Jane Schwartzberg cringes when she hears someone say that a terrible accident or frightening medical diagnosis made them realize what’s important in life.
“In some ways, I do wish everyone could experience a taste of terminal, if that’s what it takes to make them appreciate the intangible gifts we receive not just during the holidays, but all year,” says Schwartzberg, co-author with Marcy Tolkoff Levy of Naked Jane Bares All, a new book that shares Schwartzberg’s story with candor and humor.
“But I wish they’d known all along, and I hate the thought of goodness coming at the expense of so much suffering.”
Schwartzberg says she was clear about what’s most important before she was diagnosed with stage IV incurable breast cancer. As a mother, wife, daughter, sister, aunt, and friend, she knew that all that really matters is how much love we give and receive.
The holidays are a wonderful opportunity for people to remember that and to focus on those they love. But, too often, the holidays become a source of anxiety, stress, and tension. Financial concerns, having too much to do, and missing loved ones are among the top causes of holiday stress, according to a recent Mental Health America survey.
“Although I won’t attribute any revelations about what’s most important in life to my illness, I can say that there are a few things that I am trying to do better since getting sick,” Schwartzberg says.
“The holidays are a great time to cultivate a spirit of gratitude and to re-focus on the things that are most meaningful.”
For Schwartzberg, those include:
- Showing up. If you’re worried about yesterday or always planning for tomorrow, you’re missing the present moment and any wonderful experiences it may hold.
“Although my clock ticks louder than others’, I know we are all here for a short time,” Schwartzberg says. “I am determined to find joy in every single day. It may come from the simplest of things: a view from my window, a great conversation, or a hot cup of coffee. But I know I need to be always present and available, with an open mind and open heart, to experience any of it.”
- Riding “the love train.” We all have people in our lives who care about us, and it’s important to let them know how much we appreciate them. Schwartzberg’s “love train” is a metaphor for all of the people she chooses to share her life with. “They are rooting me on and giving my family and me love and support,” she says. “I try to be as meticulous and thoughtful as I possibly can be with those onboard, and that means making sure they know how much I love and value them.”
- Knowing your place in the world. There is a Jewish teaching that says everyone should carry with them two pieces of paper, each in a separate pocket. One paper should say, “I am but dust and ashes.” The other, “The world was created for me.”
“I constantly remind myself that both statements are true,” Schwartzberg says. “I am capable of incredible things to improve the world, and I am just a tiny speck in the universe. Powerfulness and humility can, and do, exist for me side by side.”
As the holidays approach, keep in mind that the best gift you can give—or receive—is love.
“It’s not a table full of food, or gadgets you can’t afford,” she says. “Approach this holiday season as if it could be your last, and you’ll probably find much more to revel in than to stress about.”
About Jane Schwartzberg
Jane Schwartzberg, 45, is the co-author of, “Naked Jane Bares All,” the many-layered story—told with humor and candor—of how she learned to embrace life when she was down for the count. Schwartzberg, pictured here, is a financial services executive and founder and former CEO of a start-up technology company.
“Naked Jane Bares All” was co-written by veteran writer Marcy Tolkoff Levy. Following a year of interviews and many late nights with Schwartzberg and her family and friends, Levy formed the foundation of a colorful, poignant and even humorous collection of vignettes about how Schwartzberg continues to get back up when life throws her down.