I’ve Been Thinking… about Who I Am Right Now
I’ve Been Thinking…
“At this moment we must decide what kind of nation we are going to be,” said President Biden in his speech on the first anniversary of the January 6 insurrection. “Are we going to be a nation that lives not by the light of the truth but in the shadow of lies? We cannot allow ourselves to be that kind of nation.”
Decisions can be hard to make. Yes, some are easier than others. But making the decisions that will change your life? Well, that can be pretty difficult. You have to be brave to make hard choices. You have to be willing to push through the discomfort. You have got to stand in your truth and be willing to see it through.
As this new year begins, I find myself taking stock of the decisions I’ve made in my own life. That includes choices I made last year, as well as ones I’ve made over the course of many years. I always find it helpful to step back and get above the noise so that I can look at what’s working and what’s not. I like to find the connecting threads that tie everything together and ask myself, “Are you where you want to be, Maria? Do you know where you want to be?” Then, if anything feels missing, I ask myself what I can do to make more room for it and drop what might be cluttering me internally or externally.
Several years ago, I wrote a book called Just Who Will You Be? It came out of a graduation speech that I gave at my nephew’s high school, where I posed a question about identity to the young people embarking on a new adventure in their lives.
Today, I realize that asking “Just who will you be?” is pertinent at this stage of my life, as well. I would also humbly suggest that it’s a good question for you, no matter where you may find yourself right now.
Who are you right now? No, not your job or what you do. Who are you as a person, and who do you want to be in this new year? Do you feel good about the life you are living? Is it the life you want to be living? If not, can you create a life you desire, one that excites you, makes you want to get up in the morning, and is steeped in a passion and purpose?
As I’ve stepped back and looked at my life from 30,000 feet, I’ve come to realize that I’ve spent all my time trying to create my very own wildly authentic life. I’ve been trying to build a life that doesn’t look like my mother’s life (as great and as impressive as hers was). A life that doesn’t look like my brothers’ or my uncles’ or my cousins’ lives. Discovering my purpose, following my heart, and living authentically continues to be the work of my life.
As I look back, I now realize that almost every decision I’ve made has come from some unknown place deep within me, be it my soul, my heart, or my gut. Decisions that come from those places might not make sense at the time (and they certainly don’t always make sense to others), but they do beckon us forward onto our own unique path and closer to our own wildly authentic lives.
Growing up as an only girl in a family of guys, I always felt different. I was never quite sure why, though. Was it because I was the only girl, or was it because I sensed a wildness in me that I didn’t sense in others? Did I feel different because I felt more at home with horses than people? Did I feel different because my mother seemed so different from everyone else’s mothers? (After all, she wore men’s clothes, went to the office every day, had a briefcase, smoked cigars, and was a force of nature determined to alter the course of the world.)
I knew my family was different, but even within my wildly different family, I still felt different and found myself, at every turn, making very different choices from others in my large, Irish Catholic, Democratic family.
No one in my family understood my desire to go into journalism instead of politics. No one understood my decision to move from the East Coast to Los Angeles. No one understood my decision to marry who I did (for sure, no one understood that!).
No one understood why I wanted to start writing books or making documentaries. And when I insisted on working to change the narrative around Alzheimer’s to focus on women, everyone thought I was delusional. But I knew I wasn’t.
No one understood how I could be a democratic First Lady and serve in a Republican administration, nor why I ended up leaving the Democratic Party to become an Independent. No one even understood why I wanted to start this newsletter. People raised their eyebrows and asked me why I would spend so much of my time on such a silly idea. They were so wrong.
No one understood why I wanted to start a food company focused on brain health at my age. Everyone told me that entrepreneurship was for twenty-somethings, not sixty-somethings. And the list goes on.
I share all of this with you because at every turn, people will doubt your decisions. They will question who you marry, or if you decide to leave your marriage. They will question you if you try to start a company or close the doors on one. They will question you if you decide you want to run for office or become a leader in some other way.
Not every decision you make in life will work out the way you hope. At times, you will find yourself berating, doubting, or criticizing yourself. You will experience sadness, fear, doubt, and insecurities that stem from choices gone wrong (that’s happened to me, for sure). You will wonder why you couldn’t have just done it the “more normal” way (news flash: there is no normal way). And, for sure, you will fight your wildness. Others will also try to tame it in you. It may scare them, and it will probably scare you. But please don’t let it.
Don’t let anyone try to tame or silence you. Please do the exact opposite. Celebrate your fire and your wildness. Celebrate the bravery that lies within you. It is what enables you to carve out your own path and live out loud. After all, we need people to live out loud, burn brightly, and speak up now more than ever .
I believe we are here to live out our own unique destiny, and in order to do that, you have to be brave enough to chart your own course and follow your own heart. You also have to be brave enough to keep making things up as you go, and then to share all your learnings with others. Yes, all of them.
Share your insights with others with the hope that what you learn will make someone else’s path just a bit easier. That’s what people like Mary Oliver did for me. So did Pema Chödrön, Gloria Steinem, Barbara Walters, Oriana Fallaci, Dorothy Day, Sister Joan Chittister, my mother, and the various saints I read about when I was a little girl. So did different friends who have come into my life, who I believe were sent with the distinct purpose of waking me up and showing me a different way forward.
So in this new year, I hope you take the time to step back from the noise and the clutter so you can really look at your life from a quiet place. I hope you take the time to check in with your heart, your soul, your gut, and your spiritual self (yes, you have a spiritual self) and ask yourself the questions I posed above.
The key is waiting for the answers. The key is to not judge what comes up. The key is getting comfortable with the unknown. Remember, your purpose is yours alone, so try not to compare yourself or what brings you joy to someone else. Don’t be afraid of your differences or your wildness. Celebrate them both. They are what will lead you to your own wildly authentic life out in The Open Field.
That’s where I’ll be waiting. Yes, I will be there waiting for you. The Sunday Paper’s mission and purpose is to light your way forward. It is designed to accompany you on your path, so you don’t feel alone. You are not. We are here. You are in good company as you ponder these questions.
Our country is being asked to redefine its purpose and its identity right now as well. It’s being asked to embark on an internal revolution and an external one as well. It will need all of us in this coming year to be clear, calm, and centered about what matters to us individually and as a larger whole. It will need all of us to be focused on what matters and what we are each willing to sacrifice for the greater good.
Yes, we will have to make sacrifices. We will have to make choices and take stands. We will have to ask ourselves the big questions: “Who am I? What do I believe? What is my purpose? What are my values? What does it mean to be a citizen of our country at this time?
What choices am I willing to make? Do I have what it takes to be a disruptor for good?”
Think about that. I always think of Jesus as a revolutionary, a disruptor for good. St. Francis and Mary were, too. In fact, many saints and leaders in our country were. Think about Martin Luther King Jr. Think about my uncles. Think about my mother. They were all willing to disrupt the status quo for something better.
Our country has always been wildly authentic in its own way. And like anybody trying to live out a wildly authentic life, it is readjusting and reframing and finding its way right now as well. We’re both on parallel courses.
If the greater good is our north star—if preserving our democracy is our goal—then each of us will have to think long and hard about our lives in conjunction with our country’s life. I’m not scared of this. I’m actually ready and willing. I want to be a disruptor for good. I hope you will join me.
So happy new year to all of you, my fellow travelers. May peace be with you. May you go into this new year loving and celebrating the fire and the wildness within you. May you design a life that inspires you and others. The time is now. Let’s go.