#SWAAYthenarrative

Do Not Write Your Story Before You Actually Live It

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I find myself in a profession where I have the opportunity to analyze my professional path on a regular basis. I'm a firm believer that the key to career advancement is self-awareness and self-acceptance, which inevitably incites an immense amount of self-reflection and personal historical context to dig through. These moments of reflection have given me an immeasurable amount of time to think about my younger self.

By 18, I had my entire life planned, and the truth is, now, I am not even remotely close to what I had planned out.

Somewhere around the age of 11, I morphed into this individual who not only strived to achieve perfection but also thought it was my purpose on this planet. And without perfection, or the outward appearance of perfection, nothing would fall into place. It happened at 11, like clockwork. I am so certain that I even dedicated my first book to my 10-year-old self because she was the last version of authenticity I could connect with. From age 11 to 18, what some may argue are your formative years, I created an unhealthy mindset that, now, looking back I wish my future self could have stepped in — somewhat like Cinderella's fairy godmother magically redirected my misguided thoughts.

So what advice would I give my 18-year-old self?

You don't have to write your story before you live it. Over-planning and the inevitably immense amount of expectations that comes with it create disappointment and disillusion over what's really important. By 18, I had my entire life planned, and the truth is, now, I am not even remotely close to what I had planned out. And you know what? I survived. Actually, I've thrived! We are all so concerned with our future self and the story we want that we can't even live in the moment and allow the true story we can actually value to unfold. I wish I could tell my younger self that her story is an evolution, not a script. It's impossible to know the depths of who you are without the shaping of experiences yet to come. This story is not only unrealistic, it's probably not even going to scratch the surface at what your potential truly is. Listen and live your story, don't bother trying to write it ahead of time.

You don't have to fake it until you make it. Not everything is going to be positive, so burying the negative isn't how you learn from it. I'm a serial emotion burier. For years, if it wasn't positive, especially in the workplace, I didn't even allow myself to seek its purpose let alone understand it's real service to me. I always refer to these as my white hat moments. Instead of trying to understand the negative and actually process those feelings, I felt clouded with guilt. Faking your way through a situation never allows you to be authentic. Authenticity requires vulnerability, which I've found to be the common denominator in true connection with yourself and others. Faking perfection is not the same thing as perfection. And while we're at it, why don't we just tack on the reality that perfection is unattainable in the first place!

Listen and live your story, don't bother trying to write it ahead of time.

You're not going to be for everyone, and that's okay. We're taught at such a young age that acceptance has a direct correlation to self-worth. I struggled with this for a long time. If I'm being fully transparent, it's something I have to remind myself daily, especially in the workplace. At 18, I had this idea that being different or not fitting the mold of what an 18-year-old should be meant that something was wrong. The reality of it is, it meant that something was right.

It meant that my individuality aligned with myself first and others second. I've spent the last five years of my career embracing and writing about that concept. As long as the person looking back at me in the mirror understands my value and my intention, it really isn't my business to know or care of others' opinions of me. Universal acceptance is not the goal and not the validation model anyone should be working from.

I've grown leaps and bounds since I was 18, and I hope I can continue to do so in a meaningful way as I age. Self-reflection is a tricky beast, but if we take the advice we'd give to our younger self and use it to hold ourselves accountable in the current moment, I think it's a validation of the evolution and growth that is the strongest example of true self-love.

5 min read
Self

Lessons Learned and the Power of Turning 50

Except for 16, I have celebrated all of my milestone birthdays in New York City.

I turned 16 in Arnold, Missouri. Arnold is a small town (though not small anymore) 20 miles south of St. Louis. St. Louis is known for the Gateway Arch, a beautiful arch of shiny stainless steel, built by the National Parks Service in 1935 to commemorate Thomas Jefferson's vision of a transcontinental U.S. St. Louis is also known for its custard, a frozen dessert that is so thick, they hand it to you upside down with a spoon inside. Something else about St. Louis you should know is that there is a courthouse just steps from the base of the Gateway Arch where one of the most important cases in history was tried: Dred Scott v. Sanford.

I'm turning 50 during what I define as a miraculous time to be alive.

Mr. Scott was born into enslavement around 1799 and, in 1830, was sold to a military surgeon who traveled back and forth between his military posts in Illinois and Wisconsin, where slavery was prohibited under the Missouri Compromise of 1820. In 1842 the doctor and Mr. Scott both married, and they, all four, returned to St. Louis. Still enslaved, Dred Scott filed a lawsuit against the doctor's wife for his and his wife Harriet's freedom. We don't know exactly why he chose this moment in time to file a lawsuit, however, he did. At the time of filing his, now, famous lawsuit, he was 50 years old. Ultimately, The Scott family did not gain their freedom, but their profound courage in filling this case helped ignite the Civil War and what we would come to know (or think we know) as freedom from enslavement for all human beings. Powerful then and even more powerful now.

My next milestone was turning 21, and I did it in the Big Apple. Having only moved to "the city that never sleeps" a few months prior, I knew nobody except my new friends, the bus-boys from the restaurant I was working at, Patzo's on the Upper West Side. And, yes, pazzo is actually the correct spelling of the Italian word, which translates to "crazy." Trust me we all had several laughs about the misspelling and the definition going hand in hand. I worked a full shift, closing out at around 11 PM, when, my kitchen team came out from the line with a cake singing, "Cumpleaños Feliz." It was fantastic. And the kindness of these almost-strangers was a powerful reminder of connection then as it still is today almost 29 years later.

I design the life I desire and the Universe creates it for me every day. I show up, keep the story moving, and work hard because I am relentlessly devoted to making the world a better place and this is how I choose to leave my legacy.

When I turned 30, I had just finished a European tour with Lucinda Childs dance company. The company had been on tour for months together and were inseparable. We traveled through Paris, Vienna, Lisbon, and Rome. We ate together, we rode on a bus together, we had drinks after shows together, and we even took turns giving company class to get warmed up before a show. It was deeply meaningful and dreamy. We ended the tour back in New York City at BAM, The Brooklyn Academy of Music. It was an incredible way to end the tour, by being on our home court, not to mention I was having an important birthday at the culmination of this already incredible experience.

So, when I invited everyone to join me at Chelsea Pier's Sky Rink to ice skate in late August, I was schooled really quickly that "tour" does not mean you are friends in real life, it means you are tour friends. When the tour ends, so does the relationship. I skated a few laps and then went home. This was a beautiful lesson learned about who your real friends are; it was powerful then as it is today.

Turning 40 was a completely different experience. I was in a serious relationship with my now-husband, Joe. I had just come off of a successful one-woman dance show that I produced, choreographed, and danced in, I had just choreographed a feature film, John Turturro's Romance and Cigarettes, with A-list actors, including Kate Winslet and James Gandolfini, who became a dear friend and had even been on the red carpet with Susan Sarandon at the Venice Film Festival for the movie a year earlier.

And I encourage all women to identify their power and choose to be fully in your power at any age.

This was a very special birthday, and I had, in those 10 years between 30 and 40, come to cultivate very real friendships with some wonderful colleagues. We all celebrated at a local Italian restaurant, Etcetera Etcetera (who is delivering for those of you in NYC — we order weekly to support them during COVID), a staple in the theater district. Joe and I were (and are) regulars and, of course, wanted to celebrate my 40th with our restaurant family and friends. We were upstairs in the private room, and it was really lovely. Many of those in attendance are no longer with us, including Joe's Dad, Bob Ricci, and my dear friend Jim Gandolfini having transitioned to the other side. Currently, that restaurant is holding on by a thread of loving neighbors and regulars like us. Life is precious. Powerful then and today even more so.

I write this article because I'm turning 50, still in New York City. However, I'm turning 50 during what I define as a miraculous time to be alive. And I could not be more filled with hope, love, possibility, and power. This year has included an impeachment hearing, a global pandemic, and global protests that are finally giving a larger platform to the Black Lives Matter movement. Being able to fully embody who I am as a woman, a 50-year-old woman who is living fully in purpose, takes the cake, the rink, and the party.

I'm making movies about conversations around race. I've been happily married for 11 years to the love of my life, Joe Ricci. I'm amplifying and elevating the voices of those who have not previously had a platform for speaking out. I choose who to spend time with and how long! I design the life I desire and the Universe creates it for me every day. I show up, keep the story moving, and work hard because I am relentlessly devoted to making the world a better place and this is how I choose to leave my legacy. Being 50 is one of the most amazing things I ever thought I could experience. And I encourage all women to identify their power and choose to be fully in your power at any age. I'm 50 and powerful. Dred Scott was 50 and powerful. This powerful lesson is for today and tomorrow. We have the power. No matter what age you are, I invite you to use your powerful voice to join me in making the world a better place.