Partner in Crime

IMG_5962I have been inching my way to this point of my life for the last five years, after my carefully constructed life came crashing down around me.

Like many women my age, I bought into the idea that I could be it all, have it all. My entire life I had heard that message.

Not only that I could, but that I should.

As a progressive woman with equal rights, I should be able to choose any profession I want and become the best in my field. Simultaneously, I should marry Prince Charming and create a perfect, beautiful little family. I should be able to balance home and work life with ease, looking skinny and beautiful in the process.

In fact, with the 24 hours allotted to me each day I should be able to juggle 8-10 hours in the corporate world working my way to the top, keeping my cell phone with me at all times to make sure no client needs slipped through the cracks; create the perfect crumb-free and happy home for my family; attend to everyone’s needs on a moment’s notice throughout the day happily setting my own aside; make it to the gym 5-6 days a week to be sure I maintained a thin figure; financially support those I loved while preparing for my own future; squeeze in hair, skin, and nail care to ensure I always looked young no matter my age; and somehow make sure my spirit remained filled and centered.

And I did. I balanced it all, though it was a tenuous balance. I spent my days racing from one need to the next trying to keep up, maintain control, and feed the illusion I had it all.

I was a successful modern day woman.

Until that moment five years ago when things came crashing down, I found myself in the midst of death, a divorce, a major career change, and the terminal illness of a close family member. Suddenly despite all the time and energy I had spent crafting this “perfect” life, it was all stripped away with no warning. With the crystal clarity that accompanies tragedy, I realized my ability to balance and control things had really all been an illusion, and in focusing on that, I had contributed to the loss of all I treasured. It was both the hardest and the best thing that ever happened to me.

Losing everything I valued started me on a path of self-discovery. For the last five years, I have been slowly and painfully uncovering what beliefs actually come from me and which are the creation of people who influenced my life, or worse, the product of believing the lies the world told me. It has taken years to strip away the layers of thoughts, feelings, illusions, and emotions to get to the point where I can rebuild from scratch with a solid, authentic foundation. As the months go on, I have carefully added layers back, sorting through what things in my life need to stay, and which need to go.

The process has been painful. It’s been filled with grief and goodbyes, hard conversations, difficult truths, and course corrections.

By far the hardest part has been making wise choices and learning to let my heart love again post-divorce.

Everyone feels heartache at one point or another. I am not the exception. I am not the first or the last to experience betrayal and the loss of a dream for what I thought married life would be.

Knowing that, however, didn’t make it any less painful.

I was determined to come through my divorce a better version of myself rather than a bitter one. But that took additional healing time. It would have been so much easier to build a bitter wall around my heart, to keep it closed off, never letting anyone in. But life behind a wall while safe, was lonely.

Soon after returning from the beach two years ago when I made the decision to try to live life brave instead of perfect, I met someone. A friend of a friend. He asked me out.

My instinct was to say no. I didn’t fully know yet who I was. I was highly aware I was a broken, less than perfect, battered version of myself. I was uncertain of my self-worth, unsure where I was headed in life, scarred, and scared. And yet I had just made a pact with myself to live life braver. To say yes more often. To not let fear rule each day. This was my chance to give more than lip service to the idea.

So I said yes. And in that one brave moment, my life forever changed.

Our road hasn’t always been smooth. It took a long time for him to knock my wall down completely. The baggage we each carry from life experiences clashes at times. We both have a tendency to become masons, quickly reconstructing our protective walls when conflicts arise.

But we both have a commitment to living authentically.

We have both dug into the mistakes of our past and reconciled them, doing the hard work to get healthy so we can be better partners to one another. In Kris, I have found a partner who not only supports and encourages me to be brave not perfect, but is willing to walk the path with me as my partner in crime. Daily he shows me there is less to fear when we face things together. And he reminds me often that while I am trying to shed my perfectionism, I am already perfect for him.

Million Girl Army

Sara 3I’m nervous. I’m an hour away from touching down on the east coast. The next six days stretch before me. I feel a mix of anxiety, hope, excitement, and fear as I write. I’m traveling to Washington DC for Million Girl Army, a non-profit organization I launched a year and a half ago. While starting a new business is always challenging, the size and scope of Million Girl Army frequently overwhelms me. Daily I run up against challenges that make me question whether or not I’m the right person to lead this movement.

Million Girl Army is an idea I have had for eight years. Because the idea is so grand, it took me the first six and a half years to get past my fear and even step out and try it. Its launch corresponded with the aftermath of the twirling incident I wrote about in the blog post The Catalyst. That moment when I put a stake in the ground and decided to be brave not perfect, I decided to take the first step to make MGA a reality. I have been baby stepping my way through the process ever since.

Million Girl Army’s mission is to transform middle school girls into globally compassionate teens who combine their resources to change the world. Essentially it is my dream to recruit one million middle school girls in the developed world and teach them what it would be like to be a girl their age in a developing country. Through monthly video curriculum we explore what they have in common with girls on the other side of the world, and what looks vastly different. We talk about the responsibility that comes with having more and we dive into how to remain fearless as they age so that they truly become the world changers of tomorrow. Simultaneously, their yearly dues go to partner organizations around the world helping young girls get out of harrowing situations. It truly is an organization built on reciprocal relationships, youth helping youth with the hope of creating a brighter tomorrow.

I love the vision of MGA. I love the optimism of the youth I get to work with on a daily basis. I love knowing this organization has the power to truly impact thousands of girls around the world, millions if we reach our goal.

But it is easy to get discouraged by the day-to-day challenges of running a start-up non-profit organization. It is hard to convince people to financially support us when we are an unknown entity. There are so many details to attend to and no money to hire experts to help. I have had to learn video editing, website designing, platform building, social media marketing. I’ve had to dust off my curriculum writing skills, study how to pitch people to receive their financial support, navigate board relations, wade into IRS rules and regulations, and so much more. While I’m learning a lot, my general inability in these areas discourages me regularly. The perfectionist in me wants to be the best at everything, so to spend many hours a week floundering my way through things often takes the wind out of my sails.

After a year and a half, Million Girl Army is finally ready for nationwide growth. We have built, tested, reworked, designed and redesigned all to reach this moment where the platform is ready and able to support the interaction of thousands of girls. We are ready to start a movement.

It’s a pivotal moment and I’m scared to death.

What if MGA doesn’t take off? What if I run out of money before MGA has a real chance to grow? What if the young girls of the world remain unchanged because I couldn’t bring the movement to fruition?

I live in fear every day. Fear of failure. Fear of coming all this way only to watch the dream die. Fear that the journey to this point will all be for nothing. It is a mental battle each day to keep pushing forward, to not give in to the fear.FullSizeRender

This week I have a few incredible opportunities. Sean Litton, the president of International Justice Mission, has invited me to shadow him for a day at the IJM offices. It’s a chance to witness a large organization in motion, to ask him the questions that keep me up at night.

And I get to dig in with Melissa Trumbull, the Vice President of MGA’s board of directors, soaking in her knowledge of non-profit board relations. I get to meet her contacts and her middle school daughters’ friends and talk with them about Million Girl Army. I get to launch MGA on the east coast (fingers crossed). I get to meet with Kimberly Gonxhe, founder of Live Foundation and a supporter of MGA. She and I will have a chance to talk about our love for disadvantaged girls around the world and our dreams for how we can help them.

All of it is a huge blessing. These people have agreed to put their skills to work to help me, to help MGA. I am thankful.

At the same time, I feel tremendous anxiety. I’m stepping outside my comfort zone. I have always been intimidated by smart people, smart women in particular. I never feel I measure up. I get nervous, and shy, and even more introverted than I usually am. The awkwardness of my youth reappears, opening old wounds.

And yet I am on this plane now because of the journey I’m writing about on this blog. Because I am determined to bravely seize this opportunity. Because I won’t let fear keep me from helping the next generation of girls change the world. Because I can’t preach bravery and fearlessness to them and be bound by fear and perfectionism myself.

So I’m here. Less than an hour from touchdown. My heart is beating a bit too fast already. My seatmates probably wish I would quit fidgeting. And yet, I’m keenly aware that each fidget, each rapid heartbeat is a reminder that I’m outside the boundary of perfect and in the territory of bravery.

Just where I want to be.

To learn more about Million Girl Army visit:


Dreaded Costumes

IMG_6124I hate Halloween. I was never opposed to collecting candy from strangers, in fact that part of the holiday suited my sweet tooth quite well. I also wasn’t worried about the holiday’s connection with the darker things of the world. No, my anxiety about Halloween kicked in around October 1st each year because of one thing – costumes.

As the annual school costume parade came closer and closer with each passing day, my anxiety increased. There is so much on the line with Halloween when you’re young, especially for introverted perfectionists. The introvert in me hated (heck, still hates) the attention costumes bring, the perfectionist feared I would pick the wrong costume, one that would send me forever to the outskirts of my peer group. I was shy and awkward throughout school but somehow managed to not be the most picked on member of the class and I wanted to keep it that way. The wrong costume could change everything.

On top of that, every year I fantasized I would pick the right beautiful and clever costume that would catapult me to popularity and acceptance. No small fete when you come from a solidly middle class family with no extra resources for store bought costumes. The pressure was high.

I am convinced I was born in the wrong decade. Today, homemade costumes are highly praised, bright spots in a sea of mass made Elsa costumes. In the 80’s? Not so much. Each year I would sit with my mom and think through costumes we could make with resources from home, dreaming all the while of the store bought costume aisles.

I became a witch. A clown. A Raggedy Ann nurse. Mary Poppins. A librarian. A gum-ball machine (picture a clear plastic bag filled with balloons that needed much explanation and was impossible to sit in). Charlie Brown.

To my mom’s credit, she came up with clever ideas and stretched limited resources to cover all three of us every year. But I never was a beautiful store bought princess or a popular character everyone knew from the most recent Disney movie. I spent my Halloweens explaining my costume again and again. Never quite receiving the affirmation I was looking for from the world. Always feeling like I didn’t quite measure up.

When I reached high school, I stopped participating. I came up with reasons every year for why I couldn’t dress up, why I couldn’t attend costume parties. If I did go, I always had an excuse ready for why I wasn’t in costume.

I did the same for 30 years, unaware of exactly what was making me hesitate when an occasion called for a costume. I just always had a strong visceral physical response and since I was an adult, I chose not to participate.

When I began this journey to be brave not perfect, an opportunity quickly presented itself for me to dress in costume, a funkalicious 70’s night to support a friend. My negative reaction caught my attention. I started digging deeper. I had never stopped to think why I hated Halloween and costumes. I’d never looked beneath the surface feelings to uncover the root cause. And when I did? There was my nemesis perfectionism waiting to greet me.

Every child wants to fit in. We are wired for acceptance. Our school years are filled with navigating the perils that come with fickle female friendships where you are in the clique one day and out the next for no apparent reason. Academic life is structured for comparison. I was a good student, perfect grades every year. But I was not perfectly accepted for just being who I was, and at times I was actively teased. Halloween seemed to highlight my awkwardness and lack of resources, pushing me farther from acceptance.

As my need to achieve society’s idea of perfection grew with each passing year, I began to avoid anything that made me feel awkward or on the outskirts. Costumes were the first to go.

So it seemed appropriate they be one of the first things tackled as I began this journey.

Recently, as 70’s funkalicious night loomed closer, the same anxiety crept in. Returning to the site again and again, I scoured Amazon for the perfect outfit until I realized I was approaching the experience with the same feelings and behaviors. Correcting that, I settled on one that was good enough, determined to embrace the costume and the experience flaws and all.

The night arrived, I donned my costume, and the world did not fall down around me. In fact, while the wig was itchy and I was technically more 60’s than 70’s, the night was great. We danced. We sang. We took silly pictures. And 30 minutes in, I took a few minutes to remember the little girl who stood behind her Charlie Brown mask hoping no one would look at her, the little girl who explained her costume shyly again and again to an underwhelming response, and I told her she was brave.

She was brave then and she is brave now. And in that, she is perfect.


The Catalyst

IMG_2095I was born already perfect. But I grew up in a world that seemed determined to teach me otherwise. To fit the world’s ideal, I became an overachiever, a classic Type A woman out to prove I could do it all. Be the best in my professional field. Be the best wife. Create the best family. Be beautiful. Be thin. Be the world’s definition of perfect. And I was doing great. I carefully constructed the life I wanted, a life that looked perfect to the outside world.

Until it crashed down around me.

Everything I so carefully built fell away. My marriage. My job. My carefully constructed world, the world I thought was in my control. Turns out, all these years the world had been lying to me. “Perfect” just wasn’t…well, perfect. And in questing to be “perfect,” I let important things slip away.

With my life in shambles, I started to look hard at who I was and who I wanted to be. In doing so, I uncovered that my perfectionism was stifling. Over time, I had become afraid to try new things. Afraid to take a silly picture. Afraid to put my real self out in the world.

I was bound by fear of being imperfect.

Just before my 40th birthday I walked along a beach in South Carolina. I was enjoying the moment, feeling the sun on my face and listening to the waves crash. I had retreated there to recover from my divorce and the crushing grief that came when I realized my whole life had been an illusion.

A friend had told me before I left that her favorite thing in the world was to twirl in the sun on the beach. She asked me to twirl for her. As I went to do so, I found I couldn’t. Far down on the beach were a few people, what if they saw me? What if I didn’t look perfect doing it? I hadn’t twirled since I was a kid, did I even know how to twirl?

I left the beach a few days later…without twirling.

On the plane home it bothered me. A week later, I snapped. What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I simply express my joy in that moment by turning in a circle? How did I get this way? How had the world’s view of what I should be slowly replace mine to the point I was paralyzed by perfectionism?

I realized I was tired of trying to be it all. I wanted to be ok just as I was. I wanted to play again. Laugh again. To be free. Free of all the world tells me I’m supposed to be as a woman.

Free to twirl.

I started listening to my girlfriends as they talked about their lives, their dreams, and the perfectionism that also drives them. And I realized this isn’t specific to me. This is something most of my female peers struggle with.


I returned to the beach recently, over a year later. I walked onto the sand and twirled, taking my first baby step towards freedom from fear. It felt fantastic. So fantastic I returned day after day, twirling on each one. With each turn I felt the chokehold of perfectionism begin to fall away. And on my last day, I made a decision to begin this journey.

A journey to shed the perfectionism that has been my constant companion for as long as I remember. A journey to try new things whenever my perfectionism tells me not to. A journey to take a less than perfect picture because it just. doesn’t. matter. A journey you’re invited to walk with me.

A journey to be brave not perfect.