Dreams Don't Work Unless You Do

On Turning 50, Collecting Symbolic Totems, and Considering What We Can Learn From the Past Year

I’ve always joked that I’d try going gray at 50. Last year, ironically, I kinda didn’t have a choice.  I turned 50 and the COVID-19 pandemic pretty much ensured self-care as we knew it was a goner.  On March 13, 2020, I got my hair colored the same day the world shut down.  As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded, month-by-month I became aware of a few reminders indicating just how long I’d actually been in quarantine. 

I’m a very visual person, so I chose to “collect” a few items along the way as totems to mark time and remind me of how long we’d been in the pandemic.  As we approach the one-year anniversary, I’m taking stock.  I view this past year as a lesson, for myself, the world and everyone in it.  These lessons are something I have control over from this year;  I can take what I have learned, and decide what to keep, what to change, and what to let go of.

I know you are curious to learn what I “collected” during the past year….

1. An undeniable gray hairline that spread and grew ever so slightly each day.

2. Curly undergrowth—think little baby curls.  Several years ago I started shaving the underside of my head—I just had too much hair and it felt great to get rid of some of it. Besides, I was burning the ends from trying to straighten it.  As the pandemic wore on, I started embracing my curls for the first time since college.  My hair started taking on a life of its own and I decided to let the underside grow out.

3. Lastly, after all the chaos surrounding toilet paper, I was super curious regarding how much I would actually use during pandemic.  I decided to collect my empty toilet paper rolls.

Here’s the gray hair to date:

Mara smiling with gray roots

Here’s the undergrowth to date:

back of Mara's hair

Here are the toilet paper rolls to date:

empty toilet paper rolls

Just because I’ve collected these things this past year doesn’t mean I have to take them with me going forward.  I want to become more intentional about what I keep, what I change and what I let go of. It felt important to me to measure the growing length of gray hair on my head, to celebrate my curly hair, which during better times I’d worked to transform to straight hair. The toilet paper rolls just seemed like a symbolic measure of a year where the most basic things suddenly seemed scarce and valuable.  These “markers” each offer a perspective on the weeks we spent living an irregular life.

From my literal collection of cues, I’ve decided to keep the undergrowth and curly girl, embrace and change the gray hair, and get rid of the toilet paper rolls.  Makes sense, huh? (I know, it was strange to collect them in the first place.)

As I think of my visual cues, I think of all the other things I’ve really learned this past year and what I want to do more of, change, and get rid of.  But, I really want to do it intentionally, and I think that requires some reflection.

As I started making this next list, it was hard to put things in one neat category—For the sake of writing neatly, I’ve divided them into the following categories.  Keep, Change, Let go of…


  • Healthy habits I’ve developed this year: Exercise, participation and diversification of hobbies, phone calls and Zoom calls with loved ones, more time reading, listening to podcasts, stretching, moving, cooking, meditating, and increased organization and time management
  • Regular hand washing
  • Not touching my face


  • I pledge to have more courageous conversations about race, religion and politics instead of avoiding sensitive topics.  I want to go toward them and participate in challenging conversations and do what I can to learn more about other people’s struggles and perspectives.
  • Write more:  I want to write more and explore my deeper thoughts.  With more time at home and more focus on ideas this is a very appealing activity for me.
  • Socialize more—intentionally (loved ones, close friends):  If I learned anything in the past year it is how to value the social connections I have and how to embrace them and appreciate them.  Before the pandemic it was easy to take all of these interconnections for granted. 

Let go of:

  • A full calendar—I no longer equate being busy with being productive/successful/happy.  I’ve found much peace in having some open spaces on my calendar and I’ve learned to sink in to free time and enjoy the downtime.
  • Shame and guilt—These are two emotions that can eat at a person and really hold them back from forward movement.  I’ve found that the more they are looked at openly and honestly, the easier they are to release and truly let go of.
  • Stress, overwhelm, and worry—if this pandemic has taught me anything, it’s taught me to be much more present-minded.  The only moment we have is right now.  Stress can seep into our current moments and sap our ability to appreciate what we have in the here and now.
  • People-pleasing—I do not think I realized how much of a people pleaser I was.  It’s natural for me to take an interest in people and want to help them.  However, helping people with healthy boundaries and a healthy self-interest is MUCH different than people-pleasing.
  • Constantly checking my phone—the phone is a phenomenal tool, but making sure that I’m using it, instead of the other way around has been key.
  • Excessive TV watching (Actually, excessive anything!). Don’t get me wrong, I’ve watched my fair share of Netflix this pandemic, but I’ve peppered it with many other activities that engage my heart and mind more fully.

The COVID-19 pandemic has not been easy for me or anyone else, but we all have likely found a few silver linings along the way.  The world is opening up again, you can feel it.  The birds are out, more people are outside walking, and there are more cars on the road.  But as the world tries to begin anew, I feel a fierce need to protect some of the boundaries I have built this year.  It might have been inadvertent, but some of what happened to me during the lockdown and socially distanced time was slightly magical and I want to preserve those good approaches to living that crept into my life when life was not following the old routine. I want to continue to explore the newer ways of experiencing daily life and modify them in a way that’s intentional. There’s no doubt I’ll be taking some of these lessons forward.

What things do you want to keep, change or let go of as you move forward?  What have you done to mark time/keep track during pandemic?

Also, do you know anyone who could use 65 empty toilet paper rolls?  🙂



Posted in Blog, Routines

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