Whatever

I remember, a decade or so ago, when the saying “whatever” became popular. I remember, actually, being quite offended by the saying “whatever”. To me, at that point in time, “whatever” expressed an apathy, a lack of caring, it expressed complacency and all that I stood against. “Whatever”, I feared, was the attitude of an entire generation, and I envisioned a whole segment of society that refused to participate in the political process, who wouldn’t vote or contribute to society in a meaningful manner.

As time passed, I found that my fears were, as usual, unfounded. One of the many reasons I’ve decided to just give up fear altogether. The “whatever” generation is actually quite astute and participatory, contribute wholly, and, in all truthfulness, are probably more serious and less apathetic than my own generation.

Of course, I think as I’ve aged chronologically, I’ve actually become younger in many respects. I find that I identify socially, politically, physically, emotionally, spiritually and attitudinally with the “whatever” generation more than my own. Most of the people I find I have the most in common with are about ten to fifteen years younger than me. This I cannot explain other than I am about ten or fifteen years behind my peers, career-wise, partially because I took a bit longer to graduate from college than most, and partially because I compromised my career for a number of years to work part time while my kids were in school (no regrets). But, most of my career peers are significantly younger than me. Between that, and my physical, mental and emotional activity level, energy and enthusiasm, I think I’ve found the fountain of youth and have digressed a bit age-wise.

For whatever reason, I totally identify with the “whatever” generation now. The person I was a decade ago is long gone and has been replaced with a much more spontaneous, wild, fun, active, outgoing, liberated and moderate, “whatever” kind of girl.

As a matter of fact, I’ve found, recently, in the past year or two, the phrase “whatever” has become a mainstay in my vocabulary. I would give my former self hives with the frequency of the use of the term “whatever”. “Whatever” has become my response to many, many, many things. Tonight, I was crossing a busy New York City street, at a crosswalk, with the appropriate green light. A town car came around the corner, right in front of me, causing me to have to stop and wait for him to cross my path so as not to be struck. Rather than becoming indignant or angry, I just shrugged and said “whatever”.  My daughter was with me; she is an English major and is intelligent in every imaginable respect, a delight to converse with. She and I discussed the use of the phrase “whatever”; did it still, in today’s common usage, represent apathy and complacency, or has it evolved, as a saying, into something else? Upon reflection we both agreed that the phrase has evolved to mean, “I agree to disagree”, that I don’t agree, but I am choosing my battles and choose not to pursue an argument on this particular point. I guess, in legal terms, it would mean to plead no contest. I don’t want to fight, I don’t want to debate the point, I am willing to let it go.

In further reflection, I think I apply the phrase “whatever” to scenarios and situations beyond my control. I will admit, I am a bit of a control freak, I always have been, but I am recovering. In my effort to evolve into a more grounded, peaceful, happy person, I am learning that control must be relinquished in many areas in order to more effectively focus on others. My verbal acknowledgement of this fact is expressed as “whatever”. It is my white flag, waving in the face of my submission, my choice to not have to control over every aspect of my life and my surroundings. It is liberating to finally realize that I don’t have to be in control of everything, that I can’t possibly be in control of everything, that I can “go with the flow”. And, when the flow is going where I think it shouldn’t, I need to just let it go and adapt. So, whatever.

We just simply cannot possibly control everything in life we would like to. We can either drive ourselves crazy with frustration and unhappiness by trying, in vain, to do so, or we can learn to choose, to prioritize which things in life we can and should control, and which we should just let go of. We need to periodically reevaluate which things in life we choose to control, master and work towards, and which things can be left to follow a course not under our management. These become the “whatever’s” in our life. Once we identify and acknowledge those things we cannot or will not seek to control and let go, we have more energy and more impact on those things we can influence, on those things we choose to attempt to establish or maintain control over. It is one of the most liberating things we can do.

In m experience, and based on everything I’ve learned over the past several years, we can most effectively control a limited number of things; our personal attitude, our individual happiness, our individual health and fitness, and our suitability for a successful relationship. Everything else, and in particular, the attitude, happiness, health and fitness and suitability for a successful relationship of those around us, our significant others, our children, our friends, our parents, our acquaintances, are well beyond our control. To learn to say “whatever” and focus on ourselves is really, not just the best we can do, but the only thing we can do. Realizing this and then focusing on only those things we can influence, is really the most individually empowering action ever.

And so, I invite you, to just simply throw your hands up, smile a little, roll your eyes and exclaim “whatever!” The more attitude, the better.

Hittin’ My Stride

In an effort to evolve into a more healthful person and in an effort to challenge myself to do something I’ve never done before, never thought I could do, I took up running, just about a year ago. I ran my first half marathon in October 2012 and have signed up for my first full marathon in December of 2013.

While living in Sacramento, I trained with a large, local running group (SacFit) on the recommendation of a friend I’d gone to high school with in Napa. There were over 500 members in this well organized group. We ran in groups according to our “pace”, how many minutes it takes to run a mile. Each pace group had at least three coaches who provided us with advice and recommendations. We run two abreast in groups of twelve, or so. The coaches time our run/walk intervals, set the pace, remind us to drink and to fuel. There are dozens of pace groups running up and down the bike trail that parallels the American River every Saturday morning. This is how it’s done. I often mused that we must look like the armed forces in training, minus carrying our rifles, as we ran in tight formation up and down the trail. Our training was all according to a carefully designed and proven plan to help us meet our goals, finish our races at our pace, and avoid injury in the process. It was perfectly regimented and I like that.

My life is pretty haphazard, I travel often for work so I’m in different time zones all the time. Even when I work from home, I’m often working with clients in different time zones. My life lacks routine in many, many respects. So, I seek routine and regiment in a few areas of my life just for some semblance of normalcy, like a touchstone. My workout routine is one, my writing is another, running another. For those who know me, they know, when I decide I’m doing something, I do it. Relentlessly, according to plan and to a very regimented schedule.

Routine is good, as long as we build some goals into the plan and strive to improve. In running, I started with a goal in mind; I wanted to finish a half marathon and I’d like to run faster than I walk. I can walk at four miles an hour for extended periods of time (like twelve hours, if necessary, carrying a backpack, up and down mountains). When I first started with the Sacramento running group, I was placed in a pace group based on a one mile trial run. Now, my one-mile trial run was the first time I’d run, at all, in, well, since like junior high. I took it easy, even though my cardiovascular fitness level was really quite good. The first pace group I was with nearly made me crazy. I could’ve walked faster. I promoted myself once, then again, and found a comfortable pace with some great coaches at 13:00. I trained at this pace for the full season leading up to the half marathon, which I ran at 12:00 sort of against my plan. I stumbled upon a pace setter amidst the sea of runners who was timing and calling for routine run/walk intervals. I just ran with him at a pace a full minute faster than I’d been training at for the last four months. But I did it, for 13.1 miles, proving to myself that I could run faster if I only tried. I totally surprised myself.

The next season, I promoted myself to the 12:00 pace group and was quite comfortable with that. I was challenged on some of the “race pace” runs, but probably more because I only run on weekends, and sometimes I miss a few weekends in between. In other words, unlike most “runners” who run multiple times a week, I sometimes only run once every three to five weeks. Meanwhile, that marathon looms ahead. My ultimate goal is to run a 10:30 and “qualify” for “ultra-marathon” running. This seems a distant and somewhat unlikely goal, but I’ve put it out there and I’m working towards it. Sort of. I haven’t run in weeks. And now I’ve moved an hour and a half away from Sacramento and my early Saturday running group. I need to find a routine.

When I go to the gym and do cardio, I have a routine I favor, certain machines, certain resistance settings, certain times, I even have a preferred order. In yoga, I like the routines, the sun salutations, the balance moves, the strength moves, the relaxation moves. Zumba, crossfit, body sculpt and barre classes all offer the same basic routine, warm up, work out, cool down. This I find soothing and centering. Running has been the same, very regimented, very routinized. Warm up, run at a certain pace for five minutes, walk for one, run for five, walk for one. Drink water every walk break. Fuel (eat) every forty-five minutes. Very regimented, very routinized.

Until today.

Today, after poking around online, I found a running club here in Napa. I thought I’d try them out, they were on both Facebook and MeetUp. There wasn’t anything in their information about pace groups or anything, so I was a little unsure, but I thought it would be worth checking out before I re-enlist and pay my $100 for another season with the Sacramento running group. At the price of free, it was, at least within my budget. No one is going to pay me to run, so free works.

It was a perfect morning in the Napa Valley as I drove to the local running store where we were to meet. The sun was shining, it was warm, and though it was pretty early, for a Saturday in a town where people drink a lot of wine, people were out walking and jogging and cycling. There were folks walking their dogs, couples pushing strollers and the limousines were all gassing up at the gas station, preparing for their extended journeys from winery to winery to winery to winery to winery. I was taking all this in, the serenity, the peacefulness. I saw a small herd of deer in a field in front of an old Victorian home. One of them was defecating. Illusion shattered, back to reality.

The Napa club is run (no pun intended) by a man at the local running store. I was greeted warmly and introduced to people as they arrived. I signed the hold harmless release and was briefed on how the run would go. There were options to run 3, 4, 5, 6 or 10 miles. I was thinking 10, but those folks met and left earlier. I settled on 5 miles. I asked about pace and there seemed to be no real concern about it. When I said I ran at a 12:00 minute mile pace I was introduced to a couple and told I should run with them. Okay, cool. I looked around at the group of runners, probably about twelve in all, and no one had a hydration pack, like mine, no one even had water bottles. Nothing. I dismissed this observation, I figured they’d pick them up on the way out, or something. Soon, we headed out the door and BAM! We were running. We were running really, really fast. Around the corner, down the street, over the bridge. These people just fucking run! I asked the woman I’d been told to run with what run/walk intervals she ran. She looked a little confused. “Oh, I just walk for a bit after a couple miles or so, it just depends.” Just fucking run. So I did. I ran and, after a few blocks I thought I might die. I was winded and we hadn’t even hit the upgrade yet. In Napa, there are a few more hills than Sacramento. I’m sort of a flat lander as a runner. I can hike mountains all day long, running, I only know flat. After we crested our first (pretty wimpy) upgrade, I took stock of myself and I was okay. My breathing rate had settled, my heart rate seemed under control again. I’d hit my stride. I felt like I could sustain this pace for a while, which we did. And by we, I mean me and the woman I was told to run with, and her significant other. And it was only his second time running. Ever. The rest of the group were mere dots on the crest of the next hill. Just fucking running. We ran for two and a half miles and walked for about three seconds at the turn around point, then ran two and a half miles back to our starting point. And I was fine, even carrying the extra six pounds of water and fuel in my hydration pack. I consider that my handicap, like weighting race horses to compensate for the differences in the weights of the jockeys. My handicap was a six-pound hydration pack. And I just fucking ran. I ran a sustained pace of 10:30 for five miles, without walk breaks every five minutes. I just fucking ran and I met a goal I thought was distant and unlikely just a few hours ago. I hit my stride.

This lesson can be applied to so much more in life than just running. Setting a goal, the bigger the better, distant and unlikely, then working towards it. Often, in working towards goals, we tackle them in a routine and regimented fashion. Whether a career goal, an academic goal, a fitness goal, a health goal, a relationship goal, we work steadily towards it. Sometimes, though, it may be to our benefit push ourselves a little harder, a little faster, maybe a little sooner than we think we’re ready for. We may surprise ourselves. In other words, just fucking run with it and you may find your goal is much more easily met than you ever imagined. Twice now I have surprised myself with my running pace; my first half marathon pace and my running pace today. I know, now, more than ever, I can do anything if I just fucking run with it.

When you think you’ve hit your stride, in whatever goal you’re pursuing, I challenge you, like I challenged myself today, take it up a notch. You can do anything, and you can probably do it faster, sooner, better than you give yourself credit for. Routine is great, but every now and then, just fucking run and hit a new stride.

 

Red Light Green Light

I have often wondered just how much of my life has been spent stopped at red traffic lights. I was driving to the airport very early the other morning, long before any traffic was on the road, and yet, I managed to get stopped at every red light I came upon. I remember as I approached the last light before entering the interstate, thinking, at last, the very last red light.

I’m in Fairbanks, Alaska for a little vacation right now, visiting my love. He lives outside of Fairbanks a distance but has a business in town. When we are in town we are stopped at red lights for what seems unnecessarily long amounts of time for the amount of cars in this town. As we head towards the remote area we live in, he expresses his relief at finally passing the last red light. So, I am not the only one who pays close attention to impediments to progress along the roadway.

I know, red lights are necessary, but annoying. Stopping at a red light, losing momentum and having to come to a complete stop represents such a waste of energy. Having to accelerate back up to cruising speed repeatedly while driving in town massacres your fuel economy. As we know, this is why the difference in mileage can differ so between city and highway driving.

Not stopping at a red light is not really an option; there is both peril and penalty associated with it. I remember back in high school, driving around with my friends very late at night, we thought it was hilarious to stop at green lights and cruise slowly through red lights. It is a wonder we survived our youth when I think back to our various antics. Of course, we lived in a rather sleepy little town, even sleepier then than it is now, especially in the wee hours of the morning. Now, like many other municipalities, Napa has the photo-enforced red lights. They just got them a year or so ago. It was big news and still warrants quite a bit of excited discussion, like the weather or the newest restaurant to open somewhere in town, a nearly daily occurrence, much like the weather, and red lights. I’ve been dealing with photo-enforced traffic signals in Sacramento for many, many years. I know the drill; stop, or else. Or else to the tune of $450. That’s the penalty, the peril is a whole different story. In smaller municipalities, lights are often controlled by a sensor, when a car triggers the sensor, the light will change shortly thereafter. In larger cities, traffic flow is a high science and lights are strategically timed and in harmony with other lights along the route to ensure the most efficient flow of thousands of cars, day and night.

What do you do at red lights? We all use, or waste, the time in our own fashion. Some people, and I have borne witness to this, use the time to pick their noses, others to lapse into deep thought, or discipline the children, pet the dog, stare ahead without thought, drum their fingers impatiently while staring at the red light with an attitude of pissed off impatience. I usually try to accomplish something; answer a text, change the Pandora station I’m listening to, update my shopping list in my notes section of my iPhone, buy the songs I bookmarked from iTunes, reorganize my purse. I mean, I pay attention to the light, I am usually the first one “off the line” when the light turns green. I am just not one of those that can let those seconds go by without having something to show for it. Perhaps it’s a compulsion, I can’t help it.

When I was a kid I loved to roller skate. I still do. Growing up in Napa we had an old skating rink in town until I was in junior high. I used to spend as many weekends there as I could, skating and skating and skating. They would have free skate sessions, broken up every so often with a game, like the hokey pokey or limbo, or, one of my favorites, red light green light. With red light green light, the skaters would all line up against the back wall. The announcer would call out green light and we’d all skate forward. When the announcer called “red light”, we’d all have to come to a complete and instant stop. If you were caught moving after the call was made, you were disqualified from the game. First of all, it was really hard to stop, instantly, with four wheels on the bottom of each foot, but once you stopped, it was even harder to get going again. The object of the game, of course, was to not be disqualified, but also, to be the first across the finish line. Since it was a race, getting back up to speed after being stopped was the real trick. The stakes were high, a free item from the snack bar!

There are many aspects of life that are no different than red lights, and green lights. Relationships, careers or school, health, lifestyle; they are all as de-energized by having to stop, by red lights, as are cars or roller skaters. And how fast they get back up to speed, or the direction in which they head when the light turns green again will vary.

In a relationship, especially a new one, things may be progressing quite nicely, both parties are excited and are devoting a lot of energy to the new romance. If there aren’t expectations of how things should progress, there are, at least hopes of how the relationship will continue at the same momentum. However, as a relationship matures, it is completely impossible for the same energy, enthusiasm and momentum to continue once the novelty has worn off. While not a red light, there is usually a yellow light, a period of caution. Each relationship time line will differ based on about a million different factors, but, once the newness has worn off and the parties involved have become fairly comfortable with one another, but before they’ve really become a team or a solid partnership, that’s when the light turns yellow. It is natural, it is really the only expectation you should have of a relationship, that there will be a point in time, somewhere between “new” and “long-term” where you go “I just don’t know”. Some relationships will hit a red light at this point and fail, out of confusion, fear or just a realization that it wasn’t meant to be. When the light turns green, one party turns right, the other turns left and they venture off on their own. Other relationships will wait out the red light, both parties taking stock of everything, and when the light turns green, they venture down the highway together. Again, it may take a little while to gain momentum again, and it will likely be at a different speed and velocity than “in the beginning”, but having taken advantage of that caution period, and the pause at the red light, to really think things through, the relationship flourishes, the parties have experience in handling those occasional bumps, potholes and, yes, even red lights, as they are bound to happen again and again throughout the course of the partnership.

With careers or school, we often take off at full throttle in our chosen field of employment or study. We’ve likely spent a great deal of resources to get where we are; considerable time in school up to this point, a considerable monetary investment, no doubt, and a lot of energy. Often, again, once the “honeymoon period” has elapsed, we usually hit a red light and wonder, is this really what I want to do for a living for the rest of my life, is this really the field of employment, the field of study I want to devote all of these resources to. And again, when the light turns green, hopefully you’ve taken advantage of that pause to seriously consider all the options, all the factors and make a sound decision to continue straight down the road, or to turn another direction. Just like a relationship, it is best to continue straight through the intersection on the green light only if you are still feeling committed love, because divorcing a career is not much easier than divorcing someone you married out of folly.

There are a lot of people out there living less than healthy lifestyles. Really, I don’t think anyone the whole world over, is leading a 100% healthy lifestyle. In other words, there is always room for improvement. There is always new information available about the choices we can make that impact our health. Some folks endeavor to improve the healthfulness of their lifestyle, prompted by a medical development, or pressure from a partner or family member, or just because New Year’s came along, but without self-motivation, without intent, once they hit that first red light, their efforts falter and when the light turns green, they often do a U-turn and head right back where they came from. Replacing unhealthy habits with healthy habits is probably one of the hardest things a person can endeavor to do. I think it’s probably more difficult than leaving an ill-fated, long-term relationship. I’ve done both, I speak from experience, but that may just be the case for me. We all drive a different model of car on a different roadway, I suppose. Again, what you do at those red lights when they stop you in your tracks is what’s going to make the difference. Unlike the moment for discernment with a relationship or a career or field of study choice, with the adoption of a healthy lifestyle, the pause shouldn’t be where we consider whether we’ve made the right choice in making the journey, but whether we are taking the right route. We should instead be deciding how best to get there. Take a moment to read the travel guides, the maps, and figure out how to navigate there in a manner that will best suit our needs.

There are many things we can do to improve our lives other than just get healthier. We can, of course, make an effort to evolve in many, many ways; relationships, spirituality, creativity, self-confidence, success in school, work, entrepreneurship, or any other worthy goal or goals you strive for. Any time we are striving for achievement, for growth, for evolution, we are going to hit red lights, we are going to encounter a temporary immobilization where we are going to have to make the effort to get focused and get under way again, on the road to the goals we set. I guess, being the queen of analogies, I’d have to say, making the journey to a more self-improvement is all about the path your choose to get there. You should get there, no doubt, and once you begin your journey you should never stop your journey. It’s all about the coordinates you enter into your Tom Tom and the route you ultimately take. I know when I enter a destination into my Tom Tom and it attempts to take me down a road I’d rather not go, I’ll go the way I’d prefer and eventually, Tom Tom and I align paths. I didn’t make a U-turn, I kept going on a slightly altered path. Have you ever come upon a red light and decided to turn down a side street, or, yes, cut through the gas station to circumvent it? That’s what you should do when you hit a red light with healthy lifestyle changes; keep going, alter your path if it makes sense, but keep heading towards the destination!

So, as you sit at the next red light you hit, whether an actual traffic signal or a metaphorical red light, don’t pick your nose or stare off into space an drool, take a moment to seriously reflect on where you are, where you want to be, consider the direction you’re headed and where you ultimately want to be. Once that light turns green, whether you’ve decided to turn, circumvent traffic by changing your route or to stay the course, do so with intent and you’ll get to the destination you seek.