Get Your Bloom On!

Springville, Iowa, July 27, 2012.
 I am standing in the middle of the main street of town, with my good friend Tricia Borelli and thousands of others, and I am suddenly overcome with emotion. I tell Tricia, “This is what I want for everyone!”

Let me explain what I meant – and it wasn’t for everyone to stand in the streets of Springville, Iowa-though I believe there could be worse fates. We had just finished what proved to be the hardest 10 miles of a 208-mile bicycling adventure (three consecutive days of RAGBRAI). With a sore body operating on little sleep, the 10 mile leg just completed, consisting of lots of climb against a strong headwind, called upon every reserve I had. This middle day of the ride was “supposed” to be the easy one, too. What a betrayal of my expectations!

As Tricia and I pulled into town, the members of our team who had arrived ahead of us flagged us down. We explored the town, grateful for the food and beverage options and for the hospitality of the local Methodist church which allowed us to used their indoor bathrooms. Take it from me: porta-potties used by thousands of bicyclists are not the preferred option. We had some time to kill before our last two teammates arrived, which meant real leisure to soak up the ambience.

People of all shapes, sizes, abilities, ages, ethnicities and backgrounds swelled the small town’s usual population of around one thousand to nearly ten times that. Banners flapped in the stiff breeze, music came at us from every direction, colorful costumes and jerseys caught our attention. The sun beat down on us and sweat caused our spandex-laden clothing to stick to our bodies. I downed a bottle of blue Gatorade with relish – something I would normally avoid as exuberantly as I avoid eating liver.

As I watched the spectacle and felt myself just one more colorful piece of it, I experienced one of those rare moments of clarity in life. This exact moment that I was living in with such joy, I would once have shunned. The July heat. The crowds. The physical exertion. The athletic, ebullient, friendly, happy individuals surrounding me.

Until the recent past, I eschewed entering fully into my own life. I stayed away from situations that called upon either my inner resources or the direct experience of strangers. In that way, I kept my world small and my life manageable. I felt safe but I rarely felt joy. I felt “in control” but never expansive.

All of that has changed, and my life is so much richer for it. Suddenly, standing in the middle of the street in Springville, my heart paradoxically wholly open and completely full, I realized:  it isn’t enough to want these things for myself. It isn’t enough to continue to work on my own growth and development. To know and experience my own “before and after” is to want that for anyone else holding back from fully living their own lives.

You know who you are – those of you waiting for something to change in your life in order for you to feel happier, better understood, more passionate. Those of you who feel stuck in a place you never really intended to be. Those of you who feel called to…something else, even if you don’t quite know what that is. For each of you, I want the more you’re longing for. The future you don’t quite know how to reach. And I promise you two things. First, I promise that I will continue to hold your heart’s desire  in my thoughts and in my prayers. Second, I promise that whenever the opportunity arises to offer something tangible – and within my power or ability to give – by way of support or encouragement to another late-bloomer (like me, like you) I will.

You may feel like a bedraggled weed, but you’re really a beautiful flower. You may not, just yet, believe in yourself or in your ability to change your life. But I already believe in you. After all, I’m just another slow-blossoming flower on the midwestern prairie – if I found a way to fully open my petals and bask in the sun, so can you.

On being a “goalie”

Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so.

After all, the sky flashes, the great sea yearns,

We ourselves flash and yearn,

and moreover my mother told me as a boy

(repeatingly) ‘Ever to confess you’re bored

means you have no

Inner Resources.’  I conclude now I have no

inner resources because I am heavy bored…

–“Dream Song 14”, John Berryman

Life, friends, used to feel a lot like this poem.  In fact, that was one of the reasons the poem resonated with me – I knew, in my heart even if I refused to admit it aloud, that my boredom and inactivity resulted from my own lack of inner resources.  There wasn’t a lot of “flashing and yearning” going on in my life.  There WAS a lot of ho-humming and “Victory Garden” watching. Yawn.

And then, slowly, things began to change.  We’re talking slow as in “at a glacial pace” (thanks, Meryl Streep).  One significant part of that change has been the discovery that I operate best, achieve more, when I set goals.  Now, to those of you who have been devotees of Stephen Covey or who knew your life’s ambitions at age 10, this is a no brainer.  For me, it was a revelation.  (Remember what I’ve said in the past about being a late bloomer?  Turns out, I am not that quick on the up-take, either!)

My college English Department faculty lampooned the seniors each year, and in performing her version of me, Sr. Pat Nolan slouched into the skit, hands in pockets, and said, “I don’t know.  Maybe I’ll be a writer…Maybe I’ll become an editor…whatever….something’s bound to turn up.”  Not a flattering portrait, albeit accurate.  For much of my life, I just seemed constitutionally incapable of committing to a course of action and then taking the steps necessary to see it through.

Now, I know I have accomplished a number of things over the years: graduate school while working full-time; a demanding and time-consuming job; making a difference in the lives of students. I am proud of these achievements.  But many of my proudest accomplishments, while the result of hard work, began as things I just sort of fell into (grad school is a perfect example, and I’ll tell that story another time if you want to know!)  The discovery that goals help me to focus my time and see things through has been a key factor in my current state of happiness.  A second eye-opener:  goals can be small!  Yes, its true — audacious goals are great, but so are the smaller lets-finally-clean-the-craft-room-type goals.  I no longer underestimate the satisfaction of meeting a goal within the time-frame allotted for it.

On Sunday morning, I was up bright and early and on my way to Palo, Iowa for the annual Pigman Triathlon.  Competing in a triathlon has never been a goal of mine, however, it was for three important people in my life and all three were competing on Sunday.  The day dawned bright, beautiful, and without the normal summer humidity.  And while cheering on my friends, I also had the opportunity to see 800 others fulfilling their triathlon goals — 800 people of every age, shape, size, and fitness level.  It was inspiring and motivational.  I did not leave with the goal to compete in a triathlon.  But I did leave with the sense that it is time to set a goal to stretch myself.  So this week, I’m enjoying my newly clean craft room, gathering my inner resources for an exciting life ahead: its definitely time for a little flash and yearn!