Ringing In 2015: Far & Away

by Monica McCarthy on December 30, 2014


I love flying. I love sailing. I love watching the world whizz past from a window seat. I love the sound of the wind.

I love movement, both in nature and in life.

Right now I’m in Sydney, Australia counting down the final hours of 2014, the year I dubbed the year of RISE.

Rise was the perfect word to describe the last twelve months. Yes, there were certainly moments of falling, of dusting off, of starting again. But I gained the momentum I needed to shake myself awake from the ashes.

This time last year, I confessed that my hope in rising was that I could someday soar.

Someday, it turns out, is not today.

First, I have to know where I’m going.

Sailors need the north star as much as they need the wind in their sails. A journey requires both direction and action.

As childish as it sounds, when I think about my intentions for 2015, I envision a treasure hunt. I have a goal (or several goals) to achieve, but now, unlike times in the past, I’m not stumbling blindly forward. (Yay maps!) There will be plenty of uncertainties and obstacles along the way, but there are also great adventures to be had! I have the map, and I have the enthusiasm and I have amazing sidekicks. So I’m optimistic about what lies in store.

This leads me to my theme for 2015. What’s another word for intentional onwards movement?


Velocity, by definition, requires both speed and direction. If we want to accelerate (or decelerate) we have to change our velocity over time. (This concludes the physics portion of this post.)

In charting out my desires and next steps for the new year, I’m focusing on actions that require me to consider both sides of the velocity coin. If I plow ahead without forethought into where I’m going, I’ll surely end up lost. Conversely, if I spend too much time in the proverbial harbor, I’ll miss out on the opportunities that await.

As I wrote in my 2014 wrap-up post,  I want to focus on developing systems, prioritize my well being, cultivate meaningful relationships, and continue to build community.

In writing this review I started to list out all my goals and plans for the year, but for now at least, I’d rather share some broader choices I’ll be focusing on for my Year of Velocity. Even if (when) the winds change, I believe these 15 choices (many of which I didn’t always make in the past) will help get me back on course.

In 2015:

I choose acceptance over anxiety

I choose responsibility over excuses

I choose clarity over ambiguity

I choose focus over procrastination

I choose compassion over judgement

I choose empathy over righteousness

I choose growth over stagnation

I choose presence over power

I choose vulnerability over worry

I choose truth over secrecy

I choose health over busyness

I choose trust over control

I choose joy over despair

I choose curiosity over certainty

I choose courage over fear

I’m grateful for the lessons learned in the Year of Rise, and I’m ready (so so so ready) to move onwards towards the adventures that await.

Speaking of adventures, yesterday my friend Lisa and I went on a hike along the incredible Sydney coastline. At one point Waverly Cemetery appeared, taking my breath away with its beauty. There is nothing quite like mortality to put things into perspective. As I passed the gravestones,  I was reminded of the words of Swiss philosopher Henri Frederic Amiel:

Life is short and we have never too much time for gladdening the hearts of those who are travelling the dark journey with us. Oh be swift to love, make haste to be kind.

Following that advice, and come what may, I’ll set my course to be transported by love and to steer towards kindness.

That, I have come to believe, is Velocity at her best.

Wherever the wind blows, I wish you and yours a very Happy New Year.


flourish images:
Looking out at Bondi, photo by Lisa
Looking up in Waverly Cemetery, photo my own



Lessons Learned From The Year Of The Rise

by Monica McCarthy on December 24, 2014


Merry Christmas Eve!

A storm blew in here yesterday, but I didn’t mind. The pouring rain gave me an excuse to spend the entire day in my pajamas, listening to Christmas music while sitting by the tree, finishing some work projects, and writing.

Though there are many stories and ponderings from 2014 that I’d love to share here in my little corner of the internet, they will  have to wait. For now, I’m taking a moment to write down some of the lessons I’ve learned or relearned over the past year.

I’m sharing these lessons because I believe we can all learn from each other. I’ve enjoyed reading what many of you wrote about your own reviews of 2014. And to be totally candid, the process of editing the past 12 months into 16+ lessons and posting them here has been cathartic. (Free therapy FTW!)

While I’m making the lessons public, many of the details remain private. For each category I’ve included something I learned in times of triumph and something I learned in times of failure, including some of the darkest hours I’ve ever experienced in my life. It was a year extremes, but I’m grateful for the path they’ve led me down and I’m excited to explore the next chapter… But wait!I’m getting ahead of myself!

In another post I’ll share what’s in store for 2015. For now, I’d be honored if you’ll take a walk down memory lane with me and pay tribute to the year that was predicted, and turned out to indeed be, the year of RISE.

Warning: Long post ahead!

Here is an abridged version of the lessons I learned over the past twelve months…


Lesson 1: Better to build with others than to sink alone.

Lesson 2: With financial stability comes freedom.


I certainly wouldn’t say 2014 was the year I went from rags to riches, but it was the year I went from my last bottom dollar to paying off the first (of several) credit cards and creating a budget for myself. This did not happen overnight. For much of the year I worked in three different bars and restaurants while I figured out next steps. Several projects I started on my own were never profitable (like ACT II and Cheshire Parlour), partly because I had no capital to invest in them, but mostly because it’s hard to have long-term vision when the short-term goal is to have enough money to eat and pay rent.

These obstacles were ultimately good things, however, because ACT II (in which I interviewed other performing artists who changed careers, mostly to solopreneurship) made me realize I don’t want to be a solopreneur, and Cheshire Parlour is what ultimately let me to my dream job with Holstee. (Note: Cheshire Parlour is not down for the count, but I’m currently focused on getting some other fun projects off the ground with the Holstee team, so she’s still on hold at present.) For the first time in my adult life I’m heading into a new year with a steady salary and benefits in a job that utilizes my strengths, offers complete creative freedom, and allows me spend my days with some of the best human beings on the planet. That peace of mind means I can focus my energy on actually creating instead of just surviving. It wasn’t until starting at Holstee that I discovered how much a steady paycheck can offer freedom rather than the shackles I so feared about working for or with a company.


Yup. That’s me wearing a uniform and waiting tables this summer. 


As the Experience Impresario at Holstee…. and wearing my former bartending uniform (Shhhhh!)


Lesson 1: A home base is a happy place.

Lesson 2: Where we live directly affects how we live.


Due to the financial situation described above, I moved twice this year and bounced around a bit in between as well. Though my current apartment isn’t my dream home per se, I do have a room to call my own, and all my belongings in one place, with no plans of picking up and heading out until or unless I choose to. I can walk or ride my bike to work and to Prospect Park. I love my neighborhood and I’m so thrilled the one and only place I looked at on Craigslist turned out to be the answer to a prayer.



Lesson 1: Relationships are a choice.

Lesson 2: Community is our most valuable commodity.

Like anything else we want to maintain or grow, relationships require time, nourishment and attention. We don’t always know which seeds will blossom and which will whither.

Looking back over the year, the most rewarding projects I worked on involved other people. While my community in the larger sense was strengthened, there were some close relationships that I could have done a better job at supporting and cultivating.

I also learned the hard way that when we allow the weeds to thrive, the entire garden suffers. Relationships that are fueled by people who consistently thrive on dishonesty, secrecy, and manipulation will sap the life out of everyone and everything around them. Oh! And watch out for wizards.

But most importantly, it is the people I call family, friends and colleagues who brought me the most joy in 2014. From interviews with artists, to philosophic dinner salons, to communal potlucks, I was reminded that we are the conversations we keep.




Lesson 1: Plan. Prioritize. Clarify.

Lesson 2: Doing is better than dreaming.


I’m not one for planning. This got me into a lot of trouble when I was pursuing life as a solopreneur and became glaringly apparent when I started working with a team. One of the biggest gifts I’ve been given in the past 6 months since starting at Holstee has been the opportunity to become a better communicator. I’m still very much learning how to articulate my vision to others, particularly if I want others to share my enthusiasm for a project. (Short version of Communications 101: Brevity when speaking and clarity when writing!)

This year also helped me experience for myself and for others the power of seeing a project through from start to finish. You may not end up with what you expected, but you are miles ahead for having started. For example, I never would have gotten the gig at Holstee (they weren’t even hiring, hence the fun and made-up title of Experience Impresario) if I hadn’t started Cheshire Parlour. And now there are projects in the works that the team and I could have never even dreamed of! I really can’t wait to share more about what’s ahead! (Along with planning, I’m terrible at waiting, but I’m learning how to get better at that as well.)

2014 also helped me clarify and identify my strengths and weaknesses. I particularly enjoyed creating and delivering talks (like How to Make Your Manifesto), curating conversations (both for Cheshire Parlour and Holstee events), and researching and exploring big ideas (Cheshire Parlour and the Reflection Workshop.)

Reflection workshop

Teaching the Reflection & Roadmapping Workshop at Holstee


Cheshire Parlour discussion the theme of AWAKE

Cheshire Parlour on the topic of being AWAKE

Make your manifesto Speaking in Tennessee


Lesson 1: Do what you love and do it often. *

Lesson 2: Being happy is not a waste of time.


Because I had limited funds and limited time, 2014 taught me that life really is too short to not do what we love as much as we can! As someone who has long suffered from FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) it’s taken me a while (like 30+ years) to realize that doing what truly lights me up also means avoiding that which doesn’t. For example, this year I realized how old school I am about how I enjoy spending my free time. I prefer attending talk-balks and readings over watching television or sports. (This year I particularly enjoyed Paul Holdengraber’s interview with Werner Herzog at BAM.) I love taking ballet (or fencing!) over going to a gym and have zero desire to join cross-fit. I prefer hardcopy to kindle. (I’m currently lugging around Roman Krznaric’s How Should We Live in my carry-on.) Speaking of books, I stopped reading for a while because I was so tired of the traditional business/marketing books I thought I was supposed to read. Now that I’m back to philosophy and classics, I can’t get enough.

The funny thing is that the more I do what I love, the more I find ways to love what I do in all aspects of my life. I’ve come to accept that my Muse prefers Seneca or Sondheim to episodes of Serial, and that’s ok.

*Yes, I just quoted the Holstee Manifesto.



Lesson 1: Health helps those who help themselves

Lesson 2: Make it easy


Although I had no major health issues in 2014, I can’t claim I felt healthy for most of the year. I tired easily and could see the physical changes in my appearance. Let’s just say looking run down didn’t do much to lift my spirits! I was physically weak and often underweight, as emotional stress took it’s toll at times, particularly early this fall. The exhaustion was not just physical but emotional and mental as well. Even small things like the increase in grammatical mistakes in my writing, both here on my blog and in emails and texts, proved I had difficulty staying focused in general.

On the positive side, however, I became the proud owner of a bicycle for the first time since I was a kid, and consistently rode or walked the two miles to and from the office. I also consistently attended our weekly candlelight yoga and meditation class, which was a truly restorative end/start to my week every Sunday. Until writing this review, I had forgotten I ran the Brooklyn half-marathon earlier in the year, and took barre class for a month over the summer, which I really enjoyed (and could see the difference in my body) but couldn’t afford it and then it was too far away once I moved.

Speaking of summer, I’m apparently becoming more sensitive to weather as I get older,  so my brief interlude to speak at the Bullish conference in Miami, along with my current trip to Maui and upcoming trip to Australia are helpful in combatting the winter blues.

But most importantly, I’ve learned that if I want to feel and look my best, I have to devote time and resources to my wellness. I really hate running outside in winter so I have to find an indoor class and not feel guilty about paying for it, because investing in my health is investing in all areas of my life. I’m extremely fortunate that my colleagues often cook at work, but I also have to take more responsibility for purchasing and preparing healthy food. In short, I’m both lazy and frugal when it comes to my physical health, but I’ve reached the point of ENOUGH and I’m taking charge of my mental, emotional, and physical well being. After all, if I don’t take care of myself, who will?


Running my 5th Half-Marathon


Showing off my bike and some bourbon… it’s all about balance, right?



Lesson 1: Start with what you already do

Lesson 2: Small but consistent actions add up

Honestly, the majority of the year felt like I was trying to put my own oxygen mask on first before helping others. I certainly wish I did more in terms of service (both for my friends and strangers) but I did find a few opportunities to contribute time when I could. For example, I’m on the team that created the Global Potluck Series. Potlucks were already part of the Holstee culture, so we decided to ask anyone interested to host potlucks in their own cities. For every potluck hosted Holstee donates $25 to Food Corps, a wonderful organization that helps educate children about healthy food choices. I also had the privilege of joining the board of Global Glimpse, a not-for-profit that enables financially underprivileged high school students to travel and volunteer abroad.  Fortunately, a perk of having steady work doing a job a I love, is that I’ll now have more opportunities to give back going forward.



Lesson 1: Travel is as much about the people you meet as it is the places you see.

Lesson 2: Never turn down an opportunity to explore.


There’s no way around it: I didn’t travel nearly as much I would have liked to in 2014, but that was to be expected given the circumstances. If I wanted to rise in 2014 I had to first learn to gain footing here on the ground.

And then, as if on cue, travel opportunities started opening up just as other pieces of the puzzle started coming together. I spoke at Co.Starters in Chattanooga, Tennessee and the Bullish Conference in Miami, Florida… both cities and states were new to me. I found frequent flier miles I didn’t even know I had, and with the urging of my friend Clare, finally made the trip to Ireland, a place that stole my heart the from the moment I arrived. I’m currently in Maui for the first time in a year, and it’s great to see my parents and become more familiar with the Island with each visit. In a few days I’ll head to Australia for two weeks, another country I’ve longed to visit for some time now.

In each city I’ve known at least one person and made new friends along the way. I’m learning that, for me anyway, it’s the people, much more than the passport stamp, that make me happy wherever I roam.



Miami. That is all.


Irish Castle… check!


Gorgeous Galway


Aloha from Maui


One of the biggest benefits of the reflection process is the emergence of patterns and themes. These come in handy when determining next steps. For example, this process of self-observation helped me discover my overall word/intention for next year, which I’ll share in an upcoming post.

Among the lessons learned, it’s clear I want to focus on developing systems, prioritize my well being, cultivate meaningful relationships, and continue to build community. These might sound like simplistic goals, but they feel right to me.

Perhaps the biggest lesson of 2014 was the most obvious of them all:

To thine own self be true.




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I’m A Stranger Here Myself

by Monica McCarthy on December 19, 2014


As is often the case, we teach what we want to learn. And so it was, in between wrapping up presents as well as the end of the year, that I had the great privilege to teach a Reflection & Roadmapping 2014 class at Holstee. As part of a larger Holstee Curriculum (more on this is a future post) we are creating monthly classes on the subject of living more mindfully in our everyday lives.

December’s class was about reflecting on 2014. Self-observation and non-judgemental inquiry are terrific tools to look within by gaining perspective from our own experiences.

There is no shortage of resources for helping us self-reflect. What is most important is that we set aside the time and space to take an honest inventory, and ask questions that help us explore not just the events of our lives, but the motivations and belief systems those events represent.

The most difficult aspect of my research and brainstorming for the Reflection class was narrowing down which exercises to include from the plethora available. I also examined personal lessons learned in my own life in 2014.

For anyone interested, I ultimately decided on examining the year through the lenses of: Beliefs & Values (Meaning, Pleasure, and Awareness), Actions & Time (Quality: Integrity/Alignment and Quantity: Habits/Rituals), Expressions & Lessons, and Patterns.

While I love immersing myself in philosophical and lifestyle design books and resources, one contemporary examination of mortality stands out in particular as a poignant reminder of why any of this even matters in the first place: The Five Regrets of the Dying written by Bonnie Ware, who worked for several years as a palliative nurse. In spending time with people on their death beds, she discovered there were central themes that emerged when the patients were asked about what they wished they had done differently throughout the course of their lives.

No one wants to die (or live with) regret. So why do we often wait until it’s too late to realize there were other roads we should/could have traveled?

The answer, it appears, lies in awareness.

As Harvard professor Tal Ben-Shahar writes in his book “Happier,” a common question asked among terminal cancer patients is: Why did we have to wait until now, till we are riddled with cancer, to learn how to value and appreciate life? There was no guru or class or article that provided this new insight for the patients. But for people who are acutely aware of their own mortality, there is a heightened sense of awareness. The most any outside sources can do is help raise our awareness by asking important questions.

Most spiritual and philosophical traditions remind us that we already know the answers. Yet we still err on the side of looking for outside solutions. This is one of the many reasons why self-observation is so important.

“Awareness is like the sun. When it shines on things, they are transformed.” – Thích Nhất Hạnh

This lesson of looking within to find the answers we go to great lengths to seek elsewhere reminds me of the central theme of The Wizard of Oz. As you may recall, the protagonist, Dorothy Gale of Kansas finds herself lost in a strange land and spends the rest of the story trying to find the titular Wizard of Oz, who supposedly has the power to transport her back home.

Along the way, Dorothy meets other lost souls, notably a Lion in search of courage, a Scarecrow in search of brains, and a Tin Man in search of a heart. Together they overcome obstacles laid down by the Wicked Witch (who is clearly a baddie because she’s green and rides a broomstick) all in an effort to reach the wonderful wizard. But when they finally do arrive at the gates and peek behind the curtain, they discover the Wizard’s only power is in making his subjects believe he is powerful. The truth is he is just a sad, lonely man who caused a lot of hardship for a lot of people. The Wizard was not actually wonderful at all. He was a fraud.

But all was not lost at the end of the yellow brick road. Instead, the sojourners discovered what they each sought was actually within them all along.

The quest was one of awareness.

With this example in mind for the Reflection workshop, I created an exercise I dubbed “The Yellow Brick Road.” If you find it helpful, I’d love to know! Here’s how it goes:


Yellow Brick Road Exercise

In the classic story The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy is joined by the Lion, Scarecrow, and Tinman as they go on a quest to find Courage, Brains, and a Heart. In the end, they discover they had all three within themselves all along. This is the same realization that comes with awareness, particularly of our own mortality. Take a moment to reflect when you exhibited these qualities in 2014:

  1. Lion: Courage

  1. Scarecrow: Wisdom

  1. Tinman: Compassion


Right now, as I’m writing this post, I’m home for the holidays at my parents’ house in Maui. The first song I heard upon landing late last night was Somewhere Over The Rainbow. I always loved Judy Garland’s rendition from The Wizard of Oz and the ukelele version is the unofficial anthem of Hawaii, “The Land of Rainbows.”

But this time I heard the words from the perspective of self-awareness. If you add a dramatic pause before the last word of the last line below you’ll see what I mean:

Someday I’ll wish upon a star

And wake up where the clouds are far

Behind me

Where troubles melt like lemon drops

Away above the chimney tops

That’s where you’ll find…..


‘Somewhere’ is right here, within each of us.

And neither witch nor wizard can prevent us from the most powerful resource we have: Ourselves.

December is the end of one road and the start of another.

May we all express courage, wisdom, and compassion along the way.

May we all feel home.


image: From my first trip to Maui, 2013

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