the kids’ camp).

She also expanded it and introduced an etiquette camp for adults. I took the class and I liked it so much that I took another class and then she encouraged me to go to Washington, D.C. and get a certification, which I did. So, I ended up teaching the staff (at the Breakers Hotel) in my spare time.

That gave me good experience because in 1998 I didn’t know I was going to get laid off, but I did. And that was the time that I started the Protocol School of Palm Beach.

Caitlin: Wow, so I imagine getting laid off was devastating, but that really opened up an opportunity for you.

Jacquline: Yes, it forced me to take a leap and start my own business.

Caitlin: That’s great. You know, I think sometimes when people think of etiquette, it maybe seems stuffy and maybe shallow. People think it’s just about saying please and thank you. What does etiquette really mean to you?

Jacqueline: Etiquette, to me, means having respect for other people. But, also, it means having respect for yourself. And, it also means being mindful of how your behavior affects other people.

So, for example, if you’re on a bus on your cell phone and you’re bothering the person next to you, you’re not practicing good etiquette. So, it’s just being mindful of your surroundings and having respect for other people. In other words, it’s doing unto others as you would have done to you.

Caitlin: I like that. You know, I was thinking when I first emailed you, I was really cognizant of being polite and using the right etiquette. I wonder if people feel that way around you often. Do you hear that a lot? That people are watching their manners around you?

Jacqueline: Oh, all the time. I hear that all the time. I do often hear from people, “Oh I better sit up straight,” or “I better not say certain things,” or “I better not use the wrong fork.” And, that’s not really what etiquette is about at all. If anything, it’s about being your best self. It’s not being somebody who is artificial and putting on airs or acting like you’re better than anybody. It’s just being your very best self on your best day.

Think about your best day. What would you wear? What would you say? Who would you surround yourself with? That’s the way I try to live my life, at my very best. It’s not always easy. It takes a lot of practice.

If I said you need to be better than everybody else, that would repel people. That would turn people off. In fact, you know, everyone says, “Oh, I’m a perfectionist.” Well, perfectionism repels people. It’s the flaws we all have that make us relatable and memorable and likeable. I call it the BLT Factor: believable, likeable, and trustworthy. So, if I told you I never make mistakes, you would probably hate me and you wouldn’t believe me . (laughs)

Caitlin: Would you be willing to share one of your more memorable etiquette mistakes?

Jacqueline: Oh, sure, I make them all the time! I am my own best client.

I was in China last year at a dinner party. I don’t speak any Chinese and the waiter came up and handed me a menu and asked me what wine I wanted. The menu was huge and couldn’t read it. I just said, “I’d like a glass of white wine.” And he said, “Well, what kind?” And I didn’t know. So I said, “Well, how about a glass of Australian wine?” And my host leaned over and said, “Well, how about a glass of Chinese wine?” (laughs)

So, I felt embarrassed by that!

Caitlin: Are there any etiquette tips that you feel are especially important?

Jacqueline: I am a big advocate of handwritten notes and I try to write one every day, whether it’s a thank you note, a birthday card, or a congratulatory card, just to keep in touch with people. It’s a lost art.

Caitlin: That’s great and it really is so nice getting something personal in the mail. You know, I really like your approach to etiquette, that it’s really just about making the people around you feel good and feel comfortable. And I think, as a result, it makes you feel better about yourself, too.

Jacqueline: Oh yeah, it’s good karma. What you put out in the universe, you get back.

If you get in the habit of doing little niceties every single day, it becomes automatic. And it doesn’t feel artificial because it becomes part of you. And it makes you feel really good.

I believe if you’re nice to people, they’ll be nice to you. I used to be a flight attendant and we used to encounter so many nasty passengers. And it was the ones who were really nice who always got the upgrades.

You can read more from Jacqueline on her blog. In the meantime, tell me, do you have a time when you felt embarrassed by using bad etiquette? Is there an etiquette rule you think is especially important? Let’s talk!

Image courtesy Jacqueline

A conversation with a trainer

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Julie is the first trainer I’ve ever worked out with that I didn’t, at some point, want to punch in the face. That’s saying a lot.

Julie is the owner and and head trainer at BAWS Gym. I’m excited to share her journey and wisdom with you today because I think she’s so inspiring. She comes from a place of humility and true caring and I think that’s the best.

Caitlin: When did you first become interested in fitness?

Julie: When I was young, I would watch my dad workout in the basement. He was in the military so like many Marines, he had a very strict regimen. I would go down the basement and watch him workout.  I was always impressed with his pull ups. One day he got off the bar and said, “Do you want to try?”  I was like ten years old. I got on the bar and I just hung there. And every day I went down there and hung until I could do a pull-up.

It got the the point (eventually) where we started doing round robin with pull ups.  It was so fun doing something with him and I really feel like he was the one who inspired me.

Also, not many people know this, but when everyone was playing sports in school, I was always at the YMCA working out.  I just loved weights. I loved them so much. And that’s really how it started.

I did get to an age where it was pissing me off that I was bad at certain things (running in particular) so I just kept working at them. And I just told myself, you have to become comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Caitlin: Well, that can kind of sum up the entire diet and exercise experience.

Julie: It’s so true. I train Spartan teams and that’s the biggest thing I tell them. I put them through rough workouts and I just say, you have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.  I think it really resonates with people and it just tells them, all right, when I want to quit, I just need to push myself three more minutes. And that’s all that I want from people. When you want to quit, just give a little bit more.  It’s funny how much I’ve grown in life because of that attitude. I’ve totally put that quote to use in so many other areas of my life.

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Caitlin: I would imagine that many of the people you train do, as well.

Julie: Yeah, I think so. I think that once you do that, you really start to train your mind to be stronger.

Caitlin: So tell me about your fitness and nutrition education.

Julie: I started as a floor tech at the YMCA when I was 14. I would watch this one women train her clients and teach classes.  She inspired me and soon became my fitness mentor. She taught pilates. I took her classes and I started to really get into it. So, I got certified in that first. That women, Bethel, took me under her wing and taught me so much about fitness.

Then I went to West Chester University for kinesiology, but the program was really long and I was super antsy to get it over with. So, I dropped out and I went to the National Personal Training Institute and it was hands down the best experience and the best thing I could have
done. I don’t think I’d be where I am today if I didn’t do that. That got me certified in anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, and nutrition. I am also certified in kettlebells and Crossfit.

Caitlin: So you now own a gym. How did you get there?

Julie: I worked at a private personal training studio and the owner knew I had aspirations to open my own gym. He asked me if I wanted to buy his studio. I said yes. It was a franchise when I bought it and I tried to sever the ties to make it my own small business. But, the franchise came after me and said they would take me to court if I did that. It was a huge, huge mess. It was so frustrating. We eventually dropped it and I quit my job because more than ever before, I craved being a gym owner.

I had saved some money to get me by while I was searching for a location.  I finally found a spot in Huntingdon Valley.

Caitlin: Tell me about that gym.

Julie: It was called Bryn Athryn Workout Studio, or BAWS. I loved it so much, but eventually I outgrew the space and my training style had gotten a little bit more “gritty”.  And by that I mean, um, badass, I guess. Haha. I knew I wanted more of a warehouse like gym because I wanted a little parkour training, a litte Crossfit action, a little gymnastics, a little pilates, ya know a whole mix of stuff. The space needed to be functional for all of that.

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Caitlin: That’s a good problem to have!

Julie: It is. So, I’ve been in my new location in Hatboro (Pennsylvania) since October last year.

Caitlin: What kind of programs do you offer?

Julie: I do personal training during the day. Forty-five minute, one on one sessions, all tailored to the client. And then I do classes at night. Cardio kickboxing, pilates, strength & conditioning.

I also hold all types of programs and obstacle course trainings. I get groups together to get in shape for a particular obstacle race and then we go tackle it as a team. It’s a lot of fun.

Every two to three months I try to re-evaluate and come up with new programs. So, it changes all the time. The biggest thing I try to do is make the programs fun, fulfilling, and rewarding.

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Caitlin: So what is the most rewarding part of your work?

Julie: Seeing people change, emotionally and mentally. I had a 50 year old man turn to me, after two and a half months of training, and he had tears in his eyes. He said, “You know, I actually love myself again.” And I was tearing up because it’s just so gratifying to see people feel that way about themselves.

Fitness is such a big industry and it wouldn’t be so big if it wasn’t so hard.  Being fit is a hard journey. To help people get to their goals is so gratifying. And, you know, I do little videos and I put stuff about food and everything online, but it’s not because I want attention. If I can help one person do better, that’s why I’m doing it.

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Caitlin: I think what’s appealing about you is that there’s no ego. How important is it to you to be a real person to your clients?

Julie: Yeah, you know, a lot of people say they train with me because I’m real. I average a size six, I’m not a size two. I eat a donut when I want one. I don’t wear belly shirts and have six packs abs. That’d be nice, but would mean I would have to live life in such a strict manner. Unless, of course, your DNA is gracious to you. But, I try to be as real possible and let people know that it’s so important to live in a healthy way. And that means balance.

When I was younger I struggled with eating disorders and I don’t want people to go there. I don’t want people to be afraid of food or be obsessed with exercise. Instead, just focus mostly on whole foods, be kind to yourself and move a little almost everyday.  If you find that balance, you never have to punish yourself. You don’t have to starve and you don’t have to overeat. You can find balance where everything just comes together.

Caitlin: And you’re also pretty balanced in the amount of exercise you recommend.

Julie: Yeah, I mean, I used to be that person who was all into cardio all the time (after I went through my weight lifting phase). But, I realized that you only need maybe four days a week of exercise and, if you do it right, only 20 to 30 minutes. It’s great because it makes your metabolism revved just enough to build muscle and burn body fat, but you’re not starving all the time because your workouts are so long!

Caitlin: I know for a lot of people to take that first step to get healthy is really hard. There can be a lot of embarrassment and shame. I know you really succeed in getting people out who otherwise might have been too afraid to join a fitness class. What do you tell people who might be afraid to take that first step?

Julie: You know, it’s a journey and everyone is battling something. The first step is to be kind to yourself.  And if you can change one thing a week that will bring you closer to your goal, that’s awesome. Don’t be embarrassed with yourself because everyone is working on bettering themselves somehow, someway. People battle their issues in so many different ways and no one’s life is perfect. We never judge people who are overweight at the gym. We’re proud of them.  Keep your focus on you and no one else.  They don’t really matter when it comes to YOUR health. One of the things that I feel is great about BAWS is that it offers one on one training if you really feel you want to work out without others around.

I went through some hard stuff with health and fitness. And I believe the universe gives you those things so you can live and learn and teach people. I’ve had to gain weight and I’ve had to lose weight. And both are hard.  I feel that I went on that journey so I can connect with people, empathize and understand their situation to some degree.  It’s not going to be easy, but you have to want it.

Caitlin: I always think that no one is judging you as much as you’re judging yourself.

Julie: Yeah, you hit the nail on the head. That’s so true. You are your biggest critic. And we compare so much. I try hard not to compare myself to other trainers.  I feel like I look like the average person in way-

Caitlin: Well, I wouldn’t say that, but okay (laughs).

Julie: Well, I don’t look like a Hollywood trainer. You just have to focus on yourself and stay on your own journey. That’s hard to do, but once you can, it’s really satisfying.

Caitlin: What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned?

Julie: With fitness: There is no quick fix. There is no pill, there is no diet, there is no cleanse. It is day in and day out, on the grind. But, want it, enjoy it.

With life, business and myself: Be patient.  Many people will do so well, with whatever their goals may be, and then mess up and be so angry at themselves. Then they quit.  Never quit.  It gets you nowhere, but pissed off at the world.  Trust me, I know.

If you’re in the Philadelphia area, check out Julie’s gym, BAWS. Or, try virtual training, anywhere in the world.

 

Living the dream: An interview with Harrison B.

Harrison B. is a Progressive American Soul artist from Lascassas, TN. He blends traditional and progressive American song forms into a soulful and statement-driven delivery. I happened to meet Harrison B. two summers ago when he showed up at a party I was throwing with my friend, Sarah. I talked to Harrison B. about his music and what it means to him to be living his dream.

Caitlin: Can you tell me a little bit about your musical roots? Was it something you were always interested in?

Harrison B: So, nobody in my family really dug playing music other than my grandfather. He is into bluegrass, old school blues, Southern Folk, Gospel, Western Country. He is into early country. I used to go over to his house and he has had the same guitar since he was 15 that he bought out of a Sears catalogue. It’s just this big, incredibly difficult to play, but amazing sounding instrument. I learned from him having one guitar to truly love and put a piece of yourself into it. he’s genuine and he’s honest and he loves it, so I just kind of grew up hearing music from him. And I really, really enjoyed what he did. We listened to records together, too many to mention, but he put me into real roots music. They became my musical roots.

I’ve always had an ear for music. Writing has always been in my head. I used to love, as a child, listening to classical music when I went to bed. My favorite game was guessing the movement. I liked to guess where the arrangement was going. Major, minor, resolving, that sort of thing.

As I grew older, it became something I needed, as opposed to something I just wanted. I started with my first band when I was 19 and really picked up the guitar in earnest around the age of 21. At 22, I had to have it, had to get out there and do it.

Now, I’ve been doing it full time since I was 24.

Caitlin: I think it’s really interesting the way the importance of music in your life evolved as you got older. I think a lot of times people begin to let go of their passions as they get older and it’s often such a mistake. So, you grew up around Nashville. What effect did that have on you and your music?

Harrison B: So, I grew up in Lascassas, Tennessee and moved to Nashville for college. Musically at the time, I wasn’t very advanced and so I had to play and write songs that were in my technical ability range, which was limited. So starting out I wrote a lot of singer/songwriter, acoustic country, that sort of thing.  I wrote a lot of country songs. Thomas Rhett became a buddy of mine and we used to write some, and Dustin Lynch was around, he went to my college. They’ve both gone on to very successful country careers.

So, yeah, I’ve always had a heart for country because of my grandfather. So I started talking with an artist development company about the things I needed to do to be groomed to be pitched to a major label.


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As I was getting into it I thought, if I’m choosing to do this for the rest of my life I sure better love it. And you know, there were aspects that were just empty to me. I felt like my subject matter was limited. I felt like there were just things about confining to one single genre that didn’t move me to my core and didn’t satisfy some musical need in me, so I had to let country go.  It is still an aspect of my music, but now it is one of many.

So, what better way hit reset than to leave town when I graduated. And if you’re going to leave town, what better place to go than Alaska, as far away as you can get.

Caitlin: I have to say, I am a big country music fan, but I definitely get what you’re saying. And when I listen to your music I definitely hear some country influence. But, I don’t want to get ahead of myself, so tell me about the Alaska move.

Harrison B: So, I had a friend, who had one friend in Juneau, Alaska. It’s the farthest from home I had ever been. I packed my Jeep up, and drove to Prince Rupert, BC. There I got on a Ferry and rode 3 days to Juneau. Between that solo road trip up there, and then adjusting to a whole new environment, that to me was really growing up. The road is a great teacher.

Musically, I didn’t play the guitar for four or five months and when I picked it back up, I decided it was, indeed, for me. So, I started playing again. All I had observed in my three week drive from Tennessee to Alaska, the things I learned, the CD’s people gave me for the drive in states along the way, indie rock, ambient rock, funk, punk, all these new things. All things I hadn’t really experienced before, particularly in their proper context. So, when I got my guitar out and played again it was totally different from what I had played prior.

I got out and played one open mic night and I was so scared I wore my peacoat through the whole performance. Still, I just really tried to let my soul out, which was kind of novel to me and my musical experience. I just realized at that moment, this is something I love and something I can’t live without. It felt like an infatuation, like you’d hear a guy talk about feelings for a girl.

From there I went home and recorded my first album, The Harrison B LP.

Caitlin: What place does music hold in your life now?

Harrison B: It is my life. Honestly. It controls just about everything. I think that’s what it takes if you have aspirations beyond local successes.

I’m in a growth phase right now, I’m still pretty small fries. I’m starting to establish myself, as to say, these are the things you can expect from me artistically. I really think it has to color all aspects of your life. Music is, honest to God, just about my everything. I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Caitlin: What’s the best thing about spending your time playing music?

Harrison B: I think getting to do what you love for a job, even if you’re just surviving. It brings peace of mind to me that honestly I don’t think I could get anywhere else. I don’t think I’d be as happy doing anything else.

Caitlin: I imagine life on the road as a musician isn’t always easy, even if it is satisfying. What’s the hardest part?

Harrison B: The hardest part is probably all the time alone. For instance, in the last year, I’ve been on the road all but 2 ½ months. It’s very rare for me to get to be home. At heart I’m a homebody so it can be difficult.  The other aspect is love and relationships. It is very difficult to keep a relationship. I had one for four years and I had to give it up for this. And it was a terrible day.

It’s very hard coming into a town and seeing all these awesome, beautiful people and before you can even get a chance to talk to everybody, you have to roll on. It’s isolating in a lot of ways.

But you start to develop relationships where you make good friends in a lot of places. For me, it’s been a learning curve, but once you understand it and can be genuine through it, it’s awesome to have good friends in different places and when I’m with them to really get to spend time and connect with them.

Caitlin: I hear you renovated and live in an Airstream. That’s so cool. Tell me about it.

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Harrison B: The Lil Miss Josie is a 1968 22’ foot Land Yacht Safari. I renovated it from the frame up. It was a lot of work and it sucked for a long time. For over two years it was about all I did for with my off time.

It’s a pretty liberating thing. I get to travel and do my job and enjoy it and at the end of the night, anywhere that I am, I get to go back to my apartment and sleep in my own bed, cook a meal in my kitchen. So, for my lifestyle, it’s perfect. And I rebuilt it from scratch so it has a lot of soul, a lot of heart, and it’s home.

Caitlin: I love that. I’m a total homebody, so I definitely see the appeal there. What have you learned about people since you’ve had a chance to see a lot of the country and meet a lot of different types of people?

Harrison B: Interesting question. Honest to god, my answer is, there’s a lot of sameness, and a lot of difference and I think they’re in equal amounts and with equal subjects.

Good people are good people and bad people are bad people. Bad people are few and far between. I’ve found nothing but love on the road. I don’t think I’m unique in this situation, but everywhere I’ve been has been a contributing factor to where I am right now.  That keeps me humble and grateful, knowing how much of what I do is because of other people..

I want for nothing anywhere I go. And not because I can afford it or I feel like I deserve it, but because genuinely, people have gone out of their way for me. And so, touring does nothing but embolden in me the feeling of the greatness and goodness in people.

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I can’t imagine more of a LIFE. Not everyone gets a chance to get out here and really live. And I feel grateful because I didn’t afford that opportunity all by myself. I am one piece of a puzzle of many who have helped propel me and put their faith in me and put a little bit of pride in me.

I accept that as a responsibility and I take it quite seriously and I try to live each day to respect that. I push myself to be the most impactful voice of positivity and that to me is my job. The music, the shows, the road, those are the details. Those are the medium through which I can reach out. But, I just want to embolden people. I want people to leave a Harrison B show feeling strong in themselves and looking out at the world a little closer than when they came in.

Harrison B.’s debut release, The Harrison B LP, & the Sophomore effort, Down At Brown’s, are available at major online music retailers. You can check him out at harrisonbmusic.com. Oh, and check out his latest video for his song, ME. Serious skills.

Image 1, 2, & 3: Harrison B.

Image 4: Jeremy Lavender via Harrison B.

He Said/She Said: A Military Family, Part 2

Today we’ll get the other side of the story on this week’s He Said/She Said. You can check out Part 1, Robert’s story here.

Meta became a military wife in her 30’s after she was well established in her career, and a home owner. The military took her out of the South and dropped her off in Upstate New York at Fort Drum a few months after her wedding. A few months after that, her husband deployed.

Once Robert came home from deployment, Meta got pregnant and gave birth to a little boy, Bo. A few months later, Robert deployed again.

Meta talks about what it’s like to be the spouse and parent who is left at home during deployments. Although I hope this is obvious to most, I want to point out that each military spouse is different and this is simply Meta’s story. But, as a former Army Wife, I think most military spouses will find something in this story they can relate to. And for those who have never loved someone in uniform, here’s a little glimpse into the highs and lows of being a military family. 🙂

Caitlin: The Army baptises you fast. Your husband deployed just nine months after you got married. I talked to your husband about the difference between deploying as a single soldier and then as a soldier with a wife and kid. What was the difference for you between having your husband deploy before and after you had a baby?

Meta: Completely different deployments. Both were hard in their own way.

His deployment in 2011, we didn’t get to communicate very often. We emailed, never Skyped. We would talk every weekend or every other weekend.  One time we didn’t get to talk for three and a half weeks.  As someone who loves to talk, especially to my husband, work was very important for me. It became an outlet.  I would go to work and talk, talk, talk, talk, talk. Because I would come home to no one. I didn’t have many friends yet, so the communication thing was hard.

It taught us a lot about what we could get through. I was miserable at first. I felt a distance from my husband that made me ache. Once I settled in and made friends, it got easier. But, I learned a lot about myself during that deployment.

Caitlin: You learned your strength.

Meta: I did. I also learned a lot about letting go. While I like to have a general plan, the Army taught me you can plan as much as you want, but it’s bound to change. I plan, but I don’t set my heart on it.

This most recent deployment, having a child, I couldn’t sulk. But, we talked every day, sometimes twice a day on Skype. And my husband could see our son, Bo. I think it helped me to be able to have real discussions with my husband. He would get up at 3:30am his time to talk to us on Skype.

Caitlin: That’s so nice.

Meta: I know. He’s such a good husband and a good daddy.

It was really important for Bo to see and hear his Daddy on Skype. It was hard. There were times I would cry because Bo would try to share with Daddy and try to hand him things through the computer. Those things tug at your heart.

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Also, on this last deployment, five days after he left, I had a miscarriage. It just so happened that he called me when I was sitting in the emergency room when he got to Afghanistan. I said, I’m going to have to call you back, I’m bleeding and I’m in the emergency room. So, I needed him a lot. I needed him to talk to. It didn’t even have to be about the miscarriage, I just needed to talk to him.

Caitlin: Saying goodbye before a deployment, what is that like for you? Specifically with a child.

Meta: At the deployment ceremony, I’m trying not to cry, but I’m still crying. I was trying to take as many pictures as possible with them together because I knew he’d be coming back to a completely different child. And at the time, because I was pregnant, we were trying to figure out the plan for where I would deliver, would I work? And I was scared. I was pregnant and I had a nine month old. And I was like, how am I going to do this without him? It was all scary, but I had to focus on Bo.

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Caitlin: What was the reunion like?

Meta: (laughs) Oh, it was fantastic. It was very different from my first deployment. It was all about me. So it was huge difference. Last deployment it was all about me, and this time it was all about Bo.

I told my husband, when you get home, I want you to step back and I want Bo to come to you.

I wanted him to greet Bo before he greeted me, because it was about Bo. Bo was the one who didn’t understand why he was away and why he couldn’t hold him or touch him.

Last deployment, Robert came home in the evening and this time I think I had to get Bo up around 4:30 in the morning because they want you there 2 hours prior to the ceremony which was at 7:30.  By the time the ceremony started Bo was pretty tired and he definitely didn’t understand all the people, the band, the noise but he was pretty interested in all the soldiers.  At 18 months old though, he had no idea what’s going on or that his Daddy is standing in formation.

Once they released everyone and Robert was trucking it towards us, I leaned down and let Bo stand up and backed away.  Bo started to cry because he was tired, but Robert kneeled down on his level and Bo just went into his arms and wrapped his arms around his Daddy’s shoulders.  As a wife who wanted to touch her husband and have him wrap his arms around her and give her a big kiss, being a mother and feeling this need for them to have their moment first was so important to me and I felt that superseded whatever I might need.

When Robert left, Bo wasn’t walking yet and he’d only ever seen him walk on Skype, so watching my husband have his son walk into his arms for the first time was beautiful.  It was all just beautiful.  There were tears from both of us.  We sat for a long time before we left.  Bo just wanted to hold on to him and of course, Robert didn’t want to let go either.

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Caitlin: So, your husband is getting out of the military soon. What are you most looking forward to?

Meta: No deployments! No deployments. He will be home. I do feel a little jaded when it comes to deployments when I see people post on Facebook, “Oh my husband is gone for the weekend, I miss him so much.” And I’m like, “Really?” (laughs)

I’m looking forward to joining the world where I miss my husband when he goes away for only a weekend.

Caitlin: What will you miss about military life? I know, from my experience, there’s a lot of good that comes with the military.

Meta: Yeah, for sure. I’ll miss the camaraderie most. The spouses I have become friends with have been similar to me. There was a group of women that I became close with during Robert’s 2011 deployment and as is the way of the military most of them had a PCS and weren’t here for the last deployment, but most of us still stay in contact. We miss each other. I have wonderful friends and family, but the women you meet in your military life, they tend to become your family very quickly. The friendships happen faster and some of them become extremely strong, it’s a bond you share.

By the way, I’m not saying these friendships are better and that you lose your friendships with other best friends. These friendships just seem different, almost forged out of necessity. They know what you are going through, they are experiencing it or have experienced it firsthand. They know the lingo, they understand the upheaval, they know the truth about what happens to your soldier while they are gone. They understand the emotional roller coaster and how hard it can be, not only when your husband leaves, but when he comes home too!

I’m not saying your family and non-military friends don’t try to understand, they do, but honestly, it’s very hard to explin, it has to be experienced. It’s just different with these women. You are truly Battle Buddies. You step in for each other. That person can lean on you, shed tears with you, laugh with you and when your spouse can’t be there and you are so far removed from your family and other friends, you need them because they lift you up and help support you just as you do for them. Because of the stress and pain of what you are going through, these bonds form.

Caitlin: What’s your best advice for spouses who are the ones left at home during a deployment?

Meta: I was fortunate to get to be a stay-at-home mom during this last deployment and travel. I would advise spending time with your family. That’s what helped me through the last year, too.  My parents flew me and Bo down to see them several times last year. My mother-in-law also flew us to visit her.  I’m very lucky.

If you can’t go to your family, find other spouses that will be your family and get involved and get out of the house.

Also, getting to talk to my husband daily on Skype was huge. Oh, and take lots of pictures. Lots and lots of pictures.

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My husband and I often talk about how we wish we had met when we were younger because we could have had more children by now. And we wish we had more time together. But, on the flip side, I’m really glad that I have only had to be a military spouse for a quarter of his career. I’m thankful that we’re getting out and my son and any future kids we have won’t have to go through anymore deployments.

 

It takes a lot of work and a lot of strength to get through military life as a family, in tact. Some of the strongest families I know are military families and I have a ton of respect for the way they do what needs to be done and come out better for it on the other end. Do you have experience with the military? What parts of this rang true for you? If you don’t have experience with the military, what surprised you the most? Leave a comment and make my day 🙂

 

He Said/She Said: A Military Family, Part 1

Wooo hoo! I’m starting a new series today on Vital Chatter called, He Said/She Said. I’ll talk to two partners about the same topic to get their differing points of view.

For the first installment, I spoke with Robert and Meta, a married couple in their 30’s who have a two year old son named, Bo.

Robert has been in the Army for 19 years and is currently a Staff Sergeant who works as an ammunitions specialist. Robert has served overseas five times, three times in Afghanistan and twice in Iraq, including a 15 month deployment during the 2007 “Surge.” He has been married to Meta for four years, so he was a single soldier for his first three deployments, he was married for the 4th, and had a son at home for the 5th. Robert is retiring next year.

Caitlin: You were a single soldier for most of your career, including your first three deployments. How does that change deployments when you have a wife and baby at home?

Robert: Dramatically. It changed things dramatically. I mean, I have a family, parents, siblings, grandparents, and they care about me, but having a wife and son, it was different. Really different having someone to come home to.

I was surprised how difficult it was to get on the plane and leave. BUT, it also made it that much more gratifying when I got off the plane, coming home.

Caitlin: I think people who aren’t familiar with the military are surprised to hear that soldiers often want to deploy. Did that change for you once you had a wife and child?

Robert: Oh yeah, absolutely. I think wanting to deploy, especially when I was single, is because life is so much easier over there (during deployments).

Caitlin: How?

Robert: It’s the little things. You don’t have to pick out what to wear. You don’t have to worry about cooking your meals or going to the gas station or buying groceries, or any of the little things. That all goes away. Everything is taken care of for you.

And then when you come home, wow. On my first deployments, it was difficult for me. I noticed myself straining to reintegrate back into society, essentially. When I first got back, I remember going to a restaurant by myself and I was sitting there and ordered my food and all of a sudden I just got overwhelmed with people around me and I had to get up and leave. Because I couldn’t deal with it.

Over time it’s gotten better, especially with this last deployment. It was much easier to reintegrate and I think a big part of that had to do with my wife, Meta, and my son, Bo, just being here for me. I had something to focus my attention on.

Caitlin: So, your last to deployment (to Afghanistan) was when your son was nine months old. What was that experience like for you?

Robert: It was devastating. It was pretty rough. The reality of how dangerous a deployment can be really hit me hard when I realized my life with my wife and son was at stake. I was never more terrified than getting on the plane to leave and leaving them here.

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I mean, that’s our job. I mean, I’m a jumpmaster, and I’ve jumped out of an airplane 63 times. That doesn’t scare me. I’m a thrillseeker. And on my previous deployments, it never crossed my mind that that I might not come home. This time, it really was hard.

During the deployment, we Skyped every day. I think it helped, but it also stressed both of us out. There were many times we got attacked while we were Skyping. And my wife could hear it and would be like, “What is that?” And I’d just have to say, “I have to go.”

I never worried about it until I had something I really wanted to come home to.

Caitlin: Yeah, the stakes were higher.

Robert: Yeah, definitely.

Caitlin: What was the reunion like? I mean, as hard as the separation is, the reunion has to be that much sweeter.

Robert: I was so emotional. I couldn’t wait to get out of formation and run to Meta and Bo. All I wanted to do was go to them.

I really felt that sense of pride of coming back home. I made it through the deployment. It was the last one and now I’m going to be with my wife and son.

I picked Bo up and he just latched on to me. He wouldn’t let go.

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Caitlin: You know, I think people have an idea of what it’s like to be part of a military family, but what is something that you think people would find most surprising.

Robert: I think that the servicemember is at the disposal of the military 24/7. It is not uncommon to get a call at 8pm and have to rush in. We’re soldiers 24/7. I’ve been called in on Saturdays and Meta has had to just grow accustomed to that.

Caitlin: My husband was in the Army for six years and was suddenly deployed while we were engaged and it was unclear whether or not he would be home in time for our wedding. And people could not believe that he wouldn’t just get sent home for our wedding.

Robert: Right, exactly.

Caitlin: So, you’re going to be retiring soon. What are you most looking forward to in civilian life?

Robert: You know, I’ve been thinking about this a lot. It’s definitely that if I travel overseas, it will be on my terms. Maybe I’ll have to travel for business, that not that kind of business. Not the kind where people are trying to kill you. I am very much looking forward to that, just knowing that I won’t be in that situation anymore.

Caitlin: What do you think you’ll miss the most?

Robert: I’m going to miss a lot about the Army. I’m going to miss leading soldiers, I really am. I have loved being a non-commissioned officer. That sense of camaraderie. That’s something that is born in the Army and that once you make a friend, especially the guys you’ve deployed with, it’s one of those things that lasts a lifetime.

Caitlin: What’s your best advice for balancing work and family and getting through the hard times?

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Robert: The thing that I think helps with Meta and myself is that we’ve always had this saying, “Always kiss me goodnight.” So, we always talk it out. Sometimes the talking gets heated, but at the end of the day we love each other and we’re doing everything we can to make it work. So, we have that good night kiss and it’s like, hey, we’re going to get through it.

Stay Tuned… on Thursday I’ll talk with Robert’s wife, Meta, for her side of the story!

Adult decisions

My friend, Kiki, has had an interesting decade. She was an honor student at Hofstra University, finished early and jetted off to Greece to compete in So You Think You Can Dance. She’s lived in both New York and Los Angeles and worked as a professional dancer, and yet, she says, all these years, she’s just been going with the flow. Never really making decisions for herself. That is, until now.

Kiki has recently decided that she wants to be a Physicians Assistant and, at the age of 28, she is pursuing that dream and finally feels like she’s living life on her own terms.

I spoke with Kiki about what it means to find your passion, even in the strangest of places.

 

Caitlin: So, you grew up outside Boston, and then went to Hofstra University and majored in Broadcast Journalism. Was it always written in stone that you would go to college?

Kiki: It was definitely always the next step. I didn’t really have to make a choice. I never even really thought about it. Even when I was applying, it was like, I’ll apply to a few and get into one. I didn’t even really think about, “Where do I want to go? What do I want to do?”  I was just kind of like, New York sounds cool. The reasons for my decisions were not really substantial.

Caitlin: So, senior year, you finished up early and went off to Greece before graduation to compete in So You Think You Can Dance in Greece. I think a lot of people would hear that and be like, “She made a decision, she took a leap.” But, you don’t see it that way.

Kiki and her sister

Kiki and her sister

Kiki: That happened because my Aunt saw the audition on TV and said me and my sister should go. And I just went with it. I didn’t decide it for myself. Once we got in, it was exciting and cool, but it wasn’t because I really wanted to be a dancer or on the show.

And when I came back to New York, people were like, “You need to get an agent, go do it.” And so I was like, “Okay, that makes sense.”

So, instead of really finding myself and what I wanted to do, I just went with the flow.

Caitlin: So, tell me the story of when you really discovered what it is you want to do.

Kiki: So, I was dancing for a while in L.A. and I knew I didn’t want to do it, but I didn’t know what else to do. I was really struggling, and wanting to find my next career. And then my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer.

I went home to be with her in Boston as she was recovering from a double mastectomy. I was sitting in her hospital room and a nurse came in and was messing with the equipment and assessing my mom. I was asking her a lot of questions because I was really curious. She turned to me, and was like, “Oh, are you in the medical field as well?’

I think I laughed and said, “No, girl, I’m a dancer in L.A.”

Kiki the dancer

Kiki the dancer

I started thinking about it for a few days and started saying, “I want to be a nurse!”

I started thinking about what that would involve and what it would give me in life. I was like, I want to make money and I want to make a difference. It will keep my brain working and challenged. So, I just went from being a dancer, to being like, “Oh shit, I finally know what I want to do.”

After doing my research, I discovered that being a Physician’s Assistant (P.A.) is the best bet for me. Once I decided on that, it was so empowering. I knew it would be a long journey, and it has been, I still haven’t gotten into school yet, but all that hard work doesn’t feel as hard because I’m no longer in limbo and I know what I want. So, I’ll commit to ten years, and it’s cool.

Caitlin: So you’re doing a few years of prerequisite classes and then you have to apply for schools and then you’ll have a few years of school. Did that ever almost scare you off?

Kiki: No. Because I know I can do it. If I do what I need to do, this will happen.

Caitlin: As we go through our 20’s and see people hitting milestones and being successful, does it ever make you look at your own life and freak out? I know it does to me sometimes.

Kiki: Of course I compare myself sometimes, but I really try not to. You know, as long as you’re working hard and you’re kind and you’re a good person, you’re fine.

I think our 20’s are rough as shit. I think it’s as angsty, if not more than the high school years.

Caitlin: So what would your advice be for someone who feels like they need to make a change?

Kiki: I think it’s important to be reflective and give yourself time. And never settle for anything. Because I knew I didn’t really want to be a dancer and I wasn’t going to settle for that. I couldn’t. I knew I would figure it out, it just took awhile.

Happy Kiki

Happy Kiki

The rest of the hard work sucks, but it’s nowhere near as shitty as not knowing what you want to do. I feel like it was my first real, adult decision. Having committed to one decision and deciding want I want and need now, the fact that I’m heading in this direction, that’s the biggest thing. It’s empowering.

 

What was the first big, adult decision you made for yourself? We talked a few weeks ago about what it’s like to finally feel like an adult. Maybe making one big, tough decision is the thing that does it. What do you think?

Staying Home

If you read my post a few weeks ago called Which Way to Lean you know I am fully undecided on the topic of stay at home mom vs. work outside of the house mom vs. not being a mom at all vs. everything in between. So, it was interesting for me to talk with someone who is firmly in one camp.

I expect many people will read the following conversation and think, “Well of course she’s going to stay home with her baby. In her situation, she’d be crazy not to.” And others will think, “It’s nice she has the freedom to choose, but I would be so BORED not working.”  There are so many differing opinions on this issue, which is why it’s so interesting to talk about!

So, let me introduce you to Erika. She lives outside San Fransisco, CA with her husband, Tres, and has worked in Retail Marketing for the last six years or so. Erika is due with her first baby in December(!!) and has decided to be a Stay At Home Mom (SAHM). Here’s Erika’s story:

 

Caitlin: So, right when you find out you were expecting, you also found out that the freelance position you’ve been working for the last several months is being terminated. But, you were planning on being a SAHM anyway. So, tell me about that.

Erika: I don’t know if I was going to be a full time SAHM, but I was never going to go back to work fulltime. I was talking about going back, when the freelance position was still there, and doing monthly projects, instead of weekly project like I’m doing now. So, I’d have more control over my timeline and it would let me stay connected to the workforce.

So, for me, this is not the worst thing. My plan now is just to stay home and enjoy my child and to sleep when I can and not worry about trying to balance all that. I want to build my family when I’m young and have energy and figure out the career thing later if I want to. I don’t have to have a master plan right now.

Caitlin: So, how do people react when you say you want to be a SAHM?

Erika: Very mixed around here. It’s the land of Lean In and Marissa Meyer and Sheryl Sandberg. A lot of moms have their own unique businesses around here. It’s not necessarily the stigma of corporate America and power suits. You don’t need to be in heels and carry a briefcase, but most moms, unless their husbands are ultra successful, really do work and they have careers and they’re very proud of having careers.

I don’t want to say that people look down on me, but they definitely say, “WHY?” They’re like, “Ohhh, that’s interesting.”

Caitlin: Are reactions different from men to women?

Erika: Yeah, men love it. Men think it’s great. From women, sometimes I feel judged, like, “Why are you doing this?”

Caitlin: I would imagine the question you get a lot is, “Won’t you get bored?”

Erika: Yeah, you know, they say only boring people get bored. Even with the free time I have now, I’ve gotten more interests and hobbies. And when I was commuting all the time, I was exhausted. And I didn’t want to do anything because I was so tired. I don’t feel bored at all, I feel relaxed.

Caitlin: Is this something you always wanted to do?

Erika: No! When I was young, I wanted to be CEO of like, whatever, or like, Anna Wintour. But, I think living in New York and seeing all these power hungry women who had nannies raising their kids, and they didn’t really connect with their families, it made me appreciate the ability to stay home.

Caitlin: So, obviously, money plays a huge part in this and the fact that staying home is even an option for you is a great privilege.

Erika: We’re very fortunate. My husband makes a great living by most standards. When I was working full time, I was still a drop in the hat compared to my husband. So, when I decided to go freelance and then to have kids and stop working, it was more of like, okay, maybe we take a vacation or two less, rather than, how are we going to pay our bills? So that was fortunate that that didn’t really play into my decision.

Also, for me, daycare and commuting would take up about two thirds of my salary, so what are you getting versus what are you giving up? There wasn’t a huge perceived value for me.

Caitlin: So, your mom is a really accomplished career woman. What does she think about your decision to be a SAHM?

Erika: She thinks it’s great! My mom worked my whole life. She has two Masters degrees, a PhD, super smart lady. But, she says if she could do it over, she might have stayed home. She’s an educator and she says you can’t argue against the benefits of a SAHM.

I think my dad is probably more judgemental. He worries about the burden on my husband. He wants to make sure he’s okay with it.

Caitlin: And he is, right?

Erika: Yeah, he doesn’t care. He likes the benefits of me staying home, but if I wanted to work, he’d be fine with that.

Erika and Tres

Erika and Tres

But, he definitely enjoys coming home to a dinner made every night and the laundry being done and the house in good order. He can call me at the last minute and say, oh a client is coming over, and it’s no big deal. His life is a lot easier, because when I worked, everything was split 50/50.

Caitlin: Did you ever wish as a kid that your mom stayed home?

Erika: I think I did a lot. My parents were always late for everything. They did their best and I was always taken care of, but they had another set of priorities. I always wanted my mom to be a room parent, that was a big thing for me.

Caitlin: What do you most look forward to as a SAHM?

Erika: I don’t know, I’m mostly scared by it. (laughs)

I don’t know, I guess I look forward to being home with my kid and being their for the milestones, and let them do things with kids their age, and having a community.

Caitlin: Are you going to join some moms groups?

Erika: Yeah, there’s a big mother’s club in the area that I plan to do, and I want to do swim classes and stuff like that. I have these grandiose dreams of being a mom on a schedule and having my kid be well adjusted, but who knows. It’s at least nice to know I’ll have the time to do it!

Erika is in a unique position and lucky to be able to make a choice on this issue. This Time Magazine story has some interesting statistics on who stays at home with their kids, and who doesn’t.

What do you think? Do you want to stay at home with your kids when you have them? If you have kids, what choice did you make? What advice would you give other women and men who are thinking about having children in the future?

Which way to Lean?

Sometimes I feel like the only thing I’m really sure about in my life is my husband and my family. Everything else is a big question mark. The things I say today about career, children, and big life decisions might be completely different from how I feel tomorrow.

Simply put, I don’t have any answers. Only questions.

So, when I came across this article, “Why Women Should Embrace Good Enough,” I couldn’t wait to share it with my friend, Hartley to see what she thought. (You should go read it right now, too.)

I’m at a point in my life where I’m starting to think about having children. Hartley is set to be married at the end of the month. So, we’re both at times of transition and wondering how everything fits together in our lives. What ensued was a winding, 50 minute conversation about all sorts of things that I tried to condense here in a way that makes some sense.

Note: Hartley has read Lean In, by Sheryl Sandberg. I have not, it’s on my list. (Although I have read enough about it that I believe I have the general gist.)

Hartley, preparing for the next chapter

Hartley, preparing for the next chapter

Caitlin: So, generally speaking, what’s your reaction to the article?

Hartley: A resounding yes. Finally. Someone is saying what we’re all thinking. I think Lean In had a lot of sex appeal for women. Sandberg is extremely successful and, as a woman, an oddity in her field. But, I was mildly uncomfortable with Lean In, and I didn’t know why until I read this article. The question really is, what are you leaning away from when you’re leaning in?

Caitlin: Didn’t you used to think you could have it all?

Hartley: Yeah, I feel like we were told that.

Caitlin: I don’t even know what having it all really means.

Hartley: At the end of the day, I just want to go home and hang out with the people I love. And I’m not sure that’s included in “having it all”.

Right before he passed away, our elderly next door neighbor he told us that he wished he had slowed down and been with his family more. I feel like that’s a common regret and I don’t want to have that regret.

I don’t have kids and I’m not necessarily planning on having kids in the next year, but I do want lots of kids and I want to be there for them, and I want to have a lifestyle that allows me to do that. My mom was there for us, and I feel like I’m still only realizing just how important that was to me.

Additionally, I’m getting married at the end of this month (!!) and formally becoming someone’s partner in life has made me realize that, well, I really just want to spend time with him, always. Ha, duh, right?

Caitlin: Well, that’s pretty good reason to get married.

Hartley: (laughs) Yes, it really is.

Family has always been super important to me, too — I’m close to both of my siblings and my parents, and I really value spending time with them. I live close to my mom, and she has just been an absolute life saver when it comes to this whole “planning a wedding” thing.

And so I guess I’m realizing that I’m really lucky to have such good relationships with my family, and but even so, placing value on that, rather than, say, climbing a corporate ladder, has been a weird transition for me, mentally.

Caitlin: You know, I’ve had jobs that are very meaningful to me, but at the end of the day, my relationships have always been more fulfilling.

This line in Walsh’s piece struck me as important:

“Success, particularly the kind Sandberg calls for, requires ever more time at the office, ever more travel. It requires always being available, always a click away. Sandberg is almost giddy when she describes getting up at 5 a.m. to answer e-mails before her children wake up and getting back on her computer once they are asleep.”

Hartley: It’s interesting how bragging about how hard you work has become part of a person’s status. Like, the person who is sending work emails at 3am should get a prize or something. You can get sucked into that culture, and it’s a consuming, competitive thing. And I just think how fucked up that is.

I know, in another life, I could be that person. I could have TOTALLY been that person! But, I’m not, and that’s because my career has taken me in a different direction. No one does that in my field — working in the public sector, and I don’t mean this negatively, it’s just the way it is, it is a less intensive field.  I’m so glad that my life has lead me in this different way. I’m not up all night working on emails and projects, no one is. It’s just not expected — or rewarded.

Caitlin: Yeah, I’ve had jobs that call me in in the middle of the night, or jobs where I have to stay an extra five hours with no warning, and when it’s a job you love, you don’t really mind. But, generally speaking, I like to pride myself on how much I can get done during regular, working hours.

Hartley: (Laughs) Exactly.

Caitlin: Another point I loved in Walsh’s piece is this: “I have to wonder if Sandberg does not realize that she is going to die someday. There is so little life and pleasure in her book outside of work.”

I do often feel like the framework is, see how much you can work and achieve in your life, instead of see how much you can enjoy your life.

More and more as my career changes, I do find myself thinking about finding the balance that will make me the most happy. I don’t think I know what that is yet, but I think the older I get the more I’m realizing that I can learn as I go and I don’t need to know what the next move always is. I can go along for the ride and see what happens. It is something I have to constantly remind myself because I can feel the panic set in thinking, “Where is my life going?” I have to remind myself that I don’t need to know the answer to that question.

Hartley: Oh, definitely. Thank god we don’t have to answer that question right now! But, I do want to bring this up, a big underlying issue here is income. You know, if you’re broke, you don’t have a lot of choices.

Caitlin: You know, I was just thinking about this. I was thinking about ALL MY PROBLEMS and I thought, a lot of people wouldn’t even have time to think about these so called problems.

Hartley: Yeah, it’s never like, I need to quit working my two minimum wage jobs so I can spend more time with my children.

Caitlin: Right, so we’re talking about people who are lucky enough to have more options.

Hartley: Right.

Caitlin: You know, I do want to say, too, a lot of people are totally fulfilled by their work. And that’s great. There’s not one single answer to having a happy, fulfilling life. But I guess I just don’t think we should all believe that we need to climb and climb and climb to the point that we don’t know where we are or why.

I think it’s safe to say, we do not have the answers, only more questions. At time of press. (laughs)

Hartley: And I’d be lying if I said I weren’t just a bit jealous of those people, who, like you say, are really fulfilled by their work. So yeah, this is definitely to be continued.