dare to be different

Puzzles

“Raise your hand if you’re a puzzle person,” I said, shaking a jigsaw puzzle box.

It’s a request I made at the beginning of a staff training I did a couple of years ago.  Maybe a third of the hands in the room shot up.  Everyone else either shook their heads “no way” or shrugged.

How do you become a puzzle person, I asked?  Those who shot their hands up said things like, we did them as a family growing up.  My friends and family told me I was good at them. Puzzles take time, sometimes collaboration, and persistence to achieve a goal.

For puzzle people, puzzles are associated with good feelings and success.  Those feel-good experiences can contribute to what we we are good at and who we are, or rather, who we think we are.  Most of the non-puzzle people simply didn’t grow up doing them or got frustrated a few times and decided (or were told) they weren’t good at them to begin with.

So it goes with many things.  From a young age, the things we spend time on and feel successful at (whether we learn that from experiences or what we are told) shape who we think we are and what we say we are good at.

As for me, I was told I was smart, good at school, and naturally skilled at test taking. These didn’t require too much effort from me.  I breezed through my early years and took in the accolades.

But, I wasn’t really a puzzle person.  I focused on the things that came easily for me, and whatever didn’t come easily I learned to avoid.  Unlike many puzzle people, who learn to try, try again, and even set things aside when they get frustrated or stuck and return to the puzzle later, I had little persistence or resilience in the face of adversity.

Well, as of this moment (at my not-so-young age) I am raising my hand and declaring myself a puzzle person.

I am embracing the problems I face as puzzles to be figured out instead.

I don’t have to have it all solved immediately.  It doesn’t even have to come easily.  As I make myself vulnerable more often and take on bigger, more complicated tasks, I know I have to remind my mind not to get frustrated or shut down.  I may have to be coached (which means – eek! – being coachable, which I am decidedly NOT when I am feeling overwhelmed, afraid, or out of my depth). Like riding a bicycle, then trying to do a trick or two, I may flop.  The world will not end and I can try again.

I’m shaking life’s box of problems as puzzles, dumping out the pieces, searching for the corners and the edges.  I don’t really have a full picture of what it will look like in the end for reference, but that’s all part of the process.  It will be beautiful, whatever it becomes.

 

 

 

perspective

Max Mentality

 

I was looking for benchmarks and it seemed a simple enough test.

Do the maximum reps of pullups (or scale) that you can.

Then,

do the maximum reps of pushups (or scale) that you can.

Rest 2 minutes.  Repeat 3 additional times.

I read tips.  How to scale so you get a decent benchmark (choose a scale that lets you get at least 15 reps fresh, etc.)  So set up and pressed start.

It didn’t take long for me to stop. Yeah, I can’t do a ton of these exercises. But what I noticed is that I stopped before I was really “maxed out.”  I could have done one more, maybe two, even three, who knows?

And I didn’t just stop early the first time. I did it every. single. time. Left some in the tank, so to speak.

Why?  I thought to myself. Why stop short? Why not push to failure, really find where my max is? What do I fear?

When I thought about it, I realized that I take this approach all the time in fitness. I tend to run along at 70-80% when I should be maxing out.  In a workout with 5 rounds it is not unusual for me to have my last round be my best round. I don’t usually have the fall-on-the-floor-exhausted at the end, either. That’s fine sometimes. But I can’t kick it into high gear when that is necessary. My legs don’t have sprint in them.  Or, rather, I never test them to see if they do.

I believe I do this in most areas of life where I put forth effort. I’m always hesitant to really see how far I can go.  To see where my abilities can take me, and, maybe more importantly, where they can’t.  What is it about pushing myself to my limit that is something I struggle with?  What do I fear about learning where my edge is, and reaching for it?  Knowing where that is helps me make progress.  Helps move the carrot or the needle or the yardstick.

I even do this with my heart and my enthusiasm.  Even if I am crazy excited about something, if I am asked how excited about it I am, I’ll usually say an 7 or 8 out of 10.  What am I holding back for?

Something to think about as the summer begins and priorities shift.  What does it mean to max out as a writer?  A friend?  A parent?  How often am I cruising with that less-than-best-effort when I should be doing more, crushing it?

How about you? What’s your challenge for giving max effort in life, or maybe what’s your secret?

 

 

 

adventure

Spring’s Simple Pleasures

Is it just me, or is this the longest spring season in recorded history?

And no, this isn’t really a post about how difficult it has been to be cooped up indoors a lot, separated from friends, missing out on events, and so on.  (If you’re looking for that, try these posts.)

I don’t remember spring ever lasting this long because it is usually lacrosse season, celebration season, end of work season, and so on.  We are often driving and juggling and cheering and volunteering and working nonstop.  And I love and miss a lot of that.  But this season has allowed me to notice and enjoy spring in new ways. I have always loved fall above all else, but I’m now seeing that spring has its charms.

Couple that with my commitment to be more intentional about spending money and I am finding myself relishing small, simple pleasures.

I’ve mentioned the morning reading that has replaced my sometimes frantic commute.  Quiet, candle, coffee and a book starts my day most of the time.  You’d think a librarian would read a lot, but I honestly don’t make the time for it that I should.  Right now I am going into my physical building to work for a few weeks, so reading time is short but I try not to miss it.

Bike rides.  What would I do without my bike?  I’m sort of obsessed with it.  I keep it on my car pretty much all the time and biking on the back seat inside just in case the opportunity to ride presents itself.  Cruising new paths in the sunshine with my riding partner is happiness and adventure when going very far from home isn’t happening.  It feels like a mini-vacation and is one of the few times I feel truly care-free.

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I am a farmer’s market fanatic.  The pandemic has caused many local farmers to revamp their business models.  I’ve been able to order flowers and farm boxes and pick them up safely.  I actually love that I can order what I like and have it held for me.  It’s frustrating to drive all the way to the market only to find they already sold out of my favorite sungold tomatoes or, later, September Wonder apples.

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Which reminds me, it is almost tomato season here where we live.  I look forward to these summer veggies all year.  Right now we are in the heart of strawberry season. I found an hour the other day to drive out to a strawberry farm and pick a couple of buckets.  If you have never had strawberries straight from the vine (or tomatoes for that matter) you are missing out.  It’s a totally different taste than supermarket berries.  And the experience of picking them myself in the hot sun was sweet and reflective. Fresh strawberries are one of the sweeter things in life. It’s been great to share them with people who appreciate them.

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What simple pleasures have you rediscovered in these hard times? Walks?  Game nights? Family dinners?  Tell us in the comments.

 

perspective

Stripping the Fun Stuff Away

The return to “normal” has begun.  Gyms, restaurants, hair salons, sports leagues, bowling alleys, summer camps and a host of other businesses have gotten the green light to open their doors. Yay! (right?)

Of course, nothing is really normal and the “new normal” has already lost it’s luster (if it ever had any). Opening business doors often comes along with an eye-popping list of new restrictions.

Both the chicks have recently given their views on restaurant dining.

Like restaurants, for many businesses, industries, and institutions, it’s still a strange time. We are all figuring it out on the fly, customers included.  I’ve noticed that in some cases, we are stuck trying to do the hard parts but the fun parts are what we miss now.  Here are a few examples:

Gyms are starting to reopen.  But, I never really stopped working out.  I’m still exercising in my basement or on the pavement most mornings due to financial and work constraints. Some lifting, some cardio, some basic bodyweight movement, Heroes on Mondays. I get my exercise in one way or another.

Is it the same?  Yes and no.  Yes, I get my movement in.  But some of the most enjoyable parts of the gym experience are gone.  I don’t see friends and like-minded people.  I don’t get coaching.  I don’t get to use all the great equipment. I don’t get the occasional coffee and breakfast after with friends. Sure, I don’t miss certain things about the gym, but some of the parts that made it fun and special (and the hard parts less hard) can’t be replicated in my home.

My work is a similar situation.  I am a librarian that teaches in an elementary school.  We left school for a long weekend in mid-March, not knowing that students and most teachers wouldn’t return this year.  Instead, we’ve been teaching and learning online for almost 9 weeks.

Are we getting the job done?  Yes and no.  Yes, there are lessons and many teachers working extremely hard to connect with students and families.  Yes, there is learning happening.  But, some of the parts that make school fun and meaningful are stripped away.  Field day. End-of-year culminations of work and celebrations.  Social time at lunch and recess on the playground. Working shoulder-to-shoulder to finish a puzzle or create something together. For me, it’s just walking through the library with a student and helping them find a great book.

Or reading a funny or suspenseful picture book to a live Kindergarten audience, laughing and responding together in that moment. Nothing replaces those. And those are some of the things that make school worth going to for many kids (not to mention food, etc.)  Instead, online school often seems like a lot more of the work and a lot less of the fun stuff that makes school special. (And yes, this is about the teachers, too.  I miss the energy of my students! Computer screens, while helpful, don’t cut it for connection!)

On the flip side, there are also students and families who aren’t built for distance learning.  Some have limited or no access to technology. Some need the structure and surroundings and encouragement of others working.  Some need the social benefits.  Some need the food and care that come along with being at school.  Some parents are working from home while also trying to manage multiple children learning online.  It is all extremely stressful.  School isn’t working for many, and it is definitely not the same even for those getting by.

Then, there are the fun things that are just not happening anymore at all.  Most notably for me are travel plans for myself and my family, and races I was training for.  Pleasure travel by anything other than car seems risky (and if you take a road trip, where do you stay overnight?)

I was sad that the triathlon I was training for got canceled.  They can’t guarantee safety and I am sure liability is also a big part of that decision.  Would I have wanted to participate in some sort of sanitized race?  I had mixed feelings about the virtual 10K I ran recently. Although it wasn’t terrible since I was able to do it with friends, I missed the trip to Nashville, the mass of runners, all the spectators and the thrill of race day. It just wasn’t the same. I may still do a virtual version of the triathlon at some point since I am already training.  But, some things just can’t be replaced.  You can’t take away some of the most fun and challenging parts and expect a similar experience. Again, some of the most fun stuff of life is stripped away.  And it is hard not to be bogged down in the frustration and sadness of it all.

You can’t recreate the Mona Lisa with a Magic Marker. It just isn’t the same.  And will it ever be the same?  What do I expect? I don’t know. I know many people are trying their best.  I know many people disagree about how all of this is being carried out.  Frankly, between dealing with that personal and political drama and the abundance of the day-to-day changes, I am exhausted at times. The fun stuff buoys me along and there is so much less of that.  Nonetheless, I want to try to find the celebration in the irritation.  Today, I realized I would have never bought my road bike if I hadn’t set the triathlon as a goal.  My bike has been a huge part of my sanity through the stay-at-home orders. So there is a bit of sunshine.

It’s hard not to wonder when things will get back to some kind of regularity.  What will things look like on the other end? When can we plan a race, some pleasure travel?  When will I be able to read to kids again?  When is the finish line of this mess?  I can budget my energy if I have a finish line in sight.  But now we are in the long middle miles when it’s hard to stay energized and forward moving.

I think it’s ok to pout as long as you don’t wallow in it.  Acknowledge the loss then move on.  It might be easier if we knew the story had a happy ending.  I can deal with suspense as long as it gets resolved.  I have to believe that day will come.  Maybe not quite happily ever after, and maybe this is a heck of a long chapter, but it will be resolved.

 

 

 

 

 

fitness and nutrition, friendship

Virtual Fun

Well this weekend I should have been in Nashville, TN running the Wonder Woman 10k race with some of my gal pals.

Unfortunately, pandemic distancing rules made that trip a no go. Instead I got my shirt, medal, wrist bands and instructions by mail. For the record I loved the shirt but had to give it away because it was meant for a tiny 12 year old who hadn’t developed their bust yet or maybe the manufacturer assumed thick girls don’t run?!?!

The task was to complete a virtual 10k. Seems simple enough as I have done many but then you have to decide where to run, when to run and and and. We opted for the same date, Sunday, May 3rd. Then we opted for an area that we knew was a set distance to and from. The plan was in motion. The gal pals were on target.

Additional friends heard what we were doing locally and jumped in on the fun. Oh but the day came and I forgot many things. Planning my food intake before. Going to bed early. Gel packs for the race. Best shorts to avoid chaffing. And best of all no water on the trail and I didn’t pack any. Guess I was too excited for the coffee reward after.

Another pandemic glitch was no bathrooms to potty at. Even though Starbucks serves coffee it’s only drive through so no potty breaks along the way was tough. My stretching before was lacking as well but I made the attempt. The little details matter and I guess that’s why you pay a race fee for all the extras.

Another missed sidebar was the noise. No crowds cheering to push you. No people in front of you to follow. No funny signs to read. Completing a virtual 10k was harder than I expected. I didn’t get my best time but I wasn’t planning for a best time. I was just aiming to complete what I had set out to accomplish. 6.2 miles in heat, no water, no bathroom and old playlist playing in my ears. Just me and the pavement. A lot of boring and a lot of reasons to give up.

I finished the task. I might have even dodged a few golf carts on this trek which is not something I would not normally see in a race. My first virtual race is full of memories and mental milestones. I will cherish the time and reflect on what I accomplished while many pass judgment on my actions of exercising outdoors.

I also completed the event with about 8 people I knew who jumped in on the adventure. We kept our distance which was easy since we are all varied paces. We celebrated seeing each other in person. We even got bullied at the end by an elderly man wondering where our masks were. Oh the irony as this senior was supposed to be quarantined by his age alone. I guess this confirms my note above about people passing judgement. It happens every day. Nobody is immune to judgment. My first virtual run is one and done. Proud of myself and my Sunday Funday runners.

The next day is here and I am not sore which is good. I’m on to my next adventure which is slated for a triathlon in July thanks to my annual summer 10k race being postponed until November. Still not sure if the triathlon will take place but I’m staying optimistic and I’m training as if it’s on the calendar.

Look out world. I’m running, biking or swimming your way.