The Quarantine Paradox (Revisited)

It’s been a year.

I had no recollection of writing these words; I found them in my drafts, rediscovered when I logged in to make some edits on my site in preparation for a soon to air podcast.

Though it’s tempting to finish this piece and make more meaning of it, to reflect on who I am now and who I was a year ago, what we’ve done, who we’ve been, who we’ve become, it feels as exhausting as everything else has felt this year. I stopped keeping track of the exponential growth of COVID-19 cases on May 9, 2020 when I realized that life as we knew it, for the foreseeable future, would be canceled.

I’m okay with posting this unchewed and unfinished. I’ve got other writing to do, and leaving it as it is feels like a gentle completion, to turn the page, share, and let it go.

I hope you are safe, healthy and well. xo, Karen



Every morning when I wake up, I check three websites. First, the global Coronavirus Dashboard. Second, the Los Angeles Times. Third, the New York Times, specifically to see the map of California and how we’re doing at flattening the curve. After I look at the data, I update a spreadsheet where I track the daily totals and growth percentages.

When I started tracking on March 18, California had recorded 636 cases. As of today (4/21/20), the total is 33,879.  For a couple of days, the data showed what looked like a flattening of the curve, though we had heard the worst was yet to come. The spike in the number of cases, assumed due to additional testing and reporting shows a spike in the curve. I know just enough about statistics to know that the spike may be an anomaly and also enough to presume that we won’t know more until we know more. (How’s that for the science related content you were hoping to read from me?)

After I remove myself from the news, I go about my day the best I can.

I want to be hopeful. I want to be reassuring and confident, especially to my kids who are living a nightmare of cancellations and separations. I want to know how and when this ends.

As I think about what I’m missing, what we’re missing, how terrifying this is, how much people are suffering. I begin to fixate on the little things.

Is it the things I can control?


I look at my eyebrows in the mirror as I’m about to insert my contact lenses and I can get a good closeup.

Whoa! I’m looking a bit more like Eugene Levy than I used to. Time to pull out some tiny scissors and trim these caterpillars masquerading as my eyebrows.

For what though?

In the absence of people to see and places to go, I consider how much time, energy and money I have spent on my appearance. Manicures and pedicures (my chipping nails tell me it’s time to put some attention there), haircuts, highlights, waxing, laser treatments, facials, massages and even an eyelash perm. Do I do this for myself or to look “a certain way” around other people? Who am I trying to impress? Am I bored? Is this all necessary? I don’t know.

More questions I can’t answer.

I spent a few dollars online to extend the color of my hair when I noticed my now constant messy bun looking a little too blonde at the ends, but too blonde quickly went to WHERE’S MY BLONDE? I DON’T EVEN LOOK LIKE MYSELF ANYMORE as the golden brown coloring conditioner (which smells like spearmint) transforms my beachy inspired locks into something more muted. I don’t hate it, but it’s not familiar. Nothing is familiar. Life is muted.

Zoom calls have me staring at my face more than I used to, and I notice the lower part of my face beginning to sag – I’ve heard this phenomenon described as marionette lines. What a horrible comparison, this natural process of aging, a fight against gravity, reduced to puppetry. Ew. Why do we do this to ourselves? Am I trying to look younger? Am I fighting a losing battle? Is there something I can do about this or is it another thing I have to accept that I don’t like. Why am I fighting at all? Who is winning and who is losing?

Then a couple of weeks ago (weeks? a month? who knows anymore), in my mask at the grocery store, I was carded. Flattered, shocked, I wondered how much evidence of my 49 years is concealed behind the mask? I gladly handed over my ID (bless your heart). Is this something to be fixed, or simply acknowledged? Maybe I need to sleep on my back? Maybe it’s too late? Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe the clerk is being monitored for checking IDs per store policy and it has nothing to do with me or how I look?

We are living in the ongoing unfamiliar, which was technically always true, but the norm felt so predictable and now I’m staring at data sets and playing amateur epidemiologist sitting in the waiting. Staying safer at home, physically distanced from all the comforts and routines we took for granted.

So what does matter?

Every time they complain about what they’ve lost (is it complaining or just stating a fact?), I tell Jake and Ellie I imagine this compares to living in wartime except now we have the joys of connection through the Internet! We aren’t really isolated at all, we are globally connected. I say this while cursing under my breath that all that global connection landed us in a freaking PANDEMIC. Ellie, studying world history in 9th grade, tells me about the comparisons to the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918. I see this in my drips of news, specifically including warnings to not end the quarantine too soon, trying to prevent a second surge. The cities that acted fasted had the best containment. I wonder what the history books will say about this, about us, a hundred years from now?

I’m trying to use the time to do all the things I am supposed to do. I even set up a gamified and incentivized experience of a “wellness challenge” to inspire my kids to take on hobbies and self-care projects. I failed the challenge after the first week. Personally, I hated learning the ukulele, but they seem motivated to do something, which is better than nothing. At least I think it’s better.

I hear people talking about “coming out stronger” but I don’t know what that means. Right now, I want to be safe. I want my family to be safe. I want my friends to be safe. I want my city, state, country and world to be safe.

It’s not looking good. Does that make me a realist or a pessimist?

I feel guilty for how lucky we are to be who we are and to live how and where we do. Rafe’s business is essential, mine was always virtual. I love spending more time with the kids but it feels like we’ve pirated the time and this forced cohabitation is ill gotten booty. This doesn’t stop me from loving hearing the noises of their lives and seeing everyone’s faces and cozying into home together. And I hate that they have to spend time with us, especially at ages where they should be spending time with their friends and on their own developing all the skills they are supposed to have to “adult.” I never expected “adulting” to look like this.

I love that I got to adapt my gym routines to meeting my trainer on my iPad in my garage. I love that we moved into this house in 2017. Living in our old house would have completely crushed my spirit….








Photo by Brian McGowan on Unsplash

One day, but not today

There will be a day

When market shelves are fully stocked with toilet paper, isopropyl alcohol, flour, and yeast and we won’t be stunned

When our homecomings are not punctuated by a solid 20 seconds of hand washing

And we can smile at each other with the entirety of our faces, not solely as a pair of eyes above a mask


This will be true one day, but not today


There will be a time when Amazon Prime returns to next day delivery

When the targeted ads in my Instagram feed are anything other than athleisure, a tempting array of sweatpants like I’ve never before seen and somehow still resist

When I will book travel and look forward to experiencing somewhere new

And not adventure to the pharmacy or Target as vacation destinations


This will occur in the distant future, but it didn’t happen today


There will be a day

When our kids go back at school

When we see little ones on a playground and pause and smile with gratitude

And current events will cover a range of topics, not just the One


This will happen one day, just not today


There will be a day

When we begin to mend what was broken

When we may take a collective global breath and sigh with a big deep inhale and know that we will be okay except when we aren’t

And we’ll be better prepared god forbid there’s a next time


This will happen one day – it’s not today


We will return to a sense of “normal,” though normal will never be the same

We’ll have our hair cuts and manicures and pedicures, we’ll improvise graduations and proms

We’ll tell each other stories about how we managed with updates on our confinement projects

We’ll be happy except when we’re not, and we will continue to mourn and grieve what was lost

And we will remember what we found


This will happen one day. Today isn’t it.


Today I am grateful for the unavoidable moment at the bank supporting the essential nature of our business in which the teller and I talked about how much we dislike the heat under our face masks, celebrated our treasured personal hand sanitizer bottles then wished each other a good day

I might return to learning ukulele on YouTube

I will connect when I can and disconnect when I remember I need that too

I will write a letter and put it in the mail

I will reach out to the friend who lives alone

I will enjoy the smell of fresh baked cookies

I will complete another crossword puzzle like I did before all this started

I could even organize another closet

(there must still be one I haven’t done)

I will cuddle with my husband, kids and dogs, not necessarily in that order

I will send a silent prayer to all those on the front lines, to those recovering, to those suffering,

And to us all in our shared vulnerability and our resilient and delicate humanity


This I can do.

I can do this today.


Photo by LOGAN WEAVER on Unsplash

fortune cookie with message

I am not an oracle, but I feel things

fortune cookie with message

I am not an oracle. I’m not a fortune teller, a psychic or a mind reader. I have no way to predict the future though I wish I did. I am highly sensitive, deeply intuitive and empathic. I feel A LOT.

If I had the answers, believe me, I’d be shouting from YouTube or my driveway to anyone who might listen and not dismiss me as a mildly unkempt woman in her bathrobe yelling into the void.

I feel like we’re on a big timeout, a collective, global, slow the f down. Once the world opens up again, we may begin to realize how false borders are, human to human. Timelines have changed and expectations have changed along with them. Graduations, celebrations, weddings, fundraisers, festivals, even the due date of our tax returns (in the U.S.) have shifted forward. We’re living in a TBD world.

While we can’t make solid plans other than washing our hands and keeping a safe and healthy distance from each other, we can, optimistically plan ahead. We can work with what we’ve got. We can get ready.

I’ve noticed myself saying, “let’s hope to” instead of “let’s plan on.”

We can learn to be comfortably uncomfortable exactly where we are.

I think we’re going to be okay, but I also think we’re going to be really sad, frustrated and disappointed for quite awhile and we will grieve and mourn the loss of what was.

I think we’re going to have to learn to deal with how much we depend on future plans for our happiness, how quickly we look outside instead of inside for a sense of joy, fulfillment or satisfaction. I think we’re going to notice how quickly we get bored and how boring we become when we can’t have what we want when we want it.

I think we’re going to have to accept how fragile and interdependent we are, even though we used to believe we were strong, resilient and independent (at least in the U.S.).

I think we will continue to be humbled by all we don’t know, how quickly and easily we are seduced into fear and panic and how much we truly need community and to care about each other deeply.

I think resilience will begin to look and feel different than “toughing it out” and will become more relational, more knowing “we’re all in this together,” everyone, everywhere, without exception.

I think we have an opportunity to be more creative and more self-aware.

I think as more is taken away from us, the more we will begin to focus on and acknowledge our true needs and gifts.

I think we’re going to step up.

gold star decorations

On “overachieving”

gold star decorations

This is a snippet of a conversation I had with a client a few months ago.

See how much of this feels true for you. X feels out of control, so instead of telling yourself, “Wow, X feels out of control” and acknowledging how powerless you feel right now, you’re trying to get everything right, but it’s impossible because of everything happening at the same time.

And, instead of sitting down and crying because you’re overwhelmed, or asking for help, or saying it’s too much, or saying no, or taking a pause, you’re focusing all of your energy on the one thing that does feel good and right (your work) and when that’s not perfect you’re snapping at everyone and feeling bad about yourself for doing it.

She laughed out loud and we shared a moment.

Overachieving is a beast we both intimately know. Unlike most addictions, overachieving tends to yield positive outcomes.

It’s like being a dog that can’t stop barking because it’s a self-rewarding behavior and we continue behaviors that are rewarded. We DO, and we get a gold star. We do MORE and get more gold stars. Hooray for gold stars! We LOVE knowing how well people think we are doing!

We produce like little machines and we receive all this delicious external validation. It feels like all the extra effort is worth it, and if the effort is worth it, we must therefore, be worth it. The achieve-reward cycle becomes a compulsion, earning validation, praise and elevated status … before it leads to burnout.

I don’t wear “overachiever” as a badge of honor; being labeled as one makes me feel misunderstood.


A new friend heard about my book and grilled me about it.

“But there’s no such thing as overachieving,” she insisted, “you can only achieve. Anything else is, well, redundant.”


I wrote half a book about it. (The other half is about discovering joy.)

For most of my life, I believed I had to do more to be okay.

Just to be okay. Normal. Good enough.

One day, without realizing it, “overachiever” had become my identity. Without all the gold stars, I didn’t think I mattered.

Our culture LOVES overachievers and doesn’t consider the downsides.

The shame of overachieving comes when I realize I simply cannot do all I have committed to doing. I feel responsible for letting people down. No matter how much I achieve, the bar is set so high I am destined to disappoint. I am empty and depleted instead of full and accomplished.

Do you know how confusing this is?

I start to believe that if I cannot be and do all the things, I AM bad, unworthy and unlovable. I spiral into doubting everything about myself. Shame is a deep, deep well that bottoms out in depression. Depression SUCKS!

Even after watching Brené Brown’s illuminating TED talks (listening to shame, and the power of vulnerability), I had no personal concept of shame (likely because I had convinced myself I was over here being awesome … except for the times that I felt like a terrible human and not worthy of existing on this planet without having to earn my spot on the team…but again, I didn’t talk about that).

The good is thrown out with the bad, negative self-judgments fly every which way in a tornado of rotten garbage strewn around in my thoughts.

It’s not pretty.

Those were the thoughts I kept inside until I landed on a therapist’s couch to deal with childhood trauma, PTSD and C-PTSD. In therapy, I learned the difference between shame and guilt. Guilt=I did a bad thing. Shame=I am a bad thing.


We need better language for this.

Brené Brown‘s glorious “The Gifts of Imperfection” turns that word on its heels.

Perfection/imperfection. Easy.

What have we got?

Overachiever/average? Overachiever/normal? Overachiever/mediocre?


There’s Got to Be a Better WORD.

Combatting the addiction of overachieving is not a permission slip or an endorsement of mediocre.

You know those commercials about just ok isn’t good enough? I don’t want my tumor removed by an ok surgeon, nor do I want my sushi prepared by someone who is ok with food safety.

Excellence has a place.

Overachievers (and all humans) need to set limits and boundaries.

Underneath the control issues, there is something really special about people like us who seek mastery and create beauty. We are insatiably curious, incredibly competent and deeply driven.

I know it’s not just me. I built a business inspired by us. I am proud of us. I LOVE us!

What I tried to explain to my new friend is that the “overachiever’s guide” part of my book’s title is meant tongue-in-cheek, as is the now available companion journal “The Overachiever’s Guidebook.”


It is a self-guided digital download offering directed inquiries to help you discover your joy using the exercises I write about throughout my book. One of my first readers described it as …


My heroine’s journey in There’s Got to Be a Better Way is not about doing more, nor, quite frankly, is it about doing less.

It’s about doing what’s right, and what comes from guiding myself by a sense of purpose, cultivated self-awareness, and trusting my intuition.

When I am guided by my own light, my life is different.

On the days I write, I am consumed and in the flow. I take everything off my plate that I can, which includes not scheduling a service appointment to fix my dishwasher “because I’m going to be home anyway,” and it will likely involve dinner delivered or something very simple if I’m cooking.

(My family reminds me that every meal I make does not have to be unique and spectacular.)

I will not be responding to every text when I see a badge on my phone nor will I be looking at my email to see who has responded to what and what I need to do next thinking I need to respond immediately.

I write so much about this because I think it’s helpful to know that I have made countless errors in judgment and I’m gently and continually on a path towards improvement. For all the times I ignore or crash through my feelings instead of slowing down to check in with myself, I know one way or another, I will end up in a heap of tissues and tears.

I am learning to question how I habitually hit the gas at emotional yellow lights instead of pausing to consider whether I should stop or go.

Usually, if I slow down to the speed of my unique GPS, the answer is no, not now, or no, and of course you don’t have to do it at all.

You don’t have to figure it all out and you really don’t have to do all the things – especially not all at once.

(Believe me, I’ve tried.)

rows of red chairs with wooden trim

The Time I Almost Didn’t See Hamilton on Broadway


Spring 2016: Hamilton? That Broadway musical phenomenon about the first Secretary of the Treasury? Yeah, I guess I’ve heard of it.

Summer 2016: We sing along with Corden’s Broadway Carpool Karaoke before the Tony’s (which Ellie and I watch from beginning to end while the house sleeps). The Hamilton soundtrack is the music of our summer, accompanying every morning’s carpool to theatre camp. We listen to the songs intermixed with stories from the Audible reading of Hamilton: The Revolution for depth and context. We are obsessed, especially Ellie.

Even Jake starts rapping.

Daily Hamil-news, memes, Instagram posts, Pinterest boards. Our conversations start with an acknowledgment of our Hamilaria, “Hamilton, Hamilton, Hamilton…” We smile together and barely hold ourselves back from breaking into song when a woman at the store says her name is Angelica. I ask Ellie if she wants us to call her Eliza. She considers it.

June 23, 2016: I text Carrie while we’re talking about Ellie’s upcoming performance of The Tempest (and how she and I should attend next summer’s adult Shakespeare camp). Trying to get Ellie to NY before a lot of the Hamilton cast leave the show…but logistics are prohibitive.

We talk about going, but tickets are scarce and expensive, and I’m leading a retreat the days prior to the big show. After retreats, I’m practically a zombie and I’ve learned to put myself into seclusion to recharge. It’s the best thing I can do to keep myself sane and productive. I suggest it might be easier to buy 11 year old Ellie a Lamborghini than to see Hamilton on July 9. I put it out of my head…

Until Rafe and I start talking about it. The show is coming to Los Angeles in 2017. We can take her for her 13th birthday. But Lin-Manuel Miranda is developing the Chicago cast for that production, so maybe we’ll go sooner. The coin flip conversation of LA or Chicago is analyzed and discussed without a decision.

July 4th holiday weekend: car trips all over California give us miles to listen to the complete soundtrack together as a family, beginning to end, line by line and note by note. The Hamilaria epidemic has spread.

July 5, 2016: Rafe comes home. I need to talk to you about something. He’s serious.

He wants Ellie to see the show in New York on the 9th as an early celebration of her Bat Mitzvah. I cry, so touched by the gesture and how much it will mean to her. I know it’s best for him to take her. He’s a better traveler and I’ll be exhausted. Jake and I will enjoy a quiet weekend at home sharing the experience vicariously through texts and photos while recovering from the event. Jake tells him he’s a good dad and a good person for wanting to give this experience to Ellie. We find tickets and flights for them. When we share the surprise with Ellie, she lights up like fireworks.

July 7, 2016: The retreat changes the game when my role unexpectedly shifts from facilitator to participant. We are in the midst of an AMA session, Ask Me Anything. The organization’s leaders have given me a vision which this retreat will fulfill, and I’ve created an opportunity for the group to share stories as responses to anonymously submitted questions.

Storytelling builds leaders, and the ability to connect and relate to one another vulnerably builds bridges among and throughout this team. With new stories, they can work together towards new outcomes. They value equality and fairness; of course they want to include me in their process.

If you could change one thing about yourself, Karen, what would it be?

This group is courageous and it’s contagious. I’m serving people who are focused on a mission. They’ve opened their hearts to each other and to me. Earlier, I’ve explained that my approach to developing leaders involves identifying where they are and helping them expand into who they want to be. Now the tables have turned.

“I’d be more brave.” I explain how I see bravery, and how people assume I’m brave because I do crazy things like adopting horses and learning to surf in my 40s, but really there is a lot I choose to set aside regardless of what I want because I’m afraid.

That’s hard to admit.

(You want a revolution? I want a revelation.)

July 8, 2016: I wake up, not unlike other mornings, with a song from Hamilton in my head. Jefferson sings, “What did I miss?” and I’m telling Rafe what pictures I need him to take of Ellie in the Big Apple so I don’t miss out on the moment.

He’s already been up a while (he will never be satisfied). Do you want to go? Tickets to the show are still available, and we can catch a redeye after the retreat ends and be in New York in the morning. All of us together. An epic family weekend adventure. (History has its eyes on you.)

(Wait for it)

I’m acknowledged during this retreat for modeling healthy boundaries. Boundaries create safety, and when I’m asking people to take risks, I want them to do so feeling as secure as possible. We start and end on time. We stick with a program. It works. So saying no is not usually hard for me. (Say no to this.) But I don’t recognize how often in that NO, I’m saying NO to a part of me that wants to say YES.

How often does my automatic and immediate no stop me from an even better yes?

With new stories, we can work towards new outcomes.

(The world turns upside down.)

Yes. I do want to go. (I am not throwing away my shot.)

Yes. I will be tired. (Take a break.)

Yes. I want this. (She will never be satisfied.)