Said: Gratitude

Today I am resurrecting my blog with the concept of GRATITUDE, a word of broad spectrum that i try to embrace daily.

Gratitude is a boomerang.

I rarely regret anything; rarely do I look back and say to myself, that was a mistake: a preference for optimism I suppose. I have a huge amount of gratitude for things that have happened in my life - equally bad and good - and towards the things that I look forward to doing before its all wrapped up and gone. Gratitude for so many things.

Nothing could be more true of the present moment; with an unexpected shift in career, I feel there’s a clear road ahead and i’m deeply grateful to have that perspective. Moving from one professional position to another is never an easy shift. Whether the departure is in your control or not, the process of shifting, professionally or personally, challenges your self esteem, ego, and sometimes confidence. A big shift - say a new job, moving, relationship, etc - is a challenge that forces you to be brave, truly brave, and being brave is key to finding gratitude. Being brave means you have take stock of past experiences you have had, distill what you’ve learned, accept the individuals you are engaged with and mostly to face the past negativities, embrace and accept those experiences, observing the evolving shift as an opportunity for new possibilities. Gratitude is swallowing that ‘big pill’ and feeling good about it, knowing what has happened is a benefit. A lesson in appreciation for opening opportunities ahead.

One key component of moving forward is having gratitude for others that have supported you. There are people who unknowingly help you everyday and you may not be aware that you help others. Likewise you may not imagine how gratitude comes back to you; Betty Wilson was that person for whom I had tremendous gratitude and eventually if came full circle.

I left home at fourteen, conditions i couldn’t manage, ended up homeless for quite some time. Suffice to say that many things happened along the way but by the time I hit 19 I was determined to get ahead and become the best person I could be. I enrolled in community college determined to have an education, perhaps study law. I had my mind set on ‘justice’ and I started taking requisite core classes at the local community college. Of all the classes I fell in love with architectural history and when I finished the entire sequence, I moved on to the History of Interiors and Design. I produced many drawings, paintings and papers for this beloved class and for my final grade submitted a ‘portfolio’ of sorts. Two weeks later, my teacher Betty, called me back and told me I could not have my portfolio, she submitted it for a scholarship to an art school and emphasized I should consider pursuing interior design, that I had received the Merit award scholarship she had submitted me for. I had no idea if that was what I wanted but i did decide to visit and ultimately received my BFA with Honors in Interior Architecture from there. Four years later I went to claim my Masters in Architecture from Columbia University, met my then future husband, married, had a son, developed an interior architecture practice and ended up teaching in both architecture and interior design at Columbia U, Barnard, UPENN, Parsons and Yale. One Interior Design student in particular I felt was holding herself back, was so talented as a 3D thinker, visualizer and designer. Her timid behavior urged me to push her more; her final project was amazingly beautiful and she ended my top student in the class.

So, back to Betty Wilson.

I went home a few years ago and jumped on the ferry from San Francisco to see my dad in Larkspur. It was to my great surprise that I saw Betty on that boat and right then I gave her the biggest hug and thank you ever. I told her how grateful I was to have had her as a teacher, how her one kind gesture had shifted my path and opened up a road of wonderful possibilities, both professionally and personally. How I had been able to attain scholarships for my work and fellowships for travel, lived in several countries (Uk, Japan, Czech Republic, Netherlands) and finally settled in New York to practice, teach and raise a son. She was delighted to hear all of this, as she had no idea that her one kind gesture had driven my success. I still have endless gratitude for this and for her passing though my life.

Two years later I received a letter from that once timid student I had had. She had written a letter to me, thanking me for all I had opened up to her; her parents were extremely religious and didn’t believe women should be educated beyond high school. They didn’t want her to pursue a college education and her husband at the time, felt the same and resisted her pursuits as well. But she explained that I had shown her that it was all possible. To be a designer, practitioner, mother, wife and teacher was all possible if you had the passion. My support for her work had inspired her to change her life and so she had divorced the husband that held her back, committed her love but not her values to her parents, applied and had been accepted to graduate school and achieved her Masters in Architecture with Honors as well. She has recently gotten engaged to a loving, supporting partner and is pursuing her dream of a professional career in architecture. Her gratitude - inspired and driven by bravery - gave her a road forward full of opportunities just as mine had done because of Betty.

Betty, if you ever read this, my continual and deepest gratitude to you. Your one, kind gesture changed the course of my life for so much the better and in so doing I had the opportunity to do the same for another struggling young woman. I also currently have the bravery to move forward in the current shift I am facing. Gratitude is a boomerang legacy. It lifts you up, creates opportunities and makes you brave. Being brave allows you to move forward with gratitude as your shield. Gratitude is a gift: feel it - get it - share it, it comes back to support you again and again.