This Is Life

My heaven.

My heaven.

Recently I took a week off and went up to my cabin. The cabin is a fantastic place for doing what I love; I spent a part of each day hiking with my dog, kayaking, biking, cooking, napping and reading. It’s a little like heaven. The cabin is also good for thinking. There are fewer distractions, plus it is much easier to think about life when I am well rested and relaxed then when I am running from one thing to the next.

Yesterday I wrote about coming to accept that I don’t have a “big dream.” That was something I spent a lot of time thinking about. One morning I took the kayak out and spent time thinking about passion. We all are familiar with people who have always known what they wanted. They have a drive and a passion and go after it with determination. Then there are others that have dreams that they wish they could do, but have accepted that they may not become reality. I have a dear friend who recently said that if she was given millions of dollars she would open a wildlife sanctuary in Africa. She said it with such conviction that I was impressed, even though we both know that for a variety of very good reasons she probably won’t make it happen in this lifetime.

Then there is me. When I thought about what I would do with millions, my first thoughts were mighty mundane: install insulation in the attic, build a sleeping porch on the cabin, take a trip to Ireland, and so on. What didn’t pop up was some big dream. It is frustrating because I am a planner. This is why I am very successful at my job. I am very good at identifying goals, mapping strategies, making budgets, setting goals and figuring out the best way to achieve them. Not having a big goal or an endpoint is difficult for me. I keep struggling because I feel like I should be working towards something… I just don’t know what.

Then a thought hit me… what if I had already achieved my goals? I have a pretty darn good life; I have an amazing network of people I love and who care about me in return, I have not one, but two, houses filled with books (and one is by the water!), I have a silly but awesome hound dog and my life is filled with doing things I love. The last couple of years I have been working on my weight and my health, and I finally feel good about that too. Sure, not everything is perfect: I never have enough time with my loved ones, one of the houses… no both houses, have roofs that leak, my dog has had a string of very expensive illnesses, and so on. But what is perfect? There isn’t such a thing. Even if you have the perfect house, for example, entropy will come in and things will break (or the roof will leak.) It’s true with everything in life – stuff happens, things go sideways, and even if they don’t, we change ourselves. So what was “perfect” five years ago may not be perfect today.

It slowly came to me that I have been spending a lot of time thinking about “what’s next?” (it is originally why I started this blog,) and I haven’t been taking time to enjoy what I have right now. And at that exact moment, I looked up to discover that I had paddled halfway around the lake in deep thought staring at my knees! I hadn’t been enjoying the beauty around me. It brought home the point perfectly. After that, I tried to take off the thinking cap and instead be very “in the moment” and really enjoy the rest of the trip.

life movesLater, when I got back to the cabin, my first thought was from Ferris Buller’s Day Off. Remember this:

But it didn’t quite fit with how I was feeling. It’s not that life is fast or short or long, it’s that This Is Life. Right now. Everything I do is part of my life. Even the things that don’t seem like “life” like going to the grocery store, sitting at a doctor’s office, brushing my teeth – it is all my life. I’m not just putting in time waiting for something better to come along, this is my life right now, the good, the bad and the ugly.

I’m not saying that I’ll never have a big life changing dream. Anything can happen. But I keep running in mental circles trying to build a foundation for an unknown future, and frankly, it’s exhausting. I’m realizing I need to bring my focus my closer. I can work on smaller goals – like fixing at least one of the leaking roofs and figuring out how to spend more time doing what I love. I have what I need, it’s more of a matter of enjoying the here and now.

This Is Life.

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Happiness isn’t Made with a Cookie Cutter

Lack of passion

Oh, shut up.

I’ve been thinking a lot about passion and happiness. It started with a question – if I wanted to change careers, what would make me happy? It seems like it’s a pretty straightforward question, but I didn’t know the answer. When you think about it, it’s ridiculous how we choose careers. Unless you know from birth what you want to be (and some people do have passion like that,) it’s hard to know what to pick. There should be some kind of “try out period” where you can sit in on different jobs and see what they are like before you commit. (And no, I am not talking about college.)

Trying to narrow this down I asked myself a couple of questions: 1) What would I do if money wasn’t an issue, and 2) What do I enjoy doing now? The first question wasn’t about a career, it was more about how would I spend money if I didn’t have to worry about earning it. I didn’t mean the lotto, because that’s a whole different kettle of fish, I just meant if whatever it was that I did paid “enough” what would I do? Most of the things on my list were pretty practical – I’d remodel the downstairs bath, I’d get another kayak, I would take more fitness classes. The only thing that really popped on my list as “extravagant” was that I would travel more.

Then I looked at what makes me happy now. Again they were simple things: walking with my dog, being on the water, spending time with people I care about, reading books, cooking and so on. I quickly figured out that while there are a lot of things I love, none of them were things I wanted to do as a career. I love to cook, but I don’t want to be a chef, I like paddling around in my kayak but I am not looking to become a guide, and so on. In fact, what it seemed like I would be best at was being retired!!

That’s when it hit me – I had gone through this same cycle when I was in my 20s and in college. I was trying to decide what to major in. My passion at that time was community theatre – as a volunteer, I didn’t want to be a professional actor or stagehand. So ultimately I decided to find a career that I enjoyed, but that was also stable, interesting, challenging and could support my “theatre habit.” I ended up in marketing since it beautifully combined my love of art and writing.

Now that I am in my 40s, all that holds true. I might be on a break from theatre, but the basic premise still holds true – I want a job that I enjoy and that I am good at that will support my lifestyle. I don’t have one huge dream to chase after, instead, I know what I want in my life, and I have set up my career to support that.

I admit that part of me feels like this is a let down. That somehow I should have this big… goal in my life, some grand dream. I don’t though, and you know what? That is okay. I can love riding my bike without having to race in a triathlon. I can have a career that I am proud of, without it being my “lifelong dream.” I can be good in business without feeling like I have to start my own. We push ourselves so hard to go big, to be the best, but how about just enjoying what we have right now?

That seems so unAmerican, right?

I’m tired of feeling like I am not meeting some kind of expectation because I’m happy with some fairly simple things. And I am tired of justifying those simple things. I’m fixing my life, but not by making any big changes – instead, I’m simply finding small ways to enjoy what I have now even more.

 

Life Changing Thoughts

For the last couple of weeks I have been trying to write a post on therapy and how that is going. It’s hard though, really hard. Talking about my physical fitness adventures is a lot more fun! It also seems a lot less private. But let’s give it a go again and see if I can get one out of the draft box and into the published space, shall we?

Bravery

I’m going to start with a revelation I had while biking. That might be easier – I like writing about biking! I wrote about taking my bike up to the cottage a couple of weekend ago. While riding, I figured out something very important. It’s completely changed how I look at my life.

Spotted on the rail trail. (Yes, that's a pun!)

Spotted on the rail trail. (Yes, that’s a pun!)

A Little Background:

The week before I went to the cottage I had read a blog post by a woman who competes in triathlons. She was struggling with the bike portion – she wasn’t enjoying riding with certain groups, but at the same time, said she was afraid to ride alone. We’re talking about serious racing and long distances, not just little neighborhood jaunts or rides in the park like I do. I empathized with her dilemma.

Fast forward to the weekend at the cottage:

I’m tooling around on my one speed cruiser and meandered my way to the ice cream parlor. I thought it was going to be a fairly decent ride, but had grossly underestimated the distance. It took me… eight minutes. I had my ice cream, but the plan had been to take a nice long ride and then get ice cream. I felt a little cheated, and not quite ready to pedal home, so instead I went over to the nearby rail trail. It was nice. It was gorgeous going through the woods, wildflowers were in bloom everywhere. At first, I saw other people pretty regularly, but the further I got, the fewer I saw. Then I heard it –

The unmistakeable sound of a gun being fired.

This rail trail goes through some pretty rural country. You are on the backsides of farms and pretty rustic homes. A gun going off isn’t really that surprising. There are hunting ranges nearby and undoubtably a fair amount of target practice going on. I was dressed brightly and I was mostly sure that no one would fire a gun towards the trail, but still, it gave me pause. If I got into a jam, there is really no one I can call. It’s not like I can call my dog and have him come pick me up, (he’s a terrible driver and I don’t let him have a cell phone.) I have the phone number of one neighbor by the cottage, but how could she even get to me? I was pretty much in the middle of nowhere. Let’s put aside the shot for a moment, what happened if I got a flat tire or hit a root and fell off my bike? What do I do?

And that is when I remembered the blog about why the triathlete doesn’t like riding alone. I thought about it as I rode. I didn’t feel particularly scared, just a little cautious, and suddenly this thought floated across my brain….

You are brave.

This is something I have been struggling with. If you have been following this blog at all you know that I am really excited about all this fitness stuff that I’ve been doing, and one of the great things about it is that it makes me feel brave. I do things now that I never would have done a few years ago. Part of the reason this has been so important to me is because I haven’t been feeling very brave. But in that moment, with that one thought, everything changed.

I thought about it all the way back to my cabin, and then was so caught up in the idea that grabbed an old notebook and went to sit on the picnic table to write and think about it some more. There are a couple of big things that happened in the last 15 years or so that really kicked the snot out of my concept of bravery. They’ve stuck with me and made me feel out of control and sad, but as I sat writing at the picnic table that night, brave things started popping up. There are things I’ve done that are brave. 

  • I flew cross the country to meet my father’s long lost cousins, on my own, barely knowing anyone. I had met one of the cousins once, for about an hour, but when she invited me to come out and stay a week with her and her family, I just got up and went.
  • I own my house (which is a rental unit, so I am a landlord,) and my cabin. I take care of both these somewhat complicated properties on my own.
  • I got married.
  • I got divorced. (Both were acts of bravery.)
  • I regularly give seminars in front of large groups of people. I fly all over the country, by myself, to teach.
  • I stepped out of the familiar and decided to lose weight for the first time ever.
  • I started lifting weights.
  • and so on…

As I wrote, more and more acts of bravery started pouring out of my head. Even things I had earlier classified as decisions made on fear, I was able to turn around and see the brave acts within them. It completely changed my perspective on my life – in particular those parts that hurt.

I also realized that I have been struggling to regain my sense of bravery, and that a lot of my work over the last year has been trying to get back into my old groove – to feel like myself again. These rail trail bike thoughts helped enormously. I’ve got some decisions to make coming up, and it is hard to choose the right path when you are hamstrung with anxiety. Recovering my sense of strength is a step on the right path.

Flooded Heart trail

Asking for Help

Iblue stars really liked this article on GoKaleo about weight loss and self compassion: Self-compassion: an Excuse to be Fat? No. It fits in with some things I’ve been thinking about myself. I’ve mentioned a few times over the past couple of months that I’ve been under some stress. After a gentle nudge from my boyfriend, I think it is time to do something about it. I set up an appointment with my doctor. I am hoping to get a referral to a therapist so I can work some of this stuff out.

I’m a pretty introspective gal. I’m not afraid of the long look inward, but sometimes it is good to have a guide. I was in therapy once before and it was incredibly helpful. I am good at asking myself tough questions, but the beauty of a great therapist is that they ask the questions you never think to ask. They challenge your beliefs, sometimes in ways that seem so obvious (in retrospect) that it is annoying, but usually really helpful.

I’m feeling a bit stuck in my life, like certain parts are in a rut. I know what I have to do to change those parts… and yet I don’t do them. Something is holding me back. I feel weighted down, and this weight is keeping me from moving forward. (Or moving forward at a glacial pace.) It’s causing anxiety and frustration.

I’ve been trying to get back to my healthy eating and exercising, and that does really help. As I type this, I am munching on a simple salad made from organic lettuce and greens plucked straight from my garden. I spritzed on some lemon juice and it takes like summer. These simple pleasures feed my heart, belly and soul. Lifting weights (hit a new personal record last week!) gives me added confidence and assurance. I’m not running off the rails, I just need a hand with my map.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Weights

Weight lifter by Rennett StoweWhen I stopped working out, I started gaining weight. Not surprising, but it didn’t happen the way I thought it would.

It started when it got cold, really cold. We had the nastiest winter we’ve had in decades. Slowly my motivation for outside activities died. I thought I would spend the winter snowshoeing or cross country skiing, or even the crazy of all crazies – winter running. I forgot a very important piece, however: Newton’s First Law. “An object at rest tends to stay at rest.” True for physics, true for my butt on the couch. The couch seemed like such a good option, especially after the morning I was walking the dog and my eyelashes froze together.

Yes, I kept walking Hermes. Thank heavens I have a pooch – and a pooch that loves the snow. He is the one thing that kept me moving. Even as my running shoes collected dust, I added cleats to my winter boots. I upped our walking from roughly an hour a day to an hour and fifteen, and for the most part, kept to it… but that was all I kept up on.

I had planned to keep lifting weights, I mean, why wouldn’t I? It wasn’t like I do that outside! Except for something I did that was fairly smart when I started lifting: instead of relegating the weight bench to the basement or spare bedroom, I put it in my library. Most people would call my library a living room – it has books, of course, but also my big comfy couch and my television. It’s the place I hang out in the most, and since I have always wanted a library since I was a little girl, (and never dreamed about having my own living room) it’s the library. And that’s where I put my weights. I see them every single day.

Until Christmas… because the weight bench sits in my bay window, which the same place I put my Christmas tree. Out went the weight bench to the front room. It’s kind of a formal parlor and unheated in the winter, but I made a really great work out space in there, complete with a space heater. No go. The minute the bench was out of site, it was out of mind. I moved it back in January, but by then the routine was broken. It sat, gathering dust, (along with those running shoes.)

Here’s the interesting thing – I was able to maintain my weight beautifully through Christmas without running, biking or kayaking. It was when I stopped lifting weights that I saw weight start to come on. Not a lot, not all at once, but it steadily creeped up. Finally I had enough and in April I started lifting again. The weight isn’t off, but I feel so much better and I can really see the change in my appearance. My jawline is tightening and the cheekbones are starting to show. I’ve come to the conclusion that my body is telling me that it loves when I lift weights.

Now all I have to do is listen to it.

 

Photo credit: Rennett Stowe on flickr

March

Walking Hermes

The snow does not deter my dog in the slightest

Though it is March, it was -5 degrees this morning (colder yet with windchill.) With over 20″ of snow on the ground, it still feels like February. My city is constantly being ranked in the snowiest cities in the country – not just in the top 10, we are up in the top three. The other morning the wind was whipping fine snow spray everywhere. I felt this strange sensation… it took a minute to realize that my eyelashes were freezing together! Welcome to winter in the Midwest.

I don’t really mind all that much – snow shoveling is an excellent work out, as is slogging though snow. In fact, my dog walks are more like hikes – I end up climbing 4′ – 5 ‘ hills of ice and snow at every intersection. Even though I haven’t been working out like I was, I am still getting quite a bit of exercise. And I have to say, it has been a beautiful winter. Usually by now all the snowbanks are grungy and black and the streets are nasty, but this year everything is still as pretty as a Christmas card.

I’ve slowly been getting back in the swing of things. I’m back to making sure I get at least 15 minutes of exercise a day (over an above my hour a day dog walks) and tracking my calories with the MyFitnessPal app. I’m also trying to make sure I get at least 8 hours of sleep a night. It’s paying off, I have lost a couple of the post-holiday pounds I put on, and I am definitely feeling more energetic. I’m hoping to build on those three habits as we move into spring.

I’ve still got a lot on my plate. I am trying to figure out where to focus my attention: home, work, family, friends, writing, health… there is so much I want to do! I’m trying to find that mysterious work/life balance I’ve heard tell about, but it is like tracking down a unicorn. People talk about it, but has anyone ever actually seen it? I wonder…

Hermes Snow

Quit thinking! Let’s go for a walk!

Planning My Life – Planning My Career

signs of the futureTwo nights ago I got out a notebook and began jotting down what I want in a future career. I thought about all the things I really like about my present job… and all the things I wish were different. It was a pure brainstorming exercise – I dreamed big and didn’t try to censor myself at all.

I think people (especially us women) tend to narrow goals down to what seems “reasonable.” We don’t allow for “crazy ideas” like, oh, having something within walking distance that also pays a good salary – we expect to have to make sacrifices; one good thing or the other. We don’t allow that we really can have everything. Normally, I’m a master at this – I call it being practical or being realistic, but really, I’m scared to go for broke. Not this time! I am determined to just throw it all out there into the Universe and see what comes back. My final list was a full notebook page long!

After that, I started filling in the following pages. I’m meditating on each of the items I listed. Okay, I want “opportunities for growth” but what does that really mean? I’m putting thought into it and trying to define it for myself. If I start interviewing, I’m going to be evaluating the companies just as much as they are evaluating me. In order to be able to do that, I need to know exactly what I want in a clear and concrete way. Does that make sense?

I’ve also started fleshing out my resume. It’s a lot of work when you haven’t looked for a job for 15 years! In order not to get overwhelmed, I’m tackling it from two directions: first, in the same notebook, I started writing down my biggest accomplishments at work. I’m making a list of all the things I am most proud of – and those will become points on the resume. Secondly, I’m allotting just one half hour a day to work on the actual resume document. If I can work on it for 30 minutes and then walk away, I won’t feel frustrated. Last night I worked on it for awhile, then closed and saved the document. A couple hours later when I was laying in bed, some new thoughts came to me on what I want to include. I think that system is going to make it a lot easier than trying to dive in an knock the thing off all at once.

So, that’s where I am at! My focus on losing weight does seem to be paying off, I have dropped a couple of pounds. Now I just need to keep moving ahead!

Winter Goals

This dog loves the snow! See how much is on his muzzle?

This dog loves the snow! See how much is on his muzzle? That’s by choice.

I mentioned awhile ago that I might be going through some career changes soon. In fact, I am still happily working at the same company I’ve been at for years, but I’m getting the feeling it is time to start thinking about other things. Currently, I am making a list of priorities and deciding what it is that I really want – and what will further my career goals. I’m going to dream big and figure out what it will take to make that happen.

I’ve decided that one of the first things I will be working on is my weight. I’m still up a little higher than I want to be, and I haven’t been working out like I should. Why concentrate on my weight when I am thinking about my career? Well, when I am working out regularly, lifting weights and eating right, I feel great. I feel strong, confident, resilient, open to new challenges and taking risks. That is exactly the attitude I need to take the world by storm. Instead, I’ve been feeling complacent, lazy and unmotivated – the exact opposite of what I need!

I am not quite as enthusiastic as he is.

I am not quite as enthusiastic as he is, although I was actually smiling in this photo… not that you can tell.

Since I’ve decided to move my one year anniversary to Valentine’s Day, I also decided that for the next couple of weeks I am really going to throw myself into working out. On Sunday I walked Hermes 45 minutes in the morning and another 55 at night – through heavily snow packed sidewalks. I was going to lift Monday morning, but ended up shoveling snow for a half hour instead – which really was some serious weight lifting. (We have so much snow right now that there is nowhere to go with it – each shovelful requires an overhand throw!)

My other goal is to write as much as I can. I’m trying to figure out how much I want to divulge here on the internet, but I also know that this blog is one of the things that helps me focus. So, you’ll probably be hearing a lot about what I am thinking and going through.

For right now my goals are:

  • Get back to 135 – 133 lb. range. That’s where I feel the best.
  • Put together a list of the skills I have – and the ones I wish I had.
  • Do some brainstorming about future careers. What do I really want to be when I grow up?
  • Write regularly, if not every day, then as close to it as I can.

I’ll let you know how it goes!

 

This is Your Brain on Stress

Brain overload

Basically, this is my brain.

It’s been a strange week here in Long View Hill land.

I mentioned that there are changes happening at our office. We have a new executive here who will eventually, if all goes well, be our boss. For now, he’s been brought in at roughly my level. This has caused all my fellow upper managers (who are all men) to start acting like silverback gorillas. There’s been all sorts of posturing, roaring and beating of chests as they try to prove who’s the cleverest. For one of my coworkers, his roaring consists of walking in circles, humming tonelessly and singing “do do DEE dooo…” over and over. It’s not a very effective roar, but it’s what he’s got. As you can guess, it’s messing with the energy in the office and everyone is jumpy and on edge.

Normally, I would be drawn into this sandbox too, (and I fight dirty,) but I have other fish to fry. One of my employees is leaving – she’s up and moving out-of-state – and I have a very short time to fill her rather fabulous shoes. I posted the position online and had over 80 responses in 24 hours.* So, I’ve been phone interviewing, setting up face-to-face interviews, writing rejection emails and just generally trying to keep all the balls in the air. All day long I am listening to what candidates say, trying to figure out what they aren’t saying, asking lots of questions, and making decisions. My brain is in overdrive and at the end of every day this week it’s turned to complete mush. In fact, when New Executive came over and asked if he could meet with me, I said “Nope. Not today, not tomorrow, and probably not next week either.” Maybe not my most politic move, but an honest one. Besides, if he wants to pick my brain, he needs to do it when there is a brain there to pick.

On top of all this, I took a seminar on Thursday on one of the big web-based software packages we use. Overall, it was a pretty good class. I think that it will really help me in my day-to-day job, and if I need to move on, it’s a skill I will be able to use elsewhere. I’m really glad I took it, but of course, it came during this week and it was a lot of thinking, remembering and learning new skills. More brain mush. Now, it’s like oatmeal.

And I hate oatmeal.

Oh, and did I mention that in two weeks I have to go out of town for a trade show? And this is normally the week we prep for it?

Yeah…

One good thing so far is that the weather is now a balmy 20 degrees, so I’ve been able to do full, long walks with the pooch. The ice and sub zero temps were forcing us indoors, but the last couple of days we’ve done real walks and it’s really helped. Funny, exercise is what I want to do the least when I am stressed, but it is also the one thing that really makes a difference. Long walks help in particular because I can work through thoughts, sort stuff out and categorize the day. I like that.

I started this blog because I wanted to figure out a life’s journey for myself. I thought I would have plenty of time to think about it and work towards it, but I am getting the feeling that 2014 is going to be a even bigger year of change than 2013 was!

 

 

* Favorite names of applicants: Precious, Precious, (yes, there were two of them), Diamond, Lacy, Charee and Charlsie. I’ve decided to hire them all and start a girl band instead! We will be awesome.

 

Photo credit: State Farm on flickr

Just an Update

I’m in part of the Midwest that is getting hit by all this winter weather. It’s cold and when we aren’t getting ice, we’re getting snow (and lots of it.) I’m not really complaining. I know it’s all just part of winter in the north, but I admit, I am starting to look forward to spring.

He looks like a crocheted traffic cone.

He looks a little like a crocheted traffic cone, don’t you think?

People had been saying it was going to be a bad winter all last fall. I didn’t really believe it, or rather, I just figured it would be the same as last year – no snow until Christmas, a wintery January and then right back into a dreary spring. That’s certainly not the case this year!

One of my coworkers knitted Hermes a sweater. I am usually anti-clothes for my dog, but as I write this it is -4 degrees with a -20 degree wind chills. So, a sweater it is. My coworker knows I am always concerned about visibility so she made it Hunter Orange. I’m not sure he is much more visible at night, but he certainly won’t be mistaken for a deer.

He doesn’t mind the weather at all. Honestly, he doesn’t mind much at all. All he really cares about is: food, walks, and fireworks. The first two he loves, the last one he hates. If a sweater means food and a walk (he gets a treat for putting it on nicely,) then he’s all for it.

Seriously, he loves this weather. Moments after this was taken he dove head first into a snowbank.

Seriously, he loves this weather. Moments after this was taken he dove head first into a snowbank.

Me? I’m having a little bit of a harder time. There is so much snow on the sidewalks that parts are almost impossible to pass through. A walk that usually takes 15 minutes took me over 40 the other night. Then, just as I am ready to call it quits, figuring it’s not weather fit for man nor beast, some runner comes striding past me …in tennis shoes and running clothes, nonetheless. (I bundle up like I am heading out on a North Pole expedition just to get the mail.)

I won’t lie, I’ve thought of pelting them with snow balls.

…it’s too cold though, the snow doesn’t stick together.

Me? I’m not working out, (other than snow slogging with the dog and snow shoveling,) and my weight is up a bit. Ironically, I made it through Christmas just fine, it was the days following the holiday that did me in. Ah well, every day I wake up and think, “Okay, today is the day I will do this. I will refocus.”

One of these days it will be.