Part Two: Seven Stages from Athlete Girl to Athlete Woman
My sole purpose in this series is to be transparent, writing with some humor and exposing some anxiety, about particular phenomenons of aging as I experience them. In part two, my experience is this: after a hard-fought battle to transform myself from gawky non-athlete girl to athlete woman, I now have to learn to motivate older athlete woman in new ways.
Athlete Girl Stage One: I am not an athlete. Everyone says so.
I’ve played a lifelong fact or fiction game with my sense of self as athlete. I always wanted to be an athlete. Ironically, those damn Presidential Fitness challenges undermined my athletic confidence, starting in elementary school. I would kick ass at every station (except that pull up nonsense) and finish with a high five sense of “you go you athlete girl”. When the rankings came out it was deflating to see I was just average girl. No presidential fitness glory for me, only a participation shout out. The early chipping away of my self-image an athlete girl.
I’ve always been small so you wouldn’t expect gawky to be the accurate descriptor, but yes, I was gawky. Uncoordinated. Physically awkward. In 7th grade softball, my friends in the outfield sat down when I got up to bat. They thought it was funny, foreshadowing the inevitable strikeout. It wasn’t funny, it was maddening. I wanted to smack that ball over the school roof. I wasn’t good at volleyball or basketball or tennis either. I was the smart and not-pretty-but-cute-ish girl who was also not, by god, an athlete. Chip, chip.
Athlete Girl Stage Two: I am not an athlete. I say so.
In high school, I envied the track runners. I loved the gorgeous, well-defined quad muscles. I loved the graceful way some of them made racing look so effortless, even if in a sweaty, red-faced, heavy breathing kind of way. However, there were enough other self-confidence and popularity crushing obstacles to avoid without taking the risk of trying to run track and certainly ending up humiliated. I was not an athlete. I didn’t need anyone else to chip away my image of athlete girl, I was doing it myself.
Athlete Girl Stage Three: Take a deep breath. Be who you want to be athlete girl.
My freshman year at Indiana University, I would pass students running all over campus every day. I realized I was walking several miles every day, all over campus. My wannabe inner athlete had had enough. I decided to run. I asked a track running friend from high school, also at IU, to meet me at the track. Having no confidence as well as an awkward running stride, he very patiently ran beside me and coached me along until we fixed my form and found my confidence.
Athlete Girl Stage Four: Athlete runner girl.
Running. I was good at it. I wasn’t super fast, but I wasn’t super slow. I had endurance. I liked long runs and short runs. Treadmill running was fine and greenspace running was fine, but I loved running city streets. I liked to run on autopilot and think about things. I liked building my own admirable quad muscles. No more chipping away at myself as an athlete. I was athlete runner girl.
Running was my jam for about three years. When I moved to Chicago, running city streets became less comfortable as something I could do alone. I joined a gym, running less but doing much more strength training and indoor cardio. Then came marriage, a move to Nashville, and having kids; the gym was a very on again, off again thing. But that was my 30s, we were busy and active in general. I wasn’t thinking too much about my body as I recall, but it was healthy, strong enough and serving me well. I was lulled into the myth that since my body looked pretty good, it must also be in good shape.
Athlete Woman Stage Five: Life happens. Butts fall. Reclaim athlete woman.
After a particularly horrifying few minutes trying on a bathing suit in a dressing room with a 360-degree mirror, I learned a sobering lesson. At 41, my neglected butt muscles had lost the strength to hold my one decent curve in place. No longer was there one smooth line from my spine to the back of my knees. Just below the bathing suit bottom was the dreaded horizontal crease, also known as sagging butt. If my gluts had gone soft and could no longer defy gravity, what else was withering away? Goodbye every other week step aerobics, hello at least four times a week strength training and serious cardio sweat. My butt eventually recovered its ability to conquer gravity. Hallelujah.
Athlete Woman Stage Six: In the glorious 40s, athlete woman kicks ass.
A couple of years later, I joined a boxing gym. I was divorced but happy, in good shape, and ready for a new challenge. The boxing gym was expensive and I paid for the first 6 weeks up front, no turning back. Good thing! This mother of a workout kicked not only my butt but my everything. Pretty soon I could finish the hour without wanting to puke. I was practically a superhero.
A couple of years into boxing, several of us had become friends and started cycling in the warm weather months and rock climbing in the colder ones. In the middle of all this, closing out the decade of my 40s, I met a man. He was training for triathlons, so I thought, what the hell, let’s see what that’s like? Running again and learning to swim (more difficult for me than boxing!) and cycling for performance meant letting go of the boxing gym.
Training for triathlons was painfully good. Good for my muscles, my heart, my brain. Competing in triathlons, not so much. I had panic attacks during the swim. Not unusual because it’s weird swimming in a crowd. I thought it would get better, but it got worse. During my second event, I had panic to the degree I literally couldn’t catch air. Stopping every 10 strokes to tread water and breathe, makes for a very poor rank in the final standings. I decided my emerging career as a triathlete wasn’t meant to be. No regrets though, the onset of my 50s found me cycling several times a week, rock climbing a couple of times a week, and I’d started practicing yoga. I remained solidly athlete woman.
Athlete Woman Stage Seven: That killer core strength? Don’t take it for granted!
I’ve taken good care of my body (for the most part), my weight has fluctuated little and I think I exercise more than average. In return, I secretly expected I would always outperform most people my age, my body would take whatever level of exercise I was able to give it and respond as if I’d been training for the Olympics, and it would successfully resist any effect of gravity or any age-related metabolic slowdown. At the same time, I gradually traded seriously sweaty lung burning cardio for extended walking and eased off regular muscle screaming strength training. But, still in the gym 5–6 times a week, (but at about 80% intensity compared to 5 years ago), I continued to claim athlete woman.
In September of 2016 and July of 2017, I had cycling accidents, resulting in first a broken wrist and then a concussion. I did what I had to do to recover and carried on. What I have only recently acknowledged to myself (and now you) is the toll these events took on my late 50 something athlete woman. It isn’t that I didn’t fully recover, it’s that the recovery masked a slide to mediocrity. It felt so good to be able to ride again and climb again and do yoga again, it was too easy to claim the return to sport alone as a victory.
I could only ignore my fading endurance and visibly softening muscles for so long. A few weeks ago I went to a spin class. It was puke worthy. So I went to circuit class. Brutal. Running on the treadmill instead of walking. Hard! Strength training. Muscles so sore you’d think they’d never encountered a dumb bell before.
Athlete Woman Final Chapter: Decision Time. Athlete Woman for Life or Lily-livered Wimp Woman?
I have to get used to performance for performance sake and not how it looks on me. Historically, motivation was self-perpetuating because when I worked hard, I was motivated by the visible result. Working out meant a strong heart and good cardio endurance but I didn’t think about that as much as having flat, strong abs, muscles in my arms and back, and defined quads. I don’t know all the science around aging and our bodies, but I do know the way my skin covers my muscles looks different now. Let’s just say it’s not as motivating as it used to be.
I still want to look good and be strong. I still would like to find a magic wand and tighten up all the skin. Let’s be honest. But I think to fully embrace my inner and outer athlete woman, there has to be a shift in what motivates me. It probably needs to be some crazy training goal. Half marathon. Marathon. Mastering explosive plyometric moves that I have never been able to do. Return to boxing. Something. Kick it up.
I worked too hard to earn her. Not giving up now. Athlete Woman forever.
First published in Medium via Publishous. https://medium.com/publishous/a-ten-part-journey-to-peace-with-aging-ea7d65cb0ce9
I'm not always so good at being present in the moment in my own life but I'm almost always excellent at paying attention to what's going on around me in the lives of perfect strangers. I love the way people look and talk and interact. Watching and listening make me happy. It's like reading short stories without having to check out the book. Vignettes of lives that are disconnected from mine until I connect them by observation or overhearing. For the record, I do take only observe or listen to what is available in the public space around me; nothing sneaky or creepy!
I've heard great snippets of conversation standing still in a crowd, waiting in line, walking by people, or even riding my bike. Once I rode by a woman sitting on a bench and talking on the phone. I heard her say with great volume and emotion, "c'mon, he's not that bad...this is my dad we're talking about!" I think of it as serendipitous listening as opposed to eavesdropping. I've often thought I could write a book about the best things I've overheard. This is one of my favorites:
I was in Chattanooga standing in heavy rain waiting for my boyfriend to finish the first leg of an Olympic triathlon, a mile swim in the Tennessee river. Beside me were a woman, her sister (I don't remember how I knew, but I clearly remember they were sisters), and her two young daughters. We were all under umbrellas, happy to not be the ones in the river on that particular day. I gathered from hearing the women's conversation they were waiting for the woman's husband to also finish the swim.
"I'll be so relieved when he comes out of the water."
"When I told you earlier that he really doesn't swim, I meant it literally. He really doesn't swim."
"What do you mean? It's a triathlon...there's always a swim. Of course he swims."
"This isn't his first one, right?"
"Well, yeah, but this is his first mile swim and it's his first river swim. He usually fakes his way through with dog paddling and stuff. He hates swimming so he doesn't train for that part."
"Uh, he'll be fine? (several seconds pass) How worried are you?"
"Feel like I'm gonna throw up. I just feel like he should be out by now."
The girls are oblivious to all this, under a separate umbrella, giggling and running around in the mud. Some more time passes.
All of a sudden the woman says, almost yelling and very animated, "Girls, look, girls, look! It's daddy! It's daddy! Daddy didn't drown!" By the somewhat startled look on the older girl's face, it hadn't occurred to her until then that drowning was an option.
I love these glimpses into the lives of others. It's usually enough of a story to imagine the whole of it. The conversations they must've had about this damn event. Him complaining about the swim, her incredulous he wasn't going to train for it. "I hate swimming." "You're a husband and father, you could drown!" "I'll be fine. People hardly ever drown in these things." And on. It was also easy to hear from her words to her sister (really, how do I know the other woman was her sister??) that she was worried but not angry. The snapshot of their relationship one of affection. As he hurried up the hill to transition to the bike, she was jumping up and down to get his attention..."you're alive, you're alive!!!" Sweet.
I'm not positive why I enjoy snatching bits of conversation or watching an interaction so much. There's some thinking that eavesdropping originally emerged as a behavior to discover social norms or learn the location of the best food or the most secure shelter. Makes sense. Though I'm pretty sure that's not why I enjoy it. I think for me it's the story. I like re-telling the story of what I heard or saw. I like seeing the world through someone else's lens. I like hearing stories different from mine and maybe learning something.
Standing beside two women and two little girls for fifteen or twenty minutes that day told me a story of adult sisters who are also friends, of a family who support each other for important events even if in driving rain, of little girls who are growing up happy, of a man who loves a good adventure but doesn't take it too seriously and of a woman who lets him make his own damn mistakes even if it worries her a little.
It was a good story for a rainy day.
Part One: Things that are Horrifying: Mirrors, Wrinkles, Mortality
One of the freakishly horrifying things about aging is realizing the truth of mortality. Freakishly horrifying because most horrifying things are rare. Getting mugged. Being in a plane when it loses an engine. Skydiving for the first time. Bringing your firstborn home from the hospital and starting to realize what you’ve gotten yourself into. Those events, whether unexpected or intentional, don’t happen very often. The fear, sometimes paralyzing, is time limited. Whether there’s a good outcome or a bad outcome, the panic of it comes and goes fairly quickly. Even bringing that baby home, the horrification is short lived (even if it does revisit you periodically over the next many years).
The difference with aging is that it happens every single day. It’s typical. It’s inherent in breathing. It can’t be avoided. It’s desirable when you stop to think about it. It’s a source of daily gratitude to a benevolent god. Hand in hand however, it too often also feels…or looks…like the slowly evolving work of a dark magician. Forces of good fuel the earth’s rotation, keeping the sun and moon on schedule and gravity doing its thing. The dark magician using those same rotations day by day to remind me when I look in the mirror that the passage of time and gravity have a price. Horrifying.
As someone who has almost nothing of true significance to worry about day in and day out, having any level of angst about how well my skin doesn’t fit anymore is wasted energy. My life has been so fortunate damn it and who knows what I did to deserve it? Perhaps I weathered 50 prior lives, the first one as a soulless poison dart frog, and had to slowly earn this life. However it happened, the life I ended up with came complete with parents who told me every day how much they loved me and I could be anything I wanted to be. Throughout this life, opportunity just kept coming.
I’m not saying I haven’t worked hard, overcome obstacles, endured some trauma. I have. But not as much as so many on the planet. My world does not look terrifying, it looks like a big ball of happiness. I would love to say all this happiness keeps my perspective balanced and I only feel gratitude for every passing day. But no. I look in the mirror and fret. Sometimes I even feel horrified.
There is an ongoing conversation about the damage done to girls and women in our culture as we learn to measure too much of our value based on beauty, determining our own value by comparison. Beauty becomes a competition by middle school if not before. I always ranked in the middle. I wasn’t one of the pretty girls but I was one of the smart girls and “cute-ish” girls, so adolescence was survivable. And yet, I still catch myself wondering how I rank among other 50 somethings.
I don’t think it out with this many words in my mind, but the gist of it is this: how does the falling of my face, the long lost visual desirability of my thighs, and the growing crepey-ness (eww…crepey is such a creepy word) of my neck and arms compare? So counterproductive! Pondering my fading cute-ish-ness, besides that it’s crazy, is such a waste of time. These are the words that should be in my mind: I’m healthy and strong. I have happily grown, independent sons. I am financially secure. I travel. I work. I create. I have great friends. And on and on.
It’s not really the reflection in the mirror that is horrifying. It’s the reminder of mortality. Mortality grows ever more real in my consciousness as my reflection grows more “mature”. As the decades pass, there’s been a weird disconnect between the maturity of mind and spirit and the maturity of body. Away from the mirror, it’s so clear my very mature and very evolved mind and spirit are full of ridiculous wisdom and grace because I have mastered about a thousand life lessons and survived at least a million more. Stepping back in front of the mirror invites a different reaction: “Oh shit! Look at me! I have less than half a life left!”
What to do? Building a world wide campaign for the prohibition of reflective surfaces does not seem realistic, nor a good use of my remaining decades of my life. Perhaps responses less rooted in denial would include:
Aging is hard. I think about it, not obsessively, but too often. The plan is to write my way to a better place. So be on the lookout for part two. My hope is that other women will join me and share the horror and the laughs and failures and successes to an eventual place where the wrinkled, but supremely at peace, warrior goddess rules.
This was first published in Publishous on Medium. Find it here and wander around for other great reads at https://medium.com/publishous/a-ten-part-journey-to-peace-with-aging-796a824bda88
My bathroom mirror says, in pink chalk marker, "if you want to be strong and brave, be strong and brave". I'm not someone who sticks inspirational post-its around the house, but I heard a female athlete say this after she'd failed her course attempt on American Ninja Warrior (yes, I love watching American Ninja Warrior). Her response to whatever the interviewer's inane question was struck me: "well, if you want to be strong, be strong!", so I wrote it on the mirror. I added brave because I could benefit from a bit more bravery.
I'm a glass-mostly-full kind of person and I love big ideas but I can get stuck in making the leap from big idea to big life. As much as I would love not to admit it, there's a fear factor. I have a longstanding list of big ideas that I haven't pursued. The reasons usually sound like I'm too tired and I'm too busy and I'm too old and I'm happy enough already. Um, really? Unless it's something that has to be planned for financially, like travel around the world for 3 months or truly isn't possible, like be queen of the world...let's be honest...the reason for not trying is some kind of fear. Fear of failure. Fear of looking stupid. Fear of too much work.
Although I don't make resolutions, the New Year seems as good a time as any to decide to be strong and brave. Time to do some scary things and discover whether the worst thing happens...or not. Because, I remind myself, the worst thing won't happen. The less than optimal might happen. So what? Learn. Grow. Be strong. Be brave.
On my list...
What will you do? What are your big ideas, even if scary? What will you write on your mirror? (These aren't just questions to wrap up this blog story; I'd truly like to hear...)
*Not to do advertising for Nike, but I downloaded the Nike Run Club app yesterday for a 1/2 marathon training plan. Very easy, lots of features...I think I'm going to like it.
Every spring I plant one jalapeno plant and every summer and fall I'm faced with the culinary challenge of what to do with the dozen after dozen after dozen small, green and hot peppers this plant produces. I don't know why my local Home Depot consistently stocks hot-dammit-hot jalapeno plants or if maybe it has something to do with my soil? Could that possibly make sense? I don't know. Whatever the reason, my jalapeno plant (and poblano plant for that matter) produces copious numbers of hot! peppers.
Jalapenos go on pizza, with anything Mexican, and can be stuffed. These are the obvious. I also roast them in the oven or on the stove top in a grill pan and put them in soup and in the freezer. In large quantities. Even over the course of a winter, there are only so many jalapenos a person can use! I dehydrated some for good measure, although, seriously, I'm not sure what to do with them now. I made a chili paste of sorts but was only about 70% satisfied with it.
Even though it's a little late for the jalapeno harvest in most of the country, this entire jalapeno conversation came up the other day when a friend of mine continued to rave about how the relish I'd given him has become his favorite of all time. Jalapeno, cabbage, and onion relish had been the answer to my final jalapeno harvest. I perused some relish recipes and adapted for ingredients already in my kitchen. In my humble opinion, this recipe turned out to be an epic win. Collateral benefit is it took less than an hour from start through clean up.
The only potentially tricky step in this process is the canning, if you aren't familiar with the process. Because there is so much vinegar in the relish, the process is a little easier than canning something without vinegar. You'll need a half dozen or so small canning jars. Grab a big stock pot. Fill it about 2/3 with water. Boil the water. Put the jars and lids in to boil for at least several minutes. You won't have to put the filled cans back in the water bath though if you keep them sterile throughout.
Step by step instructions for the relish:
Like pesto, relish is very adaptable. I used half a head of red cabbage because I had half a head of red cabbage. Green would've been fine. Though not as pretty. Unless you used red onion. Which would've also been fine. Carrots? I think yes. Maybe even parsnips. I would say no to beets, but that's because I detest them. You might want to give them a go. Not a fan of hot relish? Use banana peppers. I'm not a fan of bell peppers in relish...but you wouldn't be making relish for me, so maybe you'll try bells and it'll be amazing. The vinegar can be played around with too. The recipes I looked at mostly called for white vinegar. I didn't have enough regular white so did half and half with rice vinegar. As always, you get the idea.
My favorite two ways to eat it are with white beans or on vegetarian hotdogs/sausage. If you aren't vegetarian, it works especially well with things like pork chops, hotdogs, sausages, and bologna.
Making pesto is one of my life long strategies for helping make the world a better place. Wielding only a blender, I declare "I am not a food waster! I am a happiness maker!" Making pesto is a small but purposeful step toward hugging the planet, myself, my friends and family.
Pesto is a serious topic for two reasons. First, I love pesto. It's on my list of essential foods. It shares that space with avocados, grapefruit, 15 grain bread with extra seeds, pizza from 5 Points Pizza in Nashville, curried anything, nuts and deep dark chocolate. I put it in pasta, spread it on toast, layer it with mozzarella and tomato slices on crostini, scoop it with crackers, and use it as a condiment for any sandwich.
Second, I hate wasting food. Not wasting greens sometimes is a challenge. Greens simply don't last very long and they aren't a suitable candidate for freezing, canning, or drying. I think I would feel really lofty and healthy if I could say greens never go to waste at my house because I always eat salad...but I don't. I mean, I do eat salad and its ok, but I don't love salad. Definitely not as much as pesto.
Traditional pesto is basil, Parmesan cheese, olive oil, pine nuts, garlic and salt. For years I thought of pesto as a summer thing, when fresh basil is plentiful. Even in Tennessee where we have a long growing season, basil is such a tender plant, it doesn't survive past the first cold night. Adding insult to injury, I've had to make successive plantings the last couple of years because I have some basil plant mildew killing thing going on.
In this pesto story, tradition is not required. Perhaps not even desired. I would never diminish the importance of food tradition when it comes to using pineapple in pineapple upside down cake or tomatoes in marinara, but for pesto, basil is not required. Pine nuts are not required. If you're vegan or dairy free, Parmesan cheese is not required. Nutritional yeast can sub in. I would say garlic is required, but you can use fresh or jarred; don't let anybody say you can't. I wouldn't necessarily recommend a substitution for olive oil or salt, but go ahead, play around.
Pesto glory. Here's how I make it.
In the blender, add:
Remember: Peace. Love. Pesto.
*I'm phasing out my use of almonds. Almonds are delightful and it's not their fault it takes so much water to make them, but it takes titanic quantities of water that California doesn't really have to spare right now. Sadly.
Monday is my usual yoga night but I couldn't go this past Monday. Wednesday is my alternate yoga night, but this week I was travelling for Thanksgiving. Now back home, Saturday morning yoga seemed like a good idea. And, if you strip away my bad behavior...which I'll get to in a minute...it was a good idea. Yoga is good for you in so many ways.
Here's how yoga is good for you...
1. No matter what anyone tells you about some minimum number of times you should practice every week, practicing yoga for even one hour each week will help your body be a better body. Yoga is the best thing I do for overall flexibility and balance even going to class only once most weeks. I will never bend like Gumby but it is just short of miraculous how practically graceful and not clumsy I've become...way more so than ten years ago. The classes I take are vinyasa flow--one movement flows into the next--so the body is continuously working. In addition to flexibility and balance, I'm building arm, back and core strength.
2. Yoga takes your mind to a calmer place. I think most exercise takes the mind to a better place but yoga is deliberate about it. Most teachers will remind you near the beginning of class to set an intention for your practice. Something you want or need to let go of, like that big messy day you've had so far. Keeping someone you care about in mind, like your kids...just because you love them so much. Or something you want to be mindful of, like a shout out to the universe to help you be less judgmental, please. The teacher will also remind you to follow your breath, to move and breathe at the same time. Remembering the intention and coordinating movements with breathing focuses and calms the mind. Even when I start class ridiculously distracted, I am in a better mind space by the end.
3. A yoga class is a safe place to see what you can do for yourself. People come to yoga with a quiet mindset. It's an individual practice even if there are twenty others in class. It's you and your mat. It's your time to see what your body can do. I've had more than one teacher say, "remember, yoga is not a competitive activity". I confess that when I'm working on a balancing pose or trying to get one step closer to full pigeon, I will sometimes glance around to see if I'm the only one who can't bend or lift or balance a particular way. Of course I'm never the only one still working on whatever it is and then I remember...yoga is not a competition, yoga is not a competition...
Yoga is not enhanced by a judgmental attitude...
There is a sequence of moves, a flow, that is used in yoga class. I've taken classes from probably twenty teachers in the course of the past ten years who have each talked the class through this sequence using generally the same words. "Sweep your arms up straight over your head, take a slight backbend if you want to, drop/sweep your hands to the floor, bending at the waist for forward fold, half lift/flat back, forward fold, walk or jump your feet back to plank..." and it continues.
The teacher today kept saying "standing forward bend" instead of "forward fold". It was awkward in the spoken sequence of words and at first I had no idea what she was talking about, so the whole flow for me did not flow. I figured it out after a couple of rounds, but too late. I was annoyed. This is a sequence that gets repeated many times in the course of an hour, and every time I heard "standing forward bend", I got more annoyed. Twenty minutes into class I decided I didn't like her.
It's a little over the top to decide you don't like someone because they say "standing forward bend" instead of "forward fold" (no matter how obvious it is that the latter phrase is better and easier and is the phrase that should be used). I had to start talking to myself. I told myself if she was my daughter, I would certainly defend her right to say "standing forward bend". I told myself I really can't not like someone for changing a phrase. I told myself it was not very good yogi behavior to create such stupid judgment and hold on to it for the whole class and then to think about writing a blog post about it. Yet, here it is.
The way I will honor today's class is to take myself back next Saturday. I will set an intention to not embrace judgment, breathe in kindness and breathe out whatever isn't. I'll be a better yogi.
Are you a yogi with a story to tell? Why do you practice? What have you learned?
A few years ago, our marketing manager had me writing "Morning Minutes" to connect with people who support our mission as a nonprofit organization. The idea was to send a brief email to our donor list, about once a month, to put a face on what we do and why we do it. This one ended up having a lasting impact on me.
Your best self...
After five decades of life (and then some), I still ask myself if I’m living day to day as my best self. An unabashedly honest answer would have to be probably not each and every day, but hopefully most days I’m at least thinking about it. I think it’s defined differently day to day, but for me, my best self includes being kind (harder than it sounds), finding creative purpose (so important for my personal overall happiness), listening without interrupting (sigh), giving back (getting outside of myself in big or little ways) and pushing my body to some new ability (if I can ride my bike faster, then my mind feels stronger too). I have to remind myself sometimes that being able to pursue my best self is a gift. I have skills and abilities that allow me to do almost every single thing I want to do…or at least try!
I also have to remind myself sometimes that people with disabilities or people who have experienced diminished skills and abilities due to aging aren’t always able to be their best self all by themselves. It’s the highest expression of our mission to help people be more than happy, healthy and safe; it is helping each person to be their best self. We may not achieve that every day, but when we see someone has the joy of a first paycheck, has learned to ride a bike, is going to the beach for the first time, and is growing in confidence and independence, we know we’re on the right track.
What will you do today to be your best self? Can you write down what "best self" means to you? What will you do today to help someone you care about be her or his best self? Can you write down what "best self" means to them? What might the world look like if we all expressed our best selves…and worked to support the best selves of those who can’t quite do it on their own?
Your mantra is the words of your best self
I thought long and hard about the first paragraph before and after I wrote it. My best self. What does my best self look like? What is important to me? Who do I want to be even when I'm not? What do I want people experience when they're around me, getting to know me? What words capture my identity?
The five characteristics I initially identified haven't changed, but I did reduce them to seven words.
These words became a mantra--my mantra--as I clarified and reduced them to the most essential expression. A mantra needs to:
Be simple enough to remember. These words remind me who I want to be in all the minutes of my life. They serve as an ongoing meditation.
Be enough to capture what is most important. There's no magic to having seven words. It could be 10 words or 4 words. These words cover a lot of ground. None of them can be removed without leaving a hole but no other words need to be added to make the mantra complete.
Be forever words. I hope to get one fairly sizable tattoo this year. I'm thinking about incorporating these words somehow. Even if I don't, these words are tattoo worthy.
Write your mantra.
Here's how you do it:
1. Brainstorm. What do you have to do to be truly you? Who do you want to be even in the moments you aren't? How do you want to be remembered? What are the words you want people to use to describe you? Brainstorm these words and phrases. Write them down. Make certain you've captured the most important things.
2. Edit. Cross out any word that is too specific or feels like it belongs on your bucket list. For example, if you've written as part of your brainstormed list 'complete 3 marathons every year', 'run', 'compete', 'be a good leader', 'problem solver', 'mentor' on your list, you can cross out 'complete 3 marathons' and probably 'problem solver'. Plan to put the marathons on your goal list for the year every January and consider that 'problem solver' might be an aspect of leading.
3. Group. Put the remaining list into logical groupings. Using the above example, run and compete would go together. Mentor and good leader probably go together. Edit and group the words until you have somewhere between 4 and 10 groupings of words or phrases (but 10 is a lot!).
4. Determine the forever words. You're looking for one or two words to represent each group. The final words should also be active words. For mentor and good leader, the word might be "lead". For run and compete, the word could be "compete" if competing is what drives you or it could be "sweat" if like me, it's about exertion and performance or it could be "run" if you can't imagine a time when you won't.
5. These aren't hard and fast rules. After all, it's your mantra. If you want to use a word that doesn't fit the guidelines, use it! You may decide to use "friend" because being a good friend is the very most important thing to you. It isn't an active word, but there may not be another word that's exactly right. The word "friend" does convey who you want to be and will provide that reminder or focus when you say your mantra to yourself. And even though I do think the words should be tattoo-worthy, there's no law that says a mantra can't change. I've considered many times adding "be present" to my mantra. I haven't because it's more a challenge from myself to myself where my other words have to do with how I interact with the world. At least that's how I see it. You may see it differently.
Use your mantra as a meditation or a prayer, as a guide back to your best self.
I put over 17,000 steps on my garmin.
I missed a call from my mom. We're making plans to go to my nephew's wedding in February.
A huge fat squirrel had me laughing out loud watching him barrel across my back yard, stopping only to consider swiping some of my kale. He/She ultimately declined.
The Titans beat the Ravens.
My cat Zeke, for the first time that I'm aware of, demonstrated alpha cat behavior, not yielding the top step of the back deck to the neighbor's pushy Siamese cat, Ming.
I finished a pair of earrings and spent some time writing.
My friend Carrie started pulling together the pre-Thanksgiving potluck for our boxing gym crew. Thank you Carrie.
It was 80 degrees in Nashville.
26 people lost their lives because they went to church today in a "one blinking-light" town in Texas.
I'm almost used to it; startled but not shocked. It drags on my heart but I didn't burst into tears like I used to. It feels inevitable. It feels expected. Killing random strangers is the new response to hopelessness or rage. When I saw this was at the hands of an American, I also knew it would be tweeted about but ultimately ignored. We won't talk about guns. We won't talk about mental health care. We won't talk about poverty or hunger or the disenfranchised. We won't invest in public education or health care for all or criminal justice reform. We won't.
I honestly do not know what to do.
Still, I am hopeful.
Millions of people will go to work and do good.
Babies will be born.
Someone will dance their first tango.
There will be lots of birthdays and birthday parties.
My sons will be remarkable.
Runners will continue to bask in the glow of finishing the New York marathon.
People will choose love over hate.
We will persist.
My computer desk sits in a back room at a long bank of windows facing my back yard. It's where I come to write this blog. It might, to an observer, look like I'm doing nothing more than staring out the window; my laptop being to be open and on only coincidental. Or, I'm writing something with such monumental impact that every word is a psychic battle. Nope, it's this blog. I sit here and I think for a while, often a long while, about the words, the purpose, the story...what do I want to say? Sometimes there is a story clear in my head, something I've been thinking about. I can write a beginning, a middle and an end. Sometimes it's not as clear but I really, really, really want to write. That's when the staring commences.
It would be fine to write random thoughts or a to do list or a detailed description of what my back yard looks like on this particular day if I didn't intend to publish it. After all, if my hope is to have readers, I need to write something more coherent than my random thoughts, more organized than my chore list, and more complete than a description of how the neighbor's evil Siamese cat not only just peed in a garden box with tiny spinach seedlings, but proceeded to scratch clear a fifteen inch circle around said pee spot, which now will need re-seeding. There's really only so much I can say about that. Still, this is a day I want to write, but the what-to-write is less obvious.
"One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple." Jack Kerouac
I wonder where it comes from, this desire to write? I usually credit my newspaper photographer father and teacher mother for providing a love for words. There was frequent conversation in my house about words...how to use them, how to spell them, how to speak them. Growing up I thought of writing mostly as something I did primarily for school and sometimes for "dear diary". When I thought about words, I thought about them mostly in the context of how to speak them well. I won't suggest that speaking well comes before writing well for everyone, but I will say that was the progression for me. In graduate school a professor told me he was shocked by the mediocrity of my first paper because I spoke so much better. Ouch! The obvious lesson was to read a paper out loud and edit, edit, edit before turning it in. It worked. Fast forward to now, being reasonably competent at speaking and writing, I'd rather write.
There are so many ways to write...actual physical ways and styles of writing...
Writing on paper with a pen. This is my favorite actual physical way to write. But honestly, is it really the writing or just the way to justify indulging my adoration of pens and papers? I have collected an embarrassing number of marker sets and kinds of papers. It's not a stretch to say that simply knowing all those pens and papers exist in my house makes me smile. I like medium tip bic pens and roller ball pens and fine and medium tip markers and soft lead pencils. I like smooth paper, textured paper, heavy paper, handmade paper, lined paper, and unlined paper. Bound. Or not. So I wonder if pen and paper writing is about the writing or about the pen and paper. And then I wonder if it matters.
Journal writing is a particular style of writing I practice nearly every morning. The rare morning that I don't write, I make up for the next day. The journal appeals to the diarist in me. I document events of the day before, random reflections I had about things that happened and log what I did at the gym.
Professional writing. The writing I do at work is far less creative and often less interesting than any other way I use the written word. It's not technical writing exactly. My work is with people, not things or technology and so writing is usually policy related, program operations related, management or problem solving related. Occasionally idea related which is more fun. This past week I got to write short speeches for myself. One for an breakfast event and one for Senate committee testimony. Yikes.
Blog writing. Even though day after day can get away from me without having or taking time to ponder my back yard from the window while I think about words, this is my favorite writing. It's much more personal than a piece of professional writing or a chore list...both of which I find differently satisfying. It's more challenging than a speech because the audience is broad (hopefully) and the ideas, the choice of content is mine alone. I'm still not certain where the desire to write has come from or why it's grown over time. Perhaps I have more to say as life grows longer that is relevant or funny or curious enough to share. Perhaps it's because I've realized the human experience gives each of us so many stories; every one of us has at least one or two that should be told every day. I wonder how many times we could learn something useful or fascinating, laugh or cry, or be simply amazed, if we wrote our stories and left them somewhere we could all read them?
Hi, I'm Donna. Long time artisan/creative. Full time work in nonprofit world. Mother of two adult sons. Currently, also mother of two cats.
The patience project. Because patience is a virtue. And a creative challenge.
Don't mess with imperfection. How copper and heat speak for themselves.
Politics and Art wage war inside me
Write 100 words, take a nap and share your mantra
Tile and wood floor...this year's winter project...kitchen renovation