Once upon a time, I sparkled with newness as a fresh-out-of-grad school professional, working alongside many seasoned and smart colleagues in higher ed. To a person, I’d say, we adored our counseling and therapeutic roles, even the stalwart veterans who could’ve been cranky and inflexible but were savvy and nimble instead.
As a team, we did it all – psychotherapy, career counseling, personal and mental health – and the satisfaction that came from being a part of a high functioning team WAS priceless. Ah, the lessons I learned. As the youngest, I felt I’d been gifted with newfound family – older brothers and sisters – bonded by the dedication and drive to help others.
We were boisterous, bold, creative, and unrelenting in our advocacy for students. Looking back, I understand NOW how blessed I was to work in a culture that promoted student success while tending to team cohesion and individual excellence.
When was this? Oh…the very distant 80’s my dear readers. I had the spikey punk hairdo (periodically dyed burgundy red) to prove it. 😉 Now that I’ve said adios to my career in that venue (and that brand of bad hair) my rear-view mirror provides a spectacular wonder wheel of moments that matter. Many scenes from those days have magnified in importance over the years – giving a second wind to sage advice. SO good that it only gets better with time.
One such pearl came from a veteran counselor named Lena. Lena and her husband had grown children and as they considered retirement options, they focused on relocation ideas to maximize their hiking and outdoor lifestyles. Lena and her hubby traveled every weekend, it seemed, to scope out possibilities and size up trails and atmosphere.
No one would’ve guessed Lena was in her 50’s. She wore Reeboks when no one knew what they were and would lace up at lunch and take a lap or two around campus. Returning to the office, she’d retrieve her salad and mixed nuts and fill her water bottle, often joining the other younger professional, Carly, and myself in the break room.
What did Carly and I eat for lunch? We were the babies in the department and thought nothing of eating pizza every day while we watched one of the daytime soaps. (Carly had a fondness for “All My Children”, broadcast in the pre-cable and DVR days at noon sharp.)
Lena was the healthiest eater, but other colleagues would join in with their tuna salad, PB & J on whole wheat or tofu – which was just becoming a thing. For a semester or so, Lena and the “elders” never commented directly on the Pizza Hut and Dr. Pepper noshing that Carly and I dug into. Daily. We were just ‘the pizza girls’.
Why did Lena eventually comment on our choices? Hard to say. Not wanting to offend, I’m sure she had unexpressed thoughts about our awful, repetitive lunches. We always offered leftovers and extra slices to anyone who wanted them, knowing the fridge would receive the pizza instead.
Once, instead of just saying ‘no thanks, girls’ Lena added, “You know, I would LOVE to eat like you do. It smells so good but I know my body. One day, yours might talk back to you, too. Enjoy your pizza parade now – it won’t last.” And then, “You’ll learn”.
Carly and I made faces at Lena and laughed. A day will come when we won’t want pizza every day? We heard her, but it didn’t register. It bounced – and yet – the message was sticky enough to boomerang back – decades later.
How has Lena’s guidance helped me? I remember how sincere she was – not wanting to be preachy, hoping, I’m sure, that her plain-spoken observation about nutrition might take hold – eventually. It did…I just needed my aging metabolism to see it, but I got there.
Along the way, I recalled another one of Lena’s daily health habits. She carried a notebook and logged her food. Not in an obsessive way; just for accountability. Two years ago, I picked up my phone and started a daily food diary, along with walking and Pilates every day. Loving advice from Lena, across the decades. “Know my body”. It finally stuck!
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