Does anyone really “just want to finish”? Really???

March is here.  It’s been months since I’ve written anything on this blog.  I feel guilty.  Not just because I haven’t followed through on my commitments to myself but because, as ridiculous as this might sound, I feel as though I’m letting down “my readers”.   I mean I said I was going to pursue these goals and write about it along the way.  Unfortunately, there just has not been much to write about in the way of goal fulfillment.

Triathlon training has, so far, been pretty non-existent.  These first few months of the new year have been busy and stressful in ways that have just not been conducive to exercise for me.  Add to that the whole winter thing, and there you go.  I have been downhill skiing quite a lot with the kids (probably close to 30 times this season), which has been great, but I can’t kid myself that this has done anything for my cardiovascular fitness. Bottom line (i.e. confession):  I’ve run outside twice since the start of the year; “worked out” in a gym (stationary bike or elliptical) eight times, and swum not at all.

As the days and weeks have passed by, I’ve vacillated between feeling panicky (the triathlon I’m hoping to do is now only five months away) and reassuring myself that there is still plenty of time to make this happen.  As my once distant goal grows closer, images of swimming in the open water of a large lake, surrounded by other swimmers, flash through my mind, and I know with cold hard certainty that this will be an incredibly scary and challenging event for me, mentally as well as physically.  Then I think about coming out of the water and hopping onto a bicycle to ride 22 miles.  And then getting off the bike and, groan, running for 5 miles.   Riding a bike and running are not frightening in the same way as swimming in a lake is.  But, at this point, it’s still a pretty huge leap for me to think about doing these things in quick succession and in any way competitively.  Somewhere along the line, in my hazy vision of how this may all go down, the concept of “just finishing” the event creeps in.  “I’ll be happy if I just finish it.”  I’ve heard people say this a lot when preparing to participate in an athletic endeavor.  Sometimes these people are fairly good athletes (fitter and more experienced than I am, at least).  I’ve never really bought the idea that people want to “just finish”.  In my mind, this is kind of a face-saving statement used to lower expectations and pressure.  Not that there is anything wrong with that!  But I think most of the time people, in their heart of hearts, want to do more than “just finish”.  However, what that means to them (which they may want to keep to themselves) is going to vary a lot from person to person.  The individual, perhaps unspoken, goal may be based on past performance, looking at other people’s times in similar events or, perhaps, just some arbitrary bench mark that seems suitable to strive for. I’m more likely to think in terms of finishing in a “respectable” time than “just finishing”.  Of course, what’s “respectable” is also going to vary widely from person to person based on their abilities and expectations for themselves.

For me, respectability has often hovered around the magic number 12.  For running, this means an average time of less than 12 minutes per mile .  For biking, it means averaging more than 12 miles per hour.  I realize that these are terribly humble goals and, at times, in the handful of organized biking and running events I’ve participated in over the years, I’ve thrillingly exceeded these benchmarks.  But still, the baseline of my personal “respectable” time, hovers in the back of my head as something achievable that I will be satisfied with — and which, based on past experience, will probably not put me at the very back of the pack in a mixed field of participants.  Because, let’s face it, being last is something that nobody wants to be.

This brings me back to the idea of “just finishing”.  Could this be a helpful concept?  Right now, “just finishing” paints a picture of literally crawling across the finish line, like Wile E. Coyote after he gets blown up and then falls off a cliff and then smashes into a rock wall and is flattened.  But could the image of “just finishing” or simply “finishing” be transformed into something more triumphant?  Could I really let go of ego and expectations and comparing myself to others and feeling embarrassed and just do it?  Whatever that might mean.  And finish.  And feel good about it.  Hmm…  Interesting questions to ask.  I don’t think I have the answers yet.  But I do know one thing:  If I don’t get my ass in gear and start doing something, even “just finishing” may  be a lofty goal!  With that in mind, I plan to report back, no matter how mundane the report may be, in a week, to detail what I’ve done.  Hold me to it, OK?

Let me know what you think.  What’s your approach to motivation, finding a finish that makes you happy, and the mind game of meeting hard goals?

A little touchy-feely every once in awhile never hurt anyone

2012 ended rather gloomily, and 2013 was starting slow and creaky.  I was talking the talk of being a goddess of self-actualization, but I was not walking the walk.  Inspiration and motivation were in short supply.  Something had to give.

I read the essay (below) from Keri Smith’s “Living Out Loud” a few days ago, and it seemed fitting as I tried to find the right approach to achieving my goals for the coming year.  It made me realize how much I compare myself to others and/ or worry about what other people think of me.  I don’t think this is a huge issue for me, but it’s funny how it can still creep in from time to time, without me even knowing it, and create unseen obstacles in my life.

In terms of my goals, I had especially been thinking about how intimidated I felt about attempting a triathlon.  A lot of my fear comes from the fact that I’m pretty much surrounded by super-athletes.  OK, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration.  But  a good portion of my close friends and broader circle of acquaintances are very athletic, many of them quite accomplished.  I’m not sure if it’s because we live in an area of the country renowned for its outdoor recreational opportunities, which tends to attract a lot of adventurous sporting types, or if I’m just drawn to healthy active people (a good thing!).  Either way, for the kid who grew up being picked last in elementary school gym class (not just a cliche — but actually true!), it’s hard not to make comparisons and feel intimidated about athletic endeavors.

Sometimes reading an essay or article like this one provides exactly the little jolt I need to bring things into perspective and start moving forward again.

Below is the piece from the book (which I keep in my Zen Kit, by the way, with all my other slightly touchy-feely stuff…).  And here is a link to a longer version on Keri Smith’s website.

Facing the Fears

The week I turned thirty I made a list of “30 Things to do in my Thirtieth Year”.  I wanted to move forward into a new decade with power and excitement.  Many things on the list were relatively small and easy to accomplish:  Enjoy a long walk on the beach, eat a fresh lobster, plant a rosebush for my mom.  Some of the things were more difficult and intimidating:  Write a book, learn to drive.  These things were a way of trying new things and pushing myself “out there” beyond my known world.

One of the difficult things for me to do was singing in public.  When I mentioned this to one of my friends, an accomplished folk singer, her eyes lit up, and she invited me to do a song with her grop at its next show.  My reaction was one of giddy excitement, which quickly gave way to fear.  (Singing around a bonfire is more what I had in mind.)  “But isn’t this what you wanted?” I asked myself.   “What better than an opportunity with a deadline?” I had to try.

The show was more than a month away, providing ample time to rehearse and work on my voice.  But could I sing?  I had not sung since sixth-grade choir, when my best friend at the time let me know that I might better spend my energy on things.  Even though, I loved to sing, I had never sang again.

I was pleasantly surprised by my first rehearsal with the group.  We managed to learn the song and get some harmonies down relatively quickly.  To my untrained ear, it sounded on key and actually quite good, but could I really pull this off?  We had chosen was “Closer to Fine” by the Indigo Girls, a tune that talks about moving beyond comfort zones and taking life less seriously, something I had hoped this whole experience would help me with. 

After weeks of practice and lots of support, I had an epiphany:  I cared too much about what other people thought.  I worried that if I san poorly, people might think less of me.  I had to be willing to fail!  I had to surrender to the process and let it happen.  I finally realized that I made my list to push MYSELF, not to impress OTHERS.

On the night of the performance, the cafe was packed.  There was an electric buzz and energy in the place.  Although I wasn’t singing until halfway through the second set, I started to lose feeling in my arms.  I said a silent prayer to whoever would listen.  When it was my turn I seemed to float in the direction of the stage.  I pulled up the stool for support.  The audience, which had been so rowdy, now sat silent and transfixed with all eyes on me.  And in that moment all my fear vanished.  

I told the audience about my list of thiry things, and people cheered.  Then I knew that everyone in the room was with me.  I had no fear because they had joined me in my journey, I could not fail because I had already succeeded in pushing myself.  As we held the last note, the place errupted into wild applause.  I screamed into the microphone, “I did it!”  More applause.  I was on top of the world.  People ran to hug me as I left the stage.  A woman with tears in her eyes said, “Thank you.  You’ve given me courage to face my own fears.”

I have learned that we must never underestimate the poer that facing our fears has on other people.  We help the world to be stronger when we ourselves become stronger.

So there it is, a little reminder not to get caught up in comparisons and worrying about what other people think.  Easier said than done sometimes.  But reminding yourself does help.

Here’s a link to the Indigo Girls singing “Closer to Fine.”

And here’s some more cool stuff on Keri Smith’s website.  Because a little touchy-feely every once in awhile never hurt anyone.

Last word:  Finally went running today for the first time in weeks.  It was good.  : )

beginnings and endings

The world surely started to spin faster and more madly in the month of December 2012.

Sadness and unease floated through our lives in the weeks leading up to the holiday. The killing of children and teachers in Connecticut was the stuff of waking nightmares. The fiscal cliff was an ominous cloud looming over the nation, threatening not only to create further economic turmoil, but sucking us, once again, into political angst and disillusionment.

On a more personal level, my aunt who lives in Maine died of cancer in early December. Dirk’s aunt in Iowa is terribly ill and dying. A very active, loved and admired member of our local community (a strong, beautiful woman in her early forties) died suddenly of pneumonia. And the mother of one of Zoe and Alexander’s classmates (who we did not know well, because the family had only recently moved to the area) died of cancer, which she had spoken to almost no one about. Just a few days before Christmas, my father emailed to say he had gotten a bad report from the doctor about a spot on his skin and would be going for a follow-up appointment to find out more in early January.

Mortality, loss, and the potential for loss was pushing at me from all directions, and I felt it keenly.

And yet joy crept in. As it will. Christmas was nice. Lights sparkled, candles glowed, cookies were baked, presents were opened. We spent time with friends and family and, somehow, it was just right — actually, one of the better holidays I can recall — festive and fun, but peaceful and relaxed, as well.

And then, just when I thought we were out of the woods — happy holiday accomplished, bills paid, resolutions made and ready to be launched — another body blow. On the morning of December 30, my mother slipped on the snowy floor after taking a bird feeder out onto her deck and fell, injuring her hip and leg. She was transported to the ER by ambulance and then admitted to the hospital for observation. Although she hadn’t broken anything, she was in terrible pain and could barely move. The suggested cause of her condition (more of a speculation than an official “diagnosis”) was severe trauma to the area around her sciatic nerve, a part of the body (and on the side of her body) where she has already had a lot of issues and suffers from chronic pain. As several days passed and she actually felt worse instead of improving, her situation became more uncertain and the outlook more discouraging. Communication with doctors in the hospital (known as “hospitalists” under a new model of health care our local hospital network has adopted) was hard to come by and, to make things even more stressful, my mom’s scenario placed her in a position where Medicare would only cover a certain number of days in the hospital and would not pay for inpatient rehab, despite the fact that she could not even get out of bed by herself.

For those who don’t know me, I’ll explain that I’m my mother’s only child and that she moved to North Carolina from Minneapolis about eight years ago to be near us. My mom is not terribly old (for the mom of a forty-nine year old, that is), but she’s been hit by an array of orthopedic and other health issues over the past ten to twelve years that have seriously challenged her quality of life. It makes me really sad to see how limited she’s become (though she’s one of those people who pushes herself and is still very active in many ways) and how she really cannot do any of the physical activities that she used to love (walking, hiking biking, birding, canoing, camping, cross-country skiing).

And so, we return to December 30 and the call that my mom was in the hospital. After a brief period, it began to appear (though things were still murky and uncertain) that this might be a complicated and prolonged medical situation. Somewhere along the way, I thought to myself: How will I ever be able to accomplish my goals with all that is going on and everything I will have to do to help my mother? It was a selfish thought, and I felt embarrased for having it. But there it was. I felt overwhelmed by the immediate situation and the obstacles ahead.

But with a little time, I began to have a somewhat different perspective. I saw how following through on my goals — the small daily ones that help me stay healthy and the bigger ones I’ve tossed out into the universe for the year ahead — was more important than ever during times of challenge and adversity. There will always be something.

You do what you can. And you do what you must. Or as Bob Dylan said, “You do what you must do, and you do it well.”

So begins 2013.

Please share your stories of challenging situations, how you handled them and whether they turned out better or differently than you expected or feared.

Goals??? Who said anything about goals?

OK, so this is getting a little embarrassing.  It’s been more than a month since I mentioned that I wanted to accomplish something big before turning 50, and I still haven’t put my money where my mouth is and 1) pledged to my goals and 2) begun to achieve them.  Life continues to take me in different directions — away from writing and away from genuine focus and commitment to what I want to accomplish.  In trying to take the long view, I figure there is some reason for all of this playing out the way it is.  In the end, there will be clarity and sense of purpose that transcends children’s homework, money worries, and household headaches.

The funny thing is, I think my foot-dragging on “the goals” is actually becoming a bit of a psychic millstone — so I figure I better just put it out there so I can move on.

Here goes.  Ack.

1) Participate in a triathlon.

I guess by “participate”, I mean start and finish all three parts of a triathlon.  What is the correct term?  It’s not “run a triathlon” because there’s biking and swimming involved, too.  Swimming… gulp… in open water, in a big deep lake.  : (

2) Publish a volume of poetry.

Uh, yeah, that one’s a little wacky and far out.  Not to mention something that feels almost completely out of my control and destined for crushing failure.  Fine choice.  Yup.

There I’ve said it.  As you can see, my mood is not ideal for the official launch of my big year.  I may never mention these things again.

Goals???  What goals?

Visual representation — the “before” picture:

kpr.dec.2012What will “after” look like?

As always, I welcome your thoughts and accounts of goals, resolutions, challenges.  What successes have you had?  What failures?  Could you find a way to think about your failure differently to realize that maybe it was actually a success?

My life as a goddess of self-actualization: Do one thing. Finish it. Repeat.

To pick up where I left off…  but first a meme and three truths:

You can’t be a goddess of self-actualization while looking at your phone.

Somewhere along the way, much to my horror and embarrassment (and I’m still battling denial on this), I became one of those people who is constantly (or at least frequently) interacting with her phone.

Feeling bored, anxious, stressed?  Got a spare moment in the car or between meetings?  Check email, read a movie review on Flixster, finish an online crossword, check the New York Times headlines, look at Facebook, check the weather, check email, look at Facebook, play a few turns in Words with Friends.

All of these things can be fun, useful and interesting.  But they have the potential to become mind-numbing, habit forming, and immobilizing.  At least for me.

Today is Day 5 of my internet/ iPhone detox.  It’s hard!  But it’s going well.

You can’t be a goddess of self-actualization while multi-tasking.                       (Closely related to truth #1, above)

My new mantra:  Do one thing.  Finish it.  Repeat.

This works well both at work and at home.

You can’t be a goddess of self-actualization without engaging in basic activities that help you stay healthy and happy.

Thus, as a starting point, a return to my simple daily goals.

Yoga                                                                                                                                 Meditate                                                                                                                                   Use Positive Discipline                                                                                                      Journal                                                                                                                                    20 minutes of exercise                                                                                                      Floss teeth                                                                                                                Something creative                                                                                                            Write

And so, I begin to lay the foundation for my year-before-turning-50 goals.  Which will be revealed.  Soon.  On this very blog.  : )

If you are working on goals — short-term or long-term, tangible or abstract — what are they?  How is it going?  What are your strategies for preparing to achieve your goals and for achieving them?

After the election or “My life as a goddess of self-actualization”

So, months have passed while this blog lies dormant.  I’ve had a few twinges of regret about not writing, but I’ve successfully squelched them by letting myself become consumed with election season angst and devoting an increasing amount of time to online media and social media, interspersed with other fragmented or mindless pursuits.  Exercise has pretty much fallen by the wayside.  My daily goals, so modest, yet so pleasing, have been neglected for weeks.  We’ve been dealing with some pretty major financial stress, and the “homework wars” still rage on.  These personal challenges, combined with my unease about the election, created the perfect conditions for just kind of letting things slide.  But now the election is over, and I have no excuse not to get my act together.  And so, I begin.  Tonight.

To begin, I need to go back a bit.  Back to June, when I reflected on the school year that had been the original source for this blog and floated the idea of, “what next?”  I had an inkling of what I might write about, but I wasn’t sure if I could pull it off.  The topic was more personal and probably less interesting than writing about parenting.  So I pushed it off.  I hee-hawed and ho-hummed.  Time passed, and a critical date came and went.  I didn’t broach the topic that was on my mind.

The significant date was my birthday in October.  I turned (gulp) forty-nine.  Crazy, right?  How can this be?!  As several friends who are a year ahead of me turned 50 over the past year, I watched.  I took note of what they did and said, and how they said they felt.  I began to formulate some thoughts on what I wanted for myself from this milestone.  A few ideas began to emerge.  First, that the day itself needed to include some serious pampering  (for which I better start saving my money now!).  Probably not a party.  And definitely not a surprise party.  You heard me, people.  I am not a suprise party kind of gal. The last thing I want on my big day is to feel self-conscious, embarassed and silly.   Which is how I think a surprise party would make me feel.  No, I’m thinking spa day, healthy hike, intimate meal somewhere relaxed but elegant with incredible food.  You get the picture.  But this is just the superficial stuff.  And there’s plenty of time to figure out the details.

The trickier part of my birthday plan was an idea I had about accomplishing something great in the year before I turned 50.  I wanted the whole year to be a project — a fun, interesting, challenging, worthwhile project that would have me feeling satisfied, invigorated and accomplished when I turned 50.

But what would it be???  I pretty quickly had some ideas, but I found that I was afraid to say them outloud.  I’ve talked before about setting goals.  My formula for the short-term goal:  1) pick a goal that is reasonable to accomplish in a finite period of time; 2) announce your goal; 3) break it into parts; 4) write about it; 5) stick to your plan.  I felt quite smug when I wrote those words.  Easy-peasy.

But were my year-before-turning-50 goals “reasonable to accomplish”?  What if I said them outloud and then I didn’t do them?  What if people thought my goals were weird or silly?  What if I lost interest, was lazy or afraid?  What if factors beyond my control interfered with my plan and kept me from my objectives?  Did I really have it in me to stick to a year long project?

Hmm… getting late…  on that note, I leave you for tonight.  (on the edge of your seat, I’m sure!)  Tomorrow (if all goes according to plan), more about these so-called goals and how I will accomplish them.

Middle school, Midlife, and Mommy’s little Zen Kit

First, let me clear up any possible misconceptions about the Zen Kit.  No, “Zen Kit” is not a euphemism for something else.  It really is a Zen Kit.  You know, for being… Zen-ish.  I made it because of the two other topics in this blog post.  The fact that I know almost nothing about Zen Buddhism was no deterrent to me.

I do, after all, have this book:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Which says things like this:

 

 

 

 

 

 

And this:

Obviously, this is good stuff.

The Zen Kit came into being a few weeks after Zoe and Alexander started middle school.  In our county, all the public schools are K – 8 schools that feed into one large high school.  “Middle School” consists of grades 6 – 8.  For my kids, middle school meant going to school in the same place they had gone for the past five years, with the same 32 – 36 kids who had been their classmates for the past five years.  Nevertheless, there was a certain mystique to the idea of middle school.  Things would be different; middle school kids were “big”.  There would be lockers, and a schedule.  Alexander and Zoe were a little nervous, but also seemed excited (though they wouldn’t exactly admit it).  I started getting excited, too.  I read auspicious signs of great things ahead in their most trivial comments and gestures.  This was it.  The kids were going to grow up, take ownership of their school work, and blossom into the mature, well-adjusted, enthusiastic scholars that I knew they could be.  It was MIDDLE SCHOOL!

This delusion lasted for about three days, and then things started to go sour.  The kids came home by themselves on the bus and, instead of doing their homework (which they had done, unsupervised, for exactly one day before things began to go downhill), they made extravagant snacks.  Snacks involving blenders and hot chocolate power and ice cream.  Snacks that were not cleaned up.  They fought with each other.  They fussed and procrastinated.  There was, almost immediately, frustration over homework.  I still had to nag them to brush their teeth in the morning.

I was so angry and discouraged.  And it was only the first week of school!  Then I had a shocking realization:  It wasn’t them (or at least, it wasn’t just them): it was me.  I was being reactive, irritable, and absolutely intolerant of almost everything the kids did.  Chalk it up to my profound disappointment that middle school was not going to instantaneously transform my kids into model children and students — or to good old-fashioned midlife hormones (a theory that is gaining strength, much to my chagrin) — but I really needed to chill out.

And so, the Zen Kit was born.  I had noticed that there were certain situations with my kids that just drove me insane, and I always found myself jumping into the fray, imploring or lecturing or raging in exasperation — despite the fact that nothing I did improved the situation.  I knew this.  But I couldn’t seem to stop myself from saying/ doing the same things each time a child whined about a chore, or wasted time instead of doing homework, or had to be reminded again to pick up his or her belongings.  If only I had a tangible reminder of my vow to step back in these situations, a way to truly follow through on my belief that “less is more”, a place to go and something to do to help me feel calm during these hot button moments.  If only I had a Zen Kit — peace and tranquility in a box!

Into the Zen Kit went, of course, my book of Buddhist sayings, along with my journal, some nice pens, a sketch book, “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff for Moms”, Wayne Dyer’s Inner Peace cards, “52 Silly Things to do When You’re Feeling Blue” and “52 Ways to Simplify Your Life”.  Nothing new, just items I gathered from around the house — simple stuff, little things.  I put everything in a bin and put it in my bedroom.

And immediately I felt better.  Really.  It was kind of weird.  It’s like the psychology studies finding that even seeking help for a health problem (i.e. calling the doctor for an appointment) leads to tangible improvement in people’s symptoms.  Just having the Zen Kit made me feel like I had an escape hatch for the next time I started to get trapped in the same old unpleasant patterns with my kids.  It was very reassuring.  Plus, it seemed kind of fun.

So, how’s it going?  Truth is, I haven’t used the Zen Kit much yet.  Remembering, as I start down the path of nagging, lecturing, and despair, that there is another way is a challenge.  But, like I said, just having the Zen Kit has changed my perspective somewhat.  Now I need the discipline to use it.  Change is hard.   Which is why LOVED this drawing from The New Yorker when I saw it in the August 13 – 20 issue this morning:

  : )