The Serpent of Serendipity

I have always wanted a snake ring. <—Not a weird statement from a jewelry person.

The industry is full of them: classic Bvlgari, modern Temple St. Clair, biker-chic silver, antique 10k embossed motifs.

Over the years I’ve seen my fair share and coveted a few, but none of them have ever been quite right for me.

Why a snake, you ask? Throughout history, the serpent has been a symbol of transformation. It is often used to represent passion and rebirth, a story of life and death wrapped in a mythical creature who stands as a guardian of the sacred and oracle of cunning, wisdom, and healing. Found in history from alchemy to modern medicine and recorded in almost every culture ever to exist, this deadly and delightful animal winds its way into the subconscious the way a living version curls around a branch.

While I’ve never been interested in snakes as pets or guests in my sleeping bag, they have an undeniable power to fascinate (or enthrall – I’m not-looking at you, Kaa of the Jungle Book). It’s easy to see why they’ve been a successful adornment motif since the days of Cleopatra or long before.

So last month, as I acknowledged the first official anniversary of the closure to my very difficult year, it shouldn’t have been a surprise to stumble upon a new little friend.

Found in the course of my day-to-day work activities, this piece smiled up at me and asked to be saved from the rather final fate of the fires (um, literally). It needed some TLC. It called to me, and at just exactly the perfect time to commemorate my own rebirth of sorts, it was ready.

_____

It’s easy to get lost in the daily drudgery of work and life. While I spend my days surrounded by things that many people covet, I sometimes forget that a piece of jewelry represents (at its best) less of a “thing” and more of a moment, a feeling, a milestone.

The joy that this acquisition has brought me far outstrips its monetary value, and perhaps that’s the final lesson it needed to impart: after all the numbers and analytics, remember to treasure the memories.

I’ve laughingly called it my “divorce ring,” but perhaps the better moniker is the Transformation Ring. The symbolism – and of course the ring – just fits.

Tough, Hard, & Stable

If you’ve ever discussed gemstone jewelry with a reputable and knowledgeable jeweler, you might have experienced a series of questions along these lines:

“How often do you plan to wear the ring?”

“What do you do for work, and what are your hobbies?”

“Do you typically take your jewelry off when you sleep, shower, or travel?”

He or she isn’t being impertinent or nosy, but rather attempting to find out what type of gem might be best suited for your lifestyle. Some gems can withstand a decent amount of daily wear and tear without any ill effects, while others are more delicate (some are extremely delicate) and require some special considerations.

A gemstone’s hardness, toughness, and stability are the three most important factors in determining its durability. Useful information for jewelry lovers, of course, but lately these three characteristics also seem to be relevant to conversations about human strength and resilience.

What follows contains a little cheese, so pour yourself some wine and indulge me, okay?

Hardness in a gem is measured by the non-linear Mohs scale, and indicates its resistance to scratches and abrasions. As humans I’d say our physical bodies can withstand a surprising amount of painful bruises and scrapes — pain and medication notwithstanding — but it takes much more practice to reach a state of mental grit. Unlike gems, of course, we can build up this tolerance over time through experience and repetition. Diamonds are the leader in the gemological pack, and resilience is a great indicator of leadership in people.

A gem’s toughness, or resistance to breaking and chipping, is due to the strength of the atomic bonds of the molecules that make up the gem’s essential crystal structure. If that isn’t the perfect metaphor for our human heart, I don’t know what is: truly it’s the strength of our bonds to one another, be they romantic or friendly or even basic human-to-fellow-human, that make us tough. The ability to withstand heartbreak, suffer through previously-broken bonds, and forge even stronger connections is something only people can do, and gems like super-tough jadeite will just have to go along as they always have.

The stability factor is most often an issue when a gem must withstand sudden or intense changes, or is exposed to extreme conditions. In the gemological world this means withstanding temperature or humidity shifts, certain chemicals, and exposure to various light wavelengths. For humans, this is perhaps the most subtle aspect, displayed only during periods of stress; people are more adaptable than gems, but some people are more flexible than others. Fortunately for us, change doesn’t have to leave us permanently damaged like a crazed opal or thermally-shocked tanzanite.

Like many gems, we can receive treatments that help us improve on some of these characteristics. Emeralds can be oiled, diamonds fracture-filled, sapphires re-polished, garnets re-cut. So too can people be healed both physically and mentally, restoring strained bonds, giving and receiving apologies, cutting negativity out and allowing a little more light inside. (Yes, that last one applies to gemstones too.)

No two gems are ever exactly alike, a single piece of rough can be cut many ways, and every color has its place in the spectrum. We can learn perseverance, fortitude, and resilience — or hardness, toughness, and stability — from the world around us. And really, what better way to do so than through the beauty and rich diversity of the gemstone world?

Risky Business: 2017, a Year in Review

In the early new year, nothing good happened.

On a grey and frigid winter night, I made a life-changing decision.

In chilly early spring (who are we kidding, still winter in New England), the family got some great news.

When spring was in full bloom, five minutes changed my life.

One month later, a very short conversation ruined everything.

Two days later, I rose to a big challenge…

… and signed up for another one.

The summer came and went, without much to note, but nothing good happened.

The calendar said fall but the weather said otherwise, and I made a change.

More days went by, and more changes were made. Nothing good happened.

Officially fall began, and I thought I made a good decision.

It was a bad decision. Nothing good happened.

On an unseasonably warm (but definitely fall) day, I took a big leap.

And more big leaps and more changes are right around the corner.

This has been the most challenging year of my adult life thus far: in the midst of mom’s cancer treatment, I got a divorce. One month later, I lost my job. I thought at that point, sitting with the broken pieces of everything else that went wrong, I might just lose my mind.

As with all things, it’s perseverance and gratitude that dragged me through the year. I’m a very fortunate woman, surrounded as I am by family and friends and mentors who offered an excellent balance of support and tough love when I needed it most. Secure in the knowledge that my personal failures never truly lowered me in their eyes, I was able to pick up those scattered pieces and start rearranging them into a whole new picture.

You learn something from those ridiculous torturous miserable adventure races I’ve grown to love: that thing you fear, that huge and horrible beast sitting directly in your path when you turn the corner — the one you’ve certain is going to chew you up and spit you out in a swirl of pain — that thing can be HANDLED. Not without bruises and some tears and maybe a little blood… but it can be done.

In fact, this former-ballerina-turned-obstacle-racer has dredged up enough grit and fortitude to make it through a very rough-and-tumble year, which means I can absolutely make it through anything.

Hey, 2018, are you listening? I’m coming for you. And something good is definitely going to happen.

Stack it Up: The #Armparty

It’s been some time since I last wrote a post about my personal collection, and I have some recent acquisitions that deserve a little time in the sun. To be clear, these are pieces I own and wear and adore, and were all created by members of the industry whom I’m proud to call dear friends and colleagues. I link only because I love.

For a long time, bracelets were my least favorite accessory. Not because I didn’t like them — in fact, I love them — but they rarely ever loved me back. Call it #skinnygirlproblems, but stock sized bangles are always too big, chains and links are too long, and cuffs just won’t close up enough to stay put. So for a while, I simply gave up on the idea of a wrist stack, and went on to collect other things.

Enter: the medical ID bracelet. Oh, this hated but necessary piece of stainless steel (ugh, I know) that now accompanies me wherever I go. Once my doctor and family convinced me to wear it, I started to realize that I couldn’t let it just sit there, seated alone in miserably glory. If nothing else, I needed something to distract myself and others from the atrocity.

Fortunately for me, an extremely talented and thoughtful jeweler named Irene was near at hand. I first commissioned a custom rose gold bangle, hammered to a perfect texture and sized just for me. This piece accompanies me almost everywhere, as does its beautiful cousin on my mother’s wrist. Shortly thereafter, I asked my colleague and friend if she would help me create my own hammered argentium silver cuff. Some hilarious mishaps and serious hammering, clanging, swearing, polishing, and finishing later, I gratefully completed the first and only wearable in my collection.

Next in line is a bangle from my travels, purchased in Jackson Hole, WY on an anniversary trip. I spent far longer than necessary chatting with Bri, a young industry newcomer who patiently listened to me drone on about jewelry until I finally decided on a two-tone gold traveling bead Snake River hammered bangle, custom made by a talented goldsmith on site.

And finally, the most recent addition is a pure and shining contrast to my mostly textured stack. My silver slip-on bangle bracelet nestles with the rest as though it were made for stacking — which it definitely is, and makes the most charming chiming sound any time it’s gently kissed by its golden brethren. I’ve had this piece on my wrist since the moment it arrived, and I’m overwhelmingly grateful to designers like Alexis who are so mindful of creating for all shapes and sizes.

As you can see, I’m a dedicated adherent to the MaN club: Metals are Neutrals! Mix them, match them (or don’t), wear them together or feature them singly. They’re a social bunch, those shiny metals, able to play well with others or travel solo as the mood strikes.

It might still be sweater weather here in New England, but I’m daydreaming of warmer temps and shorter sleeves so I can continue to show off (and build on) the glittering group in my #armparty.

 

 

One Kick to Win it: Goal Line

This time last year, I wrote down a short list of goals for 2016 and beyond. I had never done so publicly before, but this is a personal habit I’ve long maintained in place of making resolutions. At the halfway point, I paused to do an assessment, and was surprised to note how much progress I’d made in so short a time.

To say that I exceeded my own expectations might sound like hubris, but in fact I’ve somehow managed to humble myself even further because of it. I’m proud to have accomplished so many of the things I set out to do, but even in doing so, I’ve been able to realize how important the long view can be — my goals are never truly reached, they’re extended and transformed and pushed and dragged, forcing me to adapt and change and grow.

But I’ve been struggling to come up with a well-articulated list this time around. Perhaps it’s due to the past year, where part of my personal growth has been in acknowledging and embracing just how much more growing I need to do. I know I’d like to get down to the business of my career development and really kicking some major tail in 2017 and beyond. It’s also pretty clear that I need to prioritize sustaining and nurturing the relationships and friendships I’ve been establishing, so as not to let all that excellent drinking time socializing go to waste.

So, let’s see what I end up with:

1. Build and strengthen my network
I’m nobody and nowhere without the people I meet along the way, and there’s always room for more on this train. I’m surrounded by fascinating people, and there are few things I enjoy more than turning strangers into friends.

2. Lift up and lean in
I’d like to think I’ve had a positive impact on the people around me, and that at least a few people have found value in knowing me. But I know I can continue to do more for the people — particularly women! — in my life and my industry to help them with their own ambitions. A rising tide lifts all boats.

3. Get thee to a new country
More travel, please! For business, for pleasure, or my personal favorite, combining the two. There is surely no better way to learn about yourself than when trying to explain the US election process to an Australian linguistics professor on his way to a conference in Germany (true story) or the in-field fly rule in French to a Swiss businessman en route to Spain (also true story).

4. Play a complete round of golf
I/we can totally do this. Right, mom?

5. Finish. My. GG.
I know, I said that last year. It’s one of the few things I didn’t manage to accomplish in 2016, but I did make excellent progress. This is the year.

6. Find my balance
Like many of you, the tussle between work and life can start to make me feel as frayed as the cat’s favorite mouse toy. So in the process of finding myself, my voice, and my calling, I think it’s only fair I also seek out that ineffable happy place, the center of gravity on the high wire we walk when confronted with dueling demands for our time and energy. Someone toss me a balance pole?

I have a lot to anticipate in the coming months, and I can only hope to meet it all with grace, good humor, and the fervent believe that the energy you put in is the energy you get out.

Wishing one and all good times and great karma in 2017. Please feel free to share your own goals in the comments — we can all use a little inspiration!

 

 

 

Working Through It

I was not what you’d call a sporty child.

Other than some halfhearted attempts at tennis and a little time in the marching band, dancing with Boston Ballet was my physical torture of choice. And torture it was — injuries were frequent, soreness a constant companion, and my feet have never recovered from those bloody, broken years of toe balancing.

But if there’s one good lesson to be learned in tolerating physical pain for a reason, it’s this: perseverance. When the going gets tough, the tough gets a pen and paper, makes a lot of lists, devises a plan, and relentlessly pursues every item until (a) the plan succeeds or (b) a better one comes along.

My years as a ballerina (and actor, and musician) also imparted the gift of competitiveness — as an only child, this wasn’t something I’d likely develop independently. While I certainly did compete for solos, orchestra chairs, leading roles, and the occasional bragging rights, I found that artistic competition is centered far more on being better than yourself than your closest competitor.

The way to “win” in the performance world is to distinguish yourself from the pack, offering a tiny spark of something other (rather than simply better) than what the people around you might have. The only way to accomplish this is to become immersed in your own inner process — the artistic soul, if you’ll forgive the expression — and nurture it until it rises up and overtakes the performer entirely.

Working as I have been, with one foot in a technical and business world and the other in pursuit of a degree, has given me somewhat of an inner dichotomy. Until quite recently, the two pursuits have been behaving like lines of counterpoint: always opposing, occasionally harmonizing, but never resolving.

But lately some new ideas have been making their voices heard, which has begun to round out the chorus, paint the backdrop, and perhaps set the scene for an interesting new act. Consider this a teaser trailer, a preview before the opening night. I’m working through things and working up to… something.

I’ll let you know how rehearsals go, and hopefully will set a date for the out-of-town trial very soon. Until then, tell me this: where does your own inner spark come from?  I’d love to hear about it.

A Tale of Two Evenings

I might be leading a double life.

Right in the middle of an otherwise normal (read: boring) week, I spent two back-to-back nights out, quite a bit past my bedtime. I’ll say up front that I thoroughly enjoyed them both, and that I wish every night out could be as successful as they both were, in their own ways. But the experiences couldn’t have been more different.

On Wednesday afternoon, I ducked out of work a little early to make it home in time to grab a snack and my favorite notebook. It was time for my first meeting as a board member of the WJA Boston chapter, and I was trying very hard not to feel a little anxious.

After a few hours spent planning and brainstorming with a handful of some remarkable women, I can say without any hesitation that this is going to be fun. There is a shared vision amongst these leaders to bring the local industry together, promote women in business, and focus on collaboration and creating a true community. I can get on board with this board, if you know what I mean.

With great courtesy, these women welcomed me as a young but eager member who is ready to contribute to their (our!) goals. I can’t thank them enough for the incredible amount of work they put into this organization on top of owning and running their own businesses and lives, but I hope they understand how much I appreciate them as mentors and role models as well.

So, that was Wednesday. Inspired and full of brain activity, I arrived at work on Thursday morning feeling pretty damn good. And then, shortly after a round of morning meetings, I remembered: the sales outing. Cue the uh-oh music.

As a reward for blasting past our collective sales goal last quarter, the team was given a 3-hour evening on the water to drink and be merry. Well, to drink and dance and sing and laugh and bond and essentially feel like college kids again… which, for some of the team, was like turning the clock back about three days. But a few cocktails and airbrush tattoos later, we sure did have a great time.

I know what you’re thinking. Waitaminute, you went on a booze cruise?

Yes I did. And I wouldn’t trade those hours of hair down, bottoms-up, early-2000s singalongs for anything. When I promised to say yes more often, I really meant it — for my career and my personal life.

As many of you are aware, our move back to the city was in part motivated by my desire to take on a larger role in the jewelry industry and give my career some new energy. I needed to meet more people, learn more things, and hit the ground running in a vibrant and forward-thinking community.

I can’t believe how incredibly fortunate I’ve been to find not one but two of these groups which, despite functioning in every possible way as polar opposites, have contributed significantly to my overall ambitions and quality of life. And while they occasionally stress me out and keep me up at night (again, for very different reasons), I realize that they also provide balance for each other. And this, in turn, balances me.

 

Best Laid Plans: We Don’t Do Pink

Well, you know how life goes. The minute you plan things out just a little, the big karmic wheel turns and your priorities are flipped upside-down and inside-out.

In the space of a handful of days, I found out that I’m joining the local WJA chapter’s board of directors, probably going to Europe for two weeks for a work/vacation combo, and my mother has breast cancer.

What a week.

Mom has been surrounded by an outpouring of love and support — not unexpected, given how ridiculously amazing our friends and family are — and she’s gearing up for a battle royale. We’re all pulling on the metaphorical gloves and dusting off the proverbial swords, readying ourselves to fight the good fight and make sure those nasty, invasive little cells realize they messed with the wrong woman.

If mom’s reaction to the inevitable side effects of this war is any indication, I’d say our chances of victory are excellent:

“I don’t do pink.”


As for me, well, there are okay days and not so okay days. There are times when I’m on a call at work, or chatting with a friend, or nose-deep in my colored gem studies that I can almost forget to be worried and scared. My husband is a steadying presence even when he’s thousands of miles away, and I know I need only pick up the phone to call any number of people who will tell me everything will be just fine.

I find the motivation to keep moving forward in the understanding that the more I do, the more I have to share with my biggest cheerleader, the more reasons she has to never give up. And that, in turn, forces me to get up every morning and do the things I need to do.

So bring it on, GIA. Have at it, heavy workload and overseas tradeshow and event fundraising. Let’s do this. Just don’t ask us to wear pink.

Halfway There: Goal Posts

Snow.
Ice.
Boots.
Earmuffs.
Michelin-Man-inspired outerwear.

Remember these things? Other than a useful mental exercise to keep myself cool, I’m recalling the cold December days in which I wrote this post about my personal and professional goals for the coming year. We’re well into the 80s here at the midway point of 2016 (already!), so I thought it was time for some updates.

1. Give a talk/speech/lecture to a crowd of more than 10

Just this past Monday, I did a brief presentation about my company’s newest materials and updates related to the jewelry industry. Somewhere around 40-50 people were present at this event, so I’d say that definitely counts!

This one stays on the list, because one is never enough. I would like to do many, many more of these (longer! bigger! that’s what she said!) but it was a great starting point.

2. Publish something longer than 500 words, with a byline 

My company published my whitepaper on how to sell custom jewelry, complete with photographs and byline. It got picked up and referenced by a few other 3D printing publications, which was really neat.

As with #1, this one is by no means finished. Ideally I’d like to see my words reproduced in a jewelry industry publication, so it’s time to get to work on that.

3. Finish my G.G. 

My home lab setup will be arriving very shortly (note to self: clean off designated lab space) which means I can make even more progress towards this one. I’m aiming for the end of the year. Diamonds, gemstones, and jewelry… oh my!

4. Meet new people 

Possibly one of the most fulfilling goals I’ve ever set, simply because I created it without any real plan to reach it. But with my new job came many new people to meet and get to know, which has been a surprisingly joyful and experience for this high-functioning introvert. My happiness in succeeding here is largely due to the quality of people I’m around every day, but I’m also just a little proud of myself for learning to say “yes!” to a whole lot of new experiences.

5. Talk about what I do, what I love, who I am 

Many people would argue that I usually don’t shut up about what I do, what I love, and who I am, but those people would only have recently met me (see above). Allowing my passion to come to the forefront of my personality (see below) has been a challenge, and not without its fair share of pushback. But I’m working through it and learning more about myself along the way.

6. Embrace my personality 

Perhaps both the easiest and most difficult goal on this list. It’s been so long since I’ve been willing to be my authentic self that it’s taken a little time to figure out just what that personality really is, these days. I consider myself a work in progress — forever — and so have come to embrace the journey of my personality, complete with more attention to its changes and nuances than ever before. Self-awareness is a process, but I might be learning to enjoy it.

 7. Improve the quality of my downtime 

I can hit a tiny bumpy ball with a stick (er, sometimes). I can crack a perfectly-timed joke to a crowd without feeling self-conscious. I can have more than one alcoholic beverage in a day and not feel guilty. I can list five new favorite date restaurants (and about fifty more we want to try). I frequently have plans that might almost resemble a social life, if you squint and tilt your head 20 degrees to the left. Yep, I’d say this one is well on its way to become a great habit.

Satisfactory progress all around! This year has been a big one for changes in every single aspect of my life, and I have a funny feeling I’m nowhere near finished with it (or perhaps it’s nowhere near finished with me). I don’t believe in a lot of things, but karma is a concept I fully embrace. So I’m “putting it out there,” as a dear friend would say, that as long as I’m trying to give the best of myself, I’ll be open to receiving the best the universe can offer.

 

 

 

How to Say Yes

The title sounds like a self-help book, I know. But hear me out.

My new commute affords me plenty of time to read each day, and I’ve enjoyed taking full advantage of that quiet(ish) time. Interspersed between fun fiction and travel tales, you’ll find me reading a number of books related to success, leadership, leaning in… you know, those.

It seems that a running theme in many of these popular reads is the power of saying no. Evidently a lot of powerful, successful women have learned that a healthy ability to say N-O at work is crucial to maintaining both their status and their sanity.

I don’t disagree.

But some of these fine ladies gloss over the fact that to even get where they are now —  and have the ability to say no with authority — they first had to learn something else: how to say yes.

I don’t mean the kind of yes-ing that leads to overwork and underpay. I definitely don’t mean the kind that can cost you more than your career.

But as a woman who is perhaps a shade too comfortable, too quick to say no to things outside of my comfort zone, I’m working on a process to teach myself to say yes.

Yes, I can handle that report. Can you show me how to format it?

Yes, I can take the lead in that conversation. Let’s go over an agenda.

Yes, learning to do that is important to me. Are you available on Thursday?

Yes, I will join the team after work for some social fun time. How do I sign up?

For my fellow actors, this is my version of “yes, and.”** It can ease my way into saying yes to things that might otherwise intimidate me by asking a follow-up question. This lets the other party know I’m involved, but doesn’t force them to assume I know everything and won’t need any guidance.

Yes, that big sale was mine.

Yes, I know how to do that.

I’m also learning not to apologize for my success, which is another way of saying yes to myself. It used to be my habit to downplay the sales I made when I was selling jewelry, because the experience I received from it always seemed to trump the actual fact. I’ve since learned to value the more cut-and-dry factors in addition to the less tangible gains. Dollars and… sense!

For me, saying yes has been as challenging to embrace as saying no can be for others. There’s a freedom to it I hadn’t anticipated, almost like that feeling I used to get while on stage — embracing a feeling, committing to the scene, making the magic happen. How nice to see that play out in real life.

**When you take a class or perform improvisation, it’s crucial to move the scene along by always saying some version of “yes, and…” You don’t want to be the one to kill the momentum of the scene by refusing to go with the flow.