as we inch toward the end of the year, i keep looking back at how unexpected every single thing that's happened this year has been.

i won't take you through a painful play-by-play (at least, not yet), but i will muse on an underlying theme.  two, actually.

first of all, the friendly folks at the story contacted me this week for an update on, well, my story.  they wanted to know how things have changed for me since we ran that piece in september of 2009.  they asked, do you have anything interesting to report?  i asked back, how much time do you have?

so we talked for a little while, and they asked all of the usual questions and i answered with all of the usual answers.  and then, my lovely interviewer brynne, asked me something really interesting, something i've danced around for a long time without really ever taking the time to consider head-on:

have i changed in any fundamental way since eccolo closed?

and the answer came to me immediately.  without a flicker of hesitation in my voice, i said, YES!

you see, when i was carrying the weight of a failing business on my shoulders, i operated with a scarcity-mentality.  all of my actions came from a place of feeling that there wasn't enough to go around--not enough resources, or money, or customers, or anything.  employees had to go after 8 hours, food cost had to be painfully low, staff meals had to be as cheap as possible (no bundt!), prices had to be low, and on and on and on, or else there wouldn't be enough.  i was under constant pressure to keep everything together, and that meant pulling everything around me in and holding it tightly in my hands, as close as possible to myself, in an effort to make this business succeed.

and no matter what we did, it wasn't ever enough.

it killed me to operate that way, because food is, if nothing else, about sitting at a table and sharing with others.  it's about coming together and being generous.  when, in a state of extreme financial jeopardy, the opportunity to be generous was stripped away from us, so was all of the joy we found in our work.  and since no one works in the restaurant business to get rich, joy is one of our only perks.  no joy meant no reason to continue.

so, we scrapped it all, and started over, the blind leading the blind.

well, not quite blind.

i've been singularly guided by one thing in every project i've undertaken this year: a mentality of generosity.  there may not be enough money to make us all rich, but there will always be enough food to feed everyone who helps me.  there will always be a moment to sit down and enjoy each other's company (even though i might forget that from time to time).

approaching my work with the philosophy that generosity begets abundance has fundamentally changed me and the way i work.  i may not be rich, but i am happier than i have ever been, and that is priceless.

and secondly, perhaps almost in response to that change, another theme has emerged: one of learning how to draw boundaries in order to protect myself.  months and months ago, when in a moment of crisis i sought some advice from my yoga teacher abby tucker, she told me to pull in.  she told me it was time to suck it up, draw some boundaries, build a foundation, and pull the heck in.  i'm a little slow sometimes, so it's taken me a while, but the last few months have really become a time for me to do just that.

as an unapologetic extrovert, this hasn't been easy.  as a genetically (somewhat) paranoid  conspiracy theorist, i haven't been able to do much to quiet my mind as it guesses what everyone out there must think about the way i'm acting.

but i'm realizing the importance of learning how to pull in now, before it gets too be too late.

i'm lucky to be fairly close to some prominent public figures who are kind enough to act as mentors to me.  one of them handles the pressures of being constantly watched by everyone around him with unparalleled grace.  i've been known to break down in his presence, because in some ways, for me, it's one of the safest places i've got--he understands how i feel without me having to say a word because years ago, he was in the same place.

i ask him the same question every time i crash: how do you do it?

and he always answers the same way, by pointing to his wife.

she has kept him grounded, he says, and reminds him who he is, that he is not only part of a family, but responsible to that family in ways that have nothing to do with whether or not he was on oprah or spoke at the white house last week.  what's really important is being a good father, husband and friend.  what's really important is remembering who you are.

instead of freaking me out because i don't have a husband or a family to keep things real for me, i realize that i have to find that same strength, that same grounding force, within my own self.  and that's where pulling in comes in.  because if all i do is send energy, love, work, generosity and power outward, there will be nothing left for myself, and i will fall apart.

so for me, the challenge is now to strike a balance, between giving out unconditionally, and pulling in carefully.  sounds like it'll be the theme for a lot longer than just this year.