Never Too Late To Inspire

19 03 2015

Note: In the five or so years I’ve been faithfully posting to Jenion each Thursday, I have rarely written a post to or about a specific individual. When I have, it has generally been with good reason. Today, I want to share about someone who holds a special place in my life. If you are a faithful reader of this blog, you’ve read lots of references to my friend, Mike, but I’ve never devoted an entire piece to him outright. That changes today: on the occasion of his fifty-fifth birthday and in celebration of the two year anniversary of the transformational journey he has been committed to in his life. Please join me in wishing Mike a happy birthday and congratulations!

 

Mike, doing something he loves, Lake Superior.

Mike, doing something he loves, Lake Superior.

A person’s life story belongs to them. How that story is told, the ways it builds and is resolved, the character revelations, the plot twists and turns – these are all elements of a very personal narrative that each of us should be allowed to share in our own way and with whom we choose. That said, where people’s lives intersect, when they connect, there is a new story written. I’d like to share the story of such a connection in my own life, and what it has taught me about friendship, motivation, discipline, and inspiration.

When we met as college students, Mike and I were both emerging from childhood, a little enraptured with life, a little discombobulated by the exigencies of adulthood. Between us there was an immediate recognition – we moved speedily from introductions to inseparable. Not only were the two of us close, Mike quickly became part of my family. He played piano in my sister’s wedding and, two years later, was best man in my brother’s. But as sometimes happens, time and distance separated us. After Mike moved to California the fall of my junior year of college, we tried to stay in touch. When he, eventually, brought his fiancé to Iowa, I invited them to a homemade dinner at my first apartment (I still remember the menu from that meal!). The last time I saw Mike for decades was at the Iowa reception following their San Francisco wedding.

Often over the years I wondered about Mike. He had been a significant enough person in my earlier life that friends I met years after we lost touch knew him by name from my stories. I was the last person I knew to purchase my own computer – with my tax refund in 2009. Sometime, months later, I joined Facebook. It was only a matter of weeks once that happened before I began reconnecting with college friends. One day, I saw a post Mike had made on a friend’s timeline. I was so excited to reach out to Mike, to touch base again, that my fingers shook as I typed a brief hello.

As with our college selves, both Mike and I were emerging from other phases of our lives. As it happened, we were both finally moving forward, if incrementally, from years-long rough patches. We had each scraped our own personal rock-bottoms, and the road leading from these low points was littered with boulders to be climbed over, black ice to avoid, and quicksand that threatened occasionally to pull us under. Our friendship grew and was strengthened by a sincere desire to be one another’s cheering section and helping hand. “Need help moving into a new apartment or even a new city? I’m there.” That’s how we roll.

Two years ago this week, Mike called me (I was still living in Iowa then) to say he had hired a personal trainer. Mike had previously lost a chunk of weight working on his own, but wished to push himself further in reaching his health and fitness goals. Over the following two years, Mike has made incredible strides – he lost 75 pounds and dropped his body fat percentage to single digits. When he first met his trainer, Joe Cross (Cross Fitness), Mike told him, “I don’t run.” Ha! I was cheering at the finish line when Mike ran his first-ever 5K (and at several since). At each turn of the calendar, Mike has set new goals for himself and blown past them. It hasn’t always been easy, but he has remained both diligent and committed.

But that is Mike’s story, and I don’t want to presume to say I have all of the details or the “skinny” on what was happening in Mike’s heart, mind and soul. What I can, and will, share is what I’ve felt and learned as Mike has faced each obstacle or stepping stone in pursuing his own definition of personal excellence.

First, there are few things more beautiful than seeing someone you love bloom into full flower (sorry, I know that doesn’t sound like a very masculine metaphor but it fits!). The truth about discovering your own inner strength and drive to achieve personal goals, as Mike has, is that it suffuses every part of your life with life-giving nourishment. Not only has Mike’s physical self changed for the good, his whole life has opened up – with new friends, new interests, and a new youthfulness that starts at the cellular level. It brings me real joy to behold this new life of Mike’s – and it never ceases to remind me that this is possible for each of us, if we’re willing to put in the work.

Second, I have rarely known anyone who approached a personal vision with the level of self-discipline Mike has shown on his two-year odyssey working with Cross Fitness. Mike embodies the phrase, “Discipline is choosing between what you want now and what you want most.” The number of times Mike’s choices have brought that phrase to my mind have been instrumental in helping me make better choices myself. I am grateful each time that his example inspires me to choose well.

Third, it has been humbling to be close enough to Mike’s life to witness the inspirational impact he has had on others. Mike has always been an extrovert – he collects friends in virtually every situation he enters in his life. His joyful exuberance, his obvious good health, his visible physical transformation have truly inspired many of these friends who aren’t quite where they wish to be. They have reached out to Mike with questions and received both support and great advice on beginning their own transformations. Additionally, Mike always remembers to praise his trainers, never taking their roles in his achievements for granted. I wish I were half as creative in finding ways to give back to those who have offered me their support and expertise.

Finally, and most important, I’ve had the great gift of being present for moments when Mike has had to dig deep to find the courage to face deeply personal challenges. This work of self-transformation is never a smoothly-paved path. And while I won’t share specifics (those are Mike’s to tell or not), I will say I’ve watched him fight his fears and insecurities and rise to the challenge when the path has gotten difficult. In spite of white knuckles, shaking limbs, and heart in his throat, Mike has repeatedly chosen to move forward when he could easily have retreated. Most others wouldn’t have known, and among the small circle who did, none would have judged him harshly if he had stopped or given up. There are few things more spirit-moving than watching a friend or family member fight their demons and win. There is almost nothing more inspirational than seeing another human being reach for, and grasp, their own great potential.

The point of this post isn’t to set Mike on a pedestal – though there is much to admire. Rather, my point here is to share the story of an “everyday hero” – not a perfect superhuman, but an ordinary person reaching for their best. Each of us carries the seed of that everyday hero within – that best person we have the potential to be. Becoming that best self is hard work. It requires commitment and diligence and vision. It asks us to find a path to our own transformation. And while that sounds like a tough road, Mike’s journey also shows that it is a path toward joyful and energetic engagement in life. Today, on his 55th birthday, Mike is planning to celebrate. But his eyes are focused forward, already taking the first steps on the next phase of his journey to become the best Mike he can be. At 55, he is proof that it is never too late to become the person you hope to be. It is never too late to change. And it is never too late to offer inspiration to those around us.

 

 

 

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The Goal

10 07 2014

After a short night and an eight hour shift on my feet, the last thing I felt like doing was riding. It was in the 90s, humid, windy. For so many reasons, I did not want to ride.

However, I changed my clothes. Pulling the chamois on over already sweaty skin wasn’t easy. Jersey on, hair up. I grabbed my helmet and gloves on the way out the door.

The first few miles were a leisurely ramble. Bike lane to bike path, to street (where I had to stop for a slow Sunday train). Finally, the Hennepin bridge and ramp back to bike path. The long, mostly straight one heading out to the near suburbs. Here’s where I got serious, pushing my legs and lungs to go as fast as possible into the gusting wind.

Something happens, riding alone like this, on afternoons when I think I want to nap instead. A part of me I didn’t know existed until a couple or three years ago presents itself. It still surprises: that piece of me that wants to know what I’m made of. How hard, how fast, how “flow” can I go?

Then, almost before I know it, I’m on the home stretch. The wind is finally, blessedly, at my back instead of in my teeth. This is when I can really think, when the air I’ve been sucking has oxygenated my blood and my brain; when my heart-rate is descending for the first time in an hour or more.

I know the only reason I made myself ride was that I set a weekly goal of 100 miles Monday-Monday. If I hadn’t gotten out, I’d have missed it by 20+ miles this week. I rode hard because I didn’t want to complete the goal as I had the previous week, circling the block to eke out that last mile. Still, both weeks I met (and this week exceeded) my goal.

I’ve never really been a goal-driven person. For many years, I didn’t believe in goals – setting them seemed like one of those things people give lip service to but no one really does. Like always having an up-to-date resume, extra batteries, or underwear in your carry-on in case the airline loses your luggage.

“Why,” I wondered, “does it matter if I meet this arbitrary goal I set for myself?” The answer that came was simple – because I set it. The goal was a promise I made to myself. The 100 miles target may have been arbitrary. But the promise I made was a commitment to myself and for myself and was in no way arbitrary.

I wonder what would happen if I set goals like this in other areas of my life – and made a commitment to myself to keep them? Riding my bike has taught me to appreciate my body – its strength and endurance, its potential (which has not nearly been reached). Can it also teach me to appreciate my intelligence, skills, experience? Can it teach me to celebrate all that I have to offer – and find a way to bring it forth from my internal world into the world at large?

Will my bike be the vehicle that leads me where I need and want to go in my life – that leads me to the person I hope to be? Now that I know goals can be set AND met – BY ME, of all people! – and that I will approach them with resolve once I’ve committed, it’s well past time to set concrete intentions in the other parts of my life.

My biking goal isn’t  “to ride 1000 miles”. But in 100-miles-a-week increments, it won’t be long before I’ve reached that milestone. Instead of setting my sights on my “Pie-in-the-sky” life desires, it seems logical to start with goals that allow me to collect the ingredients, combine them in the right amounts. Eventually, they’ll bake a pie.

I’ve read lots of articles about the health benefits of cycling. They almost never mention (actually they never do) increased capacity to set and reach goals. And while the benefit to mental acuity is sometimes mentioned, the fact that  it can lead to spiritual growth is generally soft-pedaled. I’m beginning to believe that, when people talk about how much they love their bikes or their time cycling, what they’re really celebrating is the fact that riding teaches us to love ourselves. To love ourselves enough to set goals – to make a commitment.

 

 





Riding Lessons: What I Learned Over 406 Miles and 17,000+ Feet of Climb

1 08 2013

The morning air was fresh, though not really cool, as we made our confused and circuitous ride along the Missouri riverfront in Council Bluffs, Iowa. We found ourselves amid other discombobulated riders searching, as we were, for the elusive “Dip Site”. Eventually, we found the patch of sand leading down to the water where bicyclists were dipping their bike tires in the river. If I had known we would spend our first four miles of RAGBRAI 2013 riding in the wrong direction (west) I might have been tempted to skip the traditional dip. On the other hand, I’ve always been a traditionalist when it comes to rituals like this one. So, dipping my tires at both ends of the ride was a must.

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And it was all uphill from there.

Well, at least the first few days were. At the end of day one (Council Bluffs to Harlan –  54.8 miles and 2476 feet of climb), I was tired and sunburned. My brain felt like it had been cooking inside my helmet. The minuscule amount of thought power left for my use was mostly taken up wondering what the hell I had gotten myself into. I was dreading day two (Harlan to Perry – 83 miles and 4239 feet of climb).

Miraculously, day two was incredible! Despite the sun beating down on me, I felt great and my muscles were all cooperative. I rode all but one hill of that climb – and the one hill I walked was too much for hundreds of RAGBRAIers. It was the only hill I walked all week, across the entire state (and I’m here to say that Pleasant Hill isn’t all that pleasant).  When I got off my bike that evening, I felt like I could do anything!

Day three was blessedly cool, overcast and relatively short (Perry to Des Moines, 49.9 miles and 1308 feet of climb). Day four (Des Moines to Knoxville, 49.9 miles and 2920 feet of climb), hump day, was painful. My butt hurt from sitting on the bike saddle, I had serious chafing where my right buttock met the top of my thigh, and my legs were spent. For the first time, dealing with muscle spasms in my glutes and hammies, I wondered if I had it in me to finish. Thankfully, my support team of friends, co-riders, and moms were encouraging and refused to listen to my fears. Layne (who, with her fiance Chris, hosted us for three nights) made us a dinner that tasted like a feast! I will never again underestimate the positive, soul strengthening, effect fellowship with friends over a really good meal can offer.

Day five (Knoxville to Oskaloosa, 52 miles and 2808 feet of climb) was less horrible than I anticipated. I had wisely purchased some chamois cream to help with/prevent further chafing. I rode the entire day out of grim determination and little else. But I finished, and actually enjoyed a pleasant couple of hours in the Oskaloosa town square, people watching and listening to the community orchestra.

Day six, Oskaloosa to Fairfield (52 miles and 1222 feet of climb) we had the flattest, fastest, easiest ride of the week. Woo-hoo, flying along at 18 mph felt pretty awesome!

Day seven, the final leg of the route, Fairfield to Fort Madison ( 63 miles and 2427 feet of climb) had its challenges. But by then, I knew I would finish. The pure adrenalin push to reach the Mississippi got me there well before the route was set to close at 3:00 p.m. This time, the dip site was easy to find – though still difficult to reach due to the press of other riders making the ritual dip at the end of the week. And every single one of those thousands of riders was celebrating a personal victory or accomplishment. Powerful to be among such a crowd!

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And that, my friends, is the recap of the week. However, there is so much more to share. There were moments that took my breath away, when I was overcome by the beauty surrounding me and the grace of being alive. Every morning’s ride held at least one completely perfect mile. On the first day, I raced a train coming out of Council Bluffs and left it in my dust! Crossing Lake Red Rocks on a mile long bridge. The morning Sarah rounded a bend coming out of Pella and almost hit a deer, only to have a spotted fawn trot out onto the road right in front of us. I rode with friends (Colette, Tricia, Tammy, Ryan and of course Sarah who rode the whole week with me); unexpectedly ran into friends (Mark, Andrea, Joe, Mary Beth); stayed with friends (Molly,Layne, Chris, Ari, Sara). And, of course, made new friends, most notably Ma Botkin, Sarah’s mom who travelled as our support and team mom through the hardest part of the week.

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Last summer, I shared the lessons I learned through some mishaps while preparing to ride three days of RAGBRAI 2012 , ( “Learning to Shift” which you can see, here).  Virtually everything about my life is different from what it was a year ago: no job, new city, a vacation that has lasted all summer. The RAGBRAI 2013 experience also taught me some valuable lessons – the kind that resonate with life experiences off the bike as well as on. It seems only appropriate to share them:

Know why you’re riding.

Everyone has their own reasons for attempting a ride like RAGBRAI. They range from having a week of raucous partying to raising money or awareness for an important cause. And that’s fine – I’m not about to judge. But what I do know is that I had to be clear with myself every day about my reasons for being there – or on the hard days, I would have just given up and flagged down the Sag Wagon. On Monday (Day 2), pedaling up yet another interminable hill, the silence nearly drove me batty. By the end of the week, those uphill climbs were some of my favorite moments: the shouts and laughter quieted, and the only sound other than birds was the occasional click and whir of shifting gears or another rider huffing air as we passed each other. It was in these moments that I had the most clarity of purpose – I was there to fulfill a promise I made to myself back in 1978. There were no external factors involved, only a need to prove to myself that I could do it. I never overheard anyone declaring their intention to quit while coasting down a hill – but there were plenty such conversations taking place halfway up seemingly endless inclines. Those hills were a crucible of clarity for many of us.

Is feels obvious to me that this maxim is true throughout our lives. Clarity of purpose is so important to staying the course. When I left New Mexico in June, preparing to move to Minneapolis, my dad said this: “There are gonna be days that are hard, when you’re lonely and frustrated and you wonder why the heck you did this. At those moments, try to remember how you felt back in February. That will help you weather the tough days – knowing you had good reasons for making these changes.” Already this has helped me weather those brief moments of panic and anxiety. I turned 52 the day after I finished RAGBRAI, and this is the first time I’ve truly appreciated the gift of clarity.

Every hill is unique.

Since the first time I rode a bike as an adult, hills have presented a challenge to me. RAGBRAI offered me a unique opportunity to learn how best to manage them. Over the course of the week, we rode every type of hill imaginable, and what I learned is that no two are the same. Yes, you have basic strategies for conquering hills, but the truth is, the hill you think you see as you approach may, in fact, present very differently when you’re actually riding it. Sometimes, I thought “this one will be easy” or “this one is gonna take everything I have” – and I was often wrong. You have to take each hill as it comes: adjust for the wind and momentum and freshness of your legs, find the sweet gear that works for both you and this particular hill, take it as fast or as slow as necessary to make it to the crest.

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The lesson in this is that each challenge we face in life is different from the previous challenges we’ve overcome. We can’t lull ourselves into a false sense that today’s challenge is a piece of cake because we’ve overcome such challenges before. No two will be the same. For example, I’ve moved before, and those moves have been harder or easier depending on a variety of factors. I’ve never moved at 52, without previously arranged employment, to a large metropolitan area. This move won’t be the same, though there may be some similar features. Just as you can’t anticipate exactly what each hill will require, you can’t anticipate what each life challenge will call for from you. And that’s ok – because you can’t ride up a hill you haven’t come to yet! You can’t meet life’s challenges in advance, you have to meet them as they present themselves. And each one will be unique, and call forth a unique response.

Everyone needs support…

There were a few lone rangers out there, bicyclists who towed their tents, camping gear, and clothing with them. But they were few and far between. Most riders had support teams – Sarah and I had Ma Botkin, who dropped us off each morning at the starting point, then met us at the (roughly) halfway point with food and cold beverages. At the overnight towns, Ma Botkin was there, waiting for us to roll in. She took really good care of us, anticipating our needs and generally mothering us. We also had Layne and Chris, offering us air conditioned sleep, private showers, sustenance and the love of a giant yellow lab named Ari. And we had Tammy, Tricia and Curtis who kept our support vehicle following us after Ma Botkin had to return home to Illinois. Most of all, I had Sarah – who was the mastermind of the trip plan and who, as the stronger rider, waited for me at each stop. Every time I rolled into a town, the first thing I did was seek out her jersey. And it was there, every single time, in a patch of shade, waiting patiently for me. Talk about steadfast and loyal – I can never articulate how much that means to me, or how happy and/or relieved I was each time we met up.

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The support I felt while on RAGBRAI is only one example of the amazing support I have had throughout the recent major changes in my life. Every single day since I tendered my resignation has brought a message or action of love and support from someone. And every day has been filled with goodness, light and love – even the slightly crappy ones. It overwhelms me with gratitude – and reminds me how important it is to be on other people’s teams myself. To return the gift of unconditional support whenever/wherever possible.

…But in the end, you pedal your own bike.

While support is awesome and a necessity for most of us, no one else can actually pedal the dang bike for you. Whether on flat ground, snailing up a hill or sailing down one – the bike is powered by your steam and no one else’.

One day on each RAGBRAI offers a Century Ride – an extra bit of road called the “Karras Loop” – which allows motivated riders to get 100 miles done in that day. Upon completion of their “century”, riders get a patch celebrating their accomplishment. Curiously, I heard riders talking about some others who cheated on the century ride – they found, and took, a shortcut which shaved 10 miles or so off the ride. And yet, they picked up century patches alongside riders who completed the entire loop. The people discussing it just shrugged their shoulders and shook their heads. They weren’t outraged, they were perplexed. And I agreed with them. Why would you proclaim an accomplishment you hadn’t earned? There are no prizes, most of the world knows nothing about century rides or RAGBRAI, it won’t get you a better paying job. Worse, you will always know it is just a patch that actually means nothing.

Some days, the Sag Wagon did a huge business. People had lots of reasons for not finishing a day or the week – bike trouble, injury, fatigue, heat exhaustion, or they just hit their limits. I would never call that cheating. Every mile of that ride, especially the truly painful ones, were a test of my willingness to accomplish something that really only mattered to me. I crossed the entire state of Iowa using only my own power to do so. I had a team without whom I never could have undertaken the challenge, but I was alone on my bike, mile after mile, pedaling.

In life, we don’t live well without others supporting and challenging us. But this life we’ve been given is ours to live day in and day out – no one else can live it for us. There’s no point in trying to cheat our way through it, but honest failure isn’t something to be ashamed of. Our truest successes, in the long run, are those that live within our hearts and matter most to us, not to the rest of the world.





What Do Adventurous Women Know…and how do I learn it?

9 05 2013

I am a devourer of true life adventure stories by the women who lived them. It started casually, with travel anthologies. Then I discovered Tales of a Female Nomad by Rita Golden Gelman and I had a new hero and a new secret passion. Of course Eat.Pray.Love.  More recently, Wild.  And it hasn’t just been books. My friend Wendy and I obsessively watched the movie “Under the Tuscan Sun” the summer it came out on DVD (based, if loosely, on a true life adventure story). I’m a sucker for blogs by women on adventures – Travel Destination Bucket List, for example. I began following this blog while its author, Anita Mac, was chronicling her solo trans-Canadian bike journey and have since travelled to Croatia and on pilgrimage to Santiago de Campostella with her. My latest avidly followed blog is My Meandering Trail, where I am following Jordana on her solo through-hike of the Appalachian Trail.

Each of these women have great stories to tell, and they tell them well. And while each gives space in her storytelling to moments of fear or self-doubt, by and large the overriding impression I come away with is of admirable courage, self-efficacy, and joie de vivre. They have moxie, pluck…and whatever other old-fashioned words are reserved for women who have a little something out of the ordinary in their make-up. With my life in transition, my jumping-off point only three weeks away and no firm plan in place yet, I find myself looking to these women and wondering if it might be possible to channel the skills and qualities they embody and which I so desperately need. With that in mind, I’ve identified some things adventurous women seem to know that I’d like to get more conversant with:

Adventurous women know how to manage their stuff

I’m mostly talking actual, as opposed to figurative or emotional, stuff here. These women know how to organize, manage and corral the daily items that fill our lives: furniture, linens, shoes, and tchotchkes. They ruthlessly purge, pack, or otherwise pare down much of what they own in order to begin their adventures unencumbered. So far, I have managed to recycle three small cardboard boxes and shred a pile of old credit card bills. To say “I haven’t hit my stride yet” is to make a prize-winning understatement. Here’s an example: I have a decorative item which was given to me as a gift. It isn’t the kind of thing I’d look at, much less choose to purchase, in a gift-shop. But the person who gave it to me is beloved, and it was given to commemorate a special occasion in my life. In an effort to decide if it is worth packing and hauling to storage, I’ve carted the darn thing into every room multiple times this week. It has surely travelled more miles within my house than the paltry few between here and my storage unit. (Which, by the way, I haven’t actually reserved yet.) And I still can’t decide whether to keep it or put it in the “donate” or “regift” pile. Thankfully, my adventurous friend, Sue, came to visit one evening this week. She walked me through the best ways (and which containers to use) to pack my house. Her advice about what to keep and what to divest myself of: “Be ruthless”. Ruthlessness in the management of stuff – the first thing I need to learn to become an adventurous woman!

Adventurous women don’t hesitate to ask

In the past nineteen years, I’ve lost count of the number of people who have said to me, “I could NEVER do what you do!” Often they follow this comment with something about how they hate conflict. And it’s true – my career has been full of high-conflict, high-stress moments when the issues at hand have been incredibly difficult to navigate. And I am proud of how I’ve handled these difficult situations. But I have a secret to share. In spite of a reputation for direct and honest communication, I cannot make a cold-call to a business to ask questions. Additionally, I am terrible at asking people for help if what I need help with carries an emotional component. Adventurous women are curious, and ask questions because it is part of their nature. Part of how they successfully navigate their courageous lives is their willingness to ask for what they need. How can I plan a whole new more adventurous life when it takes me three days to work myself up to contact storage companies? I think of Jordana, contacting companies to ask for sponsorship of her trip – and getting some awesome support and swag as a result. I definitely need to get me some of those questioning cajones! (Hey, has anyone heard of companies willing to sponsor a middle-aged woman’s career/life change?)

Adventurous women have a specific plan

Well, I’m just plain screwed on this one. I can’t seem to think past vacation, which is the first step of my journey to a new life. I have a vague plan. No specific dates, no specific locations. Just a gut sense that I have to take most of the summer to feel my way – unless right livelihood presents itself. In which case, I’ll know it and change my trajectory.

At this point, my parents and many of my friends are reading this post and beginning to hyperventilate. Please don’t. I am holding enough fear, panic, and fear- and panic-induced motivation at bay to satisfy all of us. But it is back there, behind the voice telling me to take my time. Cheryl Strayed had never tried to lift her backpack until the morning she planned to set off hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. Foolhardy? Probably. But did she survive? Hell, yes – even thrived. Sometimes, adventurous women know what they need, and they move toward it even if they haven’t got all the answers in advance. My whole life, I’ve been an answers (and fool-proof assurances) in advance girl. This feels like my opportunity to step forward with trust instead of surety. Eek!

Adventurous women don’t sweat the “solo” part

When I’ve lamented being alone in life, my friend Layne has tried to comfort me by asserting that everyone is just as alone. Her approach is unique; most of my friends try to convince me that I’m not alone because of the large number of people who love me. The truth is, when it comes to making decisions and living the consequences of those decisions, I’m on my own. I have no idea whether it would be easier if I was part of a couple, or if it would be harder. I look at the women whose adventures have inspired me, and I see that they have struggled with the same things – and yet, they’ve found ways to be empowered by the solo nature of their adventures. Empowered because they’ve remained open to meeting new people, to having new experiences, to learning about themselves and the world around them. I’ve lived “smaller” out of fear in the past. One of the things I want to learn from adventurous women is how to live “larger” in spite of the fear. As one blogger says, “I will never be fearless, but I can choose to fear less.”

Adventurous women dare to go “all in”

In every one of the true-life adventure stories I’ve come across, women have let go and jumped in with both feet. For some, this has meant the start of a completely new life. For others, it has been a shining experience which stands out from the ordinary life lived both before and after the adventure. Perhaps my coming adventures are on a smaller scale than selling my home and all my belongings and living the rest of my days as a world-travelling nomad – but they are still a stunning departure from my previous life-choices. My friend, Sara, put it this way for me, “You’re not really the ‘leap of faith’ type, are you? But you’ve been risk-averse for so long, you’ve probably stored up some really good risk karma, so why not use it now?” Not exactly an “all in” mentality – but close enough to get me started!

So, I have my work cut out for me – both with the actual activities associated with leaving my job and my house and with the mental and emotional preparedness for leaving. I’ll figure out the stuff, develop the plan as I go, and remind myself to cultivate curiosity so that asking for things (even if it is only information) gets easier. I’ll continue to be inspired by other women who’ve taken courageous and adventurous paths, hoping that the reality of living with less fear of the “what ifs” will translate into living more completely, more fully. Maybe someday other women will be reading my “true life adventure story” and deciding they can choose differently too. That would be an amazing end to this story, wouldn’t it?! I guess we’ll all have to wait and see what happens with each turn of the page.





My Name is Jenion, And I’m a Backslider

29 11 2012

I grew up Catholic, so there’s always been a deep-rooted desire in me to confess my failings. Like many children in parochial grade schools, I prepared a list of sins well in advance of kneeling on the padded bench in the confessional – there was nothing more humiliating than speechlessness when facing a dark screen, behind which sat the priest during this sacramental rite. So, also like generations of Catholic school children, if I couldn’t come up with something authentic, I made something up. Yes, that’s right, I lied during confession. I also had one or two generic sins to share, such as the ever-popular, “I fought with my brothers and sisters”. With five siblings, this was bound to be true, even if I was unable to recall a specific incidence.

The point is, I am a confession junkie of sorts. If I feel particularly badly about something I’ve done, I actually have a difficult time NOT blurting it out to someone. For example, there was the New Year’s Eve party when I introduced myself to a room full of strangers by announcing I had just eaten a large Papa Murphy’s pizza by myself and was feeling a little…full-ish.

And so I come before you today with a confession to make. Despite my best intentions, I have spent the past few weeks floundering. Oh, alright, backsliding. You may recall that I have spent the last year barely creeping forward with my weight loss goals. I plateaued. I dropped to a very low calorie diet, which made me cranky and didn’t help with weight loss. I upped my caloric intake and stepped up the exercise. My body shape rearranged itself slightly, but my weight barely fluctuated.

After a couple of years of posting my weekly weigh-in on this blog, in September I decided to post my weight only monthly (read the explanation here). And I made a valiant effort to feel positive and proactive without over-regard for the reading on my scale. As November rolled in, I was doing ok and holding my own. However, by mid-month, I was frustrated again with the lack of progress toward my goal. They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing but expecting different results. Well, taking this thought to heart, I decided to shake things up a bit. Based on new research (yes, reputable research!) I began to increase the protein in my diet and added more dairy (something I’ve typically kept fairly restricted). And in spite of adding to my work out routine I just didn’t feel right. I stepped on a scale and was horrified to see that I had inched up by ten pounds!

We all know that such moments can be turning points. And so it was for me – a turning point in the wrong direction! So I am hereby confessing that I was so discouraged, I went out and bought a 10-pack of 100-calorie pouches of Goldfish crackers. And I ate all 10 pouches in 2 days. (For those of you keeping track, that’s 1,000 calories of crunchy, cheesy little fishies.) I wasn’t completely out of control. But I was too depressed to maintain self-discipline. A little temptation could easily overcome my resistance.

In the midst of this backsliding-palooza, along came Thanksgiving – the holiday devoted to binge eating in America. Interestingly, as the anniversary of Jenion, and the beginning of my own path to emotional and physical health, the eating holiday had the effect of helping me reconsider my backwards slide. The first step for me, as it is in any 12-step program, is to admit my own powerlessness – I can make decisions day by day, I can be proactive, I can manage. What I can’t do is ever live a life in which food isn’t an issue for me.

Until I sat down to write this blog post, I never really gave much thought to the 12-steps and whether they have any usefulness for me and this mighty effort to make lasting change in myself. However I can see that the other steps in 12-step programs are more or less instructive for me: make a fearless and searching moral inventory of myself; admit to God, myself and another human being the exact nature of my wrongs – these I’ve done using the vehicle of this blog and my penchant for confession!

Many of the remaining steps have to do with God, or whatever one’s concept of a higher power may be. I do know there is a spiritual component to this whole thing – and I must say that the following phrase (Step 2) struck me in particular:

Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

On the one hand, as a person of faith, I read that Power to be God.

On the other hand, as a person who has benefitted from the power that is born of love – the support, encouragement, willingness to engage with my issues (and hear my “confessions”) shown by family, friends, loved ones and even well-meaning strangers…I have to read that Power also as community.

God and community: a backslider’s most trustworthy allies. You are there to restore my sanity, to remind me that I am cared for regardless of my weight or what is listed on my food tracker any given day. And I know you’ll be by my side as I hop back on the wagon – even if it means hearing all about my latest transgression or failing. For that, how can I be anything but truly grateful.

Note: The 12th Step can be summed up as “Helping Others”. As someone fully aware of the gifts that have been showered upon me, and the willingness of so many to walk with me, I want to reiterate that I am ready and willing to “pay it forward”. If you or someone you know needs help, someone to talk with, any support that I can offer, please don’t hesitate to contact me!




Pulling a Forrest Gump

15 11 2012
Forrest Gump: That day, for no particular reason, I decided to go for a little run. So I ran to the end of the road. And when I got there, I thought maybe I’d run to the end of town. And when I got there, I thought maybe I’d just run across Greenbow County. And I figured, since I run this far, maybe I’d just run across the great state of Alabama. And that’s what I did. I ran clear across Alabama. For no particular reason I just kept on going. I ran clear to the ocean. And when I got there, I figured, since I’d gone this far, I might as well turn around, just keep on going. When I got to another ocean, I figured, since I’d gone this far, I might as well just turn back, keep right on going.
 

Lately, I’ve been thinking I’ve lived my life, in some ways, a lot like Forrest Gump – at least during his running phase. In the movie, Forrest claims he just felt like it, so took off running and kept going. Until he didn’t feel like it anymore. Plain and simple, just like the character of Forrest Gump himself.

Those of you who have known me for any length of time are likely wondering in what possible way I have been like this image of Forrest – I rarely run, after all. And I am hardly considered simple (recent descriptions have included cantankerous, introspective, difficult and an overthinker – not one simple in the bunch).

As I look at my life and ask, “What next?”, I can’t help but look back and wonder – what the??? How did I get here? It is as if I just jogged along the path of my life, for no particular reason continuing on the same trajectory. When I came to a roadblock or a turning point, I made a minute course correction and kept jogging. I figured that since I’d gone this far, I might as well just keep going. This is how Forrest crisscrossed the continent, and it is how I passed a lot of my days. I just kept going.

Aside from the obvious oversimplification – there were, after all, moments of soul-searching, difficult decision-points, days when striking out in a different direction was a near possibility – this is a fairly accurate description of my adult life. It is only relatively recently that I’ve learned to recognize the truth – the downside of over-identification with your career, your social milieu, your physical condition or your whatever is not that others define you by it. The downside is that you define and limit yourself. You are so far “in”, you can’t even see that there is an “out”.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s a place for “staying the course”, for commitment. But Forrest just ran. He thought he “might as well”, which is hardly the same as commitment. And while he ran, a series of events and adventures happened around him. But they didn’t actually happen to him. They happened because other people were seeking meaning, looking for answers, trying to discover a purpose or a passion. (In the movie, others mistakenly assume that these things will be found by running with or after Forrest. We are meant to see these others as pathetic, but I think that’s open for interpretation. At least they are searching for something.)

One day, Forrest stops running and begins a new phase of his life. Who can say why, for sure? The same thing happened to me. One day I realized that I was just mindlessly running on a treadmill and calling it “my life”. I decided to stop doing that. Many people have asked, primarily wondering about my weight loss. “What was different? Why did it ‘take’ this time?” I don’t have a ready or easy answer for that. The day I stepped on the scale and decided 352 was a really high number felt, otherwise, like any other day. So did the day I started working out. I refused to begin with a solid statement of commitment, “This is the day I change my life!”, because I’d done that before and it hadn’t been true. I began with more of a “Meh. Maybe I’ll give this a shot.” I might as well.

If that’s how it began, very much in the vein of Forrest’s running phase, that’s not how it continued. Stepping off the treadmill I’d been running on took daily effort, and continues to take daily effort. I wake up in the morning and decide to exercise. Decide to eat more veggies and less dessert. Decide that I can go one more day without pizza. And in the other areas of my life, my emotional and professional and spiritual selves also have to make active choices, set goals, decide. There is no room for “I might as well” or “for no particular reason”. Because that old treadmill (or hamster wheel if you prefer) is still in working order and, even after several years of wakefulness, it is easy to step onto it and forget to choose. To just jog along with the status quo, to somnambulate at pace.

Steve Jobs famously stated that you can never connect the dots moving forward in your life. You can only connect the dots looking back. We still have to move forward, trusting that the dots WILL connect. There are periods when living consciously is exciting – we feel our own forward momentum and it is exhilarating. And there are periods when making deliberate choices day in and day out feels really hard. Sorry, Forrest, but as endearing a character as you are, I don’t want to be like you anymore. I would rather choose the hard way and stay awake, live with purpose, than look back at my life and say, “I did it for no particular reason.”





The Top of Our Lungs

20 09 2012
 
 
“…We want access to the top of our lungs, where the shouts and the holy hosannahs are, the whoops and wails and hullabaloos — not just the bottom of our lungs, which is reserved for whispers and polite conversation, for things said under the breath.”–Gregg Levoy Callings: Finding and Following an Authentic Life
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