Last week, I chose not to publish this email newsletter. I abandoned my draft, in which I addressed the subject of war. I left it not just because of the (not so) cheery nature of the project but because I was mourning. Correction, I am mourning… the loss of my beloved Fifi, the sidekick super-cat to my SuperwomAnne.
I didn’t make this up. Rest assured, this was a storyline sweetly written up by JoSo - nickname for the unit that is Joanna and Sophia, two of my favourite team members ever, respectively based in NYC and HK, to mark my departure from Christian Louboutin in 2017.
Anyone who knows me well knows that Fifi has been my constant for the past 17 years. JoSo immortalised our relationship in their comic book creation, which I loved and appreciated at the time, but which perhaps feels even more precious now. When we lose a beloved one, often we are scared they will disappear further with time, out of mind, out of heart, as if they’d never existed.
And what a legacy for that four-legged tortoiseshell from South London to make it into print; the two of us with our red capes (and me with a golden crown made of Louboutin lipsticks).
I was a different person when we first met (a story for another time): I had a different career, relationship status, and lived in a different country. Looking around today, I realise it was a completely different world then.
While everything changed around me, she remained. Always there for me, my cute, feisty yet cuddly BFF. When I decided to change careers, my new WFH lifestyle bonded us even closer together. Prior to that, I was often absent, although always leaving her with the kindest minders. So many of them have supported us in our adventures across five countries and two continents together.
When she got ill last September, it knocked me sideways. Literally. My left ankle gave in as I was walking through my living room, in flat shoes, may I add, after battling to get her to swallow an antibiotic tablet. I became a decent cat-nurse with practice, and thankfully, my sprain wasn’t that bad. But the metaphor remains a powerful reminder. Catalytic events (for me losing a pet) can shake us up so much they throw us right out of balance. And it can be hard to accept to stop moving. Feel the pain. Be with it instead of trying to escape it.
Yesterday, I felt a twinge in the same area. More mindful, I softly put my hand around my ankle. “I’m stronger than before,” I said to it. “It’s okay; I’m paying attention now.”
Like many of us, I have a tendency to push myself even in times of pain and difficulty, and I’m trying to learn from my past mistakes (and God knows there are many). Hopefully, this will help me show up as the best person I can be.
So why am I sharing this with you? This is a business newsletter, after all.
I care about mindful work and mindful communication.
And as I read the other day, from Jerry Colonna’s book, Reboot:
“The magic, the alchemy occurs, when what we do mixes with who we are and is cooked by the heat of what we believe.”
I believe it’s best to share, to use our voice, even when it’s uncomfortable, tears and all. To be with what is, not be scared to feel - and hopefully connect with others more deeply as a result. My truth is that I am a blubbering mess of tears because I lost my cat. Meanwhile, I am very worried about the escalation of a horrendous war that feels dangerously close.
And this all sucks, terribly. Because, reminder, we are just “getting out” (until further notice) of a global pandemic!
Also, although my grief will be different from yours, we’re all going to lose loved ones, four-legged and otherwise. We may lose even more - like our sense of identity - when we shift gears when circumstances impose it upon us.
So we may as well be ourselves and talk about what’s going on. And be there for each other, simply by reading or listening. And then we can perhaps do better work, together, or for each other, mindful of what’s going on.
Brené Brown, in her last newsletter, shared this:
“One of the most valuable gifts in my life was from my mom. She taught us to never look away from pain. The lesson was simple and clear:
Don’t look away. Don’t look down.
Don’t pretend not to see hurt.
Look people in the eye.
Even when their pain is overwhelming.
And when you’re hurting and in pain, find people who can look you in the eye.
We need to know we’re not alone—especially when we’re hurting.”
And she calls it: Strong Back. Soft Front. Wild Heart.
It was the opposite in my family, lots of pretending everything was fine when things really weren’t. And at work too, not everywhere, every day, but too often. So this feels like a big change. In my life, teacher Jack Kornfield was the first person I heard tell a story, his own personal one, to illustrate how powerful it can be to name what’s blatantly in the room. I was touched. Of course, we first need to not pretend, to acknowledge what is, if we want to name, what’s in the room.
Jerry Colonna calls this “warrior stance” and adds that it “allows us to say: “Here I am, mess and all, do with me what you will.” And that “the toughest aspect of being a leader - hell, of being an adult - is meeting the world as it is and not as we wish it to be. The demons of the world, the demons of your soul, require just one thing: your broken-open heart.”
For a couple of days, I felt ashamed about my tears. She was just a cat, my rational mind kept on saying. It didn’t take me long to admit my rational mind was full of BS. Fifi wasn’t “just a cat” to me. And no matter how disrupted and terrible the world around me was, it didn’t take away the pain. I can’t ignore it, and also, I don’t want to.
A friend also reminded me the other day, although she was talking about something different, that we are defined by the quality of our relationships and the people we surround ourselves with. So, it’s only fair I pay tribute to her since Fifi, my beloved friend, roommate, and cuddling partner, filled me with immense joy every day and simply made my life better.
So I sit here, typing these words, my fingers slightly numb as I sit on my balcony in the cold March sun, not heartbroken but heart-swollen.
I’m hoping this takes on as another option when our hearts are heavy: heart-swollen, full of love and gratitude.
Because we should all be so lucky to have such a profoundly joyful relationship for nearly two decades. Lucky, lucky (crying) me.
Meanwhile, in a moderate state of alert, I'm noticing the signature sound of non-commercial airplanes flying above me. And while I’m still crying episodically throughout the day, you’ll find me looking online for a solar panel generator, or discussing how to best help refugees coming into my country, from Ukraine or anywhere else in the world.
And I’m thinking: we still need to work. Right?
This week’s digest reflects my state of mind, very mixed, as you’ll see. But, in times like these, I think it’s good not to pretend, like I said, that it’s business as usual.
So now, what’s going on with you? Tell me - we can be stronger together.