Strong + Determined – Urban Campfire 2015


The year was 2012. President Obama won his 2nd term in office. London hosted the Summer Olympics. The Hobbit, The Avengers, The Hunger Games, and Skyfall were at the movies. And Adele was all over the music charts, winning 6 Grammys that year.
It was the year I launched a massive, mind blowing, renovation project on my grandmother’s house in Northern Maine, the house where my mother was born and the community where I was born and raised. The house where I spent every Sunday with my aunts, uncles, and cousins, and all of my school holidays and sick days with my grandmother, Mary. A house filled with love. A house that I’d owned now for about 15 years.

When I bought the house, I hired an architect, who hired a slough of professionals, and for a year, we created plans, plans and plans. I then put those plans away. Until this year. 2012.

The reason why I started this project that year is still unknown to me. People thought I was crazy. I mean the house was levitating at one point when I had to replace the rock foundation. It was just a house, after all. Sure, it was built by my family over 100 years ago on land that’d been in my family since the 1800’s. But it was still just a house.

I was definitely stretching my own boundaries and testing the boundaries of those around me. I knew I was heading for something big, something transformational. I just didn’t know what it was.

I became driven. The more I demolished, the more driven I became. The clutter was literally being cleared away and I could see my vision for this house emerging. I didn’t know exactly what that vision was, but it was emerging. I was excited about the potential of this property, and somehow my potential became part of the house’s potential. I started clearing away the clutter in other parts of my life, and it was exhilarating.

I changed my habits.

I ate breakfast every day. This had not been part of my daily routine since childhood.

I ate salads for every lunch and dinner and never waivered from that commitment to my health.

I did an hour of cardio 5 days a week and never deviated from that commitment to my fitness.

I lost an additional 15 pounds, on top of the 35 I had already lost over the prior year and a half.

I gave up caffeine, an adult obsession I’d had since my college days, and something I needed to get my day started. Every day.

I gave up alcohol, a daily habit of mine for many, many years, and something I needed to take the edge off. Every day.

I was caught in this cycle of caffeine and alcohol, caffeine and alcohol. Every day.

Out of all the changes I went through this year, giving up caffeine and alcohol were the hardest for my friends to accept. These habits were so core to who I was.

I learned discernment, looking at all aspects of my life and making intentional choices on where I wanted to spend my mental energy. Every day.

Some were tough choices, choices with consequences. I lost friends and pissed off colleagues. I heard over and over again, “Susan, you’ve changed,” and it wasn’t said as a compliment. I let go of outcomes. My negotiating power became strong. I doubled my income as a consultant that year. And I made new friends. Friends who saw who I was becoming and balanced the give and take of my energy.

I found my one true love, and left my husband of 25 years.

And I fell in love with myself at the age of 50.

I realized I’d been living a life of distractions and started living a life of purpose.

It started with letting go of what I had, and ended with letting go of what I am, or what I was at the time. I let go of so many things – possessions, relationships, unhealthy habits, and my mental model of who I thought I was. I reconnected with my past, acknowledged my failures, and discovered my hopes and dreams. Like starting a foundation for girls in my grandmother’s house, my house, in Northern Maine. And through this period of deep and intense transformation, I found the woman who I am today. My one true self. Living my life with purpose. Filled with love and gratitude. Every day.

So, when I made a trip to Northern Maine recently, I visited my grandmother’s grave. It’s not something I do very often. My connection with my grandmother is visceral. She’s always in my heart. Standing there at the top of the hill, in my family’s cemetery, overlooking the land of my ancestors, I closed my eyes, letting the warm sun and soft breeze clear my mind. When I opened my eyes, the words “Strong + Determined” flashed before me. And, I knew it down to my very core. That’s who I’ve become. And, I love this woman down to her very core.