It’s a long story, but I have four cats. I’m just owning it, after 15 years. I still resist the moniker “cat lady,” and hopefully most of my friends and family members have stopped, finally, buying me tchotchkes with feline designs. I didn’t set out to be a cat person, I didn’t grow up with more than one cat at a time. I don’t know what happened. These cats are a family: the parents and two of the offspring, all orange. And, I might as well say it: I’m single. My mother, sister and friend Sarah, when I might mention a new man in my life, would ask, “does he know about the cats?” as if this was an important detail about my date-ability. Or, just for fun, my sister would just offer this information up (like she used to her shoe size when she was five): “I wear size seven!” proudly: “Libby has four cats!”
Why was this relevant at all? I worked with a man who had a crush on me and kept hinting around about asking me out. We were talking, and he asked me a question about adventure or travel or cooking, and finally said, “Wow! You’re perfect . . . you don’t have any cats, do you?” And most recently, because I had a fire department safety sticker on my front window, I opened the door to a new man who breezed past “hello” to say, “Do you really have four cats?”
My house does not smell like cats. I’m fastidious about their litter boxes, their food, their occasional hairball. There is cat hair. I can’t do anything about that, sadly, so when you come to visit me, I’ll vacuum the couch right before your arrival and I’ll give you a lint brush before you leave. I do my best. If I wasn’t confessing these cats right now, you’d never know I have more than one because other than Solomon, the orange Maine Coon, they all hide under the bed or in the closet. One makes a cameo appearance about twice a week. Even I don’t see him much.
Lately, though, and it might have to do with age, or confidence or just letting go, I’m owning this cat lady thing. Like poetry, which it took me a very long time to admit to my business clients: I’m a poet. I’m paying attention in a different way, and yes, I can still talk to you about strategy, performance and profit margins. I’m not sure, even this morning while I’m writing and trying to keep Solomon off my lap to do it, what owning my cat-lady-self might have to do with my work in the world, but I know owning it, owning my whole self, is part of what is missing in many of the people I coach and help in my work.
Some of my clients are forever hoping that their employees will separate their personal and professional lives; they will be able to leave their quirky, uncomfortable or secret selves outside in the parking lot before they come in to work. I’m not saying there should be no lines drawn—I still believe in appropriateness and decorum—but I suspect that if we just own it when it comes to accepting ourselves and being truthful, then we show up better to work anyway and we don’t have to drag all of our baggage with us.