Pressing Forward

Chicago CTA L line

4 years of birthday reflection blog posts

Oh, November. It’s that month of the year that brings the heart of autumn, football, and Thanksgiving. Its mere arrival has wreaked havoc on my heart and mind in the last few years as I have grappled with … myself. However, the 2017 version of November has brought with it less trepidation and fear of its arrival and subsequent storm of internal emotions. The month itself was good, highlighted by time with good friends to celebrate 

This year, in its entirety, was hard, perhaps harder than I gave it credit for in the small moments. In retrospect, I wonder if I tried to do too much at once at the expense of stretching myself in too many directions and getting distracted by all the possibilities and what if’s. Last year, I said I wanted to “quietly figure it out.” I have spent fair amounts of time on my own, reading, and journaling. But have I come to any conclusions or new revelations? I’m not so sure.

Put One Foot in Front of the Other…

The last 12 months have pushed and challenged me in new ways. I was “encouraged” to sign up for the Seattle Marathon in June with a friend, who would later drop down to the half (love ya, Jon!). It gave me something to train for, a reason to travel to Seattle, and also visit friends in the Pacific Northwest. My training was some of the best I’ve had since I started long distance running a few years ago. Even the dreaded 20 miler went better than previous years. However, The one thing Chicago cannot prepare you for is any non-flat terrain. Seattle’s pretty, even more so when you get leg cramps and get to walk parts of the marathon route. It gives you time to appreciate the views while you quietly scream bloody murder because muscle groups you didn’t know you had now ache. But in spite of the pains, I had finished my third marathon!

A few weeks after the race and all recollection of physical pain and logic left my mind, I thought why not do the Chicago marathon in the SAME YEAR. It’s the big race right in my backyard I hadn’t done yet. It would complete my unplanned goal of one marathon in North America’s four primary time zones. And I decided it would be cool to run with a purpose which moved me to sign up with Team World Vision and raise money to get clean water to those who need it in Africa. Training again went pretty well most weeks, save for the days when it was over 70 degrees and sunny and humid. I’m looking at you, 20 miler day.

Put One Foot in Front of the Other

Visual approximation of me “running” during the last few miles of the Chicago marathon, but sweating profusely and it was 75 degrees out. You get the idea.

Some friends know my showing at the Chicago Marathon was pretty ugly. Warmer temps and a sun that just wouldn’t quit got to me in the back half of the race. Nevertheless, I persisted, very slowly at times, and still finished the run I had started and committed to. There’s always another race to improve upon, right? Four marathons aren’t enough in someone’s lifetime, right? Perhaps one more before I hit the next age decade.

Transitions, Tensions, and Conflicts

The last twelve months have been … something. The political landscape has infiltrated daily life in America in a way I haven’t seen before in my lifetime. I tread lightly around social media and heavily consider my responses to some posts because many are more prone to reactionary “you couldn’t be more wrong” responses than a civilized discourse on just about any topic. Exaggerated statements about everything is the only way we think we can talk for us to be heard or get attention. While culture hasn’t quite learned from the boy who cried wolf story yet, each day (I hope), we get closer.

This year also brought more transitions and changes at work. After many years in our space in Elmhurst, the company moved our office to Oak Park. While ultimately for the best, the transition was not without some struggles. The timeline was short, the list of tasks was long, the amount of stuff you collect in a warehouse over 11 years and subsequently have to keep, toss, or donate is quite incredible. That transition also meant a time of evaluation, and for some people, it meant it was time to explore new opportunities. Change rarely has no casualties.

It is easy for me to ball up and put up shields when tensions and conflicts arise. I’m what you may describe as non-confrontational. One side effect includes finding anything nearby to distract me. I need to get better at tackling stuff, especially conflicts, head on. It’s still not a natural thing for me.

Pressing Forward

Throughout all the struggles, progress has been made. At least some externally visible achievements can be noted. There was a forward movement that is measurable and tangible. But what I struggle with as I reflect on this past year is how much I have changed and grown throughout. While I pressed forward on the goals in front of me even when it got tough, am I any different for it?

During my last year before I have to change the 1st digit in my age, I like many before me, ponder what’s important enough for me to spend energy on and on what mark I want to make or continue to make, on the world. Perhaps it’s time to write down some goals and do what I can to not let other things distract me from them.

Distracted by Distractions

The Bean - Chicago

Oh,  look at that shiny thing!

Do you ever look back at what you’ve been doing and realize you’ve spent far too much time consumed by stuff that has a lot less worth and long term value than you thought? That’s been my summer for the last week or two, and it’s frustrated me that I have let myself get distracted by distractions. My eyes have been diverted off what’s important. I’m not running in such a way as to win the prize. I’m not giving it my best.

Midwest summers conjure up childhood memories of riding bikes aimlessly, spending warm days doing little beyond sleeping in, hanging out with friends, or watching TV when it’s way too hot out. Breaks are good and even healthy. Speaking as someone without kids, sleeping in on Saturdays is amazing. And while a binge session after work feels like a good idea, (even when it’s “The OC”), the fact is it like many other small shiny objects have grabbed hold of my attention and energy in quiet but significant ways.

I am the first to admit that I have let tasks sit idly incomplete while I catch up on late night TV or the latest political news articles that fill my social media feeds. I turn on any device with a screen to scan social media or read an article that doesn’t have any bearing on anything I currently need to be concerned about. My writing frequency continues to be a source of personal disappointment because I haven’t left enough time in my day to be still with my thoughts long enough to let them fully form. I’ve let myself sweat the minutiae in situations I should have let go of days or weeks ago. Books go unread because I am sucked into other distractions that will provide some semblance of enjoyment quicker than finishing those three chapters on a topic that will likely be more enriching to my entire being.

I’ve learned that I also give into distractions when I’d prefer to not focus on myself. I’ve started asking myself what it is I’m hiding from. What are the Netflix binge sessions and extended screen time reading anything that isn’t edifying a deflection from? What am I avoiding?

I’ve done myself and ultimately everyone around me a disservice. I fail to be a better version of myself. All pay the real costs of distraction. Decisions to not focus on what’s important impact lives beyond ourselves.

Thankfully, every day is a new day with a fresh start. I was reminded today that “lost time” can still be redeemed. For that truth, I am grateful. It’s time to get refocused and set aside what doesn’t have lasting value.

 

The Challenges of Change

“Everything changes and nothing stands still.” – Heraclitus

Change is an energy intensive process. It’s expensive from a time and mental energy perspective. Even the simplest decisions to adjust course require realignment and pause to recenter. It forces us to evaluate the internal status quo. It can ignite feelings of chaos and fear, mostly from leaving behind the current “known.” Things as simple as a new haircut to bigger events like moving across the country or a new relationship status (starting or ending) can all wreak havoc on us. Everything was fine before these things entered our lives; why disrupt it? I was fine!

Acceptance of and processing through change comes more easily to some; for others, any rattling of routine or their “world” causes an imbalance that isn’t always simple to reattain equilibrium. Larger organizations even incorporate change management processes into their business workflow to minimize issues. (I sometimes think I should try incorporating change management into my personal life.)

It’s interesting to see how each person responds to the norm being shaken up, particularly when they are not in control of that norm being moved – especially Chicago weather. Do you look for the potential in a new situation? Or do you reel back and focus on how this affects just your life? There can be an unwillingness of trying something out because you think you won’t like it or adapt to what’s coming down the line… how do you open the eyes of others to see what is possible?

There is always a cost involved in change. If I want to be a better runner, then I must sacrifice my desire to continually lay on my couch and run regardless of my lack of motivation some days. To improve my writing skills, I must set aside that new Netflix release and sit down to formulate thoughts on paper (or screen.)

Change, particularly when it happens in shorter periods of time and when the shift is bigger, can stress us and cause behaviors in us that may not fully reflect who we usually are. It’s during those times I’ve been trying to extend grace to others when I see how they process what’s happening vs. how I am dealing with the same change event.

A favorite phrase at work over the last few years as we’ve gone through transitions is “Change is Sweet.” But it can also be hard. And it can occasionally be frustrating along the way. As long as we recognize that the process is taxing and that we are gracious and flexible with one another along the way, we’ll be just fine.

Challenge Accepted!

challenge accepted

If you’re paying attention, you’ll often find that everything that happens in your life is more interconnected than it seems on the surface. Themes and life lessons often are simultaneously applicable to professional and personal Greg. The first few months of 2017 are saying, “It’s lesson time!”

I am not much for personal boasting or for being as confident in myself as I could be. I don’t often tell myself I’m particularly good at things for fear of becoming too proud or seen as arrogant. Maybe it’s a mentality of “I can always do better” or a false humility that prevents me from appreciating and owning the fact there’s stuff I’m legitimately good at. I often need some reinforcement and reminders from friends and others that I should be utilizing my strengths more often.

In my head, I know I am capable of quite a bit and probably more if I seriously applied myself. I can look at my life so far and find some notable accomplishments. There are also those less visible achievements that almost nobody besides myself is aware of. There are natural fits for where I should utilize my skills and expend my energy.

I’ve mentioned before in previous posts that I often end up in positions of leadership and influence, even in times when I wasn’t seeking those roles out. In reality, most of the time I wasn’t looking to be “the guy” who took on the responsibility of collecting money for and tracking the apartment’s utility bills or of discerning the next best steps for optimizing work processes. All paths lead me to a place at the front of the pack and in most cases has stretched me beyond my original capabilities and made me see the world with a different perspective.

 

This is a year where I am strongly sensing and seeing a need to bring my best to the table. If life is a constant training ground for that next big moment to step up, 2017 feels like that moment for me. There isn’t time for coasting and watching the world go by. The only exception to that rule is if I’m outdoors on a run training for a race.

What goes along with being given any skill is a responsibility to use and share it for the good of the world around you. I’m not trying to present myself as some superhero here to save the day in every situation I find myself. Though when the time comes when I’m called to do my part, I can’t be hesitant to step up to the task for fear of standing out or of failing.

The hardest and sometimes least prominent part of accepting any new challenge is choosing what needs to be removed to make space for what lies ahead. For example, I can’t successfully simultaneously train for a marathon and eat fast food daily or go to bed at 2 AM. For me to increase my intake of books and write more, that means I have to make a conscious choice to cut back on TV, Netflix, and Hulu.

The overall 2017 challenge theme for me is this: lead. Lead by example. Lead by doing. This is no simple feat. It will require discipline, rest, time, focus, and help to succeed.

I mentioned recently that I need to make space in my life for what’s important and I’m continuing to figure out how to properly do that. Because like most humans, I fall into my old habits thinking I can take on new ones without internally breaking. Removing the excess and unimportant is difficult and requires some uncomfortable decisions that force you to face the priorities you have set for yourself.

So, to 2017: Challenge Accepted! I hope I succeed more often than I fail and try more often than the times I give up.

You Are Who You Are When Everyone’s Watching

“You are who you are when nobody’s watching.”

Stephen Fry

Be on your best behavior! Whether you are a leader in an organization or a parent with kids or someone else altogether, who we are is on display for the world to see and take in, In the minds of others, internal notes and understandings about your character and demeanor are constantly being logged, revised, erased, rewritten, tweaked. In case any of you are wondering, yes I am doing this with some or many of you on a semi-regular basis and reflect on who you are and how you became the person you are today and who you may become in the future. Call me curious about the human condition.

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Why I Write

Everyone is a writer. From the shortest of tweets to personal journals to the longest blog posts and the next great novel, they are all forms of written communication used to express something. We each have our reasons for putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, though that doesn’t the same ring to it.) In high school, I found myself using writing as an outlet to deal with all my teen angst. In particular, poetry became my primary expression of the myriad of emotions and intense life struggles I felt. I’ve shared a few from that time and some written since here on the blog.

In the last few years, I decided to launch this blog and publicly share some of what I write in the hopes that those ideas would resonate with the world. Or at the very least, my circle of friends would form a closer connection with me. But there are a few core pillars to the reasons why I write in the first place.

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Sometimes You Wanna Go…

… where you can be with friends. At bars. With free waffles.

I’m a creature of habit and comfort. I go back to the things I know and am familiar with more often than exploring what’s new. I will rewatch shows such as 30 Rock or Parks and Recreation (or most recently, How I Met Your Mother) over a new show. The familiar backdrop of offices, apartments, coffee shops, or bars combined with characters I’ve come to know far too well allow me to focus on the deeper themes and tiny nuances of the stories upon subsequent repeat viewings. I start to look beyond the face value jokes and conversation to the deeper meanings and messages of what’s being said.

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Adequately Present

Figuring out who you are is supposed to get easier as you get older, isn’t it?

For a couple of days each November, my body, heart, and mind go into this quiet state of anxiety and fear. I’ve written about it for the last two years (2014’s “Six Squared” and 2015’s “37”) as a way to more publicly reflect upon and share what I’ve been processing internally. This year is no different.

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