The end is…

My favorite writing teacher of all time used to say “The beginning is important and the end is important, but the end is more important than the beginning.”

But guys… I am really terrible at endings.

Let’s talk about for a minute about the beautiful 10 mile race I ran last weekend.  It started out winding alongside the Merrimack River, 60 degrees, no bugs, feeling strong.  I loved those first 3 miles… and then came these terrifying, muddy, slippery hills where no joke, the leaders of the race passed me at mile 3.5 (because it was an out and back type of race.)

That’s okay, I can handle being slow – I’m used to it.

At mile 5, the manned water break at some DPW kinda outbuilding, an hour had passed and I was feeling… okay, but sort of not that great. A tiny voice in my head was saying “Just get a ride back now with the empty water jugs.”  But I quashed it and started jogging beside this great lady with a killer sense of humor, and we covered a couple of those terrible hills from mile 5 to 6.  At this point, I was struggling hard, so I fell back.

At mile 8, if there had been any way to magically transport myself to the finish line, I would have taken it.  I probably would have paid money to get there (and I’m pretty stingy with my cash).  I was calling down curses on the day I signed up for this race and every freezing day in March that had prevented me from training outdoors. (I’m kind of a wuss about freezing weather and running outdoors).  Unfortunately, I had to walk run stumble my way to the end. And then cram dry cookies in my mouth.  While popping my blood blisters.

Gross, Beth. Just gross.

Why that disgusting story?

Well, I’m coming really close to the end of grad school, really close, but not close enough. There are 5 more weeks of classes left and a few papers, and then that’s… not quite it. There’s this tiny lil’ 300 hour internship I need to find and complete.

In general, in my quiet moments, I sit down and think, why did I sign up to do this again? The more I studied this field, the more I liked it (different than the first go-round of higher ed).   However, I picked one of those degrees that doesn’t guarantee you a job and a title at the end.  If you study education, people know you’re going to be a Teacher.  But if you study Industrial Organizational Psychology, you don’t get to call yourself a Psychologist at the end of the MS. Unfortunately.

I feel like I’m at mile 8.  The end isn’t quite here yet, and even if I had the internship all sorted out, there’s the matter of all the things I’m interested in knowing more about, and finding ways to incorporate them into life.

And getting a job.  There’s that too.

If there was a way to magically transport my way to the end, where I can see the finish line (ie: the next steps in a career) I’d take it.  I’d even pay some money for it.  But as far as I can tell, I’ve got to stay on the course before me, and run the last couple miles, and trust that will get me there.

Getting through the last couple miles is hard.

Checking In with New Years Resolutions

Here is what I’ve accomplished nine months after I first made my Resolutions –
This is a smooshed-up review of August and September

1.    Lose 15 Pounds – Success! I have a few races (4 Miles in October, a Turkey Trot in November) planned for the rest of the year and a hope to maintain the success I’ve had through the now impending Holidays.  I might possibly achieve my pre-pregnancy weight (a 6 pound loss still) by the end of the year.  However – I feel satisfied with what I’ve completed so far and look forward to increasing the amount of weight i can lift and decreasing my mile time. (both goals for next year I think…)

2.    Be a good friend – With the solidification of my new organizational method (I mentioned it briefly in this post) I’ve been able to gain more of a sense of accomplishment with this goal.  Now I’m able to look to at least 7 or 8 concrete, measurable steps I take toward meeting it each week.  This was a good instance where re-framing the issue came in handy.  I also wrote this post determining what I thought being a good friend was in adulthood anyway.

I only somewhat think this is true…

3.    Read 10 Important Books – I read 2 important books for my career, one each in August and September.  Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman, and The Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge.  At this point I’ve lowered the bar quite a number of times on this goal, so much so that I’m not sure it’s as meaningful as I intended in January.  I’ve got three more books I’m planning to try to read for the rest of the year, but I will have to think more carefully about making a similar goal next year.  I want to strive to avoid tunnel vision academically but also don’t always find the impetus to read difficult primary documents in my free moments.

Not an “important book” but certainly an enjoyable book!

  4.    Family First – Again, the organizational method to the rescue.  Its easy to see what steps to take to put my family first and to see that I’m celebrating them as integral and necessary to my own development and happiness.  Also, our family vacation in August was simply amazing!

Family Vacation at Cape Cod

   5.    Practice Better Blogging – Stuck to my schedule here, made a “Posts for the Rest of the Year” spreadsheet in order to copy Relishments (haha… but really, yes.) and working on the “better title” thing for Connect Shore.

6.    Be An Active part of my Communities – Over the course of this year I’ve been surprised how much this goal snowballed.  By that I mean, the more I reached out, the more I was drawn in.  The more time I spent searching for facebook events to join, groups I could increase my participation in, and saying “Yes!” the happier I felt.  Sometimes as a stay at home mom I question whether I’m an extrovert, but then I remember the charge I get from volunteering, conversing, and being a part of groups.  I am a very active part of my communities – and will enjoy even further participation in the future.  Most notable in September – I signed up (finally!) to volunteer with Green Salem and really did make it to an Art Throb launch!  I also was able to propose leading a book club at my church.

7.    Improve my Sustainable Living – Farmer Dave’s farm share is winding down, but we’ve found a winter share through the end of the year. I’ve been trying to get more careful about writing down what I want several weeks before I need it to give myself time to look for used items without pressure, which has somewhat been working.  I’ve been improving my theoretical understanding lately of sustainable development by working slowly through this primer (its a pdf) by Robert Kates.  As I read along I’m careful to search for other sources of material.  I’m hoping that this study will translate into career opportunities in the future – but it’s very open ended right now.  Also, I signed up to hear Bill McKibben (and others) speak in November in Boston – I’m excited!

http://www.350.org/

8.    Grow Spiritually.  It’s totally subjective of course, but over the course of the year I’ve been trying to be more grateful and to mutter under my breath “people succeed in groups” whenever I feel a twinge of jealousy over others opportunities.  Yet, coupled with prayer, I think I have found myself more content, joyful, and satisfied with my life. (Even though I’m still not famous, like a riffed on as my number 2 lie I’ve believed in this post at Connect Shore)

Beginning the process of co-leading a devotional book club at my church (see the above poster) has also increased my ears to hear spiritual leading from God, and caused me to love Him more.  And again on the organizational method – breaking the day into segments has provided natural times to pray, and weekly reminders to reflect – both potent reinforcers.

How are your New Years Resolutions Going?

How I Motivate Myself to Lose Weight and Keep Running: The Story Continued

This is Part Two of my motivational running and weight loss story: to read Part One go here.

So, there I was, somewhat adrift in college, dissatisfied with my weight, the direction of my life, my whole identity even.  I really didn’t know much about what I wanted in life, or about my own self then..  I didn’t start to sort it out until the following summer after I worked another summer at the same Christian summer camp and processed what had happened that first year of college.

What turned me around by the end of that summer as I came back to the school in the fall?  A lot of interconnected things like: prayer, making friends, and the safety of both my college and my camp as a place to explore newly emerging identity.    It was a complex mix of many factors, but the general result was:  I was happy.  Deliriously happy sometimes.  I started running again, and I ran all year first outside on the trails at college and indoors in the gym.  I lost twenty pounds and I felt pretty good about my self-image.

And then, I got sad again.  Why?  Perhaps the prospect of leaving a safe environment, perhaps the stress of graduation?   I gained back five pounds and felt adrift, but not as much as I had three years prior.

During my final semester at college, I lacked any career ideas, so I planned on a trip to New Zealand to work on organic farms through WWOOF.  This was a very good choice.  Before traveling I had some basic nutritional knowledge gleaned through the process of reading women’s magazines and hearing sound bites from doctors.  However while in New Zealand I got to visit people who made their living working with food.  They had whole different ways of eating and viewing food than my family and certainly than other college students.  Also, with all the time I had on my hands (some of these farms were fifty miles out in the country, no internet access, lots of sheep.) I had plenty of time to process my life experiences up to that point.  I came back a changed person with a fairly solid identity.

Me in the Wairarapa Valley in New Zealand: 2006

Over the course of the next year I dropped twenty pounds without much effort, and I maintained this weight for three years, which was something of a novelty to me at the time, having fluctuated for the past eight years, mostly trending upward.

So where does the running pick up again?  About two years after returning from New Zealand.  I made a semi-conscious effort to find more athletic friends and started hiking, playing soccer, bike commuting, lifting weights, and yes, running.  I continued to eat healthily, and had a special place in my heart for farmer’s markets and CSAs.  (and growing avocados from pits.)

I ran sporadically (less than 5 miles a week) for about a year, and then got serious. I wanted to improve my soccer game, and I wanted to be f-a-s-t.  I applied myself, found a great group of runners, lost the last of the weight I had gained in high school and college, and succeeded in being the fastest runner I’d ever been as well as the best soccer player. At the end of that summer I got married to the man of my dreams and went blissfully into the sunset of another stint at WWOOFing and international travel.

 

At this point the movie will end, but if you want the psychological analysis stay tuned.

//

Part of me thinks this crucial turning a year out of college had to do with general maturing of my brain, which psychologists and scientists are saying doesn’t happen till your twenties.  As this NPR article puts it – “…insight requires — that’s right — a fully connected frontal lobe.”

With my full connected frontal lobe I figured out a few crucial lessons that made my life a lot better.  First, that you can improve yourself beyond your baseline capabilities by setting short and long term goals. Second, that to reach these goals you must practice, and possibly even sacrifice in the present.  Third: that a short term setback doesn’t equal long term failure.  Fourth that there is great satisfaction in tangible accomplishments, like getting an A in a class, or finishing a race.  But there is also a great deal of satisfaction in intangible accomplishments like having good community or doing small steps toward long term goals – like daily eating more fruit.

 Another part of me chalks the whole thing up to better communities supporting me.  Friends, family and work colleagues, a healthy romantic relationship, and especially a robust spiritual life all allowed me to safely strive for difficult goals, which is turn fed into a sense of self-efficacy and contentment.

Right now I may have returned to the same weight I was five years ago, but I have all the great relationships, friendships, personal goals, wisdom, and nutritional knowledge that I built in the time since then, and because of that, I can wait a little longer to lose the weight.

 Looking back on your life do you notice themes?  Do you have a great success story? What is the story you tell about yourself?

Motivated to run again? I am.

How I Motivate Myself to Lose Weight and Keep Running:

Lately I’ve found myself slipping into a “can’t do” attitude with my goal of weight loss and a return to my pre-pregnancy physical condition.  Lots of days I want to sit on my couch in my pajamas reading Time Magazine or the latest YA book until noon.  However, in the past whenever I’ve been distressed with a lack of progress I motivate myself with my “rags to riches” weight loss and running story.  I wish I had pictures to include – but they are all packed away right now. Meanwhile – It goes a little like this.

– Cue the dramatic music and dim the lights, the story is about to begin! –

I grew up in a soccer-van type of family.  All four kids played for at least a couple seasons on the town league, and some of us were good, and some of us weren’t.  Although I liked to play, I wasn’t the most driven player.  My dad always said I was the type to have to be mad to play well, and I only got mad when we were losing.

In high school after seasons of only so-so soccer ability, I decided to try something new; cross-country.  I didn’t pick the sport with the most enlightened mind.  In fact, I knew nothing about it.  But since this was the first year the sport was offered, every runner counted in the goal toward finding five runners for each team (boys and girls) to qualify for a match. So I showed up.   Two weeks before classes started on a hot August day I was on a field that was mostly football players and soccer stars.  What happened next involved my Walmart sneakers and I jogging two laps around the school building.  Reader, I barely made it that half-mile.  That was the beginning of running.

Since this is a story about two things (weight loss and running) let me provide you with a little nutritional background as well.  I also grew up in a carbs and snacks kind of family.  We were always eating, usually crackers or candy, and at meal times the vegetable portions were small and the rest, well, the rest wasn’t.  “Seconds” was a routine part of these family meals, and slow mindful eating was a totally foreign concept as well.   Along with a penchant to view sweets as rewards for all occasions and successes, I didn’t exactly have good foundation for healthy eating.

When it came to cross country I was mostly people oriented and hardly performance oriented.  I loved the feeling of participating in a team sport, running with my friends, and identifying as a “runner.”  But, when it came right down to improving… I didn’t. The hard truth is, I didn’t apply myself very well.  I started out intending to run during the off-seasons, but really I would start running again in August each year after an 8 month hiatus with another three pounds under my running shorts.  I won no awards, merely came out of the whole experience with was a sense belonging and some accomplishment of consistently showing up and working hard.  I also took some (perhaps misguided) pride in being the “slowest runner” on the team.

Although I emailed the coach at my college to receive a training plan for the summer, and contemplated joining their cross country team, I didn’t run very much over that summer either and also gained ten pounds at summer camp.  When late August appeared and I stepped onto my college campus, I was too ashamed to join the team, or even meet with the coach, sure that I would once again be “the slowest runner on the team” as I had always contented myself with in high school.

This time, I wasn’t so sure I wanted to keep that title and I didn’t quite know how to overcome it, or the weight gain.   Over the course of that first semester I stepped foot in the gym about 5 times, and gained twenty-five more pounds due to poor eating habits, unlimited cafeteria food options, late night eating, and the type of crippling identity crisis that hits a fair number of college freshman.

This is the point I consider the “low” of my story.

Which makes it a fitting time for a commercial break.