It’s just easier to be Thankful

Two days ago, I opened up my annual Christmas spreadsheet to start planning for Christmas. I’m a super spreadsheet nerd, and I have to ship my gifts across the country from San Francisco to Atlanta and Pennsylvania, where my families live. I use a Google spreadsheet to plan my gifts and store tracking numbers to make sure that all the good boys and girls get their gifts on time. Each year, I start my Christmas planning by making a copy of the previous year’s spreadsheet.

This year, my heart sank when I realized that, for the second year in a row, I would have to remove a loved one from the list. Last year, I removed my Abuela who passed away from leukemia in February 2014 and my granny Gemzer who passed away in November. This year, I have to remove my dear friend Brandi, who passed away this past February after bravely battling breast cancer. I have seen so much loss these past two years.

I’ve been grieving and coping with the loss of Brandi for over 6 months, yet it still seems unfair that I get more than her: to live more days, to see more things, and to experience more time. In my logical mind, I know that I should be thankful instead of focusing on the weight of unfairness, but it’s been tough.

Increasingly during my meditations, one phrase has been surfacing in my mind: “life is not a dress rehearsal.” My mind is telling me, “This is it, Erika. Make it worthwhile.” And you know what, I think my mind is right.

It’s strange that we spend much of our time complaining and worrying – and then when we start counting our blessings, we tend to come up with a much longer list of blessings than grievances. There’s an interesting article about complaining, neuroscience, and happiness that my friend Miles shared recently, and it got me thinking a lot about what I have to be grateful for lately. Without being too squishy – it’s a lot.


  • I work with really, really, really gifted people.
  • I’m working in biotechnology moonshots – feeding both my inner science nerd and the part of me that will never stop being idealistic about changing the world in a big way.
  • I’m doing strategic business operations work – which allows me to be involved in everything (because I can’t stand not knowing what’s up), measure everything, and connect as many dots as possible.


  • I live in a beautiful city where I can walk around everywhere I want to go, hike next to the ocean, drink some of the best wine in the world, and chat about ionization energies with geeky strangers sitting at the table next to me at dinner.
  • I have many incredible partnerships – people I won’t give up on and who will never give up on me. Wow.
  • My friends and family have become a blended category.My SF friends took me in when I was scared and felt alone, and we take care of each other. I live in a house with three other people who feel like family. My friends are my neighbors and my family all at once.
  • I’m like 5000x healthier than this time last year! I feel well – I feel like myself again.


  • I’m still writing. It’s the best therapy I’ve ever found – I’ve found so many answers within myself, and I keep both sides of my brain growing and learning by putting words to my curiosities.
  • I’m starting a master’s degree in computer science in January. Even though my coding is rusty and I can’t do Java just yet, I am so EXCITED. Even though it will take me 4-5 years to complete the degree, it’s the learning journey itself that excites me.
  • I have the most awesome starter garden with my housemate Omer – we’re growing squash, cucumber, herbs, flowers, and succulents. It’s beautiful, really – to grow things.
  • I’m starting an art venture – – to bring affordable custom art to people like you and me. I started collecting art when I was 14, using my allowance to bid on Ebay auctions for affordable art. I started painting when I was 15, tearing out photos from National Geographic and trying to reproduce them in oil paint. Painting is the one hobby that has persisted with me over time, and it’s the one that I turn to when I am most troubled. I love art, and now I get to make it an accessible part of other people’s lives!

I’m happy to see so much in my “Balance” category and to see so many things that I’m starting from scratch. I thrive by striving; I always have. I’ve worked hard to do a lot with my life so far, but I realize more and more that it’s not a dress rehearsal and that achievements that are more authentic to who I am and what I love simply count more for me.  I’m trying to focus on being a better more balanced human, which starts with feeding parts of me that are hungry, including my love of connecting people with art.

Below is the first ever painting from It’s a portrait of me, Brandi, and our other dear friend Georgi. It will hang in my house as a reminder of the depth of our friendship, the wonderful moments we shared, and the kinds of “curves” life can throw at us.

“friendly faces” – photo (October 2012)

Friendly Faces Photo Watermarked

“friendly faces” – painting (October 2015)

Friendly Faces Painting Watermarked

Thank you for reading.




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Erika Written by:

Operations zealot, writer, & art lover tackling sustainable development by day and dreaming up her next backpacking adventure by night.

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