Do you remember, as a kid, having to walk places? To school, to a friend’s house, to a playground? No matter how near or far, we always looked for a shortcut. More often than not, that shortcut was more trouble than it was worth.
There was a ravine in my backyard and a ranch behind it. I lived in a curb and gutter, cookie cutter house neighborhood. Still do, as a matter of fact. Many of my friends lived in the same neighborhood, some on the same creek. Other friends lived in other neighborhoods on the other side of the creek, beyond the ranch. There were many times we used the creek as a “shortcut” from one house to another, from one neighborhood to another and even to the elementary school. It was a “shortcut”. Not.
When we walked the creek one of several things were likely to happen, if not all of those several things; we ‘d get caught for trespassing and get yelled at, and, if we were caught on the rancher’s property, we might get shot at with rock salt from his pellet gun. We might get poison oak. Correction, other kids might get poison oak, I GOT poison oak. We might get scared by a snake, or by something else. I remember one time, finding a dead animal that had had its fur burned off. My friend told me “the devil” did that kind of stuff. I was terrified to go anywhere near there for years. It was possible we’d lose our footing on the steep banks and end up falling into the large masses of thorny blackberry bushes. By the time we were all about eleven years old, we figured out the sidewalk was a much better, far less risky and way more direct route to almost anywhere we wanted to go.
But, the lesson wasn’t complete.
As an adult, as a driver, I prefer to keep moving. I live in California, keeping moving is sometimes a tremendous challenge. I have been known to “shortcut” on surface streets to avoid traffic on the highway. I get to keep moving, but rarely, rarely, rarely, do I get to my destination any quicker than I would had I stuck it out on the highway. When I drive home from Sacramento to Napa, I take Highway 12 between Interstate 80 and Highway 29. Unless the traffic gods are smiling down on me in an unusual manner, I’m going to be moving much slower than I’d like on Highway 12 through “the canyon”. Wine country tourist traffic and lots of road construction lately just exacerbates the situation. A half-mile before the intersection of Highways 12 and 29 is a “shortcut”, North Kelly Rd. It sneaks around behind the business park and pops out onto Highway 29 a mile up. I always, always, always take this “shortcut”, thinking, as a “local”, no one knows about it. I’ve done this for over thirty years with the same result. I’m usually one of about five cars that sneak off to the right down this route. Nine times out of ten, I pop out onto Highway 29 a mile or so up, immediately behind the car I’d been behind through “the canyon” on Highway 12. But, still, I take my “shortcut.” My sanity may be questioned at this point.
There are other shortcuts we all favor. There are shortcuts for tasks at work, for losing weight, for cooking, for cleaning, for gaining wealth, and knowledge. Remember Cliff Notes? They never served me well. Ever. When will it occur to us all that shortcuts are never shortcuts, and usually result in taking more time and effort later on? Am I right?
Today I was working on a project for a client. It is a tedious, tiresome task and for some reason, I told my client I’d just “finish it up” for them rather than sending the project to them to complete at the end of our eight hour consulting session like I’m supposed to do. I figured it would take me an hour or two to finish, and, based on the number of emails and phone calls I’d had from them before the consulting session with questions that numbered far greater than any of my other clients, heck, more than all of my other clients, combined. I rationalized that it would ultimately take me less time to “just do it” than it would to have to walk them through it over the course of two weeks via hundreds of emails and conference calls.
I opened up the task at hand on my computer this morning knowing exactly what had to be done. I cringed at the tedium and tried to mastermind a “better way”. A shortcut. While I procrastinated, I mean, made my coffee, I had a fantastic idea! A shortcut! Why hadn’t I thought of it before? I ran upstairs to my office, coffee sloshing in my travel coffee press slash mug I got for Christmas from my mom. I sat down at my desk and began my new, improved, better way, the shortcut to the long, tedious task before me. You know, the one I said would only take an hour or two. Two hours later, I wasn’t even a quarter of the way done. Fortunately, I was wise enough to only employ the “better way” on the first of four sections of the project.
On the second section, I reverted to the “old way”, the long route, and an hour later I was done with the second section. I procrastinated at the half way point, I mean, I went for a run over my lunch break, then ate lunch because I was ravenous, then took a shower because I smelled beastly, and dried and curled my hair, and carefully applied makeup, because I might go somewhere this afternoon if I ever get my work done, and finally, I sat down at my desk to finish up the task. Two hours later, I’d completed the last two sections. The shortcut in the morning ended up costing me over an hour of time I could have put to so much better use. The shortcut wasn’t a shortcut at all. This morning’s shortcut cost me in other ways. Because the first section, the one I “shortcut” took so awfully long, I ended up taking a break, needing a break, at the half way point. Perhaps if I’d just done it the way I knew would work, the way that has always worked, the way we teach other people to do the task, I’d have finished the whole project before lunch and could’ve used my afternoon for other, more important work. That more important work just got sloughed off onto tomorrow’s to-do list.
We just gotta realize that a shortcut, though it usually seems like a great idea, no matter what the task at hand may be, will almost always result in more time, more effort, and often, abandonment of the task, especially when we’re talking about fitness, wealth, weight loss, and health. You’re not likely to get poison oak, see a snake or fall into blackberry bushes, but I’m pretty sure you’re going to end up spending more time and more effort than you bargained for by trying to shortcut that which just takes time. Just keep to the highway.
I’ll let you in on a little secret; New Years is my least favorite holiday of the whole year. There may be some level of posttraumatic stress syndrome involved here, for me. It seems that New Years has been a time of loss, loneliness, turmoil, upheaval, drama and distress at many points in my past. In fact, my personal history has proven that any major upheaval or difficulty is usually proximate to New Years. I know not why. I’m a super positive person most of the time, and I certainly don’t dwell on the past, but as New Years approaches each year, I anticipate it with a certain amount of trepidation and solemnity.
I also hold time at a very high value. Time is more valuable than money, and while we can save and accumulate, invest and bank money, we cannot save, accumulate, invest or bank time. The celebration of the passage of time is one I don’t understand. I get that some see New Years as a time of renewal. I see every second as an opportunity for renewal. To party at the passage of another year confounds me. But I’d still like to be invited to the party, just so you know, I’m very social no matter what the date on the calendar is.
Okay, so I didn’t get to kiss my Sweetie at the stroke of twelve last night and I may be pouting a little about that, too.
There is yet another aspect of New Years that detracts from my general joie de vie; “the resolutionists”. Bless their pea-picking hearts. This being the time of year when the gym is overcrowded with people with big ideas and short attention spans. There are lines at all the cardio machines and the classes are all full to capacity. True, it is a short-lived problem and things are back to normal within a month, still, it is not a good month at the gym for those of us who go there regularly and consistently. Resolutions, shmesolutions.
I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions. I know, you’d think I would. I don’t. At all.
How can this be? I believe in setting goals and making an effort to evolve into the people we deserve to be, into the people we are capable of becoming, into something much more than we are presently, which is, perhaps, much more than we were in the past. True. But none of this growth and evolution came from the setting of a resolution.
Let’s explore the word “resolution”; it means to resolve. Let’s look closely at the word resolve; re + solve. So, we are then going to re-solve all of the same old problems because we didn’t completely solve them before, or our solving of them was only temporary. So, each and every January 1st, we just spend some time, a day, a week, maybe even a month, re-solving the same things we re-solved the year before. And the year before that. And the year before that. Resolutions, then, really, in application, mean a temporary solution to an ongoing desire, issue or problem.
I can’t help but think that in our resolute attempt to solve these desires, issues and problems, year after year after year, they must have some level of importance to us, and, for whatever reason, or reasons, we fail to solve the desire, issue or problem completely or permanently. I think that by reframing these desires, issues or problems as goals, and then managing them appropriately, we can have successful, lasting and complete solutions. And, so, I believe in solutions, not resolutions.
Solutions. How to solve stuff, once and for all.
Be specific and thorough. Don’t be vague. If you want to be healthier, great! But what, exactly, does healthier mean? What does it mean to you, personally? Does “being healthier” incorporate weight loss, or better cardio endurance, or eating more wholesome food, or wearing a certain size of jeans, or being able to accomplish some task or feat, or gaining control over a disease or physical ailment? Being “healthier” can be any of these, some of these, all of these, or none of these. It is up to you to determine what it means, to you, exactly. Define it, in every dimension, in every detail. For me, “being healthier” ended up encompassing several unique goals, each of which were managed separately, beginning at separate points and then managed on their own individual timeline. I managed exercise separately from eating clean, and once I mastered those, I added physical endurance. Separate from physical endurance was core strength and balance. Now, I’d like to add flexibility and muscular strength, two more completely separate, unique goals. You may have to take your all-encompassing goal and break it into several blocks and then decide how to organize them.
Once you’ve defined your goal or goals, and have broken them into their unique blocks, prioritize them. It is very likely you won’t be able to tackle them all simultaneously, so decide which is first and what’s to follow. One reason our resolutions fail is that we are taking a huge, vague idea and trying to install it immediately into our lives, we usually become overwhelmed by the magnitude and impossibility of it all and abandon the entire idea, only to try to tackle it, again, the following New Year’s. Rome was not built in a day, a week, a month or even a year.
Once our goals are defined in detail and are prioritized, we need to decide how we can measure our progress. Progress is what will motivate us to keep going. Progress can be difficult to recognize if we have no ruler by which to compare it to. To make a goal measurable, we need to define, first of all, what “success” or “completion” of the goal is, in other words, what is the definition of “done”. For weight loss, this may be pounds or inches, dress, jeans or shirt size. For endurance, the ability to complete a race or competition, perhaps, for strength, the ability to lift or manage a certain amount of weight. You get the idea. We need to know the definition of done. Having determined the end, we need to consider setting intermediate markers or milestones. To go from couch potato to 100-mile endurance run is a very long process and inserting some intermediate measures to note progress is going to be helpful and extremely motivating. In this example, perhaps a 5k, then a 10k, then a half-marathon, a full-marathon and then a fifty-miler. Likewise, with jean size, going from a size 22 to a size 4 is, and should be, a fairly long timeline. Perhaps set a preliminary goal of size 18, then size 14, then size 10, and so forth. Having, personally, gone from a size 16 to a size 6, it was a huge accomplishment every time I HAD to go buy jeans! I resupplied at size 12, 8 and finally 6, and each time I did, I was so happy with my accomplishment I never despaired at the overall length of time it took to achieve my ultimate goal.
Our goals also need to be realistic. We are all capable of accomplishing nearly anything we set our minds to, true, but pay attention to the word “nearly”. We can’t go back in time and we cannot change other people, for example. Our goals need to be personal and cannot involve progress, change or evolution of other people in our lives. For me, getting to a size 0, making someone love me, and running an average 6-minute mile for a full-marathon are not reasonable or realistic goals. Getting to a size four, being lovable and running a full-marathon in less than four hours, however, with time, a great deal of diligence and effort, are realistic goals.
So, as the first day of the New Year draws to a close, and your resolutions loom large in your mind as the holidays fade into the rear view and the reality of daily life lies ahead when the alarm goes off in the morning, consider reframing those resolutions as well-defined, prioritized, measurable and realistic goals. As solutions. Organize them, manage them and find a lasting solution, rather than a recurring resolution. Party on.
I was puttering about in the kitchen yesterday morning, fixing breakfast and doing dishes. The kitchen is what I consider traditional, there is a window over the kitchen sink. I consider this normal and have had a couple of abnormal kitchens in my life. I hated them. It should be part of the building code; kitchen sink placement shall be beneath a window with a view to the outdoors, preferably to a pleasing view. Since I currently live in the house I grew up in, and there is a window over the kitchen sink, and the view is quite pleasing, I suppose my high expectations are well-explained.
As I puttered about in the kitchen, at the sink, glancing out to the pleasing view on occasion, I noticed a squirrel. Our squirrels are numerous and are big and fat and gray. Growing up, Mom used to name the squirrels, based on the characteristics of their tails. There was Wispy Tail and Bushy Tail and Fluffy Tail. Those are the ones I remember. I don’t remember, though, actually being able to discern one squirrel from the other quite as well as Mom. At a young age, I assumed this was a gift that came with wisdom and maturity. No. They still look all the same to me, I do consider myself at least somewhat more wise and mature than when I was a tot. Last week, I saw four different squirrels scampering around the back yard at the same time, two in one tree, a third high in the branches, navigating from one tree to another, the squirrel highway system, I suppose. The fourth squirrel was on the fence between our yard and the ravine where a seasonal creek runs during the wetter months, or the wetter month, or the one wet week we have each year.
I observed the single squirrel, yesterday, on the deck railing, not too terribly far from the window where I stood. The squirrel was preoccupied with his nuts. I watched as he flitted from one point to another, looking for a good place to hide his nuts. He twitched his tail continuously as he fretted over one locale, then another.
I mentioned to Mom that there was a squirrel on the deck and she asked, “Oh, is it Fluffy Tail?” I replied, “Um, I don’t know?” They all have fluffy tails as far as I can tell. “Fluffy Tail is the only squirrel left,” Mom stated with a melancholy tone, “he’s the only squirrel I ever see anymore.” Mom’s world is one of scarcity, these days. I told her I saw four squirrels at one time, in the backyard, earlier in the week. She didn’t seem convinced, or didn’t hear me. Either way. And at least I was off the hook for proper squirrel identification, as far as I was concerned. If Fluffy Tail is the “only” squirrel left, then the squirrel on the deck MUST be Fluffy Tail. And, so, I’d probably be right to say that every squirrel in a hundred mile radius is also Fluffy Tail. That certainly makes it easier, and a lot less mysterious. I shall no longer worry or be mystified by proper squirrel names. It’s all kind of nutty, anyway, if you ask me.
Mom continued to muse, now watching the squirrel, busy with his nuts, “I always wondered if they were pooping when they twitched their tails like that, or is that how they balance?” My logical and over-analytical mind has to assume the latter, otherwise, the world as I know it would be a foot deep in squirrel shit, I reckon. And, to add further credence, I don’t know that I’ve ever, in my life, seen squirrel shit. Anywhere. I think it must just be vapor, or dust or some other particulate matter that does not accumulate. Another mystery.
I watched the squirrel, he watched me.
Squirrels are everywhere, I know, to the point where we kind of take them for granted. I’ve only lived in one place where there were no squirrels. We had rats the size of squirrels, but no squirrels. This was sort of a depressed and crime-ridden neighborhood, a stepchild suburb of Sacramento. The area was populated by the down and out, with many Section 8 rentals, there were houses that were rumored to be meth labs, and, for the most part, from what I could tell, the demographics were what I’d consider “white trash” and “rednecks”. Not that they are one in the same, but, coincidentally, are often found in the same areas. I don’t want to make any inappropriate correlations, but I found it interesting that there were no squirrels, at all, in this neighborhood, in spite of the many mature trees and ample food supply. I’m thinking the squirrels, themselves, were considered an ample food supply by some of the residents in the area. I’ve never cooked or eaten squirrel, but I’m pretty sure if I ever wanted to, I could knock on ‘most any door in that neighborhood and be obliged.
I lived in another neighborhood that had plentiful squirrels that were both a joy and a relief to see, after the previous situation. There was one demonic squirrel, though, and he frequented a tree on our property, that had several large limbs that arched over our wide, graveled driveway. On more than one occasion, as I made my way to or from the house and car, this particular squirrel would chatter and scold me, then throw, not just drop, but throw, with force and with malice aforethought, an object at me. Once, caught unaware, I got beaned in the head with an apple and almost lost consciousness! There’s a squirrel worth looking up a recipe for!
For those areas where squirrels haven’t been hunted and eaten to extinction, we’ll find geographic differences, some have smaller squirrels, some squirrels are brown, or red, or striped. The college I attended has fricking scary squirrels! They will crawl right up on your lap and try to pry food from your fingers, staring intently at the food with one eye and into your eyes with the other. I swear it. There are squirrels on campus that are nearly as large as some of the more petite students. Big, scary, damn squirrels. I was sitting on a bench beneath a tree one day, knowing me I was probably studying, for the first time, for an exam the very next hour, and something sizable whizzed past my head from above and landed with a frightening thud on the ground next to me. A squirrel. I feared he’d be injured, or dead, from the fall from the top of the stately sycamore tree next to me. Nope. He stood up, sized me up, and, once convinced I had no food, scampered back up the tree. A few minutes later another student sat at a nearby bench, and, moments later, whump, the same squirrel landed on the dirt next to that bench. This squirrel was so obsessed with food, apparently, that it chose the fastest route to the ground to be the first, of thousands of squirrels, to pry food from a human’s hands. Scary, scary, scary squirrels.
I’ve been on a few backpacking adventures at Philmont Scout Ranch outside of Cimarron, New Mexico. Here, the little ground squirrels are called, and not with an air of fondness, but more one of disdain, “mini-bears”. If food is not handled and stored according to the best of “bear proofing” standards, if not the real bears, then for certain the mini-bears, will chew through anything to get at any morsel of edible matter, including dehydrated backpacking food and greasy, nasty, “squeeze-cheese”, which, I’m sure, isn’t cheese at all. If you set your daypack down for three seconds, when you pick it up again, there will likely be a mini-bear inside, having either deftly unlatched the nearly human proof latches, or, usually, having gnawed a squirrel-sized hole in the bottom of the pack. Varmints.
I especially like the bubonic plague carrying squirrels that populated the Sierras there for a while. Not.
Fluffy Tail isn’t quite so terrifying, trouble causing, diseased, or demonic, he’s not menacing at all, and seems, actually, to have an appropriate amount of wariness about me, on the other side of the glass, a good twenty feet away. And though I’ve seen squirrels on practically a daily basis, for most of my life, this morning, I was drawn to watch Fluffy Tail’s antics.
And, as with everything in life, I learned something.
It doesn’t’ really matter if everyone can see your nuts ~
Show the world what you’re made of. In most things in life, we kind of just have to put it out there; to grow, to develop, to evolve, to succeed, we can’t quietly hide away, keeping our talents, our passions, our abilities, hidden or secret. The more willing and able we are to step out of our comfort zone and make ourselves known, the more comfortable we are with being uncomfortable, the more we have to gain. Take risks, take chances, make mistakes, learn from your mistakes, get up, brush yourself off, laugh it off and take a different approach. Don’t ever let fear or insecurities dictate your actions or compromise your goals or your dreams. Get out there and show off your nuts!
Take chances in making connections, fostering relationships, establishing a network both professionally and personally. Every connection you make is a two way street with good will running in both directions. Never allow yourself to miss an opportunity to connect with people, and those opportunities exist 24/7/365. I don’t mean social networking, though it has its place, I’m talking about real, tangible connected relationships with real people, outside of the comforts of your house. Get out there and show off your nuts!
It doesn’t really matter if everyone can see you’re nuts ~
Take pride in your uniqueness and individuality, even if you do march to the beat of a different drummer. How refreshing is it to meet people who are confident, outgoing and a little bit zany? It’s our differences, our unique qualities, our one-of-a-kind way of looking at things or doing things that make us special. Who wants to blend in with the crowd? Most great inventors and achievers in our time were thought to be out of their minds for the ideas and their commitment to see those ideas through; Thomas Edison, Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, Winston Churchill, Albert Einstein, and the list goes on and on. In fact, you’d better be a little nuts if you have any intention of succeeding, it’s part of the process, to keep trying in the face of repeated failure; also know as the definition of insanity.
Be quick ~
Life is short, there is no time to waste, not a single second. Every second of every day should be put to good use in furthering our evolution. I’m not saying you have to work sixteen hour days to get ahead, I’m saying that no time should be wasted. Time put to good use includes time for adequate rest, some stimulating and interesting adventures, appropriate time for relaxation, reflection and meditation, time for good nutrition and adequate physical exertion, time for love and for nurturing relationships and friendships, time for acquiring knowledge, for developing new interests, hobbies, pastimes, time for exploring possible new career avenues or technologies. Plan and use your time carefully and guard it judiciously. Time is not refundable, expires quickly and cannot be retrieved or replenished. Use it ever so wisely.
Stop, observe, then decide what action is appropriate. Be thoughtful, reflective and contemplative, but don’t dwell or belabor. Be decisive, with discretion. You can see any prey animal you encounter freeze, momentarily, and in those seconds, a life or death decision is made. Have you ever seen a deer deliberate over whether to run or go back to grazing for more than a few seconds? And yet, the life of the deer depends on that split second decision and usually multiple times a day. True, we are predators, most often, and have been given the luxury of time to mull things over, we’ve also been given incredible intelligence, which is both a blessing and our bane. We are capable of acting quickly and rashly, often to our detriment. We are equally as capable of being unable to make a timely decision, again, usually to our detriment. Observe the squirrel; freeze, watch, and decide; scamper or get back to taking care of your nuts.
Don’t keep all you nuts in one place ~
Have a variety of interests, develop goals for each role you serve in your life, nurture your passions, follow your causes. We have a remarkable amount of energy if we know how to appropriately develop it and use it. We all have the individual ability to change the world in a positive way. Together, our changes can amount to amazing things. Explore every avenue.
Don’t forget where you put your nuts ~
Be organized. De-clutter your life, de-clutter your mind. Much of success, personal and professional, arises from efficiency. Efficiency is never gained in a cluttered space or in a cluttered mind. A place for everything, everything in its place, including your nuts. Every effort you take to cut the clutter is going to result in a freeing and liberating euphoria. Clutter in our midst and in our minds robs us of energy, vitality and precious, precious time. One of the best books I’ve read this year was a book on minimalism, “The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide: How to Declutter, Organize, and Simplify Your Life” by Francine Jay. I have a ways to go, but, yes, every step towards minimalism is truly bliss.
Sample your nuts ~
Whoever made cookies without having a spoonful of cookie dough? Liar. Everything we do speaks to our reputation. Double check everything before you release it to the universe; thoughts, words and actions all deserve a quick sample before we decide to unleash them for the rest of the world. What we send out comes back our way, guaranteed. Think positive, speak kindly, act with valor, honor and integrity, and as a result, live richly.
Know when to stop hiding your nuts ~
Know when to stop working and focus on what really matters in life; you, your health, your family, relationships and friendships. Voluminous are stories of people so driven to work and succeed in their careers that they lost everything that truly, truly mattered. Every day should have ample time in it to savor that which you cherish, beginning with yourself, your health and well-being, for it is a healthy you that will be able to love, nurture and provide for those you care for for a much greater time. It is a healthy you that is a happier and more relaxed you, a you that those you care for will so enjoy spending time with. Get your priorities straight. Jobs come and go, no job is worth sacrificing health, family, relationships and friendships for.
The real lesson here, I’d have to say, is to learn to stop, look out the window, and to find value in everything you observe. Lessons in life are everywhere, we only need to stop fussing with our nuts long enough to pay attention, and learn.
I got up early and headed east on Interstate 80 to run with SacFit this morning. Except for the getting up at 4:30 AM, I really enjoy these mornings. I love driving on an empty highway, as fast as my little car will go, coffee cup in one hand, and my Pandora station du jour at an unsafe volume. Just as I get to the edge of Sacramento, the sun breaks over the Sierra Nevada Mountains further east and I am blinded. But, for the few moments before my vision is totally impaired by the brilliance of the sun, it is glorious. Perhaps I need to consider buying sunglasses with superior optic lenses. I’m fairly certain the pair I got at the gas station for twenty bucks isn’t really the optical quality I should be wearing for driving or sports or, at all. A point to consider.
These drives are so carefree, so exhilarating. Especially when there are no cops, and there generally aren’t, at this time of day. I like to go fast. I like to go fast and get away with it. I know I’m on borrowed time, I exceed the speed limit far more than I obey it, and I’m at least fifteen or twenty years, now, without a speeding ticket. But as I am sailing down the highway, feeling like prey that escaped the gaze of a predator, I round a corner and see a horrific accident. There are cops and emergency vehicles and I can’t help but think, no survivors in the wreckage. And I am sobered. Life can be led safely, life can be led carelessly, and either way, you could lose. It’s almost like a crapshoot every time you get in a car. Or Russian roulette. I reduce my speed and drive more cautiously. For about two miles.
Like last week, I arrived early enough to relax, think, write in my journal and eat my half of a peanut butter and honey sandwich before my run. We ran 9.5 miles today. The email said we’d be running 10.5 miles, after 8 miles last week. It seemed like a pretty big jump, but I’ve run twenty, so I don’t really care. Apparently, there was an error, so we got a reprieve of one whole mile. This is my third week with my new pace group, and I’ve been really pleased. The pace has been good and there have been no whiners and no mid-run potty breaks, water refills and all those little delays that annoy the hell out of me in “group” runs. I don’t like having to stop my watch mid run to accommodate the small bladders of others, both the anatomical and the hydration pack variety. You’re either prepared to run the distance, or you’re not. I am. Let’s do this. This week, quel domage. Tiny bladders of both varieties, and whiners, too. We are an 11:30 pace group, with our one minute walk break after each five minutes run, we should average between 11:45 and 12:15. We ran 13:20. Seriously.
As we neared the end of our 9.5 miles, I reached for my phone to stop my running apps and save the time and route information. There was an unexpected text message from a close friend. It seemed a little early in the morning for her to be texting, and that could mean only one thing. Bad news. We have one friend quite ill with brain cancer, and another who has been battling another type of cancer. With a little trepidation, I viewed the text message. It bore news, terrible news, the possibility of which hadn’t occurred to me in my wildest imagination. Her older sister had passed away the previous night. You know how that cold curtain falls over you when you hear news like that, like every drop of blood has been drained from your body. Your mind goes blank and your conscious mind feels like it has been shut in a box deep within your brain. Everything around you unfolds in slow motion. I could hear myself saying “Oh my God. Oh my God.”
This wasn’t totally unexpected, I suppose. She’d been battling alcoholism and related health issues for some time. But she was better. She’s been better. I thought she was okay. I thought she was going to be all right. Oh my God.
I did my stretching, dutifully, numbly, and headed toward my car. I saw a friend of mine, from high school, that lives in the greater Sacramento area now and runs with my running club, several pace groups ahead of me. We graduated the same year and we know all the same people. He knows my friend and her sister, so I shared the news with him and he was as shocked as I was. It was good to have someone nearby to share some thoughts and a few memories with. It helped immensely and I was able to go back to my car and reply to the text message with a fair amount of composure.
Through it all, we agreed, life is so incredibly fragile. There are those who, like us, try to eat well, exercise and do everything we can to preserve health and secure a long, active life. And there are no guarantees for our efforts. There are others who, intentionally or not, destroy their bodies, their lives and even those who seek to end the life they’ve been given, intentionally. There are more who just take life for granted and let it slip mindlessly away. Squander it. Life is a mystery. Life is a gift. Every day we wake to see another day is something we should express gratitude for, something we should cherish. Every day we wake from sleep, we should seek to put the gift of another day to the best use possible. There are people whose lives are cut short that would love to have the time that another has so carelessly wasted. There are people battling terminal illnesses that would love to have the days that another person discarded in ending their life too soon.
I don’t think we are meant to understand. I think we are meant to take what we do know, that life is fragile, life is uncertain and that life is mysterious, and remember to honor the people in our lives that we love. Spend time with them. Listen to them. Talk with them. Show them affection. Express love. Each day we live is a gift, and each day those around us are there, too, is also a gift. Fleeting. Cherish those gifts.
Today was like some weird time continuum thing. Sunday already? How did that happen?
This phenomenon continued beyond just that moment when I awoke and realized it was Sunday. Already. I went down for breakfast, my usual Sunday at home no other plans kind of breakfast; a piece of bacon, a shirred egg, oatmeal, the kind that takes thirty minutes to cook, coffee and some kind of fruit. But I was out of fruit today and I’m not sure how that happened, either. I fixed breakfast, ate breakfast, wrote in my journal, tapped out a few notes on my iPad for articles I’d like to write, perused Facebook for “the news” and to make sure I’d made the appropriate birthday wishes. I had a square of dark chocolate and Mom decided we should have mimosas with her unchilled, $2 bottle of sparkling wine like substance. She’s saving the “good”, chilled bottle of sparkling wine for some occasion that we’ve already made alternate plans for. Whatever. I consented. And then it was noon. How did that happen? Not only is it Sunday, now it’s noon on Sunday. How did that happen?
I did my dishes and took my shower and got ready. Ready for what, I don’t know, but I was ready. I’d planned on, perhaps, working on a video project, which I would need a few items from the grocery store. I was out of fruit anyway. And yogurt. So, I guess I was shopping. Now I had plans.
I’ve been in dire need of a new suitcase. My big, purple Samsonite has no zipper pulls left and the fabric has been worn thin enough in several places that TSA no longer has to open my suitcase to make an inspection. One zipper compartment is so broken I can, in no way, open the compartment. My travel yoga mat is hopelessly trapped in that compartment, weighing down my suitcase just enough that I had to pay the extra weight penalty on my last trip to Alaska, where I had zero intention of doing yoga and most certainly did not need to take the mat. It is a surprisingly heavy item and I just couldn’t remove it from the suitcase without permanently destroying the suitcase. The local department store that I hate with every cell of my being has “the one” suitcase I like on sale for 60% off. I’m very particular about my suitcases. To me, it’s like my house. I spend more time living out of my suitcase than I do out of a house. I feel that my fastidiousness is well warranted. Mom had her Sunday pile of ad inserts from her two Sunday newspapers in a terrifyingly tall tower on the edge of the table. There were no less than four different ad booklets for this one store for this one week. I was made to look through them. All. It was infuriating. I especially love how the items aren’t organized in any logical manner, suitcases were pictured on three different pages in three different, and totally random sections of the booklet. The one I was interested in, of course, was on the very last page. Some of the specials were for today only, others could be combined with stickers received in the mail or coupons from other ad inserts to realize even more savings. When you used the store credit card, which Mom has, the sales associate will give you a “scratcher” and you will realize even more savings of an amount to be known only after you rubbed that gooky gray stuff off the flimsy paperboard, usually also removing the ink stating the amount of additional savings in the process. When I added it all up, before reading the incredibly small print, it looked like they might pay me 34.78124% of the retail value of the suitcase to take it off their hands. I decided I’d better take my chances and stop by the department store on my way to Whole Foods, which isn’t on the way at all, but, you can get clear across Napa in ten minutes flat, even in what Napkins call “traffic”.
I drove downtown and found the only parking place available in the whole city on a sunny Sunday afternoon. I stepped through the dirt planter because the sidewalk was barricaded off for some 9/11 Memorial project that has been in the works since, well, I think 9/11/01. I finally made my way to the door of the department store. Upon entering, I headed towards the luggage section, having to step over an entire family of children and the husband who were lounging on the futon that was displayed in the “off to college” section. Once to the impossibly crowded luggage section, I perused the offerings and only found one suitcase of the brand I require, and, incredibly, in a size larger than I need. Anyone who has seen my suitcase will be amazed by that. I could buy the futon and fit it into the suitcase if I wanted. And the suitcase was blue, and much more than I want to spend, even on sale. I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t fit on domestic jets, anyway. Besides, I require purple, or red. I left. I’ll buy zip ties on the way home to secure the unsecure compartments on my old suitcase and keep looking for “the one”, on sale. On to Whole Foods.
I made my purchases, bundled them into my trunk and came home and suddenly it was time for dinner. How did that happen? And now it’s time for bed. How did that happen? I feel like the fast forward button is stuck on my day. I have nothing to show for it but a tub of yogurt and a few pieces of fruit in my refrigerator. SMH. Monday begins in a couple of hours. How did that happen?
My sanity may be questionable. I got up at 4:45 AM this morning, got dressed, jumped in my car and drove 80 miles to run eight fast miles with my running club. My running club is awesome and there isn’t anything quite like it in my new locale, so I commute Saturday mornings to run. At 5:30 on a Saturday morning, in the spring, there is virtually no traffic between the north San Francisco bay area where I live and Sacramento, where I run. Wintertime is another story, with snowboarders and skiers all heading towards the Sierras, but though there are many of them, they tend to be very efficient drivers. Today? It was a breeze! A nice consistent speed between ten and fifteen miles in excess of the speed limit. My highway motto is “I just want to do 72”, sort of a variation of Sammy Hagar’s “I can’t drive 55”.
After my run, and three delicious street tacos for lunch, I headed back home. Westbound. Late morning. Things were looking really good, we were all doing about 72 miles per hour, or so. I’m just happy. Blissful, even. Full of endorphins from my run, sunroof slanted, music on and I am singing at the top of my lungs. I do love to drive when thing are going my way! Then, it happened. Brake lights. We all came to an abrupt halt, then crept along for a bit, and then we were all back up to speed. Then brake lights, an abrupt halt, creeping, then back up to speed. This cycle was repeated for most of the 80-mile drive. I was still singing at the top of my lungs, but there were explicatives being mixed in here and there. I just wanted to go! There was no good reason for the slowing, no wrecks or stalled cars, no cops, no cows on the highway, nothing that could explain the behavior of the traffic. At least the last time I made the same drive westward and we all came to a screeching halt it was for a good, well, actually, an awful reason. A truck driver choked on something he was eating, blacked out and took out a BMW, killing the occupants, and mangled a couple of other cars. All lanes of the highway, in both directions, were closed. It took me two hours to go ten miles to the detour, where we were rerouted around the charred remains of the big rig and the BMW. It was gruesome, but a really valid reason for halted traffic on an interstate. I get a little claustrophobic when stuck in lanes and lanes of traffic for hours on end. Just a little cray cray. I just want to go!
Yes, I am one of those people you see in the rear view mirror gesturing, urgently, but politely (I don’t use the one finger salute, ever, I have a story about that, for another day). I really just want to go! I like moving forward quickly and efficiently. I will gladly pull to a lane to the right to let a faster car pass, and I appreciate the same courtesy from other drivers in my way. My ideal day driving is one where I can, like a bicyclist, maintain my cadence, or speed, unimpeded. I just want to go!
My habits and preferences driving are very much indicative of my general attitude in life. I just want to go! I am a very high energy, highly motivated individual and anything that slows or impedes progress will make me a little cray cray. This applies to all things, great and small. Fixing dinner to career paths. Doing dishes to training for a marathon. If you’ve read any of my material, you already know my philosophy on wasted or squandered time; it is a crime and a sin, in my eyes.
Everything I approach in life is with a “let’s do this!” kind of attitude. As an example, when I started the job I currently have, training accountants how to use specialized software to help them organize their workpapers and financial data, I was expected to learn to teach the “core” group of classes our team teaches. Our team teaches a total of about thirty different sessions, the core consists of maybe six or eight classes. Every time an opportunity came up to learn a new session, or when a brand new session was added to our curriculum, I would request to be one of the instructors. I would tell my manager, in these exact words “bring it”. Of the thirty classes we teach, I am the only person on our team that can competently perform twenty-nine of them, and if I had to teach the thirtieth one, I could be ready to do it by the end of this week. That may explain a little bit about my nature. I just want to go!
I just started running about a year ago. At the beginning of 2012, I was contemplating the feeling of freedom. I was emerging from a time in my life where I felt imprisoned by certain circumstances and I wanted to do things that would make me feel free until I was physically able to free myself of those binding, imprisoning circumstances. I thought about being a kid, I always remember the feeling of freedom as a child, at recess, running around the playground. Remember, as a kid, you ran everywhere. Ok, I did. Truthfully, I usually galloped; I was one of those horse crazy girls. Three things came to mind that I felt represented a similar feeling of freedom, and, ironically, there were all three things I felt I really sucked at. Dancing. Singing. Running. And those became my goals for 2012.
I took some salsa, tango and merengue dance classes. I became proficient enough to really enjoy it! I couldn’t find any singing lessons that were affordable that would work well with my work travel schedule, so I bought a DVD/CD series on learning to sing and, admittedly, I still suck, but I’m still trying. Running. I joined a running club on the recommendation of a good friend. I hadn’t run since junior high, that I can remember, anyway. Parts of high school and college are a little blurry, but if I ran, I don’t think it was far, or very pretty. The first day with the running club we were asked to run a mile to see what pace group we’d fit into. I’d been doing a lot of cardio at the gym, but I decided I’d take it a little easy. I didn’t want to be placed in a pace group that would kill me mile two! I ran the mile, without walking once, and finished at just about the time I figured I would. I was placed into a pace group and the following week I ran with them. It was excruciating! We run on a very busy multi-use trail; cyclists, runners, walkers, strollers, dogs, horses. The cyclists are murderous, rogue gangs of high-speed killers when you are a person jogging along on the shoulder! Terrifying! Since there are so many folks using the trail, we run two abreast in groups numbering anywhere from eight to maybe twenty, depending on attendance. We look very much like soldiers in a running exercise, minus carrying rifles. Our pace is monitored using expensive, sophisticated GPS watches. I could’ve walked faster. We weren’t running, I would call it more of a shuffling. But we only ran a few miles and the prospect of piling more miles on intimidated me a bit, so I stuck with the group for a few more weeks. Nope. I just wanted to go! I was getting kind of cray cray shuffling along with theses folks. I promoted myself another thirty seconds. Then another. I jumped to a whole different color group and finished the training season a full minute faster per mile than I’d been placed. But we were still shuffling. I competed in my first half marathon a few months later and ran the entire 13.1 miles a full one and a half minutes faster than the pace I had been training at. This season, I’m running with that pace group and have sights on jumping another color group for next season. I just want to go! Farther, and faster! You see how I am?
So how does my need to just go apply to my evolution? Simple, I am driven in all I endeavor to do. Not by money, not for prizes, not for notoriety. Just for the sense that I am improving myself in ways I consider meaningful. My free time is scarce, so I try to take on only those endeavors I think will provide me the best avenue for growth, for learning, for development, for improvement. Evolution. I just want to go. What could this possibly have to do with you? With your evolution? How am I trying to inspire you by telling you that slow drivers and shuffling runners make me cray cray?
I guess my point here is, with time being of limited supply, and more in this world to accomplish, to try, to learn, to experience than we can even list in a lifetime, let alone do, we really need to focus on what endeavors are meaningful to us, personally, and then just go. Any time you allow to go fallow, time that is idle or wasted, squandered, is time that could be used in an effort to evolve. Any effort we make to evolve into a stronger, happier, more balanced person is worthwhile. The trick is deciding which avenue to take when there are so many. Which interstate, which pathway will open up before us and let us just go?
I will award my entire net worth, my entire life savings, of roughly fifteen cents, to the person who invents a viable means of time travel! If I had more, I’d happily award more! What can I say? I have two kids in college.
The idea of time travel has been intoxicating for, well, most of time. Some quantum physicists insist we are already time traveling, but just aren’t smart enough to realize it. I’m talking about practical time travel, more like the “Back to the Future” style. Step into a DeLorean, poke a few buttons, and travel through time. I wouldn’t want to go back, necessarily, and do things over. Though the chance to do so is very attractive. I would like to employ this technology on a daily basis to, simply, get more out of my day.
I have spent most of my life living in the suburbs. I grew up in a small suburb in the northern part of the the San Francisco bay area. For most of my childhood, my dad owned a bicycle shop in a neighboring, north bay community and he spent precisely 36 minutes commuting to work in the morning, and another 36 minutes commuting home in the evening. I am no stranger to commuting, as I worked for him during high school and on weekends and vacations during most of college.
When I went to college, I moved to a much larger metropolitan area. Initially, I lived close to the campus, but, working for my dad on the weekends, with the bike shop nearly two hours away, I became one of those crazy, California commuters of lore. Ever since college, I have lived in one suburb or another, for most of my adult life. Work always required some form of commute. In a large metropolitan area, commuting often involves freeway driving and/or surface street driving. My nemesis was the traffic signal. Every time I got stopped at a traffic signal I’d be exasperated. I often wondered just how much of my life was spent sitting at red lights. Knowing me, I probably have a spreadsheet somewhere where I’ve tried to quantify it and even extrapolate it out over the estimated number of years I planned to continue working.
For a time, we lived in the country, on a ranch, about forty miles outside of town. My commute to town took just over an hour, as the first five miles or so were very poorly maintained dirt roads. To be more clear, dust roads in the summer and mud roads in the winter. This period of life coincided with my kids’ high school years, with all sorts of sports and extra curricular activities. It was not uncommon for me to make two, and sometimes even three, round trips to and from town in a day. Five or six days a week. It was during this time of my life that I drove in excess of 3,000 miles per month. Fortunately, I was the proud owner of an old, road weary Honda Accord. It happily bounced down the dirt roads, hugged the corners of the twisting, winding country roads, and sped effortlessly down the highway for 351,000 miles before requiring any attention.
Now, my commute is altogether different. I am a “remote” employee, meaning I do not have an office provided by the company. My office is my home. But, the nature of my job requires me to be away from my office a great deal of the time. I provide training to accounting professionals on software and related instruction. I perform this training, primarily, in person. Some of the training is provided online, which means my commute is about ten feet. But, when I train in person, significant travel is necessary. My territory is the U.S., meaning I am now spending a significant portion of my time driving to and from the airport, sitting in the airport, or sitting on an airplane.
To say I’ve spent a great deal of time traveling would be an understatement. Time travel would have prevented such a great loss. Or would it? Resigned to the fact that a significant portion of each day, for a significant portion of my life is spent in travel, I have made an effort to put that time to good use. When I drive, I often listen to motivational speakers. Occasionally, I listen to audiobooks. This time can also be put to use in working towards goals, for example, last year I set a personal goal to improve my ability to sing. I have an audio program for practicing and this is something I can do while driving. This year, I aim to improve my fluency in French, another thing I can do on the road. Often, though, I will listen to music and just think. Driving, for me, is often coffee time, too. Nothing like some alone time and a big cup of coffee to undertake some very effective brainstorming! Many good ideas have been hatched while sitting at a stop light or speeding down the highway.
My time in airports I tend to enjoy, yes enjoy, watching people. I love people watching and find it inspirational in writing. I have my little routine when it comes to airports. I am a proponent of arriving super early and having ample time for a cup of coffee and a light breakfast for my early morning departures, or a glass of wine and a light dinner for my evening departures. I hate rushing through the airport in a panic, and have, in fact, only ever done so once, and not out of poor planning, but from the unimaginable horror that is Atlanta’s highway system at commute time.
People often ask me how I can stand to fly so often. I just deal with it, again, putting the time to the best possible use. My super bright, chipper, glass-half-full, optimistic outlook is this; when I am on an airplane, no one can bother me. My phone is off, I don’t have to answer anyone or do anything, I am untouchable! I can focus on reading, or writing, or meditating, and on the rare occasion, sleep. This is the closest I get, a lot of the time, to “me time” and I take full advantage of it!
Time is an extremely valuable resource. It is not a renewable resource, once it has passed, it is gone forever. We cannot recycle time, we cannot bank time. Every fleeting second is here once, ever, and then gone. I think wasting time is a travesty, and that includes time that is seemingly wasted in commute and travel. It is, still, when all is said and done, time, precious, precious time. And like the time we may be squandering by sitting for hours watching television indiscriminately, or aimlessly surfing the net, or playing video games for hours upon hours upon hours, time spent commuting can be put to better use if we just get creative and make a little effort, because, I don’t think practical time travel is something we will be seeing any time soon. And, for the record, even if we do see time travel developed for practical purposes in our lifetime, I know that I, personally, will sit back and wait for that technology to mature quite a bit before jumping into the DeLorean! Malfunctions could be more than just a little annoying!
We are alive, but are we living? Rephrased, are you LIVING, or merely existing? Certainly, your heart is beating, but are you truly living? Is your life by design, or happenstance? Does your day consist of waking up, blah, blah, blah, go to sleep? Or do you live each day with intent, excitement, the pursuit of new experiences, the pursuit of personal growth? Do you want to be more, or just be? Do you live with intention? Do you take risks? Do you take chances? Or do you live inside the cocoon of a routine that is tried, true, safe and predictable? Predictable in that it will provide you the exact same result you’ve had every day leading up to today. Isn’t one the definitions of insanity “doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result?” Or are you even expecting a different result? Do you truly want to exist in a lifestyle of complete safety and predictability? I suppose some do. Not me. I’d rather die. I’m not afraid of dying, I’m afraid of not living. When was the last time you said to yourself “My God, I feel so alive!” For me, yesterday. And today isn’t over, I still have time to feel that way today.
We all know we are given the gift of 86,400 seconds each day, famous people say that in inspirational speeches, the lyrics of a popular song remind us of this fact on the radio. That’s it, though, 86,400 seconds each day. We are all vaguely aware that once a second passes, you never get it back, it is gone forever. Ponder that for a moment. Let it really sink in. With each second that passes, your life is one second shorter. The time you have to accomplish your goals, to achieve your dreams, to complete your bucket list, becomes a second less with each passing second. Tick, tick, tick. Have you taken a second to consider how many seconds a day you waste on useless things? I’ll let you define your own list of useless things.
My list of useless things includes many things people hold near and dear, like watching television for hours on end with no real plan. You know, sitting there with a remote control, cruising through hundreds of channels looking for something remotely interesting. I can’t stand that. I will occasionally plan on watching a particular program or event on television, but certainly not daily, or even weekly. The playoff games last weekend, there is one example, I planned to watch them, I did, the television hasn’t been turned on since. I will likely watch the SuperBowl. There are programs on television I enjoy, but I will never plan my life around the network schedule. I can catch it on Hulu or Netflix later, if I really, really want to, but I’m sure to be doing something else of value while the show is on. Slouching on the couch in a vegetative state is not something I’m willing to waste my ambulatory years on, thank you. I’ll plan for that when I’m on life support in a nursing home, having lived a full, exciting and adventurous life.
Eleanor Roosevelt is quoted as saying “Do one thing every day that scares you”. Does breaking out of your cocoon of safe, predictable routine scare you? What if something unexpected happens? Well, yay! Whether the unexpected is good or bad, you’ll have grown and gained some courage from the experience, and fewer things will be scary from now on! Scary things are scary, why do them? If we don’t challenge ourselves, regularly, we fall into stagnate routines, we miss out on opportunities for learning, growth, adventure, excitement.
I had a job opportunity find me. I had a resume posted online, and though I wasn’t looking for a job actively, a recruiter found my resume and contacted me. The job he described involved significant domestic travel and public speaking. Both things scared me, I was a somewhat fearful flyer, and I hated standing in front of people and speaking. Out of economic enticement, I took a chance, figuring I’d stick it out for the three month probationary period, collect my pay along the way, and find something “safer”, more comfortable, more “my speed”, thereafter. That was five years ago.
Guess, what, the first few flights, I was nervous, but I got over it, and I have seen more of our country than most people I know. I have contacts and friends in every major city, I have seen famous attractions in person, not just on television. I have felt them, touched them, smelled them, tasted them, lived them. I will never forget them. I have enjoyed nearly every trip I’ve taken, because now I thirst for those experiences. People say to me “I don’t know how you can travel all the time like that.” And I reply, “I don’t know how you can stay in the same place all the time”.
The first time I had to speak in front of a group by myself, I was a bit shaky, but with time, I got the hang of it. Once I figured out that people looked to me for expertise and guidance, that they wanted to hear what I was telling them and that I could even make them laugh when I wanted to, I grew to love it. Talk about a self confidence boost! Two “things” that scared me became my passion and provide me an unbelievable amount of growth, experience and adventure. My life is forever changed in a very positive way. But I was scared. And I just did it. I overcame very quickly. Do not let fear limit you.
What do you want to do with your life? Really? Pretend you’re a little kid, again, and someone just asked you “what do you want to be when you grow up?” Well, what do you want to be? We don’t have to be satisfied with who we are, what we do, where we live, just because this is where we’ve wound up! Dream! Make a plan! Get moving! Seconds are slipping away! You truly can do anything you want, the only limitations are the ones you define for yourself. “Can’t” is a four letter word, so is “fear”, abolish them from your vocabulary.
Let’s try this; tell me what your day was like last Monday. Can you even remember it? How about three Saturdays ago? Is there anything momentous you remember in the past month? Past year? What was the last bucket list item you accomplished? Have you even attempted one? Wait, you haven’t even taken the time to make a bucket list? Too busy doing un-momentous things?
Try this out for size; take a few seconds RIGHT NOW and make a list of three things you want to do before you die. There. You have a bucket list. Add to it every time you think of something else. Now, pick one of the items you wrote down and do it. This week, this weekend. Do it. It will feel incredible. If your bucket list items require resources you don’t currently have, take one step towards obtaining one of the necessary items. Request the vacation time if time off is the issue. Open a savings account with $5 and set aside an amount each pay day until you have the money, if money is the issue. Commit. No excuses, the seconds are flying past! In the mean time, pick another bucket list item you CAN do right away, and do it. Now keep it up, for every item you complete, add one or two more. There is no such thing as a complete bucket list, keep at it.
How are you feeling about every second that slips away, now? Do you secretly mourn the time you wasted in the past? I do. I wish I could’ve banked it and saved it and could withdraw it for future use! I think life should be approached with a sense of urgency! I am often criticized for being too busy, never having any “free time”. What the hell is “free time”? To me, “free time” is the time I have to do something else I want to do! And I do! From the moment I wake up until I fall into bed at night, I am doing something worthwhile, constructive, amazing, fulfilling, rewarding, exciting, adventurous. Oh, sure, I do relax, but I relax with the people I want to relax with, doing something relaxing I want to do (a picnic, wine tasting, a leisurely meal, a nice walk, a hike, fishing, reading, writing, etc.).
You have the opportunity, every second, to redefine your life, to make it what you’ve always wanted. And ONLY YOU have that power. Your life is yours, it doesn’t belong to anyone else to shape, to dictate, to construct, control or live. Shed your cocoon, spread your wings. And live.