Turning 31

Thirty was an extraordinary year for me. It involved profound introspection, radical transformation, and more joyful and triumphant moments than I ever could have imagined.

A year ago, I entered my thirties determined to give myself the gift of health and balance. I went through a 360 review process in May that concluded with feedback I was tired of hearing: “Alexa’s overcommitted, over-scheduled, unstructured, and doesn’t know how to say no. She’ll put others first at the expense of her well-being and will work all hours of the day to get the job done.”

It’s always hard to hear this type of feedback, but it’s even harder when you’ve heard it dozens of times before. I don’t know what it was about thirty that finally made me listen to the quiet whispers in my head. As the end of June drew near, those whispers began to grow into a dialogue, a conversation with myself about the necessary changes I knew I needed to make in my life.

Thirty was the year I stopped making excuses. It was the year I learned about my relationship with food. How I cope with stress. Why I use work to validate so much of my identity. How I keep myself tethered to past experiences. What makes me scared.

My dad used to tell me growing up, “Turn every negative into a positive” which I used as a framework to start myself on the journey. I took the 5 pages of feedback from my 360 review – the good and the bad – and I reframed them into an action plan, a roadmap of sorts that would guide how I think, live, and work, in the year ahead. I treated it like a work exercise starting with the product. What was my vision for what I would build? How would I get there? Requirements, features, constraints, and measurable outcomes. If work was the source of my deteriorating health, I would flip the script and apply my professional skills to rework my body and mind.

I assembled a squad of professionals, an entourage of coaches and confidants to join me on my journey. Cassie, my dear friend and colleague, helped me rearrange my work schedule. She gave me the gift of time. My executive coach Chris helped me unpack all of the “shoulds” I impose on myself and how I’ve constructed my identity around certain values. She along with Adrianna gave me the gift of confidence. I hired a personal trainer who would help me understand my body, a therapist to help me understand my mind, and lastly, a nutritionist to help me understand what I consume. This trifecta gave me many things – knowledge, routine, and acceptance.

Last but not least, I started traveling extensively and working remotely. In some ways I was running away from New York because it was the city where I formed so many bad habits. But traveling gave me a way to cope with deprivation. As I started to take away things in my life – stress, sugar, alcohol, etc. – I gave myself new experiences in the process.

There were times when I thought the work I was doing would break me. I eroded and eradicated so many habits that I wondered if the weight I was losing involved losing myself. As a proud foodie and cocktail nerd, who was I if I wasn’t constantly checking out the latest restaurants and bars in the city? As a self-professed night owl, how could I possibly quiet my mind to sleep before midnight and wake up at 6? Even if I were to wake up that early, how would I motivate myself to work out? After working out, wouldn’t I be exhausted and crave caffeine as a crutch to fuel my body? What about work? How could I possibly be effective at my job if I was literally spending less time at the office?

Months passed and I shipped many features on my roadmap. I stopped drinking diet coke. I gave up dairy and grains and alcohol. I started practicing yoga 3-5 days/week. I went church hopping in search of my spirituality. I lived in Mexico for a month and spent several weeks in Brazil and London. I became more confident and decisive at work. I learned to love being active. There are hundreds of little changes I made that add up to a version of myself I barely would have recognized a year ago. I’m still very much a work in progress but I’m older, wiser, and so much happier than I ever thought I could be.

Photo on the left was taken at Adrienne’s wedding last June. Photo on the right is from Harrison’s wedding the same weekend exactly one year later.

Friends who haven’t seen me in a while sometimes don’t even recognize me from behind. I gave away or threw out 90% of my wardrobe because the clothes just didn’t fit me anymore. When I see a crosswalk sign counting down, I immediately run for the other side without hesitation. My energy has grown in leaps and bounds, which means I walk everywhere. I’m the type of person who brings a yoga mat as a carry-on item, a sign that being active is something that stays with me no matter where I go. My melatonin sits on a shelf versus my nightstand because I no longer have trouble sleeping. The anxiety and fear that kept my mind racing at night is gone. My mom who used to have the most difficult time waking me up in the mornings finds it amazing that I now wake up, work out, and cook breakfast before she even gets out of bed.

My desire to control and influence is so much more subdued. I try not to sweat the small stuff and often lean on the phrase, “let go or be dragged”, when I feel that tension grow inside me. Beyond all of the physical changes I’ve experienced, I’m most proud of the mental resilience I’ve acquired. I used to be scared that every pound and inch I shed off my body was me losing a part of myself. In some ways that true. I lost a lot of shame and guilt that I was feeling. I lost a lot of my desire to control and influence things around me, not because I feel less empowered, but because I’ve come to accept that the only thing I can really control is my mind.

“You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

So what will 31 bring?

In a very literal sense, it’s already brought me three things: adventure, love, and gratitude. I’m writing this post from a boat in Croatia where I’m exploring the Dalmatian coast with wonderful friends. I’m eating pasta and drinking wine and I’m not judging myself for it. I’m disconnected from work, guilt-free, comforted by the fact that I have an incredible team and talented colleagues who are more than capable in my absence. I’m taking photos of friends swimming and laughing, sunsets and shorelines, and sometimes putting the lens away just to savor the moment with my own eyes.

There’s a sense of fearlessness and optimism in me, a reservoir of joy that replenishes itself nightly when my head hits the pillow. I’m learning to practice gratitude and to be more open to the universe and the gifts it has to offer. As I embark on my 31st trip around the sun, I want to strengthen the relationship I’ve created with myself over the last year. I want to explore what I’m capable of creating, expressing, and cultivating. I want to continue to practice self-love and I hope that love can be felt and shared by those around me.

See the light where the sky meets the sea
It calls me
And no one knows how far it goes
If the wind in my sail on the sea stays behind me
One day I’ll know
How far I’ll go
– Moana

I have so much I’ve yet to learn and so much I still want to do, but for now, I’m savoring just how far I’ve come. Where I go from here? Qui vivre verra.

8 Comments

  1. This is an amazing post. Your story is incredibly inspiring. Thank you for sharing your journey with us.

  2. Alexa I am so thrilled for you and I loved seeing you in NYC (where I totally did not recognize you from behind!). Congratulations and hugs!!!

  3. Alexa! This post made my day and is so inspiring. Brava! If you are interested, come check out the church I go to – First Unitarian in Brooklyn. I’m Jewish, my wife is Catholic, this is the compromise and it’s awesome.

  4. Simply amazing Alexa. New look, another chapter to begin in your very exciting life. Keep it up. God bless you more .

  5. What a beautiful, heart-lifting piece. Super happy for you and grateful to be a sometime witness in this journey for you. With regard to this…”I’m still very much a work in progress…” we’re all works in progress. That’s what defines us as humans.

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