Monday Musings: life lessons from the driving range

This weekend, we went to the driving range. Usually, this is not a happy experience for me. More often than not, I hack away at the ball and never seem to make any progress. Even when I try, my balls veer hard left or scuttle across the ground only to settle about 20 yards away. On this latest occasion, however, I hit ten times better than I ever have, most shots dead straight and even several good shots in a row (note: by “good”, I also mean good for me, which is still terrible by actual golfing standards).

When I considered what could’ve contributed to such a marked improvement in my shots, I knew it was more than just using my new hand-me-down clubs.  What really seemed to make the difference was slowing down my swing. In the past, I’ve tried to power through my swing as quickly as humanly possible, assuming that the faster my swing was the better my shots would be. As it turns out, the slower my swing is, the better the contact with the ball, and the better the shot. I was hitting balls higher and farther with less effort.

It occurred to me that perhaps I should give thought to what else in my life might improve with slowing down. Lately I have felt like I am constantly running from thing to thing. I get up, rush to get dressed and to the gym, rush through my workout, rush to get ready to go to work, work all day, battle rush hour, rush to throw together dinner and lunches and breakfasts for the next day, rush to pack my gym clothes and work clothes for the following day, rush to write a blog post, and then go to bed. Weekends aren’t always much better. That’s a lot of rushing. And it’s exhausting. I constantly feel exhausted.

How can I bring some of the benefit of moving slowly to my life? I need to feel like my life is less harried and rushed.  With a golf swing it is easy; it’s all about being slow, methodical and focused. In life that seems more challenging. However, I do believe that part of my feeling so rushed and overwhelmed is the mental clutter and chatter surrounding all the things I believe I need to do quickly.  What would happen if I were to pause, to focus on one task at a time? What if I could close myself off from the 9000 other thoughts that I have and just get that one thing done first? What if I weren’t always trying to do two things at once because I assume it’s faster? Would I actually get more done? Would I actually get it done faster? Would I feel less overwhelmed?  I don’t know the answers to these questions for sure, but I do think it’s worth testing this theory out.

Monday Musings: on listening to your body

Today, my body felt sluggish and tired. My muscles are often sore these days as I try to incorporate more strength training, with more weight and increased complexity.  Some days, I just don’t feel like I have it in me to work out. Today was one of those days.  I contemplated taking an extra rest day for recovery, but something didn’t feel quite right about that decision either.

When I really stopped to listen to what my body was saying, it wasn’t saying that it needed a day off. It was saying ‘I don’t want to run’. It was saying ‘I don’t want to grind it out at the gym’.  But it was also saying ‘I still want to move today’ just not at any level of intensity. The first thing that usually comes to mind for me is taking a long walk, but today my mind was screaming ‘yoga!’.

For many, this would be a perfectly natural choice, but I haven’t done yoga in well over five years. In fact, I have never really practiced yoga in a meaningful way. I’ve done my own thing, without instruction, and mostly at times of my life when I was experiencing high levels of stress and anxiety. In those situations, I found yoga to be surprisingly calming. However, as soon as I found myself in a more balanced headspace, I’d inevitably abandon yoga in favour of more intense workouts.

For whatever reason, and though I don’t consider myself highly anxious nor stressed right now, yoga felt like the only suitable option for me today. And for once I found it easy to squash the inner voices that usually tell me to run anyway, to get a better workout in, to push through the muscle discomfort. I am generally a fan of this pushing through the discomfort, but I also believe that sometimes our bodies are telling us to slow down for a reason.

What I can tell you is that my body was undoubtedly craving a gentler form of motion today, not that yoga movements are easy for me, mind you.  I have the flexibility of a 60-year old. Actually, scrap that, I’ve known some supremely flexible 60-year olds. I have the flexibility of an 80-year old.  My balance has suffered tremendously since my injury. I struggle to quiet my mind.  I was ready for all of that today. When my flexibility interfered with completing the most challenging variations of movements, I was kind to myself and stuck to the basic or modified versions. When my balance wavered, I avoided getting frustrated with myself and simply started over until I was in balance again. When focusing on my breathing, my mind, quite miraculously, was able to flush my running hamster wheel of thoughts right down the drain. I achieved inner quiet and felt completely rejuvenated.

Afterwards, my body felt noticeably less tense, my muscles loose, and my mind calm.  Even if these feelings turned out to be short-lived, what I had was certainty: listening to my body worked today.  I find it incredibly tempting, and actually consider it a point of personal pride, to force myself to work out hard even when I’m tired or sore or just plain don’t feel like it. In doing so, I sometimes bulldoze right over what my body is telling me.  I have to remember that sometimes those inner voices are telling me to slow down for a reason. I have to remind myself that exercise comes in many forms, not all of which leave your body feeling exhausted, or that an extra day off is not always a sign of laziness or lack of willpower.  It sounds so obvious, and yet I am highly experienced at ignoring what my body is telling me. Today has been an excellent reminder that listening deeply and letting go of self-imposed expectations is sometimes the best course of action.

Thursday Real Talk: it’s not all sunshine and roses

You may have noticed that I’ve been writing less this week. I didn’t post on Monday even though I had a draft that I could’ve tidied up quickly. I threw together a post for Tuesday purely because I felt pressured (entirely self-inflicted) not to miss two days in a row.  Yesterday, I sat down to write a post and, after completing two partial drafts on completely different topics, abandoned all hope of pulling together anything good. And today, today I wrote another two partial drafts on different topics, neither of which will see the light of day any time soon.

What’s at the heart of this? It’s not a lack of interest in writing for this space. Writing is still one of the things I love to do most.  It’s that my mental landscape is so completely occupied with career-related questions that I haven’t been successful in clearing out the tiny generative space that I personally need to write for this blog. In other words, I’m squelching my own creativity because I’m stuck in a downward spiral of career confusion.

Namely, I have no idea what to do with myself. I cannot remember the last time I got excited about a prospective opportunity, and by ‘excited’ I mean curious and interested, not jumping with joy. For the better part of a year, I’ve been tossing my resume out into the ether, meeting with employers, talking to prospective clients and networking my ass off and I cannot recall a single conversation that had me thinking ‘Yes! This sounds right!’ For some reason, this week more than ever, I’ve felt the troubling weight of this realization: I do not know what I want to do.

I have a small handful of potential work opportunities on the go and not a single one sounds genuinely interesting to me.  In fact, one potential opportunity, for which I’m supposed to ‘audition’ by delivering a portion of a workshop next Tuesday, is actually filling me with the same dread that I felt before I started my last job. I know it’s a bad fit already but, without having viable career alternatives in mind, I feel like I have to keep moving forward despite everything screaming in me to cancel, cancel, cancel. I’m conscious that I’m repeating my old patterns but, as they say, the train is in motion and I’m not sure how to bring it to a halt.

I am frustrated with myself for not being able to figure out an alternate course of action for my career.  I pride myself on being competent, thoughtful, reflective and, above all else, capable. I’ve always made things happen for myself, taken care of myself, and kept myself in a stable and secure position. For the first time,  I’m in a state of total uncertainty and I don’t feel entirely capable of identifying my direction.  It’s not a comfortable feeling for me, and it’s definitely putting a damper on my creative flair.

So there’s that. I have no answers. I have no great wisdom. I have nothing to offer except some real talk on where my head is at these days, and I can safely say that it’s not all sunshine and roses.

Monday Musings: On Getting my Ass in Gear

If there’s one story I have about myself that’s extra damaging these days, it’s that I only respond to external deadlines and pressures. It’s not a helpful story, in part because it’s not really true, but also because when I accept it as a given it becomes my excuse for procrastination.

Didn’t send out any emails to prospective clients today? Guess it’s because I can’t get stuff done without a deadline. Didn’t contact those consultancies about potential partnerships? Well of course not, I didn’t have anyone breathing down my neck to get it done. Didn’t do that research on billing fees? Why would I since no one else is waiting on the information?

Instead, I’ll spend my time bingeing on Netflix, busying myself with unnecessary chores, and making plans with friends.  I’ll tick just enough items off my checklist to give the illusion of progress. In reality, though, the things I tick off my list will be the least important things and not the things I really need to be doing to move forward. When it comes to those things, well, I’m just not motivated without deadlines.

Here’s why stories about yourself can be so damaging. I can rattle off a list of ways in which I am motivated without any external pressures or deadlines, my workouts and blog writing being two notable examples.  Yet I allow myself to keep reinforcing an untrue story that I somehow can’t get shit done without someone or something pushing me to do it.

What I need right now is a swift kick in the ass, but it has to be me that does it. A story, after all, is called a story for a reason. I can choose to believe it, but I can also call it out as a fiction. I know I don’t need some external force to drive me to action. It’s just a convenient excuse. It’s time to rewrite the story.

Monday Musings: On Getting Back to my True Love

I’ve been asked a number of times if I am going to try for the ultra marathon this year. The short answer is no.  The long answer, however, is more complicated.  I have moments where it’s tempting, especially when my stubbornness flares up and I want to prove that I can do it, but ultimately I’ve decided not to pursue the ultra this year, or probably any year.

What makes this difficult is that I believe I am capable of running a 50 km ultra. I can do long and slow. I am capable of incredible fitness and endurance. I can be dedicated to training plans. I can refocus my personal training on getting me ready for distance running.  And yet when I say I’m not going to run an ultra, it feels more like I’m saying I don’t think I’m capable. For all the reasons I just noted, that’s just not true. What is true is this: I don’t think it’s worth it for me to run an ultra.

Running has never been my true love. Running has always been my fitness-builder, one of the ways I clear my head, a way to take my workouts outside, and a way to move faster and cover more ground.  I love running for these outcomes, but I don’t identify with running the way other “real” runners I know identify with running. Running keeps me fit for my real true love: hiking.

Being on the trail is my thing, but I don’t need to run trails. I move quickly even when I’m not trail running. I can still easily cover 40 km a day on trails without running.  Anyway, I am really too clumsy and skittish to trail run the types of hiking trails I really love. I’ve always figured there’s a 90% chance I could die by falling off a mountain just by sheer clumsiness. I think those odds would increase to a solid 98% if I were to try running on more technical trails.  Aside from the speed factor, the real allure of hiking has always been an inexplicable connection with the grandeur of nature and the absolute beauty of what I encounter.

Last year, my goal of running an ultra caused an injury from which I’m still recovering and which kept me from hiking in any real way for an entire season. I sat on the sidelines and, while I certainly found other things to fill my time, my spirit undoubtedly suffered.  It’s not worth it to me to lose another season doing what I really love (hiking), just to put a check mark next to ‘ran an ultra’.  I’m getting back to my true love this year. I’m going to get myself ready for a season on the trail, hiking as far and as high as I can. I’m going to start knocking my bucket list hikes off my list one by one.

So no, I’m not going to run an ultra this year, but I promise you it’s not because I can’t.

Monday Musings: on (invisible) failure…and hope on the other side

Failure is a funny thing. There are failures that others can easily see and label as failures. There’s forgetting all your content for a major presentation only to end up visibly shaking like a leaf in front of 75 people (yup, I’ve definitely done that). There’s falling on your ass on a hiking trail in front of four very handsome mountain men (done that too). There’s sending an email containing highly confidential information to the wrong person (yup, that was also me). It’s no doubt that these types of failures can be tough pills to swallow. After all, they’re out there for everyone to see and judge.

Still, there are failures that I find even worse than public failures. My least favourite failures are largely invisible to the world around me, yet somehow weigh far more heavily on me.  These are failures of my own unmet expectations. Lately, I’ve been feeling the weight of seemingly countless invisible failures. Objectively, you’d look at my life and think I’ve got it together. I have a good network of friends. I have what appears to be a good career. I fit in six workouts a week (well, most weeks). I even bring a damn home-made salad to work every day for lunch!  But make no mistake, though it looks like everything’s relatively together even to those closest to me, I still feel like I’ve let myself down in so many areas of my life over the last few months.

These days, the palpable sense of failure is most prominent to me in my career. Last week I made a major decision to leave my job (yet again). It’s a job I just started a month ago, but which I knew all along was not a good fit for me.  Not only did I have a significant error in judgment taking this last role, but I also spent a whole year in my previous role (where I was also unhappy) failing to think about what I wanted next. To add insult to injury, I then squandered eight weeks of paid time off without challenging myself to think more broadly about my career. No one else expects me to do that. As far as most are concerned, as long as I’m surviving financially, it’s up to me to figure this stuff out. I’m the one who goes to bed every night feeling like I’ve failed. I’ve failed to get clear on what I do best. I’ve failed to define a career path that makes use of what I do best. I’ve failed to live up to what I believe I’m capable of. Failure, failure, failure.

Unfortunately, it’s not just work where I’m feeling this.   I feel it with my blog, too. No one cares if I write five posts a week, of that I am sure.  It was a personal commitment that I made when I started this, part of my effort to write more.  I have let that slip. I have made excuses. It’s always “I have plans tonight” or “I’m so tired” or “I’ll write two posts tomorrow”. The net result is the same regardless of the excuse: I haven’t been writing enough nor have I been writing enough content that I’m proud of. Some days I whip off a post in 30 minutes while I’m eating lunch at my desk on a topic that I’m not particularly passionate about. Again, likely no one else can tell the difference, but I can.  And I care about this blog. I care about my writing. I enjoy it a lot more than my actual job. That’s why it feels like such a failure on my part.

I even feel like a failure in my friendships. I’ve been so tired and so irritable lately that, most of the time, I want to do nothing more than go home and curl up on the couch after work. I haven’t been making an effort to reach out to friends. I haven’t been making plans. I haven’t been keeping in touch. I am not putting the effort in. My friends who know me well know this is a pattern of mine when I get in a funk, so they likely don’t think of it as me failing them.  What I know (and deeply believe) to be true, though, is that we all have our shit to deal with in life and there’s value to spending time with friends even when the urge to hermit is ten times stronger. So when I hermit, I feel like I’m failing my friends.

And lest it go unnoticed, I also feel like a big old failure with my health. I have a high standard for my fitness goals but I’ve used my injury as a crutch for the last couple of months.  I have avoided pushing myself in my workouts. I haven’t even attempted to regain any lost endurance. I have skipped workouts entirely when I feel too tired. Worst of all, when I’m stressed, I let go of all my healthy eating habits. Sugar has wormed it’s way back in far larger quantities.  It’s a downward spiral. Again, no one else really cares if I am actually hard-core training, and certainly no one’s going to say anything about my eating habits (for fear of incurring my wrath), but I know I’m letting myself down.

So there you have it. That’s a lot of me feeling like I’m failing.  Here’s the thing, though: I don’t share this as a cry for help, nor because I’m in some sort of dark spiral. In fact, I’m feeling pretty good about all of this right now. So I share this because I think we can all identify with questioning our success, with feeling like we aren’t living up to our own standards, with knowing deep down that we are taking the easy way out. I think we can identify with the fact that it can be hard to let others into the fold when we see ourselves as failing.  We keep things insular and it can be harder to objectively see that much of this invisible failure is invisible for a reason: it’s failure of our own creation.

When I actually realized that I was feeling like a failure in so many areas of my life, it was remarkably freeing. By labelling the feeling as failure, it allowed me to question what I could be learning from each of these perceived failures. Yeah, it’s cheesy I know, but I work in adult learning so I get to be a little self-indulgent with this stuff.  Cheesy or not, reframing the experience of failure helped me move from a place of discouragement and negativity to a place of hope and patience.

In my work, I learned that I can make what I thought was an impossible decision and come out on the other side legitimately excited to feel afraid.  With my blog (and my health, for that matter), I’ve learned that I need to give myself the flexibility to let other things in life come first when they need to, but also that my excuses are sometimes ways to avoid processing things (in other words, the more tired I feel, the more I should probably be writing…or working out). In my friendships, I’ve learned that I still have trouble being open about my state of mind and really leaning on the people around me when I need them most. But with all of this in mind, I can feel the tides turning and I can also see some ways forward.  And that is why I share this: there is hope on the other side of failure.

Monday Musings: Making Time

I make time for all sorts of things in my life. I make workouts a priority. I fit in writing four or five posts a week. I ensure that we have home-made lunches and dinners on weekdays. I even find time to binge on Netflix.  But can I “find the time” to contemplate my career? To date, the answer has been a definitive no.

On evenings and weekends, I find myself thinking ‘Okay, I should be spending some time clarifying my next career goals. Yes, yes that’s a good plan.’  Then I promptly turn on the TV or Netflix or grab a book or decide to clean the bathrooms because, you know, even that sounds more fun than seriously considering major career changes.

The truly ironic part of all of this is that I used to be a career counsellor and, even in my most recent roles, a major part of what I do is coach around defining personal vision and career development. The number one thing I tell people is that they have to put the work in to the process of figuring out what to do next. Often when I work with people, they want their managers to hand them career suggestions on a silver platter or they complacently wait for career inspiration to fall from the sky.  I know that doesn’t work.  I know you need to spend the time.  Yet here I am, once again not taking my own sage advice. I tell myself I just don’t have the time.

I also do a ton of work around the challenges of personal change. For a long time I’ve been fascinated by the seemingly illogical way that humans (myself included) have goals that are genuinely important to them and yet often, despite knowing exactly how to make progress, fail to make headway towards their goals.  I work with leaders using a model that highlights deeply held beliefs and assumptions that can subconsciously block our progress even when we have the best of intentions.  Do I apply that own model to my own situation? Am I willing to peel back a few layers to get at the heart of my own resistance to change? Hell, no. I ain’t got the time for that.

Except that you and I both know full well that I do have the time for that. It’s not for lack of time. It’s fear. It’s deeply held beliefs that limit my sense of what’s possible.  It’s being completely unclear, in some cases, about what might actually be a good career fit.  It’s not wanting to put a ton of time and effort into something with no guaranteed payoff.  It’s all of these things but it’s certainly not lack of time.

So, enough with the excuses.  I’m starting small and committing to three small actions to move me forward in the right direction:

1.Ask for feedback–I’ve been bouncing a couple ideas around in my head to make the best of my current work situation while moving forward with exploring other options. But leaving them in my head is doing me no good. I am reaching out to a small handful of people who I can trust to tell me if I’m totally out to lunch.

2. Make my immunity map–I know, immunity sounds like something to do with diseases but this an incredibly powerful reflective process that surfaces beliefs and assumptions that are getting in the way of personal change. I use it at work all the time, and I know that it’s a great way of reframing a situation. Now it’s time to take a taste of my own medicine.

3. Seriously talk about alternatives–I have pie in the sky thoughts and conversations all the time, you know the kind, the ‘wouldn’t it be nice if…’ variety.  Well, I’ve booked time with a good friend and colleague to actually put pen to paper to see if some of our pie in the sky thoughts might come down to earth if we gave them enough weight.

Like many of us, I struggle with change and I am a master of excuses.  I’m also prone to feeling overwhelmed when contemplating the sheer volume of different actions I could take. This is why I’m starting small. Though few of you likely come to this space for career-related discussion, you can equally apply this type of approach to fitness or training-related goals.  Start small. Take action.

I’ll be back with updates next Monday on my first two action items (ps I’m not being lazy with the third action item, but that meeting isn’t until mid-February). Wish me luck. Wait, don’t wish me luck. It’s not luck that I need, it’s putting in the work.