How I Got Unstuck
Photo: Marc Royce
I've come to realize I'm stuck about every five years, when I hit a point of stagnation and need to grow. The first time, I was working at a big, prestigious law firm, and I wasn't happy. I needed to consider what I really cared about, which was work that had a community-based feel, using my education to benefit others. So while I was still at the firm, I spent about a year meeting with people like general counsels for universities. The goal was to find out, "What do you do? You're a lawyer, you're not in a firm, how did you structure your life?" I developed such an interesting network that people started calling me with job offers. I ultimately decided to become an assistant to the mayor of Chicago. It required a temporary financial setback, but in the end, when you're living your dream, the economic stability comes.
I've also had stuck moments in my marriage. Going from being an independent professional to being the mother of two little kids with a husband in politics, I was feeling like Where am I in all of this? I was spending a lot of energy focusing on fixing my husband, fixing the way I mother. What I finally recognized is that I wasn't spending enough time on me. One thing I did was take my diet and exercise into my own hands. It required getting up at 4:30 A.M. and working out and making sure that every day I did something for myself, as opposed to worrying, Well, why is Barack now going to run for that office? My happiness isn't connected to my husband's or my boss's or my children's behavior. You have control over your own actions, your own well-being. And if you spend the energy on that, you get unstuck.
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Photo: Timothy Greenfield-Sanders
I had covered Ronald Reagan for eight years when my bosses transferred me to Capitol Hill. I was devastated, but changing my beat turned out to be the best decision anyone ever made for me. In contrast to the controlled environment at the White House, Congress was chaotic—reality TV for political junkies—with 535 eager sources. The new assignment prepared me for later adventures, when I traveled the world for NBC and found myself flying to Port-au-Prince or Hanoi without the resources (or the constraints) of the White House media machine. After being stuck in a narrower ambition—to cover the White House beat, with its special prestige—I was free to realize a greater one. Instead of being trapped in photo opportunities, I was able to tell stories about the way people really live their lives. I became the reporter I was trained to be, trailing a lead no matter where it takes me.
I have been swimming since 1974. I've never had speed. People said it was my lackluster kick. The coach I work with told me that the problem was not my kick but my reach. For six months, I've been trying to mimic the way he reaches his arms, standing at the side of the pool, reminding me. "Reach! Reach!" I could hear him calling, in my memory, as I practiced daily on my own. Today I broke through! It wasn't with my arms but with my whole torso! My entire body unlocked. Getting unstuck is not so much about effort, I realized—it's more about moving forward with the natural flow of things. Power requires cooperation. What I needed to move through the water was full cooperation from my body. Then the water was no longer an obstacle but a vehicle.