On the Search for Failure

I’ve determined, after seven years, that I’m on the search for failure.

I’m also on the search for success. Grand success. Maybe not the kind of success that allows me fancy cars and houses across the globe, but success that allows me the items I desire: helping others; living comfortably, without worrying about paying bills, or deciding if buying underwear is more of a priority than groceries, as an example; being able to help my family reach that same level of comfortable; traveling when I want and to where ever I want; less stress and more health.

No where in there am I striving to amass a great wealth. I do want to be secure for my future, should I be fortunate to live to my 99th birthday, but again, I want the security in the points above.

For around a month or so, I’ve mentioned closing the custom & wedding side of S2 Stationery and Design. And I have. October 1st, closed that door. And I’m glad it has been closed. It’s left me with time to really focus on the things I want to focus on and most importantly plan for the ways I want to grow S2.

I’m no where near complete on my goals. They’re evolving and every time I write one down, another comes to me later. Not to mention, I have other things that pop up and show up and steer my path a different way, which I know shifts my goals a bit more.

This past weekend, I found myself discussing with very good friends my goals for both my business and personal life. We discussed pregnancy and relationships. We discussed it all honestly. What sticks from the two conversations was the statement I said several times in both:

I’m never going to be happy until I actually fail. Until, I can say, I did the best I could with the stationery and I failed and it’s time for me to be an adult and stop following this dream.

Chances are, I’m not going to fail. I know in my heart that what I’m doing is what I’m suppose to be doing. I know it’s hard to explain and for those who aren’t like-minded to understand or even begin to fathom, but I’m not going to fail. Mostly because I don’t see failing as a bad thing. I think even in the things that don’t go right, or that crash and burn, or realize that something I felt so strongly about doesn’t work any more and needs to be revamped or cancelled or changed, there is opportunity. There is growth. This is the natural flow of life.

I’m sure I will fail in little ways as this dream continues, but I wouldn’t quite say that this journey has been a failure thus far.

It is this reason that I struggle now. That I’ve been struggling for the past three years since returning from Japan. It is why, I’ve allowed myself to fall into this abyss of uncertainty and comfortable, yet uncomfortable, discomfort while working a job I don’t like and going through the motions of living a life that isn’t doing anything for me or my goals.

I have good friends at my job, I have made great connections and I’ve allowed myself to believe that I need this backup because at one time, I did. And I’m sure I need this backup a little bit longer, too, but the reality is that until I let go of the backup, I’m never really going to fail and because I’ve yet to really “fail,” I’m going to continue to stay annoyed and in this uncertain abyss because this doesn’t make me happy. This doesn’t make me motivated to grow or change or fail.

And so, all of this has led me back to the point of origin for S2 Stationery & Design. Over the next few weeks, I’m going to get back to the root – to the dream that launched this business idea and company seven years ago. Once that’s in order, I’m adding the passion project that I believe will be my legacy.

Once these things are ironed out, I’m sure my future will look bright, my pockets will be as well, and I’ll be living a life where failure isn’t something I’m seeking, it’s something I’m staring at and saying, “hello, where are you taking me next?”

I can’t wait to share all of this with you!



What IF Every Marathon I Ran Was To Get Me to My Business?

I was staring at my blank computer screen wondering what to write today and then the idea of Marathons and what they’ve taught me popped into my brain. It might be because it’s the anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing last year. It could also be that so many of my friends are gearing up to run marathons. Then again, it could be because this past weekend, I did horribly at a market. It was a serious fail, and one that forced me to pick myself up, dust off the dirt, and move forward.

The market I speak of is the one I advertised on this blog last Friday, the Greenpointers Spring Market in Greenpoint, New York.  I was super excited for the day. I had friends, who are also independent artists and small business owners, selling at the same market and the day was expected to be gorgeous. (And it was!) I spent much of last week trying to finish up last minute designs and get them printed to gauge response levels before committing to print. I also spent a few hours practicing meditation, positive thinking, and praying for a good outcome.

Then Sunday came. It started out fairly well, even though I ended up getting to the location late and tweaking my table set up while shoppers arrived.  Then the hours started trickling by and I had customers tell me how beautiful my product is and take a business card, but no sales.  Rather than focus on that, I talked to my friends and even talked to friends that surprised me and showed up to see me and my booth.  One of them even helped spruce up my display.

At five minutes to the end of the market, I made one sale. A lovely woman stopped by and mentioned how much she loved writing notes to friends and purchased one of my favorite sets.  She mentioned how much she liked my assorted postcard set and being that I sold one card in the set to someone else (okay, I had two sales), I gave her the set of remaining cards as a freebie/thank you.  Another gentleman walked by and wanted one card from a set. I normally do not break sets of cards – a set is a set – but being that I was not making any sales at the time he came to my table, I gave him the card he wanted. We didn’t exchange money for the card, and I’m not sure what his intention was, but at that point, I figured it would be better for me to give a good away and feel like a connection was made, than to harp on not making any money.  I’ve always stood by my mission that people write and spread love using my social stationery.  Giving that one card to that man keeps me true to my personal philosophy about sharing love and communication.

As I packed up, I thought about how dismal the day had been. How even in such an amazing space, with a table near the window looking toward the Manhattan skyline, and surrounded by amazing artists and makers, I felt defeated. And then I decided I wasn’t going to feel that any more. I acknowledged the feeling and thought, “shake it off.” You can never tell how a market is going to turn out. And yes, it would have been nice to make back, at the very least, the $135 table fee, the $11 toll between New Jersey and New York, the printing expense for new products, and the gas money I spent driving between New Jersey and New York, but it is okay. I’ve lost more money before (doing consulting and custom work) and this wasn’t about me.  I mean sure I could have upped my sales pitch, but that’s not really how I sell. I prefer to share stories and connect when making a sale.  Not blaming the shoppers here, but there were moments when I’d say hi and attempt to introduce myself and would be told by a shopper, “I’m just looking.” With the barrier in place, I’d smile and say, “well if you have any questions, I’m here.”

There is always a time to say, “I should have done more” or to think, “I didn’t do enough”, but the reality is sometimes being present is enough and all you could do in that time. I was present Sunday afternoon. I was optimistic and excited and I can’t forget that that those emotions kept me there. If I had been anything else, I would have felt even more anger and defeat from the day. Instead, I focused on gratitude toward the customers I did have and the stories I did exchange with them. I focused on how great it was to see friends throughout the day. I focused on how I did my first market of the 2014 year.  Which is how this circles to running Marathons.

I have completed four marathons. I have not done exceptionally well (see, I’m being critical!) in any of them, but I’ve completed four marathons. Two marathons were in the United States and two were international. One of them was just a month after my father’s passing and one of them was through my own City of birth with friends cheering me along the way and my Mom and little brother at the finish line. I have spent months training, eating, and berating myself for not being fast enough. I have experienced the highs of a good race and lows of a bad race. I have cried upon completing my first 20 miles and after crossing the finish line in Central Park.  I have made friends whom I love and who inspire me and I’ve raised something like $19,000 for cancer research. I have run in honor of friends friends who have passed away and made their struggle personal to remember when I whined at rolled ankles and aching muscles. I learned to love ice baths. Most importantly, I learned to never give up and to always start small in order to accomplish big.

All of that is what it takes to run a business. Whenever I thought I wouldn’t raise my fundraising goal, I’d surpass it. Whenever, I’d have a bad run, I’d remember that I at least showed up and ran; all those bad runs set you up for all the good runs your future holds.  Whenever I felt tired or sore, I figured out another way to exercise or get my “run” in, including just resting. I’ve learned that having friends to support you and cheer you on is key when doing something terrifying. I’ve learned to ask, and ask again. I’ve learned that running requires that you live in that moment; you make decisions and set goals and push yourself to points that may seem beyond your limits, and yet, you do it.

Running a business, much like running a marathon requires a lot. It requires courage, faith, determination, support, stamina, and confidence. It requires the present moment and the acknowledgement that you never know how it will go, how your body will hold up. It requires that you believe in yourself even in the face of failure or upset or torn and sprained muscles. Most importantly, it requires that you can walk away understanding that you need those downs as much as you need those ups.

So my take on Sunday’s market is my take upon completing the first two miles of a marathon – it’s a brutal start, but the sweet parts are still to come.  I’ll be out again in May, excited and ready for more S2 exposure and contact with potential customers. While I’m at it, I’ll probably go for a run. After all, I don’t know that I’d be here without all that training.


“Everyone is Going to Love You”

In 2008, I read “Eat, Pray, Love” and I loved some parts, like her stay in Italy, and hated other parts, when she found herself hating the life she had chosen. I was just about to be 28 when I read the book and was still young and full of strong ideas that would stay firm until my father passed away unexpectedly the following February. I thought Liz Gilbert was whiny and annoying and lost. But I loved her love for travel and her bravery to go out and find herself.

This past Saturday night, October 13, 2012, I found myself in a few gay bars in Tokyo, Japan celebrating the birthday of a dear friend. The birthday party was selected for this past Saturday because I’d be here and it would allow me to celebrate with my good friend’s friends and enjoy a night out in Tokyo. I am so glad that I was part of the festivities because it was a ton of fun and I got to see another layer of this amazingly interesting city known as Tokyo.

So what’s the connection between the party on Saturday night and “Eat, Pray, Love?”

Well, I left New York City heartbroken, and I still am, but am managing better over all. Leading up to my leaving, I was questioning lots of things: my life purpose, my ideas of love and my future. I was having a complete existential breakdown. What is my purpose and point? Why have I not made more money? Why am I just floundering? Much like Liz, I find myself crying and wondering and seeking something, anything that will remind me of who and what I am.

See, I know my worth and value deep down inside. I’ve just become cloudy. I know that what Mamy said to me that day about having a good feeling about me because I’m a good girl with a clean heart is accurate. Even with my bitchy side and my lack of compassion (mostly to myself), I have a good heart. I want to save the world. And I know that I can. I just can’t jump. Or I’ve felt like I couldn’t jump. Yet, I’ve jumped! I’m in freaking Tokyo, Japan. I’ve jumped, people! Sara, please note that you’ve jumped, because your entire little world of friends and connections and loved ones are watching you with awe and amazement.

And yet that awe and amazement terrifies me! It’s that moment that I had in Istanbul when I seriously might not have gotten on the plane to Moscow. What if I fail? Yes, at least I tried, but what if I seriously failed?!

Now, don’t get me wrong. I know I’m strong. It’s why my judgements and opinions are so strong. It’s why I don’t always believe in the gray. It’s why I have a strong opinion on depression. I believe that WE have the ability to change things. At the end of the day, we change things. We make decisions and we create change.

Yet, deep down, deep down, I struggle.  It’s a hidden struggle, I think, because I am not necessarily putting out the vibe of heartbroken, uncertain and sad woman. The reality is that I’ve been this way for three years. What led to this point is that I have been looking for something to fix me after my dad’s death. Nobody but myself can fix me, especially when it comes to dealing with my dad’s death.

In regards to seeming normal, I’m talking about my trip and my life when I’m out and laughing.  You’d almost guess that there is nothing wrong. And maybe in that the Universe can sense that I need reminders. I have experienced more love than I could ever have imagined or hope to experience in the last two weeks. And it terrifies me that at nearly 32 years old, I need a love boost, but it is what I’ve most needed and what I am the most grateful. It started over two weeks ago when one of my best friends surprised me by appearing at my going away party in New York all the way from Chicago. Talk about surprises! It included two very good friends driving in from New Jersey and one from the Bronx. All four of these individuals surprised me and I hadn’t seen them in months, one in over a year.

Saturday night, we were outside drinking and across the street from the bar there was a store that said, “I am here” and then on top of that “Impact.” I looked at it and said, “yes, Sara, you most definitely are here and will most definitely make an impact. Don’t think about it or question it, just know that that is where your heart is going.”

This came on the heels of sitting in a cab with one of my friend’s friends who turned to me in his drunk state and said, “I really think you coming to Japan to study paper making is brave and everyone is going to love you! They just are!” All of my friend’s friends that night expressed an interest in seeing me again and one even said, “you don’t want to stay in the country the entire time. You should come back so we can hang out.”  Another friend as he got ready to leave grabbed my hand and said, “I am so glad I met you. You are a good person, I know it and I will buy your product one day. I know that, too!” All of these conversations warmed my heart and gave me a jolt of the Sara of before and of the Sara that will be after this journey.

In one of the best moments of the evening, as I annoyingly looked up at the TV playing a Drake and Lil’ Wayne music video, this Japanese guy, who was cute, walked passed me and as he passed said, “hi. you’re really pretty” and then walked along to his seat. My friend, Mark, had told me that hiding out in Japan would be perfect for me because Japanese men aren’t the most aggressive and I wasn’t going to deal with what I did in Turkey. I’m kind of glad that that one guy, whether he was gay or not, complimented me. It seems kind of silly and shallow that being told “you’re pretty” from a stranger at a bar would mean something, but it was about the moment. It was about being surrounded by some fabulous gay men in a country I will call home for two months and am still getting a hang of and realizing “I am here.” Those moments matter more than I really have ever credit them. Alas, not any more, it’s part of trusting the process.

The Universe does speak.

Arigatou gozaimashita.

P.S. I am leaving in a few short hours by bus to the next leg of the trip: Echizen, Japan in Fukui Prefecture. I’ll arrive early tomorrow morning and the paper making adventure begins. Stay tuned!


Learning from Losing A Sale

Over the weekend, my youngest brother made a comment to my Mom about how I’m lying to them about money. He told her he knows that I’m making $3,000 sales and that I’m just not telling them. His proof is my voice mail message. He said that it says, “Hi, you’ve reached Sara from S2 Stationery and Design…” and so he knows that I’m lying.

When I heard this, I laughed at him and told him I wish this were the case and explained that I was not rolling in the dough and was in fact, waiting to hear about an order, but that it wouldn’t be anything close to $3,000, but it would get me close to another wedding invitation order and I was excited.

And then not even an hour later,  it happened. I received an email notifying that I was losing that sale.

Courtesy of Billy Ben

Just for the record nothing was in stone- there was no contract, but there was interest and planning discussions.  Needless to say, it is not the biggest loss ever, but still there is a loss and it left me wondering.

When I responded to the email, I kept it up beat and light-hearted; I offered her enthusiasm and encouragement and wished her well on her order. Completely heart-felt. No bad feeling at all, I promise.

Some of you, especially newer entrepreneur’s will wonder how is this possible.  How am I not upset, hurt, or even angry.

The answer is simple. As I read her email, I realized that everything was about price. I had an instructor once tell me that the people obsessed with price are people you don’t want as customers. He’s absolutely correct. When a potential client balks at cost, unless they are your best friend and they later go on to order many items from you and don’t complain at the price, you have to consider whether or not they are worthy of your time, skill, and product.

In the case of this customer,  the email said it all. She got an offer from a client who also has a print shop and was offering her an amazing deal. They offered her 50% off normal pricing. She was able to view their website and their products and ordered from them immediately. Where as with me, we discussed paper and potential ideas. She didn’t see anything and say, “I want this!”.  For that, I can not begrudge her.  As I told her, when opportunity knocks you have to jump at it.

The more I thought about it though, the more I put my business into perspective. 2012 is a year of growth (hopefully) and discovery. When I started over two years ago, I had NO IDEA what I was doing. I was simply following my dream.  Over the years, and especially last year, I learned a lot about customers and money and pricing and what I am and am not willing to tolerate. What I discovered is that I am in this business of providing a unique product and a service. Of course, I get satisfaction from doing what I love, but seeing the satisfaction from my customers means even more.   I have always enjoyed attending an event I did the invitations for and seeing how the initial conversation that included color ties in with the actual day and event.

See, I’m in the business to bring amazing quality to your special day. For some that comes in the form of a reception site or the meal. For others, it is in the dress and the small details, like invitations. For many others, it will come in an area that is above all of the details, but is the greatest detail of them all, the ceremony.  I am not here to judge, I’m simply here to make sure I listen and then provide the service both you and I expect.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I was super excited about this order and I am bummed at losing it.  It came as a referral from a past customer and we had such a great relationship and experience. I was  so excited that I even offered a discount (I know!), because of said relationship.  Yet, it backfired. It backfired much like the order from last fall, where I was told that I didn’t have enough photos or options on my website.

Both times, I experienced that moment of, “huh”? What do you mean I don’t offer enough options? I offer plenty of options. As a matter of fact, I offer options you’ve never seen because they are unique to you.

Yet, because of these experiences, I am more aware of me, my product, and my service than ever before.  As a matter of fact, yesterday, after I responded, I realized a bit more about my target market, about the kind of client I want and am willing to seek and work with/for – the confident consumer.

You are probably wondering what I mean by the “confident consumer”, and it is really simple. It’s the consumer who walks in and may not know exactly what she/he wants to a T, but knows that they will not be swayed from what they want. They are even willing to trust not only their instinct, but me as a designer.

Or better yet, let me put it this way, they are the customers who walk into any shop knowing that they are looking for one certain thing and are willing to spend the money on it, as opposed to customers who walk into a store without any idea clueless and then find themselves prey to sales and smooth talkers because they aren’t focused. I suppose in some way, I am looking for customers who are a bit more weathered, who have gone through the days of racking up debt to have trendy items and instant gratification and are now focused on quality, products that have meaning.

I know those customers are out there, I just have to find them and create relationships with them. After all, I’ve created work for customers like them before.

Yesterday afternoon offered a learning lesson, but also another reminder of who is my ideal customer. I was grateful and could not be too sad or disappointed.

I knew going into 2012 that I needed more avenues for revenue, or as I prefer “design challenges”.  My creation of my look book focuses on this by offering custom, but not too custom, stylish, eco-friendly, and evolved invitations and products that are accessible to customers from all backgrounds and price points.  They are also less intensive for me and won’t require the same amount of time that a full-on custom design would. I have been preparing.

At the same time, my love is for custom invitations and I intend to make that basis of my business. The only way that is going to happen is with every continued rejection email, or sale loss. And so I thank my customers when they say no, and I’ve learned to appreciate the learning lesson from the experience. I’ve also learned to take that idea I thought of and write it down and even create it so that I have it as an option for future “design challenges”.

As every entrepreneur knows, sometimes you have to fail to succeed and this case is no different. Every lost sale is a success in its own way. I now know that I need to get my look book together even more quickly and I am a bit closer in getting my marketing plan for the second half of 2012 pieced together. All I can say is thank you, customer, thank you.

I am totally interested in hearing how handle situations like these. Please share in the comments!

Fighting The Wheel Of Fear

Sometimes I sit at my 9-to-5 and wonder, “is this it?”

Sometimes I sit at my personal desk at home, as I tinker with stationery projects and wonder, “Should I just give up?”

Sometimes I write this blog and think, “does anyone read it?”, or more importantly, “does anyone find it useful?”.

Sometimes I find waking up to go to the 9-to-5 difficult, but then I sometimes find the motivation to run my stationery business difficult, too.

Why am I sharing the above points with you?

Well, because it takes a lot of work to run this small, not-so-much money making business of mine. It leaves me exhausted. As a matter of fact, I feel exhausted as I write this and yet, oddly inspired that I managed to clean my closet out and most of the clutter on my desk over the weekend. I also tackled a few projects that need to go out this week. All good things. All things that remind me that all the questions above do matter, but are not real. What is real is what I decide to do when I’m feeling this way.

Much like my feelings during the NYC Marathon last month, I never gave up and so what matters is whether you think the above and decide to stop and stay comfortable, or whether you feel the feelings, slack off and procrastinate maybe a few days and then get up and make stuff happen. I think every entrepreneur or “I want to own a small business” individual should read and understand that not every day is motivating and exciting. Not every day is perfect. Not every day is happy.

For those of you readers who have been reading since the beginning, you know that I’ve suffered the waves of unhappy/happy. Now, don’t take that for anything serious. I think I’m still wading through the various levels of grief, but I’ve also had to deal with the unhappiness of what I do in my day-to-day. And I think that’s the ticket to understanding the rough patches of having your own business.

In my mind, when I’m no longer restricted to my 9-to-5, I will have more time and be happier and freer. I have no doubt that these will be true. None at all. But I will be hungrier. Unless something miraculously changes I could be a starving artist not sure where my next dollar will come from. I’m not being an exaggerator here at all. And yet in all of this I know that I’ll be okay. I know that this risk will be worth it. That I will be a better, stronger person for having taken the risk and followed my passion/dream. And yet, there is that fear.

Here is where the juicy bits of Sara’s business comes in- see, I have no real security blanket. Yes, I’m working on saving and not spending and ridding myself of the lifestyle that I have created for myself, but there is still room for a flat-down-face-first-fall. The girl who hates ice/roller skating for fear of falling on her derriere has quite a lot in store for her.

And yet, I see myself doing amazing things and learning a ton and having a center of paper making and crafts when I’m older. Yes, I see that. I also see myself slower and happier and more full of life. And yet, the fear creeps in and says, “but what if you don’t have sales?”, “what if you can’t pay for this or that?”, “what about your adopted child in Ecuador? You know once you quit your job you can’t afford to donate to him anymore.”, “What about your bills?”, “What about when you don’t feel like cutting and gluing and meeting with a client?”, “What if you get sick, or can’t use your hands anymore?”.

You can see where I’m going with this…and yet, I see so much more than the what ifs and the may happens. It is what I remind myself every time I have a lull and can’t glue another envelope before bed. It is what I see when I decide to go to bed at 7:30pm instead of working on a design project. Again, this comes with the territory. I’ve been fortunate enough not to have to sacrifice so much to have this company, but I will, soon. Now, for that matter.

As I plan my exit strategy and realize all that has to happen in order for it to take place, I realize that I won’t have the six-month savings. I also won’t have insurance, or all of my debt paid off. I will have enough to get my butt to Asia, to live an extremely meager existence for six-to-12 months and then come home and figure the rest of it out. At 32-years-old, I will be living with my mom for a brief period of time, I’m sure.

In all of that, I realized that I’m okay when I think of the big picture and stop focusing on the small details. But it is often during those times when I allow my lack of motivation to seep in. And I blame it on my situation- my lack of money, my vast dislike for my 9-to-5. Then I blame that for making me feel tired and not wanting to do anything more than sleep at night. It is times like this when those questions above really seep in and really make me feel bad. But then something happens- my head screams, “NO! That is not the way you are going out, Sara Stroman! THIS will happen and you will be better for it.”

What I realized leading into my birthday and with the help of Hank, the hawk (who reappeared the night of Sunday, December 4th and stayed perched again on my air conditioner until around 6:55am Monday morning), is that I need to shake off the fear, get into action and make things happen. The tired and unmotivated Sara that has shown herself quite a bit this year has also done a lot and tackled huge feats that showed herself (in more than one way) that she is quite capable of doing what she says she will, when she says she will.

And so I decided that I needed to start moving out of my comfort zone. I need to deconstruct what I’ve constructed. I needs to get used to eating food she doesn’t like or may be old and bad (like her lunch today-yuck!) and start making choices that matter. Choices that matter for my future. Every action I make has to matter because it’s a means to my survival.

The first way to do that was to revisit the hair cut of my youth; the hair cut that made me cry, and feel sad and ugly as a 13-year-old girl in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. See, at the age of 13, I cut my then curly and frizzy hair short, extremely short to what I can only describe it as the soccer mom hair cut popular in the 90s by moms who drove mini vans in the Mid-west. We, both my mom and I, had no idea how to tame my suddenly curly mop and so the short cut was bad. I was also chubby and it just was not flattering and I swore never to cut my hair that short again.

Well, I’m here to tell you that on Friday, December 2nd, the day after I turned 31, I went to the hair dresser and asked her to cut my hair short. She did. I love it. It’s quite flattering. With every piece she cut, I shrieked out of shock and fear that I was revisiting a past I had no real desire to recall, but it was for naught. My hair is lovely. It feels healthy and happy and every time I touch it, I am reminded that I need to get my butt in action and motivated.

Which is why this Saturday after sleeping later than normal and then waking up and eating breakfast, I tackled my closet. With the weather in NYC flipping and flopping between warm and cold, I’ve had no desire to even touch the closet, but I decided it was finally time.

During the process, I started to throw things away. Things that I hadn’t worn in a year, I put in a pile for Good Will; items well worn and no longer needed, I put in the textiles recycling bag. Summer items were packed away and winter things came out. While I still need to go through the process again, “chucking” items never felt better. It really felt like the blood that was coursing through me the day I first noticed Hank the Hawk was back as I started to get rid of the things I no longer need or want.

And so this is the cycle where I find myself. A cycle where I’m making every decision count and am holding myself completely accountable for how and why I divvy up my time the way I do. It seems exhaustive, almost as much as feeling unmotivated, but it is part of running a truly sustainable and powerful business. It is also part of having a sustainable life.

Right now, I am cutting down my fear into small parts. I am taking those questions I mentioned at the very beginning and I am breaking them down. It is scary, but I’m trying to understand why I feels that way and how to fix my thoughts and feelings when they do strike.

Fear can be trapping in that way. It doesn’t help when you overwhelm yourself either, but the first step in stopping the wheel of fear is to face is head on. Which is why I’m aiming to do the best I can with this new outlook and get ready for when I do jump off the cliff. I hope you’re ready to start reading about me and my business getting ready to step off the cliff…it’s action time!

A Letter to the 2011 NYC Marathon

Dear NYC Marathon Route, all 26.2 glorious miles of you,

Hi! We met this past Sunday, Marathon Sunday, but I fear that you may not remember me. After all, there were 47,000 runners that touched your path on November 6, 2011. I was the girl with the high curly bun/pony tail at the Staten Island end of the Verrazano at 10:40am, and the deflated, low curly bun/pony tail in Central Park at approximately 5:48pm.

Actually, you may remember the last 4 miles that I cried. Or the last 1/2 mile where I found the strength, on sore and achy legs and feet, to sprint to the finish line.

You were so hard and yet, a marathon ending never felt so sweet. Two days ago, you showed me everything I’ve achieved and am in the 6 hours and some odd minutes it took to complete you. You reminded me of the grit and determination that lurks in my personality. It’s the one and same that has had several friends say, “Sara always does what she says she’s going to do” and currently that has me living a dream and plotting an escape.And at the end, after I refused a goody bag, mylar wrap, and photo at the finish, again showed me just how damn, plain stubborn I can be.

See, the road to YOU, my dream marathon, has taken five years. It has taken three marathons prior and a ton of self-belief and determination. For each of those marathons, and you, too, I fundraised on behalf of the Leukemia and Lymphoma’s Team in Training. I realized yesterday afternoon that I’ve raised over $19,000 for blood cancer research. That’s quite a feat. One that makes my long hours on four race courses not a failure.

When I started running in 2006, I said that I would only put myself through the pain of 26.2 miles for really cool places. Never would I run the Cleveland Marathon when I could run a marathon in Egypt (does that even exist?!)! And never would I run Boston because I’d have to qualify and commit myself to even more discipline than regular marathons and possibly even a lifestyle change.

And that’s where in lies the feelings of failure.

Between you and me, I have a fear of success. I have never fully appreciated my ability to “succeed”. I’ve always chosen to hide it so that I don’t stand out too much, or in another way of saying it, hold myself back. I’ve seen it at work and especially Sunday, as I crossed from the Queenborough Bridge into Manhattan and again at mile 21 when I thought, “You don’t really need a medal; you can quit you know and accept that you are just not good at running marathons, Sara”.

When it comes to running, sometimes I believe I can’t do it, even though I know that I can-I’ve witnessed the moments where my body becomes a running machine. It is because of this thought, that I’ve always finished a marathon, regardless of time and why I’ve gone back to challenge myself two and three and four more times after.

Every step up 1st Ave required me saying to myself, “It’s just 10 miles, you have this. You know what to expect.”  Seeing Amy and Chiara at mile 18 was amazing and exactly what I needed, but you’d prove to me that I’d need to dig deeper, especially at mile 22, to get to mile 26. If it hadn’t been for spotting my boss at 22 and the pep-talk from the woman who saw me “hit-THE-wall” and said, “You’re doing what I couldn’t do because I got injured and had to drop-out mid-training”, I really don’t know that I would have finished.  It was also at this point that I was reminded of Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” lyrics, ” if I can make it there, I’m gonna make it anywhere, It’s up to you, New York, New York…” at the start line.

I knew you were going to be  tough, but I also knew you were going to be an emotional one. I am a Brooklynite by birth, even if I grew up in the Mid-West, and my Mom and little brother were here to see me run not-to-mention all the friends in the city that I knew were going to cheer me on.

Running the streets of NY was incredible, especially Brooklyn! When I got into Bay Ridge, and ran up 4th Avenue, I was awed and impressed. I even stopped into my favorite Coffee Shop in Root Hill and screamed from the door to get the attention of Michelle, one of the owners. It was surprising to her and I may have deafened a customer, but I felt such a love and pride for the Borough of my birth and the people that call it home. But what was more was the over all energy of YOU and the city. The people out there cheering in every Borough were such an amazing display of what there is to love about this incredible city that attracts so many runners to this day each year.

I would not have finished without all the support and encouragement that I got all 26.2 miles of you. The signs specifically for me from friends in Brooklyn and Long Island City made it extra special. What was the best though, hands down, as seeing my Mom, little bro, aunt, and cousins at mile 11.  See, I’ve spent a lot of time in Williamsburg and so it was like I ran home as I ran through to LIC (another place I’ve spent countless hours) and on to Central Park.

Yesterday morning, I woke up to an email from my friend in South Africa that said the following,

” Well done! You made it. I was watching your progress online! Saw that
you made it half way and then it was late here, so I went to bed, but
checked your time this morning. Well done for persevering, I knew you
could do it. wishing you a quick recovery…”

Yesterday, with my swollen feet and aching legs, I ventured on facebook to see an outpouring of support, encouragement, and love unlike any other marathon I’ve completed. I no longer think that I failed you after all.

As I took MetroNorth to White Plains for a work conference yesterday morning, we rode into the Harlem-125th Street stop, just where I passed yesterday on my two feet and it was extremely cool to think, “I ran past this just yesterday!”.

When I walked into the meeting, everyone of my fellow conference attendees, from all over the world, knew I was the girl who ran the NYC Marathon Sunday. During the day introduction, they clapped for me and spent the rest of the day congratulating me and asking questions. Never once did it phase them that I didn’t finish you in 3 or 4 hours. They were just awed that I even had the gumption to run a marathon.

But that’s not what stopped me from feeling like a failure. No. It was more. It was the realization that no matter what-I’ve ALWAYS finished a marathon-even on poor ankles, a month after my father’s death, sacrificing my marathon for the sake of another marathoner and now, YOU, with an overwhelming desperation and anxiety to be just be done.

And so I thank you. Yes, I’ve rambled quite a bit here and I don’t think I even began to do you justice in regards to your scope and awesomeness, but THANK YOU. I had a heck of a journey to, through, and even now, after you. You inspired, caused doubt, fear, pain, anger and tears. You were harder than I expected and yet, more fulfilling. You were everything I wanted you to be and then some.

I hope to meet you again as a runner, one day in the future; maybe in a few years. For now, you remind me of my initial reason for signing up for a marathon and that marathons are not for babies or wusses. Marathons aren’t even for those that are half-hearted. No, to be a real marathoner, you must never give up, even when you want to, even with inconsistent training. You must be me, two days ago. The rewards to never giving up are much more than a medal at the finish, it’s NYC street cred.

Until our next meeting, my tired brain, achy legs and feet thank you beyond this long letter.

Sara Stroman