On turning 30

My 30th birthday came and went without too much of a quarter/mid-life crisis. There were definitely freakout moments, mind you, but it helped that there were lots of reasons to celebrate the new decade I’m entering.

I’ve been surprised at how frequently I hear that your thirties are often considered the best decade of your life. That’s (supposedly) when you get a lot more clarity about who you are and what you want out of life, and you aren’t afraid to set boundaries to live that vision out (or so I’ve been told). I almost get the sense that you get past the superficial view of how your life should look and instead appreciate what is.

In that respect, I’m excited to start my 30’s. It seems to go hand in hand with what my  “create” year is all about. I’ve recognized how important it is to cultivate attitudes, habits and a mindset consistent with who I want to be. It’s high time I stop wearing my busy badge all the time and calling that a life.

A couple weeks ago (on a day when I really needed to hear it) Liz Gilbert posted this fabulous message:

LG quote

I think it struck me because a lot of my twenties were spent trying to be someone who could handle everything (or as I liked to call it, being “well-rounded and dependable”). I wanted to be Superwoman because I thought it meant having a fulfilling/satisfying life, or at least that I wouldn’t miss out on opportunities. It seemed like a surefire way to make my mark on the world and embrace life to the fullest.

Not so much.

At times it was certainly rewarding and it looked pretty good on paper (again, that superficial stuff), but it also came with a lot of exhaustion and resentment. In fact, I think that’s why Gretchen Rubin’s secret to adulthood that “you can choose what you do, but you can’t choose what you like to do” resonated so much with me. I was spending time and energy on things I wasn’t really designed to do or that I even enjoyed doing.

And this is apparently the stage in life when you start figuring that out. Perhaps not coincidentally, just yesterday this blog post articulated a similar message about turning 30 and reinforced Gilbert’s post. How are you going to spend your life? How do you shift from doing everything to focusing on the key things that bring fulfillment and joy?

What’s interesting is that I progressed on my 30 Before 30 list, I found myself picking up on that. It mattered less that I hit an arbitrary number of books and was more important that I read books that inspired me or changed my perspective on something. Whether I got to visit a new state or not didn’t matter. I was more excited about my travel companions and our shared experiences.

In some sense, it became more about the intangibles. Case in point: my new board of directors role. It’d been on my list to join a board, but before signing the dotted line, I attended two board meetings, had a meet-and-greet with the director and went to a fundraising event to make sure it felt like a good commitment. I didn’t just want to add something to my resume or cross an item off my 30 Before 30 list. I needed to be sure it was value-added to my life (and thus far it’s definitely been that).

That seems to be how my sisters approached planning my birthday weekend, too, which helped me focus less on my milestone age. Through some long-distance planning between the middle and the little, the celebration was more than I could have ever imagined. The sisters planned out three days of activities consistent with my “create” theme and full of events, people and canines I love.

Among other things, I got to go to the “I love my dog” expo with Hurley, managed to get through an escape room (which I’d never heard of before) with five minutes to spare, experienced a fabulously made drink at the speakeasy, got a pedicure, and went to Bottom’s Up, a yoga class offered at our favorite brewery in town. (Not bad googling for the little out on the east coast!)

birthday weekend

The weekend, and other celebrations throughout the month, were really about being in the present and spending quality time with people who love, support and motivate me.

That, my friends, is how you bring on 30.

Although there’s still a bit of apprehension, I think I’m actually ready to take on the new decade in life. Let’s see if it lives up to the hype. 😉

(For those who are curious, there were five on-going goals on my 30 Before 30 list that I started but didn’t quite complete. And based on the content of this post, you probably guessed that I’m more than okay with that.)

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Creating the first week

I think I’m in the honeymoon phase, if you will, of the new year (and not just because I finally have a functional laptop!). I actually think Brene Brown described it perfectly on facebook the other day:

brene

This week I’ve been slowly getting back into the routine while incorporating my new habits. I love using the Day One app each evening and I think my nightly routine may pay off over time. Thinking back, there was only one evening where the alarm had to prompt me to start gearing down for bed (and I was so proud for wrapping up what I was doing and actually getting ready for bed).

I’ve become more conscious of the time and have found myself starting the process much earlier. Monday night right after dinner, for example, I curled up on the couch with Hurley and Brene Brown’s book while a fireplace Netflix video played on my television. Way more enjoyable than trying to be productive!

Tuesday night

Even better is that I’ve been in bed by 10:15 every night this week. That’s huge for me.

I’ve also made another change in the new year in an attempt to simplify my life a bit. For lunches, instead of bringing leftovers, I’m aiming to stick to salads, soups and/or sandwiches. I’ll admit I’ve resisted this kind of approach for quite some time. I worried (and to some degree still do) that I’ll tire of it quickly. How am I going to stick with the same types of food day in and day out?

By having variety, that’s hopefully how. I decided to start off with a bang this week, which may or may not work in my favor with this new habit.

On Sunday evening I got everything ready — hoagie buns and avocados along with Tupperware for cracked pepper turkey, spicy mustard, cabbage and black olives for sandwiches. I prepped the salad as much as I could with lettuce, mandarin oranges and a hardboiled egg, then used Tupperware for my homemade dressing (purchased a blueberry vinegar and it’s fan-freakin’-tastic) and sunflower seeds.

It took some time, but I had everything ready for nearly the whole week’s worth of lunches. And what I really love is that everything seems so fresh when it comes time for lunch. It only takes a couple minutes to get everything put together, and I’m way more excited about this lunch than I ever was for a majority of my leftovers.

lunches

What’s also nice is that it’s cut down on how much I’m cooking, which certainly adds to my evenings. Last night, for example, I made a turkey taco casserole. It took probably 20 minutes to throw together before it baked (I added in the kidney beans).

Taco casserole

Taco casserole dinner

Even though I started cooking right when I got home from spin class, I didn’t sit down to eat dinner until shortly after 8. By the time I’ve eaten and cleaned up, I barely have any evening left to enjoy. That’s partially how I end up burning the midnight oil, since it’s not until nearly 8:30 or 9 that I can start cramming in my non-cooking tasks for the evening.

That also brings up an affiliated goal. For each new recipe I try, I want to make something (or ideal a few things to have a better ratio) I already know. I’ve already created a list of 10 meals that don’t require me to look at any recipe — pasta dishes, tacos, homemade pizza, etc.  This week, for example, I made the spaghetti and turkey meatballs recipe I tried a couple weeks ago. Made it on Sunday and used the leftovers for dinner this week.

I really went back and forth on whether this was something I wanted to do. As much as I love cooking and trying new recipes, it’s not necessarily conducive to my lifestyle anymore. I got into the habit of trying two new recipes a week when I lived in Columbia. At that time, though, I didn’t have a dog and the only gym classes I went to were on Sundays, Tuesday mornings and Wednesday evenings.

Life now is very different, particularly in terms of my schedule. I want time in the evenings to be with Hurley and there’s a specific class at the gym I could, if I wanted to, attend each day of the week (and I make a point to get to the classes Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings). That puts more restrictions on how much time I have to actually cook. And quite frankly, I’m tired of eating at 8 or 8:30 in the evenings. With leftovers for dinner instead of lunch, I’m eating by 7:15. It adds almost a whole hour to my evening (which I think Hurley already appreciates given he’s not thrilled mama is back to work).

Like I said, I could just be in the honeymoon phase of the new year. Regardless, though, I’m already enjoying the new habits that are freeing up my time and helping me feel a bit more balanced. I’d consider that a success for week one!

A long December (and subsequent long post)

I think one of my first acts of the new year will be purchasing a new laptop… Not having one has really put a damper on my blogging, among other things.

Lately I’ve had the song “Long December” by the Counting Crows stuck in my head. Not that the month was particularly long or that 2015 was bad year necessarily. When it comes down to it, I think the year was a challenging one for me and more often than not, I felt like I was being reactive more than proactive. As a Type A control freak, you can imagine how that left me feeling most weeks. And I admittedly didn’t handle it well.

I’ve spent a lot of time (almost to the point of overthinking…) considering what my word should be for 2016. By noon yesterday, I had a list of about 15 words and started worrying. None of them stood out to me and I was running out of time. Seemed ironic that this approach and mentality was similar to how I’d done most things in 2015.

Thankfully (as I was scrolling through my facebook newsfeed of all things), I came across a word that struck me. I knew I’d found my word.

Create.

This year is about creating routines, habits, attitudes, opportunities and relationships that allow me to better create the kind of life I want. Last year I felt like I was consistently saying I didn’t have time, I didn’t have the money, I didn’t have a positive attitude. I want to reverse that this year and create them. I have more power than I give myself credit for sometimes and it’s time to put myself back in the driver seat, as it were.

Given I’ve only had my word for about 24 hours, I haven’t outlined specific goals (that will hopefully come this weekend). Really, though, I think this year will be about trial-and-error as I figure out what works best for me. How do I strike a better word-life balance? How can I push myself outside of my comfort zone without exhausting myself? Am I comfortable and satisfied with how I spend my time?

There are three things that I’m going to start implementing right off the bat for experimentation, all compliments of the little (one of the perks of our fantastic in-person visits!).

The first is a new nightly routine. Based on Gretchen Rubin’s latest book on habits, I’ve decided to set an alarm to signify that I need to start getting ready for bed during the week. I’m really bad about pushing myself up until the very end, wanting to soak up every minute of my time at home during the week nights.

Unfortunately this impacts my sleep. I’m also tired of putting pressure on myself to be productive all. the. time. That left me feeling anxious for most of the year, and I’m ready to shake that feeling.

To hopefully counter that, I’m going to set aside a solid 20 minutes each week night prior to going to bed to allow time for stretching, some minimal toning (planks, pushups, etc.), and a creative task — coloring, journaling, meditating, reading, etc. I’ve got a whole list to choose from and may even create a jar with those options on popsicle sticks for the nights when I can’t decide what to do. I’m hoping that helps prepare my mind and body for bed, not to mention the added perk of creating a more consistent (and earlier) bedtime for more natural energy in the mornings. Fingers crossed!

The second aspect I’m going to incorporate is utilizing the Day One app (or something similar, since my Mac died and I’m not sure I’ll be getting another Apple computer). I knew going into the new year that I wanted to have a gratitude journal of some sort, something to help me capture the positives in my life instead of continually being focused on what’s next or what hasn’t been accomplished. What’s great about this is I can include a photo with entries, making the journaling process a bit more unique and easier. Even better? You can export to PDF and have a printed copy of the year. This should be a good activity (perhaps even as part of my new nightly routine) to make sure I’ve taken some time to reflect on the day.

I’m probably most excited for my last experiment. The little introduced me to the Passion Planner, and within a day, the middle created us spiral-bound copies through the first three months so we could give it a shot. Although I’m not sure I’ll use the hourly schedule part of it (I already have my outlook calendar and a big calendar at the office), I’m really excited to set a focus for each day and even the week. The challenges for each week should also be helpful for making sure I’m on target in terms of not letting myself and my goals fall to the wayside. Less reactive, more proactive.

Putting all those into writing makes me feel a bit overwhelmed at what I’m introducing into my life in the next few days. That being said, I think it’s the change I need to start creating a life where I feel more balanced and less anxious. Last year was a challenging year, but I also had an incredible amount of lessons learned (particularly with the leadership institute). Now it’s time to start applying what I’ve learned to take things to the next level.

Bring on 2016!

Thankful Thursday #21

Last week was a very bucket-filling week for me from a career standpoint (followed by a great visit to see the parents over the weekend). Oddly enough, as the week wrapped up I found myself crafting a Thankful Thursday post in my head about my job/career, and I figure there’s no time like the present to make it happen.

It seemed somewhat fitting that one of my dad’s recent blog posts featured an article about passions and priorities. While we were skyping with the little on Saturday, she referenced this article my dad posted, saying it was basically one long, non-sugar coated lecture saying get your shit together. Naturally I had to read it.

This quote in particular stood out to me:

If you’re passionate about something, it will already feel like such an ingrained part of your life that you will have to be reminded by people that it’s not normal, that other people aren’t like that.

Last week essentially confirmed that for me. On Thursday I gave a day-long training to six local health departments about developing their evaluation plans for our grant and provided evaluation tools I’ve developed for our other grant. A majority of my tools are in Excel because I’m able to sort, filter, use fantastic functions, color-code, etc. One girl actually came up to me during the break and said she was having a fangirl moment over one of my tools.

Week. Made.

But how many people in the world get excited about things like that? I forget other people don’t think like I do or get energized over the exciting potential of a well-designed Excel file (assuming it has quality data, of course). Heck, a handful of people on Thursday alone made a “god bless evaluators” comment. They think it’s overwhelming and don’t even know where to begin.

I, on the other hand, literally become giddy when I think about developing surveys or conducting assessments or getting a new set of data to better understand programs, organizations and systems, particularly from a quality improvement perspective. And yet another meeting today confirmed I’m one of the few who actually gets excited about those opportunities.

After a great training, I got to spend the next day at a conference put on by our regional chapter of the American Evaluation Association. I kid you not, I was enthralled from the time the speaker started at 9 a.m. and was almost sad to have to duck out at 2 to get Hurley. One of the leading evaluators in the nation spoke about a newer framework of evaluation and I took pages upon pages of notes (and added about a dozen books to my ‘to-be-read’ list).

What was exciting for me is that I realized that his framework is inherently how I approach evaluations, and it’s very much how I function within our current program. Even a few of the evaluators in the room mentioned that this profession is getting to be less about having a set a technical skills (aka: knowing statistical packages) and moreso about facilitating, documenting, tracking and pulling varies pieces together to understand the full context of whatever it is we’re evaluating. That’s my bread and butter!

Sad or strange as it sounds, those two days I just kept thinking that people always talk about how “you just know” when you’ve found The One. That’s how I feel about my career. I honestly couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else — at least not at this juncture of my life or with this level of enthusiasm.

And I have to say that I’m beyond grateful for that. Not many people are as fortunate, and I certainly recognize that. I love that I’m using a skillset and mindset that comes naturally. Spending a day in excel and piecing together information to generate evaluation reports is energizing to me, which perplexes most people. But that’s also how I know that I’ve found what I’m passionate about (and the fact it’s paired with public health is just the cherry on top). Granted, it’s still hard to explain to others what it is I actually do…

Evaluators

Regardless, I’ve found myself growing exponentially grateful for the path that led me to evaluation, not to mention the handful of professors and mentors who’ve helped me hone my skills and abilities. Although don’t get me wrong — there are still good days and not so great days at the office. No job is perfect. But I do know that this type of position is perfect for me. That’s worth acknowledging everyday, not just Thankful Thursday!

Four months to go…

My old college roommate had a blog post last week about being six months away from turning 30. It hit me that my milestone birthday is only four months away — a good reminder to check in with my 30 Before 30 List.

I was a bit relieved to find that 21 are officially done. Even better, the remaining are at least in progress. Not that it would be a huge deal or disappointment if I didn’t fully cross those off the list (there might be one or two where I don’t meet the full goal, like number of new states visited). Really this was just my way to not be so overwhelmed at the prospect of turning 30.

Although I have to admit I’ve still been feeling a bit uneasy about this next birthday. In some ways I don’t feel like I’m where I’d like to be as I approach the big 3-0. I’m not married or even in a relationship, I don’t own my own house or have kids on the horizon. But lately I’ve been trying to focus on the silver lining.

Screen shot 2015-10-18 at 7.27.31 PM

I’m not necessarily where I envisioned being at this stage, but I’ve made immeasurable progress in recent years and when I look around, life is pretty damn good. My career is heading in a fantastic direction, I love the activities and organizations I’ve been able to participate in this past year or so, and I’m (clearly) crazy about my furbaby.

And in the meantime, there’s still lots more to accomplish and see in the world. Who knows — maybe I’ll even end up creating a 35 Before 35 List. Then again, maybe not….

Career
1. Explore the options for becoming a certified life coach In progress…I’ve got an excel file with my options and met with a life coach to talk through them
2. Publish in some capacity DONE!
3. Volunteer with a new nonprofit DONE! 
4. Find a work mentor DONE! 
5. Obtain a new job, ideally public health related DONE!
6. Reach out to nonprofit consultants to chart a path to get to that career DONE!
7. Join a professional organization DONE!
8. Look into joining a board of directors for a nonprofit I’m passionate about In progress…attending a panel discussion followed by a board matching event in a couple weeks

Health
1. Train for and run a 5K DONE! And did a second one, too!
2. Learn to meditate In progress…attending a class on Nov. 5
3. Buy a bike DONE!
4. Get a full physical / health assessment DONE!
5. Log 2,000 miles DONE! Hit my final mile for it on 10/17/15

One Time Events
1. Take a community education class DONE! And still taking quite a few
2. Adopt a dog DONE! By far the best accomplishment on this list ❤
3. Have a technology-free weekend DONE! 
4. Watch a movie in a theater by myself DONE! About to do this for a play, too
5. Donate blood DONE!
6. Do one random act of kindness for a stranger
7. Go to a non-work related conference DONE!
8. Type up my baby journals and publish into a book DONE!
9. Create and maintain the quotes/life lessons journal DONE!
10. Host a dinner/holiday party DONE!

On-Going Efforts
1. Read 90 books In progress…20 more to go
2. Find a way to permanently store/organize all my photo and mementos In progress…it would help if I would stop taking photos
3. Keep a gratitude journal for 30 days DONE!
4. Visit 7 new states so I’ll have visited 30 states total In progress…three more go visit
5. Write and send 30 homemade cards to family and friends In progress…9 more to write and send
6. Participate in a book club In progress…the one I was supposed to join in October got postponed
7. Hit 500 blog posts DONE! My thankful Thursday post on the leadership institute put me at 500

Thankful Thursday #20

Yesterday I “graduated” from the leadership institute I’ve referenced in a few of my blog posts, and quite honestly, I couldn’t think of a more deserving Thankful Thursday topic.

A little more than a year ago I showed up for the three-day kickoff retreat, unsure of what I was getting myself into. All I can say looking back is that I absolutely ended up being at the right place at the right time.

It almost seems like magic. Aside from the four individuals in my cohort who work in the state office building (who I now pow-wow with on a regular basis), I have literally spent all of 10 days over the course of three retreats with my cohort of 26. And somehow they feel like family.

What drives that is likely the depth and range of conversations we’ve had over the course of the year. To say we got up close and personal is an understatement. We took no less than five assessments (including a 360 assessment, which is intense in and of itself) to understand our personality, behavioral and thinking preferences. After receiving results, we dove into group discussions and pair-and-share conversations about what that means for ourselves and how it’s perceived by those around us.

Lame as it sounds, the leadership institute was probably one of the most challenging things I’ve done. Not in terms of the amount of work necessarily, but certainly the depth. It’s hard to be vulnerable with people you hardly know. It’s difficult to come face to face with your weaknesses, particularly in a “professional” setting. Each one of us was stretched beyond our comfort zone, and we became stronger for it.

What I loved about the institute is that it went beyond learning about our preferences and a specific set of skills, like crisis communication and conflict resolution. We were empowered to explore and then embrace our strengths and also our weaknesses. The whole experience felt like life coaching, career counseling, mentoring, leadership development and a support group all wrapped up in one.

I can’t even begin to articulate how thankful I am for the experiences I’ve had through this institute. The friendships gained, the lessons learned and the growth I’ve had in the last year is truly remarkable. For the first time, I’ve embraced what I bring to the table (and that includes being an introvert!) and recognize that value within teams. And for me, that’s huge.

leadership

It also didn’t hurt that my go-to lady in the institute also has an adorable yellow lab with an equally impressive vertical jump. I’m telling you — right place at the right time. ❤

Busy badge

I have to admit that I hate the busy badge, and yet it’s something I seem to wear constantly and with pride. My standard response to “How are you?” is “Busy, but good.” Who doesn’t claim to be busy in this day and age?

To some degree it’s about perception. On a more personal level, though, it very much relates to this blog post I read last week about being busy:

“If I’m being honest, I like staying busy. It’s comfortable to me. I’m happiest when I have my nice little to-do lists organized neatly on post-it notes, with tiny little tasks I can efficiently check off. By the end of the day, I feel so happy and in control, like life is CRAZY, but I have totally CONQUERED it. “

Preach it! Who doesn’t like that feeling at the end of the day?

But busy doesn’t always mean productive or meaningful, and that’s the part that’s been making me question my busy badge tendencies. This mindset shift actually started a couple months ago when I had a call with my leadership institute director, and when similar messages start popping up in my life, I know it’s time to start paying attention.

Part of my struggle in being busy is that I often go into autopilot mode (which is a fantastic descriptor I got from the leadership director). At the beginning of the day or week, I recognize I need to get X, Y and Z done, so I structure my schedule and tasks accordingly. Given my Type A, people-pleasing personality, there’s often not a lot of deviation from that plan.

It’s not bad, necessarily, but it often means I’m a product of my schedule and, to some degree, other people’s needs or requests. It’s less about being in the moment and more about crossing something off my list so that I can move on to the next task, be it a work project, volunteer assignment or something as simple as mowing the lawn or walking Hurley. That’s not how I want to live.

As I mentioned in my post about the sisters trip, a focus we had in some of our conversations got back to priorities, schedules and meaningful work. Am I making time for the things that matter? At the end of the day, it’s not about whether the work got done but whether the right work got done.

That’s why, when I saw this as we shopped in Cape Cod, I damn near bought this bracelet. Talk about driving the message home.

enough time

In each day and throughout our lives, we have just enough time for the important things. How am I stacking up?

I was probably more apt to notice those given the book I’ve been reading this month –  Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. (I’ll be honest that I won’t quite finish it since it’s due at the library and I can’t renew it since someone else has it on hold.) This is one of those books that I thought I would just skim but instead got hooked right off the bat:

“There are far more activities and opportunities in the world than we have time and resources to invest in. And although many of them may be good, or even very good, the fact is that most are trivial and few are vital.” (pg. 5)

Let that last sentence sink in for a second. Trivial? Not vital? I was half tempted to jump into defense mode.

But it makes sense.

There are so many causes and organizations and activities and work assignments and DIY projects and…you get the picture. How do you choose what’s really worth investing your time, resources and energy into? And what is it that only you could bring to the table? My role with the Alzheimer’s Association, while great, could easily be done by dozens of people in the community. Is it vital that I’m in that position? What draws me to the opportunity in the first place?

What I loved about the book is that it was quick to drive home that it’s not about taking on less or simplifying your schedule. Rather, it’s about taking an honest look at your life to see if you’re committing to the right things. If the Alzheimer’s Association is important to me, than I should certainly keep that in my life. But do I need to accept every meeting request or social invitation? Can I nix a gym class or two to take my dog on a long walk instead, particularly while the weather is nice?

That brings up the other struggle with busyness. As the blog post I referenced earlier pointed out, busyness is a choice we make — often as a crutch. It’s the need to feel as though we’re more in control (ding ding ding!) and valued than we may feel on the inside. It’s even worse for people pleasers. What will the volunteer coordinator think if I don’t show up to a meeting? Everyone else seems to juggle it all, why can’t I?

But what I’m learning is that it’s not about doing it all. It’s about doing the things that are important to you, which is a decision only you can make. When everything is a priority, nothing is.

What goes on my schedule for the day or week should be dependent on me, and I’m finally reaching a point where I’m not saying “yes” to everything. I’m weighing the pros and cons. Is my input needed at this meeting? Do they need my skill set for this project? Will it take time away from Hurley, and would I be okay with that?

That’s what my year of being intentional is about – diving into those hard questions. What are the negotiables in my schedule and how can I scale back on those to focus on what really matters, both personally and professionally?

Quite frankly, I’m tired of going a million miles an hour, fueled on caffeine and stress. I have just enough time in life for doing the things that are important to me and/or allow me to utilize my unique gifts, talents and skills. It’s time to start being more accountable to myself and setting up those boundaries.

The funny thing is, I think if I were to make the shift, I’d feel much more fulfill and in control than I do when I’m “busy.” Ain’t that something.

It’s going to be tough, but I think it’s time to ditch the busy badge, one stitch at a time!

Thankful Thursday #19

Once again, it’s been awhile since I’ve written a Thankful Thursday post. I figured I should tackle this while it was still fresh in my mind instead of waiting until I’m back to my high-strung self.

Last week (a week ago today, actually) I went on vacation with the sisters. We’ve decided that every three years we should have a sisters trip (our first one was three years ago to London) and this year we (somewhat last-minute) decided to venture to Cape Cod.

We didn’t learn our lesson with London in that we didn’t do a ton of research leading up to the trip (doing so would have helped me know in advance that despite being called Martha’s Vineyard, there aren’t many wineries or even wine tastings available…). But that was part of the beauty of the trip. (Plus it helped that Cape Cod was small enough and technically in the off-season to where it didn’t feel nearly as overwhelming as London.)

This week I’ve been thankful not only for the time with the sisters, but also having the opportunity to get away to really recharge my batteries. I realized that the last non-work trip I took was almost two years ago when I went to Denver with the middle.

Not to say I don’t have opportunities to relax if I don’t travel. One of the unique, shall we say, components of my personality is my inability to cool it. (Let’s just be honest about that fact.) Even when I took two days off work after submitting the evaluation report, I used that time to work on my table, run errands and do chores I neglected that week. I was the girl in college who skipped class to do work for other classes or extra-curriculars.

It’s something I’m trying to work on, but definitely showcases the necessity of a trip like this, at least at this juncture in my life. From the time I left work on Wednesday afternoon until I got back to the office on Tuesday morning, I didn’t check my work email. (!) I didn’t make a grocery list for the next week (though I thought about it) or give a second thought to chores and other responsibilities. For the first time in a long time, I wasn’t on an adrenaline rush of caffeine, stress and/or endorphins. It was probably a good break for my mind and my body!

What also helped are the great conversations I had with the sisters about intentionality and prioritizing as a way to stay true to the type of life you want to lead. I’ll probably have more on that later, but it played a huge role in my perspective coming back home.

By the time I got back to work on Tuesday morning, I was almost zen. I wasn’t trying to multi-task or fall into the adrenaline trap. That may change in the next week or so, mind you, as deadlines pop up and projects escalate. But for now, I’m taking things one task and one meeting at a time.

I’m thankful for the renewed efforts to control my schedule instead of letting it control me. When everything is a priority, nothing is. The beauty is that it’s up to me to set those priorities. I certainly got a reminder of what those are through my long weekend trip.

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The only downside is that I didn’t have Hurley around. You could say we’re making up for lost time…

Hurley

It probably goes without saying that he’s one of my top priorities. ❤

Revisiting my intentions

I love fall. For some reason this time of year seems like a more appropriate time to make resolutions and goals, almost moreso than the first of the year (probably because by then I’m worn out from the holidays and ready for spring weather).

Two weeks ago I traveled for work. Although the training itself made for a long week, I lucked out in that I had the perfect travel companion. One of my co-workers is equally drawn to life chats and even life coaching, making for great conversations and opportunities for reflection.

During one of our dinners, we were talking about being intentional with our time, energy and tasks. I almost had a moment of panic when I realized that intention is my word for the year. Looking back, my life from late April to mid-September seems like such a blur that I feel like I’d failed in my intentions (nice play on words, huh?).

Now that I’ve had some down time, I’ve been making more of an effort to identify areas where I want to be more intentional, in part to reinvigorate my efforts for the remainder of the year. What’s interesting, though, is that I’ve shifted how I view my word, at least to some degree.

When I started the year, my efforts were more geared at myself and what results being intentional that would yield. How am I spending my time? In some ways I treated it like a quality improvement process for my life. How can I make it more efficient and effective? When I look back, I think it was more about creating another layer of accountability for myself. Unfortunately, that just seemed to create another layer of stress and internal pressure that, quite frankly, I don’t want weighing on me.

Thankfully, in part through the last few months, I think being intentional has become much bigger. It’s about making sure that I’m living out my values and being intentional with others.

feels good

Success is

There are two big areas where I have focused on being intentional these last few months, primarily due to all the deadlines and stress levels. The first is the notion that “well done is better than well said.” I’m pretty sure I’ve talked about this before, but it truly is one of my core values that I strive to be intentional about.

I’m big on accountability. I don’t want to just talk a good game — I want to deliver. It could be about professional matters, like meeting deadlines or accomplishing tasks, or it can be more personal in nature, like saying I’m going to get out to the east coast to see the little or eat healthy. As I’ve talked about before, I want to show up when and where I can.

Particularly with the help of my leadership institute director, I’ve been more intentional about the professional aspects. I take more time to consider what projects I take on and how I can set realistic goals and deadlines for myself. A big part of that has been learning to say no to other tasks that sneak up (and believe it or not, this people pleaser has said no to a few things!). This has been key to keeping my work load somewhat manageable and trying to have better work/life balance, recognizing that flexes over time.

The second area is one that I learned from my co-worker. She made a comment a number of weeks ago that really stuck with me: “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.”

For some reason this was a big game changer for me, though it may seem like common sense. That’s actually why I included the other graphic above. In addition to liking what I do (my actions, decisions, projects, etc.), I want to like how I do it. And that means being intentional with my words, tone and actions. When I know I have to say no, for example, it’s how I say it that makes me feel okay about it. That’s not an easy task for me, so framing how I want to turn down something has made it feel better for me personally.

In some ways it helps that I’m an introvert. My tendency is to process and consider what I want to say or how to respond anyway. Mostly I think this approach has helped more from a people-pleasing perspective. I don’t have to say yes to every request. I don’t have to consistently put other people’s desires, wishes or expectations above my own. Knowing it’s not what I say but how I say it prevents me from constantly going along just to get along, which is great progress for me.

The downside to some of this is that most of my intentional efforts pertained to the more professional areas of my life (work and volunteer). My hope is that in the coming months I can better incorporate that into my personal life. But it does help to know I’m creating a life that’s more in alignment with who I am and my mode of operation, if you will. And isn’t that truly what my year should be about?

Beauty in Books 8 and the secret of life

I couldn’t entirely decide which direction to take this post, so I can’t promise it will be cohesive or flow well (and it definitely won’t be short). But it’s something that I’m slowly connecting the dots on in my own mind and wanted to share.

About a week ago the middle and I were watching Girl Meets World (you can laugh, but the show is surprisingly good and very reminiscent of our TGIF days). One of the episodes focused on discovering the secret of life, which Cory Matthews claims is simply that “People change people.”

In some ways that’s very true. I couldn’t even begin to count how many people have shaped and influenced me, whether they’re family members, teachers, colleagues or even dogs. Throughout my entire life, people have absolutely changed me.

I’d argue, though, that another big secret of life (and one I think we often forget) is that you can change yourself.

A few years ago, when I was probably 40 pounds heavier and hadn’t fallen in love with group fitness classes, I asked the middle if she could ever see me, honestly and realistically, running a 5K. After a few moments passed, she said no. I can’t remember her exact explanation, but it essentially boiled down to the fact that while I probably physically could someday, I didn’t seem to have the gumption to actually train and accomplish it. And she was right. At my size, I honestly didn’t believe I could.

Liz

(As a total side note, I sent this to the middle and the little about two years ago as part of our Woof Wednesday health motivation emails. The little replied with a “From what corner of hell are you dragging these out?” Reading it still cracks me up! And I should probably apologize for now making it public…)

Flash forward to yesterday, where the middle and I ran a 5K together. It’s my second one, though this one had far less training on my part but surprisingly a much faster time. That’s change, my friends.

Kolor Run

I firmly believe you can change yourself, but I think it’s important to know yourself first. A co-worker and fellow life chatter of mine has a quote on her desk that we often reflect on that, in some ways, applies here — to be a good leader, you have to know people. To know people, you have to know yourself.

In comes Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin. It essentially outlines a range of research about building and sustaining habits, in part based on your personality. This is a succinct version, but I was struck by the four tendencies she outlines at the beginning of the book. Not surprisingly, I’m an obliger. (The middle is likely a rebel, which is why she did a whopping two runs before showing up for the 5K yet still kicked butt.)

That’s when things started clicking for me. A little more than a year ago I posted about my weightloss journey and mentioned a big part of my success has been because of group fitness classes. Finding physical activity I love to do did make a big difference. But do you know what I think made a bigger difference? Having that external accountability from the instructor and others in the class.

“Because Obligers resist inner expectations, it’s difficult for them to self-motivate — to work on a PhD thesis, to attend networking events, to get their car serviced. Obligers depend on external accountability, with consequences such a deadlines, late fees, or the fear of letting other people down. … Obligers need external accountability even for activities that they want to do.” (pg. 22)

Even though I love kickboxing and spin, a huge motivator for me is knowing I’ve got instructors who will ask where I’ve been if I’ve missed one too many classes. Heck, I love that my old kickboxing instructor in Columbia “likes” all the activities I log on MyFitnessPal. It’s why I religiously track my workouts in Excel and love my FitBit. I need that external accountability. In the case of the 5K, it was having a specific date for the run and knowing the middle was counting on me.  That’s what works for me (though knowing this years ago likely would have saved me a lot of time and energy…).

There’s another concept within the book that really resonated with me as well. It’s this notion that often our habits and behavior are in line with what others think of us and what we think of ourselves.

“Research shows that we tend to believe what we hear ourselves say, and the way we describe ourselves influences our view of our identify, and from there, our habits. If I say, ‘I’m lazy,’ ‘I can’t resist a sale,’ ‘I’ll try anything once,’ ‘I never start work until the last minute,’ or ‘I’m lucky,’ those ideas become part of my identity, which in turn influences my actions.” (pg. 239)

Just a few sentences later I had another a-ha moment: “For years, I thought of myself as someone who ‘hates exercise,’ but at some point I realized that I hated sports. … Thinking of myself as someone who ‘enjoys exercise’ allowed me to change the way I viewed my nature, and that helped me to become a regular exerciser.” (pg. 240)

That’s exactly how I was. It required a mindset shift on my part. Just because I disliked sports and gym class growing up didn’t mean I had to dislike all exercise for the rest of my life. Hell, I’ve reached a point where I almost identify myself as a jogger (and I say jogger because running still seems a bit too intense and implies that I’m fast, which is again an identity thing). It almost reminds me of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Continually tell yourself you’re not able to do a 5K and, chances are, you’re not going to be able to.

It’s all incredibly fascinating to me, but the thing I always want to keep in mind is that it’s still up to me to make that change. I show up. I push myself. I make it part of my life. I’ve had and still have people supporting and motivating me, but ultimately it was me that had to change. And I think that’s why Rubin’s book resonated with me so much. It’s about recognizing your preferences, identifying potential pitfalls and barriers, then finding ways to work around it so that you can create an environment and lifestyle that’s consistent with your goals.

Perhaps knowing that you can change yourself isn’t such a big secret to life. Maybe it’s just that we need a few tricks up our sleeve and reminders of our amazing capability to do so. And I definitely had a good reminder of that yesterday.

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