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I watch quite a bit of Dateline on NBC. I’ve seen the stories of men and women who lead double lives. There’s the doting wife and mother by day/ KGB spy killer by night. Or sometimes it’s the scam artist who’s got two families in different cities, and neither set of wife and kids has any idea about the existence of the other. I’ve always wondered how they can live with themselves. How can they represent one thing part of the time, and something completely contradictory part of the time? Then I realized, “That’s me!” I, too, am living a double life! Let me explain…
Every Sunday, I do my grocery shopping and spend an hour or two prepping healthy meals for the week. I rinse, measure, and carefully pack 1 cup of fresh berries into ziplock bags to freeze for breakfast smoothies. I wash, spin dry, and de-stem fresh spinach for the smoothies. I chop fresh veggies and neatly measure into 5 reusable bowls for lunchtime salads. Each afternoon at work, I am observed unpacking whatever healthy lunch I’ve prepared and adding final touches: slicing avocado halves into the salad bowl, shaking a tiny container to combine hand-measured amounts of olive oil and vinegar to dress my veggies, refilling my ever-present camelback water bottle with nothing but H2O. To everyone with whom I work, I am the epitome of healthy eating. At least 3 times a week, I hear things like, “You’re so good!” or, “I wish I could just eat a salad for lunch like you do.” I usually smile, make a comment about how good my salad actually tastes, and perhaps make a thinly veiled joke about my weekend transgressions. The fact is that these well-meaning coworkers have no idea just how different my habits become from Friday night through Sunday night.
Monday—Friday afternoon it’s actually super easy to eat what I’ve made for the week. My salads are not small. They have plenty of protein to keep me satisfied, and the truth is that I actually really like salads. The problem is that my produce only stays fresh for 5 days—maximum. By Friday evening, I’m fresh out of veggies and am left to my gluttonous whims until I go back to the grocery store Sunday afternoon. In New York City, that often means I have 4 vodka sodas at happy hour, with chicken fingers and fries, stop for a slice of pizza on the way home and eat a fistful of Hershey’s kisses before bed. Saturdays I look forward to walking to the bagel shop across the street from my apartment and indulging in a giant doughy fresh bagel with any variety of full-fat cream cheese flavors heaped atop both halves. Lunch might involve a walk to my favorite falafel cart, followed by dinner ordered in from an Indian or Chinese restaurant and double-digit tab from a pay-by-the-ounce fro-yo shop in the neighborhood. OMG Nutella crunch!! Sunday looks almost identical. As such, it is not uncommon for me to gain 5 pounds between the time I leave the office on Friday and the time I walk back in on Monday morning. And when I pass over the bagels in the kitchen at work provided by my company on Monday morning, I shudder with guilt and shame as my coworkers marvel out loud about how much restraint I have. Can’t you see my ankles, puffy and swollen from the MSG soaked egg roll? Can you tell the button of my pants is digging into my abdomen? I’ve had more carbs in the past 48 hours than marathon runners require the entire week of the big race.
I can blame my yo-yo diet on the shelf life of healthy foods, or the fact that I simply do not have time in my busy schedule to meal-prep for all 7 days a week. I know, however, that I am the only one to blame. I love greasy foods, decadent desserts, gooey melted cheese and in LARGE QUANTITIES. I know I’m living a double life, and I can’t take credit for the discipline my co-workers praise and envy. The reality is that I eat super healthy on weekdays because it’s easy, as long as I’ve put the time in on Sundays, and it gives me the wiggle room (I usually drop 5 pounds from Monday to Friday) to eat till my heart’s content on the weekends! Some people love weekends for sleeping in, seeing their loved ones, and avoiding the morning commute. I love them for those reasons too but also because I get to indulge in all of the foods that make me happy. So, don’t read too much into it. Today’s salad is tomorrow’s pene a la vodka. I’m no better than you. In fact, I’m probably much much worse!
Try my healthy quinoa & veggie “fried rice:”
1 can low sodium chicken broth
1 cup uncooked quinoa
1 bag raw cole slaw mix
1 cup frozen peas and carrots mixed
1/3 cup olive oil
2-3 chopped green onions
Salt & pepper to taste
Splash of soy sauce
Combine quinoa and chicken broth in a sauce pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 5-7 minutes stirring occasionally to ensure the quinoa is not sticking to the bottom. Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large pan and add the full bag of cole slaw mix and a dash of salt and pepper. Stir to coat, cover over medium heat and let the cabbage soften. Once cabbage is tender (approx. 10 minutes), add the frozen peas and carrots. When all of the liquid has absorbed into the quinoa and the outer layer has started to separate, add the quinoa to the pan with the veggies. Beat 2-3 raw eggs in a separate bowl. Push the veggies & quinoa to one side of the pan and add the beaten eggs. Fold and scramble the eggs into the mixture. Add salt & pepper to taste and either a splash of soy sauce or oyster sauce for flavor. Sprinkle chopped green onions over top to serve. Makes 4 servings. ~440 calories per serving.
It’s a Thursday morning, 11:30 am and I’m halfway through my weekly check-in meeting with my boss, the Managing Director of my company. I have been tasked with building a corporate curriculum from scratch, and we’re discussing the impasse I’ve reached in attempting to generate course content for departments in the company that I am not very familiar with. We’ve agreed (we usually do!) that it would be best to delegate this task to the various Directors who are best suited to address their own teams’ training needs.
“Great, can you present to the group at our Directors meeting today at 2:00 pm?”, he asks.
Was I bluffing? How could I be ready to present to some of the most important players in my organization with no advance notice and nothing prepared? The answer is simple: I improvise!
I arrived to my current role, Training Specialist for an eDiscovery services company, completely by accident after traversing a long and winding career path. I moved to New York City 13 years ago to attend law school and, ultimately to build a career in the entertainment industry. Upon graduation, I paid the bills by working in a small Brooklyn law office drafting wills and trusts, all the while pushing my resume out by the truck load to every entertainment firm and company in town. Eventually, I made my way into a yearlong contract position at Viacom which I assumed was my foot in the entertainment door, so to speak. It didn’t quite work out that way though. Once my year was up, I bounced around from temp gig to temp gig, holding onto the hope that I would succeed in finding a job that 1.) I was substantively passionate about and 2.) Would cover the cost of living in New York City with law school debt.
As I approached my 30th birthday single, uninsured, and unemployed, my priorities shifted. I wanted a job. I wanted paid time off, an OBGYN that wasn’t Planned Parenthood, and a desk to set my coffee cup on. I “sold out.” Cue the sad music. Suddenly, I was looking for gainful employment in any field, and the one that I landed in was eDiscovery. One of my responsibilities was to train our attorney clients on how to use software to prepare electronic evidence for investigations and litigations. This evolved into a role as training specialist, designing and implementing a company-wide corporate education program, in addition to client training. It’s a far cry from my aspirations of a career in entertainment but I am really good at it, and there is a delightful satisfaction in being really really good at something. So it works.
To keep true to myself through the years, since I veered off the entertainment path, I’ve indulged in hobbies that make me feel in touch with my creative side. I paint, I attend live concerts and theater events as much as possible, and I perform improv comedy. My first exposure to improv was an “Acting for non-majors” class as an undergrad at Michigan State that left me laughing to the point of side pains on a weekly basis. When I moved to New York, I took improv classes with the Second City Training Center as a way to make friends. I later moved on to take classes with the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater (UCB), completing their core improv curriculum and taking additional classes in acting for sketch comedy as well as advanced study long-form improv. I’ve been on a handful of improv teams, and currently I’m on a 3-person team that performs monthly in a bar basement near Penn Station.
Standing on a makeshift stage in the back of a bar pretending to be a sheep, a ghost, or a lumberjack taking a bubble bath seems, on its face, to be very different from what I do at work every day. Really though, it’s not. I would argue that my improv experience has informed and primed me for a role as a corporate educator. You’ve probably heard the phrase “fake it till you make it” at least once in your life. That’s the general concept in any corporate environment as far as I’m concerned. That’s where improv comes in handy. One of the mottos of the UCB is “Don’t think.” That motto has gotten me through more than a few work situations. Those who over analyze a situation, who hesitate, who doubt themselves before going into a big meeting or interview are less successful, plain and simple.
Once you’ve stood on a stage facing an audience of 5, 10, 50 people staring directly at you, expecting you to not only speak but to make them laugh, you can face any boardroom or corporate training room. That feeling of panic you get your first couple times on stage dulls, subsides, and eventually for some, turns to an empowering adrenaline rush. Your confidence grows, and you realize you can literally handle any situation you’re thrown into. In improv you’re not trained as a fire fighter before you are thrown into an imaginary fire and expected to squelch it with expert gusto. You put enough panache behind any action, and it becomes believable, entertaining, engaging. That’s not to say that you don’t need to know your craft. There are rules to improv that you study before you perform, just like there are rules of business you need to know before you’re qualified to serve a specific role. The rest is in the delivery.
It wasn’t long before I realized this quality I had been honing in secret on Thursday nights was reflecting in my work by day. I was commanding attention, and I was holding my head a bit higher. I wasn’t thinking too much. I had no fears. Sure, I occasionally second guess myself but I rarely let that tiny flicker of insecurity surface. In practice, it also allows me to tackle any task I’ve been handed because I know I’m capable of anything. It’s Tuesday and we need to create a brand new training course by Friday? I’ve got this. And even if I haven’t, I’ll improvise!