Just Tell Me What To Do

“Just tell me what to do and I’ll do it. ”

This phrase encompasses a trending and disturbing mindset. I’ve seen it manifested in various forms, whether direct or indirect. Whether it’s in a more indirect way like not raising your voice when political figures go about making decisions that don’t properly reflect their constituents (sorry, social media rants don’t count here) or sitting idly by while your job role isn’t fulfilling the potential it has, too many of us have taken a back seat driver approach to life. We want to be heard and maybe even claim to want responsibility and control, but should things go off course or a wrong decision be made, we’re  the first to take a step back or point the finger at someone else. “Hey, I didn’t vote for that guy. Not my problem.” “I’m pretty sure it was her choice to move forward this way on the project. I knew it wasn’t good, but why should I say anything to anyone else? ”

The problem is it is still your problem because things doesn’t go away because you don’t claim responsibility.  There’s a strange lack of ownership wave I’ve seen where people want to be part of something, but only as long as there’s guarantee of success. Chance of failure? I’ll go ahead and wait by the sidelines and let someone else get tackled thank you very much.

However, then you’re missing out on being part of that play that changes the energy of the game or even wins that championship. Of course there’s risk when you stick your neck out or stretch yourself beyond what you’re comfortable normally doing. That’s always the case when you venture into new waters; failure is always a possibility. But do we want to live in a way where that isn’t the case? Sounds way too safe and stagnant.

Even if we do fail, you’ll learn how to do it better and differently the next time. Better yet, you may be personally changed for the better just for going through the process and taking that journey.

We’re told by media and culture that the power to shape our futures is within our grasp; why aren’t more of us willing to take more chances and not just follow? If you’re not in a position of leadership or authority at work or even within your social circle, each of us is still able to effect change in some way. All it takes it a little bit of paying attention of your surroundings, raising your voice, and taking action. Be part of the game on the field, not just making comments from the sidelines on how the plays should go.

Mental Barriers

The winter months can bring with them more than their fair share of hibernation side effects. A bit more lethargy in our physical and even mental activity levels can settle in.( Can’t we just sleep through these cold months like bears do?) And as the warmer spring-like weather seeps into the Midwest, I can’t help but feel the effects of winter still slowing all my movements.

I was motivated and challenged to sign up for a race this year, but for now I’m focusing on doing a half marathon scheduled in late May (the North Shore Classic on May 31, 2015). In preparation, I mapped out a training schedule which officially started on the 9th of March. These first few weeks aren’t bad. Weekday runs are all 3 miles and weekend long runs *only* get up to 6 miles this month. Tiny obstacles are trying to thwart me like slight twinges of asthma or unexpected snow after the first official day of spring. Frustrating as it all can be, I’m fighting something else entirely more cunning:

My mind.

It’s trying to tell me running is boring, that there’s something more entertaining to do, like watch The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt on Netflix (which is awesome by the way), or to go eat a double cheeseburger, or just lay on the couch as the world goes by. But when I overcome these elements one by one and I make it outside on a trail or onto a treadmill, my mind is still trying to convince me it’s bored silly and that I should stop and go be complacent instead. I even have a good podcast or two to entertain and encourage me to keep going. The physical act of running isn’t actually that terrible, though my dry spell through the winter isn’t helping, but it’s the head space that’s keeping me from literally wanting to go the distance.

I’m hitting mental barriers. My body can do it, but my head is trying to say “You’re good right where you’re at.” My heart knows this isn’t true. I need to get out there and put one foot in front of the other. Part of me knows it can be done; the other part wants me to just be OK with where I’m at.

The barriers are in the way in other parts of my life too, but that’s for another post. Excuse me while I go work through some ideas as I run.

 

Memoirs of a Glacier

I learned a lot about glaciers and how life in Iceland is very directly shaped and influenced on a regular basis by the earth and weather patterns that surround people there. And I will be the first to say that I do not remember everything I heard or saw on this trip, but some elements do stand out from our day trip to [actual name of national park] and the Ice Caves tour.

Glaciers are big. I mean really, really big. So much so that you cannot fathom the size of it as you stand at the edge of one it becomes more awe inspiring to know that this huge “sheet” of ice holds within it not just frozen water, but parts of mountains, trees, likely animal remains, volcanish ash (maybe exclusive to Icelandic glaciers), and other parts of the earth that couldn’t get out of its way.

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Glaciers are affecting the world around it while it appears to sit there like a big, frozen glacier-shaped log.  As they move and/or melt, what remains after are what many area of the world now live on. They have flattened out vast spaces in their melted wake. But they also hold down the earth under it, even pulling nearby hills and small mountains physically down with its incredible weight. (Don’t try finding a scale. Glaciers don’t like to talk about their weight.) So as it melts and loses even small fractions of its mass, Iceland itself is actually rising from the relief of the cold burden at a rate of up to 1.5cm/year. Insane!

Glaciers affect weather patterns around the world acting as a stingy bank who would prefer not to let us withdraw from its deposits. And yet here we are marketing glacier water as a great drinking source. I suddenly feel just the smallest tinge to yell “save the glaciers, save the world.”

Glaciers are really pretty from far away and up close.

Iceland - the edge of the glacier
The edge of the glacier!

 

Ice Caves
The ice caves at the edge of the glacier. So. Beautiful.

 

I thought there may be some good life lesson to be found here. Perhaps there is a lesson about some big things do change us, but in very small ways and steps that aren’t immediately apparent if we stand back and take stock of who we were and who we are now. Maybe there’s a glacier in your life now that you want to rid yourself of because you feel like it’s holding you down, but in reality it’s providing a stable environment we don’t appreciate until it’s gone and things go haywire.

Or maybe this post will just be about glaciers and how cool they are. [See what I did there? That’s some solid wordplay. Because glaciers are cool. And solid. OK, I’m stopping now.]

Reset-uary

Every January, the world stops to reflect and celebrate another completed trip around the sun. And we’re always so proud of it too! (Yay, most of us didn’t fall off the planet, thanks to gravity.) Inevitably, this month also marks the time when we also feel like it’s time to start something new, make healthier decisions, get going on all those projects that we’ve been promising ourselves for the last 3 years, and just be a better person. This month should be relabeled “Reset-uary” on all calendars. Also, it would be the first month to officially have a hyphen in the name.

While I don’t have any specific issue with the idea of starting fresh and taking on the world with new perspective and energy, what I haven’t understood is why we so often wait for significant events like the new year to reboot ourselves. Imagine if we waited a whole year to reboot our computers or phones! Windows can barely go a day or two before acting erratically. See what happens to us when we let ourselves run for too long without shutting down once in a while? We should be taking a more proactive approach to life and evaluating and adjusting more frequently and not just at major milestones the calendar – and society – dictates.

Reset-uary does not need to be a one time a year occasion on our calendars. Schedule your own mini-resets into your routine. Take time to logout to clear your mind and gain new insights. Evaluate and adjust in small increments instead of trying to upend everything at once.  The worst thing that happens in this renamed month is we try to change too much at once and by February almost everything goes back to how it was and little of what you hoped to change doesn’t.

Don’t let February turn into “Same-uary”. Or I may keep making up new names for months of the year.

Six Squared

Birthday Cake
Cake for one. At Weber Grill.

November has become a difficult month for me. Not only does it mean Thanksgiving and the entire holiday season that follows it, it also means my birthday “season” has arrived and turning another year older. However, it doesn’t mean I need to look any older. Yet in the last couple years, that usually also means a very quiet, introspective, and solitary season.

Birthdays, much like everything else in America, has turned into an affair that calls to be celebrated for far longer than what the calendar shows – one day. People have “birthday weeks”, “birthday months”, or “birthday seasons” to keep the party going. I don’t get it. Why do people want so much attention for just being themselves? I don’t really want it, but I don’t want to be completely forgotten either. The last few years, the days leading up to and my actual birthday are internally dark. Who will remember? Will anyone (parents and best friend excluded)?

I’ve had a few particularly emotional birthday-days that have brought intense feelings of loneliness and disconnect in my time because I felt people weren’t there in any real capacity. I’ve never been one to plan my own party. Nor do I want to be the center of attention. If friends want to coordinate a party, I’ll probably do it. As years go by though, people have other life commitments like spouses, kids, jobs, etc. I get it. I assume they’re all too busy for me so I make due on my own. In my head, I’ve figured this must be part of being single when most of your community isn’t.  My last two actual birthdays I’ve had dinner alone. While not altogether the worst, perhaps it wasn’t the best either.

Why are my birthdays such internally difficult affairs? Why do I feel such loss at the thought of people forgetting about it and simultaneously cringe when I get a “Happy birthday!” greeting or Facebook wall post? A birthday greeting isn’t something that’s earned, but a simple acknowledgement of my existence and nothing else. not wanting any focus on me for me?

Maybe that’s (a small) part of the problem.  Throughout the year, I constantly feel like I’m having to prove my worth wherever I go and with whatever I do.  Then when my birthday comes, it requires nothing of me and it partially freaks me out. I’m just supposed to “be” and that’s enough for a day. Maybe that’s supposed to be enough every day.

So goes another year and another birthday, partially unscathed. I hope with this new year brings more wisdom and being more OK with getting older and celebrating life.

*This post is not intended to invoke any belated happy birthdays or anything similar. 

Ask More Questions & Listen More

Questions

Often times I need to take a step back from everything and ask myself, “is there an overarching theme or pattern happening in my life?” It’s fascinating to see how various facets of my life are intertwined usually to teach me – and maybe the world – something.  That current “something” is that we don’t know everything. We think we do so often, assume a bit too much, and because of that often miss something critical. We must ask more questions. It is a significant step to understanding of all manners of things, especially ourselves.

At work, I try to teach and encourage those on my team and around the company to not take anything at face value. Too often someone takes a task or project request and runs with it. At surface level, everything seems straightforward. But peel back even one layer and finding out the “why” that is driving that request and you learn that on-the-surface craziness has some context and reasoning you can support – or at least acknowledge. Or you ask your client to expand on an idea and all of a sudden a great idea is sparked to take the project to a new level or a future potential issue is avoided.

In relationships, questions are the basis for learning more about other people. You know what everyone’s favorite topic is?  What they know best of course: themselves. In my life, I have had many conversations with people without uttering much beyond my name, where I’m from or live, and a gloss over of what I do. How? By continually asking questions about just about anything they want to talk about. I’m amazed by how much others like hearing their own voice. I tap into this by keeping the focus on the other person with questions crafted and carefully selected for them.  When I’m not in the mood to talk about myself, it’s a powerful deflection tactic that works on at least 80% of people I talk to (a couple close friends are on to me.)  The only problem? When I do want to share something about my life, people still like to talk about themselves even when I’m not asking them anything. This cumulatively results in only one person feeling like they are known better; often times that person is not me. It can lead to a sense of isolation or not feeling cared about.

When it comes to ourselves, how often are we asking the really tough questions in a way that results in action or real insight? The right questions can be uncomfortable to respond to. Why? Do we not ask them because we don’t care about other people or about ourselves? Or is it because we’re afraid someone will ask us about stuff we don’t want to talk about? Maybe it’s why I direct a lot of conversation focus back to other people.

One of the worst things we do is assume we know everything we need to know from work to friendships. Without questions, we are left to assume what we don’t know, and Assuming takes you to dangerous places. So don’t be too taken aback if I ask lots of questions. It means I care and I don’t want to miss something along the way.

 

Discovering Depth in Discipline: Marathon Insights

Above: Photo gallery of Missoula and the state of Montana
It took four months of training and Saturdays where I didn’t sleep in until noon and many other nights during the week skipping out on TV, laying on the couch, or hanging out with friends over a beer or other tasty beverage. It all led up to one Sunday morning in Montana and a 26.2 mile route ahead of me. The Missoula Marathon had finally arrived. But there was so much more than just those 5+ hours to share.

I could write about the time in Montana before, during, and after the race. I could share about Troy, the guy at “The Hub” who told us about so many great things to do around  the area; about Doug, the guy who took us via boat and led our expedition across Flathead Lake over to Wild Horse Island and dropped knowledge and factoids like sick beats; and then there were the various events and friendly faces around Missoula that made our time there magical.

It’s already been three weeks since the race and there’s still elements of the total experience that I’m unpacking in my mind. I can share what I’ve learned about running and myself so far:

Training stretches you beyond your limits (almost) without you noticing. It’s hard to believe that before March of this year, the longest I had ever run was 5 miles and that by July I considered that a “short” mid-week run. The small incremental jumps in distance in each week trained my body to take on a little more, mostly in chunks it could handle.

Training is MUCH better with others. I don’t know if I could have done this without others, especially for the weekly long runs. Even without many words, the encouragement of having a friend or two by your side does wonders for your ability to continue going.

Big goals require a lot more change in your life than you plan for.  By far the biggest noticeable adjustment for me was not sleeping in on Saturdays. For anyone who knows me, Saturday morning is not a time you assume I’m awake or available for anything. Waking up as early as 5AM once to get my training run in took me way outside my comfort zone.

The body and mind is capable of far more than we normally give it credit for.  Growing up and living with asthma, running long distances never seemed to be something attainable to me. In the last few years I seem to have mostly grown out of it, however, and it allowed me to complete a marathon.

With this achievement under my belt, I look ahead to what else I can do. Perhaps it will be another marathon to push for a faster time, or to improve and increase my writing abilities, or to actually learn how to fix more stuff around the house. At the expense of sounding cheesy, “if you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything.” (Marty McFly, Back to the Future).

me at Missoula Marathon

Myrtle Estates Makeover: Kitchen Edition – The Reveal

It’s been 3 weeks since the kitchen project was completed and I finally made time to select a few photos to show off the final product. 6 weeks of work, a couple unexpected delays, and a lot of eating out and leftovers (thanks Mom!) and I have a space that I hope to one day cook more than ramen and plain rice in. I invite those who like to cook or just want to hang out to come over!

I present you with the final Myrtle Estates Makeover photos! It’s hard to believe just a couple months ago it was so dated and 60’s. Today the space is far more inviting and handles more than two people far better. The photos were taken before I put everything back on the countertops. I had to show off the granite in these pics. There is a list of items purchased, colors, etc. at the end of the post for those interested in the details.

Enjoy!

Before (view from living room):

Kitchen before

After (view from living room):

Kitchen - view from living room

Before (view from back door):

Kitchen before - back door

After (view from back door):

Kitchen - view from back door

Before: cluttered open storage

Kitchen - view towards back

After: clean! Everything is put away and has its place (read: hidden)

Kitchen - fridge/pantry view

The new sink and faucet!

Sink and faucet view

Granite, white subway tiles, and LED under cabinet lighting make a great team.

Bianco Romano

For those interested, here is a list of my sources for everything that went into this kitchen:

 

 

 

 

 

Life, Relationships, Technology. Processing at slightly slower than the speed of light.