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Thoughts @46: What Makes Me Tick (and Other Observations)

I’ve been feeling my age lately… not so much in a “gosh, I’m getting old” way but more of a “hmm… my perspective has changed a lot as I’ve gotten older” kind of way.

46 and countingMaybe it’s because I seem to spend a lot of time around people at least a decade younger than me. Or maybe I’m just getting more introspective. Either way, there have been several times over the past few months I’ve felt the urge to write some of this down. My birthday seemed like the perfect opportunity, so in no particular order, here are 46 observations, thoughts and other miscellaneous items to commemorate “me” at this stop along my journey …

  1. Technically, I now have two “adult” children and it’s been almost 30 years since I hit that milestone myself, yet I’m still waiting for the day when I actually feel like an adult. Not sure why that is or if others feel the same way, but it’s definitely different than what I anticipated during my pre-adult years.
  2. Life is too short to spend it doing things that don’t make you happy.
  3. Living according to #2 is a lot more complicated than one might expect.
  4. It turns out, raising girls is a lot different than raising boys.
  5. It’s unnervingly easy to forget things I was sure I could never forget.
  6. Planning isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Oftentimes, it’s far more effective to just jump in and GO.
  7. Few decisions are truly permanent. (Remembering this tends to make #6 much easier to put into practice.)
  8. That saying about having a child being like “forever having your heart walk around outside your body” is so true, especially when said child reaches driving age. Even moreso when he leaves home and moves out of state.
  9. Some folks are very good at taking care of sick people. I am definitely NOT one of them.
  10. Actions really do speak louder than words. A lot louder.
  11. I miss the days when sleeping past 7 am was an option. And it’s not that I don’t have the opportunity. It just doesn’t seem possible anymore.
  12. I’m not entirely sure yet what my own definition of “happiness” is, but I do know for sure it involves the practice of “creating” on a consistent basis. And new challenges.
  13. If Santa’s listening, what I most want for Christmas is a really good housekeeper.
  14. I appreciate many of the traits inherited from my ancestors, but thick calves isn’t one of them. 😛
  15. There’s a lot of wisdom in the advice to “never say never.” Bill Cosby and Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner come to mind.
  16. Some things are really better left unsaid. Especially on Facebook.
  17. I’m not sure I could pick just one word that sums up my intent, but these are in the running: CREATE, BALANCE, AUTHENTIC.
  18. I often wonder how we became a society that doesn’t freak out when we hear the list of side effects during commercials for pharmaceutical products.
  19. Ditto on salaries for professional athletes.
  20. And ingredient labels on processed “food.”
  21. I really wish Facebook would create a setting that would allow us to filter out posts containing specific topics without having to block the person who writes them or leave Facebook altogether. (See #16).
  22. I believe everyone is “creative.” Some people just haven’t figured out yet how their creativity is best expressed.
  23. Having excellent hearing is great. Except when you live with people who don’t.
  24. Now that I’ve lived in Central Montana for 18 years, where it’s bright and sunny the majority of the time, I’m painfully aware of just how much a lack of sunshine affects my mood and general mindset. It’s amazing I survived my childhood, considering how often the Flathead Valley is overcast and gray.
  25. I’m pretty sure I have that disorder that makes people go nuts when they hear loud eaters. And tappers. And whistlers.
  26. I was not born with that gene that makes you love pets. Or animals in general. (Except baby animals… if kittens and puppies didn’t turn into cats and dogs, things might have been different.)
  27. It took me three different majors and five years of college to land on a teaching degree, only to figure out later that I don’t really like working with large groups of other people’s kids. Turns out it’s the design and curriculum planning type activities I most enjoy. Wish I had figured that out a lot sooner.
  28. I’m not sure which scares me more – that we could end up with someone like Donald Trump for a president … or that there are enough people in this country that support him and his ridiculous behavior that it’s even a possibility.
  29. I’m not interested in discussing #28 and probably don’t want to hear whether you agree or disagree with me (unless you agree… LOL… but I still don’t want to discuss it). There’s a reason we’re told not to discuss politics. Or religion.
  30. I am one of those people who has words that make me crazy. Can’t stand saying them and dislike hearing them even more. And no, I’m not going to tell you what those words are.
  31. I probably use LOL and 🙂 in texts and emails far too much for someone my age. Don’t care… I’m going to keep doing it anyway. 🙂
  32. My definition of “fun” (and “NOT fun”) seems to be far different than most people I know, including my family members. Though honestly… I’m not sure exactly what I find “fun” most of the time. (Except creating. That’s always fun.)
  33. It’s so easy to take good health for granted. Until you start feeling under the weather, that is … then its value becomes painfully clear.
  34. Somewhere along the line, I became terrified of traveling by car. This is particularly true if the weather is bad and/or the roads are sketchy, in which case I won’t even consider driving. But it’s often the case even when someone else is driving, regardless of the road conditions. I miss the days when I could just spend a trip reading, rather than trying to manage irrational anxiety without annoying the heck out of my travel companions.
  35. Copy and paste Facebook messages drive me nuts. Won’t read them … and definitely won’t copy and paste them, regardless of the message or whether I agree or disagree with it. (You know the type… they often start with “I know most of my friends won’t read/do/care, but… ” or use the phrase “what happened next will {insert verb here} you…”)
  36. Same goes for campaigns that urge everyone to change their profile photo to a common theme or image.
  37. I used to find it strange when my mom wished simply for silence. Not any more.
  38. It irritates me when people tell me to appreciate my kids while they’re little because “someday you’ll miss them.” They’re the same people who say having young kids “keeps you young.” (Which is baloney, by the way.) I know their intentions are good, but the statement always feels very presumptuous to me, as if life experiences are one-size-fits-all.
  39. I think it’s all too easy to allow our expectations to frame our perception of experiences without even realizing that’s what’s happening. Just because something is not like it was when we were growing up, doesn’t mean it’s somehow lacking. I try to be very conscious of that … and wish others did the same more often.
  40. I’m not an easy person to surprise and I notice pretty much everything. Sometimes I just don’t let on that I noticed. Other times I wish I was better at blocking things out.
  41. After reading dozens of books in the past couple of years on topics related to nutrition and health, my trust in anything USDA- or FDA-approved is basically zero. Probably less. As much as I love and trust our family doctor, the same goes for the medical profession. Unfortunately, this makes it difficult to eat or otherwise function as part of today’s society.
  42. I’m very curious about how my morning sickness-filled pregnancies might have been different had I chosen to quit eating wheat and pretty much all processed foods prior to having kids. Not enough to try it again, but curious nevertheless.
  43.  When I really think about it, I can see that fear plays a role in my decision-making processes far more than I’d like.  Not sure if that’s something I can change, but it would probably be to my benefit if I could.
  44. If I could have one superpower, my choice would be a toss-up between 1) the ability to turn my thoughts off & on at will and 2) the ability to control situations and environments simply by wiggling my nose, like Samantha… (that would take care of #13!) A close third would be the ability to teletransport.
  45. I’ve noticed that I struggle with being around weakness. It irritates me, frustrates me and sometimes even angers me, particularly in the forms of “timid” and “indecisive.” That probably says more about me than whatever perceived weakness I encounter, but it is what it is.
  46. It took me about three hours … and 46 years … to come up with this list. 🙂

No Resolutions… But Perhaps Small Steps?

2014As the New Year approaches, the focus tends to turn toward reviewing the past year and planning changes & improvements for the next. So often, it seems this focus is short-lived as resolutions, goals and other self-improvement efforts fall by the wayside in just a few short days or weeks after getting started, which is why I personally tend to shy away from making any official New Year resolutions.

Perhaps we’re trying to do too much, too fast.

Making significant life changes or tackling a big project can easily become overwhelming, especially if we’re trying to do it all at once. Getting started tends to be the easy part… it’s sustaining the effort after the initial excitement wears off that is the challenge. And I’ve found that too many unfinished or unfulfilled goals tends to weaken the resolve for future efforts.

But I’ve been thinking a lot about a different approach. What would happen if we spent just a few minutes everyday …

  • jotting down thoughts in a journal?
  • taking one great photo?
  • writing and sending a thank you note?
  • trying a new activity?
  • cleaning & organizing a corner of our home or office?
  • walking, running or pursuing other fitness-related activities?
  • reading for education, enlightenment or pleasure?
  • taking concrete action on a big project?
  • testing a new food or recipe?
  • writing a paragraph or two of that story we’ve been longing to share?
  • practicing something we wish we did better?

Now what if we continued our chosen activity for 30, 60, 90 days? Perhaps even a full year?

Spurred on by talk of New Year’s resolutions and year-end reviews in the media and elsewhere, I’ve been giving this a lot of thought the last several days. Quotes such as the following really resonate with me…

A year from now, you will wish you had started today.

While I still don’t feel compelled to make any New Year resolutions, I do find that having a time-limited goal with a specific start date is motivating. For obvious reasons, January 1st is a tempting starting date. There are also many areas in my own life where I know that focused and sustained effort would be beneficial, many of which prompted the list above.

So I’ve been toying with the idea of choosing a new goal to tackle… one small step at a time for a specific time period … in lieu of making any “resolutions” for 2014.

As I continue to mull this over on this final day of 2013, I’m curious…
What small steps would help YOU get where you want to be over the long-term?

Guilt-Free Eating … an Easy Choice

I ate a doughnut yesterday. THREE, actually. And felt good doing it … before, during AND after.

Wheat-free sugar-free chocolate donutHow is that possible? The doughnuts were homemade from (nearly) all natural, unprocessed ingredients … things like almond flour, coconut oil, cocoa powder, sugar-free maple syrup sweetened with xylitol (processed and not ideal, but better than sugar, aspartame or saccharin).

You might hear the ingredient list and think I’m crazy, as if I get some sort of weird pleasure out of depriving myself of “good” food.

But that’s not the case at all. I feel no deprivation eating this way and it’s not a difficult decision. It takes no willpower to make the choice, only a dose of self-discipline to take the time to plan for and prepare the food. I truly enjoyed those doughnuts this morning… and I thought they tasted great. And the best part? No guilt.

None.

Prior to removing all wheat & most processed sugar from my diet, I was essentially incapable of guilt-free eating. Every bite that went into my mouth brought with it some sort of self-moderating … Does it have too much fat? Too many calories? Will it throw off my diet? Make me fat? Sluggish? Will I feel good when I eat it … but bad afterward?

If you can relate to the questions, you can also predict the answers … at least half the time (probably much more), my food choices didn’t live up to what’s been defined for years as “healthy.” I knew it … and hence, that ever-present sense of guilt tied to eating. Even during times of extreme self-discipline when I managed to choose a salad over a sandwich or pass on the cheesecake, there was a vague sense that I could (or should) have chosen better.

Is my current way of eating perfectly healthy? Probably not … I’m sure I don’t get as much variety as would be ideal. And I’m the first to admit my daily post-work wine & cheese habit is a bit of an over-indulgence and not doing my waistline any favors. As always, there is room for improvement in my food choices. I am confident, however, that my current way of eating is far superior to my former diet.

Is avoiding all wheat, refined sugars and other modern “staples” such as potatoes and rice a hassle? You bet it is … particularly in just about any situation in which I am not 1) at home and 2) cooking for myself. It definitely takes more time, effort, planning and money to eat this way. (It can also lead to the occasional twinge of jealousy when having to pass on all of those formerly tempting recipes that forever show up in my Pinterest feed.)

But is it worth not having a foggy head, that draggy, sluggish feeling after dinner, the myriad of health problems attributed to processed foods … or – most importantly – a sense of guilt every time I put a bite in my mouth?

Absolutely.

From Atta-Girl to Happiness & the Key to Life

What makes you happy? It’s a question I’ve come to realize is the primary guide for many of us as we make choices, both big and small, in our daily lives.

Sometimes the happiness we seek is found through immediate gratification, such as when deciding whether to have just one more glass of wine (knowing we’ll pay for it later). In other more mindful moments, we recognize happiness is the long-term outcome of perhaps less enjoyable tasks we must first complete. (ie. Tackling the sink full of dishes right after dinner in order to enjoy a clean kitchen the next morning … or reorganizing the nasty storage closet so we can find what we need later.)

Happiness - The Key to LifeOn a deeper level, the pursuit of happiness plays an important role in how and where we choose to focus our life’s work, particularly in the choice of careers. The trick is to figure out just where that happiness is coming from, preferably at a young enough age that we still have time to experience it.

Sounds easy, but I know for me personally, this has been a lesson that’s taken a big chunk of my 40-plus years to figure out. I’m now beginning to understand that this process of defining what really makes me happy was behind my multiple changes in majors back in college, followed by a string of interesting but quite varied career roles, and even mostly likely my choice to divorce and remarry.

Throughout the process, I’ve made a transition from doing what I think would make other people happy to figuring out and pursuing what truly makes ME happy. It’s a process, however, that requires conscious effort to keep feelings of guilt at bay resulting largely from that misguided notion that doing what’s best for yourself is somehow an act of selfishness.

Yes, putting your own happiness ahead of others CAN be selfish if done at their expense. But as Gretchin Rubin points out in her awesome book, The Happiness Project, seeking and actually finding happiness for ourselves benefits everyone around us, provided doing so doesn’t directly harm others in some way. Think of it this way… would you rather be around someone happy? Or someone who seems miserable with life and everything in it?

I’m happy to say that my own pursuit will soon result in a change to my current employment situation – beginning next month, I will drop down to half-time in my position as an employment specialist with the State of Montana, freeing up more time for Webtiste, my latest entrepreneurial venture and so far, a source of a great deal of personal fulfillment and happiness. The creative process of putting together a new website or marketing plan generates a ton of happy feelings for me … and sharing the results with others, especially the person for whom I did the work, makes me even happier.

Atta-Girl PostcardIt also makes me happy to share that I’ve finally taken action on something I’ve been wanting to do since I was a teenager. As a seventh grader, I took second place in the county spelling bee and as a result, had what was probably my first achievement-related photo in our town’s newspaper.  That alone felt pretty cool, but the part that made it especially memorable was the “Atta-Girl” postcard and clipping I received in the mail a few days later from a local businesswoman.

I realize now my special delivery was probably at least partly motivated by a smart marketing plan, but nevertheless, it made a huge impact on me as a kid and it’s an act I’ve always wanted to replicate in my own way. When I discovered John Lennon’s quote about happiness and life, it resonated with me so strongly that I decided to design a postcard featuring that quote. I now have a stack of those postcards sitting near my desk. When I hear or read about someone taking courageous steps toward their own pursuit of happiness, I grab a postcard, jot them a message and send them their own personal “atta-girl” (or boy). It makes me feel happy when I do it … and hopefully brings a smile to the face of the recipient when they receive it.

Do you know someone who might enjoy receiving one of those postcards? Email me their story and mailing address and I’d be happy to send one their way on your behalf!

I’d also love to hear YOUR thoughts on the pursuit of happinesswould you like to share?

The Good, The Bad… and the (Temporarily) Ugly

It’s the day after my surgery to remove those pesky cells from my face, which from here on out shall be referred to as “BCCs” because we’re not huge fans of that other C word. Though the process went about as expected and is one I’m finding is a story shared by far too many people, there were a few twists and turns, as I’ll detail below…

The Good

  • The best of the good news is that my surgeon believes he removed all of those BCCs, which means I should be part of that 99% for whom Moh’s surgery “cures” the problem… at least for this particular occurrence (more on that in the next section).
  • Masquerade party anyone? Thanks to my friend Laura, I'm all set...

    Masquerade party anyone? Thanks to my friend Laura, I’m all set…

    Dr. Jared Lund and the rest of the crew at the Billings Clinic Dermatology Center were extremely friendly, funny and supportive, which made the day as close to enjoyable as is humanly possible. So to them, a huge THANK YOU 🙂

  • The entire process only took about three hours, a far cry from what it could have been, especially considering they had a patient the day before that didn’t get finished until after 11 pm.
  • The worst of the damage was on the side of the spot opposite my eye … a HUGE relief.
  • I am continually reminded that I have a supportive hubby and family and some very good friends. From chauffeuring and coddling to encouraging messages to special deliveries to custom cover-ups to a day-long play date for my girls, I couldn’t ask for a better network and for that I am extremely grateful. THANK YOU … you know who you are 🙂
  • I am fortunate to be dealing with this during a time when I have great health insurance, a flexible employer and the option to take a few days to lie low and simply relax.

The Bad

  • Nearly the first words out of the surgeon’s mouth were “that’s a big tumor” and his belief that I’d had it for at least a year, when we had previously guessed just six months or so. That resulted in a deeper wound than I had initially hoped for, as well as the necessity for a skin graft to help reconstruct the area, which means I now have two areas in need of healing… the original site as well as the spot behind my ear from which the “donor skin” was taken.
  • I now have a lovely bandage on the side of my nose that I have to somehow keep dry for a week (ie. no showers and challenging hair washing) and which interferes with my vision a bit, not to mention tends to poke me in the eye if I don’t keep the edge taped down. I can live with it… but I will be very, very happy to have it gone in a week when I get all those stitches removed.
  • Dr. Lund told me that I am very young to be dealing with this already, with most people “lucky” enough to avoid it until their 60s or later. As a result, he said he is fairly certain I’ll be back at some point with another BCC… hopefully not in the same spot but another occurrence, nonetheless. This also means I am at a higher risk for those other, far more serious, types of skin cancer. As a result, I have to be hyper-vigilant about protecting myself… daily moisturizer containing sunscreen plus regular sunscreen if I’m going to be in the sun for more than a few minutes, as well as a big hat to avoid direct sun. (Ugh… I HATE wearing hats.) Probably good advice for all of us…

… and the (Temporarily) Ugly

  • Though hopefully better and less scarring in the long run, the healing process for the graft is not going to be a pretty one and it won’t be fast, likely taking several months at a minimum. Fun stuff like “pincushioning” and bumps and bruising and “tissue resembling a dried up piece of pepperoni on your face” were described in the “what to expect” discussion… just what a girl wants to hear when talking about her  appearance, ya know?
  • Let’s just say me+extended non-showering+ban on makeup for a time is not exactly my preferred mode of presentation to the world.

I wish my story were unique, not because I want to be special but because the fact that it is not means there are many others who have to deal with the same thing.

The doctors tell me this is a direct result of UV damage combined with the fair skin I inherited, so I guess the moral of the story is this… use your sunscreen and stay out of those tanning beds, especially if you have fair skin like me. The advice seems simple enough but apparently it’s not or it wouldn’t be such a common affliction. Even more frustrating is this… I’ve avoided the sun for years and my stint in the tanning beds lasted only about a month in high school, and still, I am one of the youngest patients my surgeon has seen with this problem. Go figure.

Guess it’s time to start shopping for a hat…

A Challenge of a Different Sort

I’m happy to report I survived my day of advanced driver’s training and even managed to develop a little more confidence behind the wheel along the way. However, in a somewhat unexpected turn of events, I have another stomach-churning challenge to face this summer… this time one I did not choose.

The “nice” way of saying it is that I have a spot near the corner of my eye that has tested positive for basal cell carcinoma.

The not-so-nice, far more intimidating way of saying it is that I’ve been diagnosed with a form of skin cancer.

glassesThe good news, I’m told, is that this is a form of cancer so common they don’t even track stats on how many people have it. (I’m not sure why that’s “good” news… I guess I’m supposed to feel strength in numbers or something along those lines.) More reassuring is the fact the cure rate is particularly high, especially if caught early, which we believe is the case with mine.

However, the nerve-wracking part is that because of the location of my inflicted area (the spot is right next to the top of my nose less than a quarter inch from the corner of my left eye), I will be undergoing removal by a Moh’s surgeon in a process that could take just a few hours or all day, depending upon what they find as they go along.

Sounds simple enough … it’s an outpatient procedure in which the surgeon numbs up the area, removes a layer of cells, does some testing and scrutinizing under a microscope, and then determines if they got it all. If they did, congrats… they’re done. If not, it’s back under the knife for another layer. This process repeats for as long as necessary until they are sure they’ve gotten every last little cancerous bit. Once that point is reached, they either let the area heal on its own (the hope) or go forward with some sort of reconstructive work.

The stomach-churning, I’m-trying-not-to-think-about-it-too-much part is what happens if the nasty cells are lodged closer to my eye area than they first appear.

We’re just not going to go there right now. (And hopefully the surgeon won’t have to either!)

In the meantime, I’m armed with a pair of what I’m calling “vanity glasses” to help me survive the first few weeks post-op. (Stare at the glasses all you want… just don’t stare at the hole in my face.) And I’ve been jokingly promised a bedazzled eye patch from my walking buddy who has been nice enough not to complain about my frequent updates and nervous chatter during our daily breaks the last few weeks. (REALLY hoping I don’t need that eye patch… at least not for long!)

My surgery is scheduled for this Thursday starting at 9:30 a.m. in Billings. For the second time in less than a month… (please) wish me luck!

Too Late To Back Out Now

“So why did you agree to do it?”

Good question. At the moment he asked, I was seriously wishing I had not, as I have several times today when remembering what’s on tomorrow’s agenda.

DRIVE_Sm“It” is an all-day defensive driving course offered via my employer. If you know how much I dislike driving, particularly in a situation that could in any way be considered risky, you know this is not my cup of tea and definitely NOT how I would choose to spend a gorgeous summer day.

But in all honesty, my decision to participate was very intentional.

It’s an approach I don’t use often, but when I do, it has served me well. The decision generally involves something that at a gut level, I know would be really good for me, despite the anxiety I feel about the decision. As soon as I recognize the opportunity, I plunge ahead without really thinking it through or analyzing the possible outcomes. Hesitate a few moments longer and chances are very good I’ll chicken out or talk myself out of it. But if I plow forward (and then resist the urge to back out right after making the commitment), the reward is usually worth it in the long run.

I’ve employed this tactic a handful of times in recent years, including volunteering for a committee without first getting the full details about what was expected, starting a conversation that I knew would be uncomfortable, applying for an opportunity for which I was terrified I might actually be chosen, signing up for a 10K when my longest run to date had been about 4 miles, and emailing a proposal that I wasn’t entirely sure I could follow through with.

As a result of tricking myself into these spur-of-the-moment commitments, I’ve gotten to know some really great people that formerly were barely acquaintances, forced some issues out onto the table that had been getting under my skin for far too long, been offered what promises to be an awesome opportunity (more on that later), finished my first 10K, and feel pretty confident I’ll be able to deliver on that proposal. As a result, as uncomfortable as this approach can make me, I highly recommend it to anyone in need of a little extra nudge to move forward in life.

Want to try a new hobby but don’t know where to start or afraid you will stink at it? Plunge right in.

Toyed with the idea of starting a business but aren’t confident you’ll succeed? Go for it.

Know down deep that you really do need to make that change? Don’t think about it… just take that first step.

As they say, the only actions you’ll regret when you’re older are the ones you didn’t take.

By 6 p.m. tomorrow, I will be thankful I rushed into the decision to sign up for the course. And the next time I have to drive out of town in sketchy weather, I’ll be doubly thankful.

Until then, I’ll be busy trying to distract myself from remembering. Wish me luck!

In Search of More “Great” Work

That this is my first post on this blog in more than six months is not a coincidence… it was just over six months ago that I started my current “official” job as a public servant for the state in which I reside. Yep… a government job. One that has required me to renegotiate the balance between work and play, leaving little time or inclination for creative self-expression.

Six months is enough time for me to graduate from probationary into “permanent” status as an employee. Six months is also just enough time for the newness of this opportunity to wear off, which for me can unfortunately be the kiss of death in terms of whether I decide to stick with something for the long-term, permanent status or not.

That’s a decision that a couple months ago I started thinking about a lot more than I anticipated I would this early in the job. And as much as I’d like to say I’ve found the “perfect fit,” I really can’t. Some days are better than others, but on the whole I tend to feel like I’m trying to fit a square peg into a very round hole. The money is decent and the benefits are great, but unfortunately it’s those edges that hang beyond the circle that make up more of the real “me” than the ones that manage to fill the space in the middle… and that’s the part that influences my general feeling of happiness and well-being far more than any paycheck.

The process of deciding how to proceed hasn’t been the prettiest, including more than my fair share of whining, far too much use of the word “bored,” the flaring of my tendency toward sarcasm, and more time spent brooding than I like to admit. But I’m happy to say that the last couple weeks have been more productive and I’m starting to feel like I’m approaching clarity, at least about just what it is that’s lacking in my current situation, which hopefully will lead me to figure out just what I need to do to improve it.



Some of that clarity is the product of a couple books I happened upon this week. I started reading Career Renegade: How to Make a Great Living Doing What You Love by Jonathan Fields a couple days ago and immediately related to his message. A few chapters in, though, I’ve put that on hold in order to first work through Do More Great Work: Stop the Busy Work. Start the Work That Matters. by Michael Bungay Stanier, which promises to help lay the foundation needed to get the most out of the rest of the first book.

Just two exercises, or “maps,” into Do More Great Work, I am feeling pretty optimistic. It’s already helping me to really re-clarify what kind of work I truly like doing … something about which at times I’ve been quite clear but lately have found to be more elusive and abstract. If you know me very well, the following will probably make you think… well, DUH! I know that’s how I reacted when it all came together on paper.

 

map

As I’ve been reminded, regardless of the job, pay or location, the work I’ve liked best … the kind that has made time disappear and brought a great sense of fulfillment … the kind that is my version of “great work” … has consistently included the following components:

FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION: The ability to do & create what I want, when I want, and at the speed I want … without having to jump through hoops to get permission, worry about whether some bigger power is going to disapprove, or abide by a pre-determined or group-selected set of rules or restrictions. Not in a rebel sort of way, but as a means of authentic individual self-expression.

CREATIVE CONTROL: Hand-in-hand with the first one, the power and opportunity to make every final creative decision without the need for defense or debate. Sometimes input it appreciated, sometimes not. A wealth of resources at my disposal from which to glean inspiration is also a plus. But in the end, the creative output is a product of my own and as such, is largely a solo project.

NEW CHALLENGES that result in a NEW PRODUCT or END RESULT: Something new to be figured out, the creation of something original and just a bit different than what’s currently out there. Something that feels like an extension of myself and which exists only because I do. Something that leaves my mark.

GENUINE INTEREST: The subject matter or topic area must be one in which I am genuinely, naturally interested.

SINGULAR FOCUS: The luxury of being able to eat, sleep and breathe what I’m working on. You might call it obsession… I prefer to call it passion.

RECOGNITION or some sort of AUDIENCE: Not necessarily a bright spotlight or loud applause, but someone with whom to share the end product who can and will offer a bit of validation.

Needless to say, my current job includes very little of the above, which as a government gig really comes as no surprise. I haven’t sorted out yet just how I’ll apply this renewed clarity to my present situation. It may mean figuring out how to do more “great work” within the context of my current job, either as part of the job itself or during my off hours. It may mean that I choose to seek a different position altogether. Or it may mean something that hasn’t occurred to me yet. Unfortunately the decisions cannot be based solely on job satisfaction and personal fulfillment… there’s those pesky little factors such as income & health insurance & such that have to be taken into consideration as well. I imagine the remainder of the book will help me work through some of these decisions.

In the meantime, I’m hoping to find myself back here with a bit more regularity, if for no other reason than to document my process and give me something to which I can refer when I start to feel out of touch.

I’d love feedback, so if you can relate or have an observation or story to share, please do so in the comments below… or if you prefer, privately by email.

The Hardest Part About Giving Up Wheat, Sugar & Other Frankenfoods

It’s now been four months since I gave up processed carbohydrates, aspartame and flour. Since that time, I’ve actually decreased my workout levels a tad, trading my usual three days of running, two days of walking and four 15-minute weight training sessions each week for a little less stringent schedule of “most” days walking and two days of weights.

Danica2

Those 30ish pounds look a whole lot better on Danica than they did on me!

Interestingly, in that time I’ve also dropped two jeans sizes and about 13 pounds, bringing my total weight lost since beginning my walk-run program in April 2011 to about 32 pounds … more than the full weight of my almost 4-year-old daughter.

Those changes alone would be enough to convince me to continue this “new” way of eating… but an even stronger case is made by the improvements in the way I feel, not to mention what I’ve learned about how processed foods, wheat and artificial sweeteners really do to our bodies, thanks to all of the reading I’ve done during that time.

That doesn’t mean that foregoing my favorite carb-filled breakfast foods, sandwich-based lunches or sugary desserts << every.single.day.>> is easy. Sometimes it really is not. But not for the reasons you might think…

But I LOVE bread!

In the past, when I’d run into someone who shared the story of why they gave up bread … usually not because they wanted to but instead the result of an intolerance to gluten … I found it nearly impossible to imagine what it would be like to live that way. Give up bread? No more pasta? No way… I could “never” do that, I’d think. I love(d) bread too much and just knew the cravings would eventually get the best of me. I couldn’t imagine feeling okay about passing up so many favorite foods.

But cravings have not really been an issue. I’ve found what they say to be true… when you allow yourself to eat healthy fats and quit worrying about restricting calories, you really don’t get that hungry and the cravings just kind of disappear for the most part.

I also had a hard time imagining what I would eat if I didn’t have my usual fare to turn to. As it turns out, the power of habit works both ways and once I figured out some new healthier options, it didn’t take long for me to fall into my usual (now reformed) repetitive eating patterns.

Not eating the “Frankenfood” is not the hard part. It’s living in a world that so heavily revolves around that type of food that is more of a challenge. After all, I live in Montana … land of the “amber waves of grain.”

Apparently it’s sugar that makes the world go round…

Everywhere you turn … television, restaurants, coffee shops, grocery stores, movie theatres (popcorn anyone?), social functions, bars, conventions, sporting events, vending machines, county fairs, ski lodges, gas stations, concession stands, even school cafeterias (including the more progressive “healthier” ones) … the environment and offerings are heavily, heavily dominated by “foods” containing processed carbohydrates, artificial sweeteners, sugar and/or wheat in one form or another, even when the target customer is a health-conscious mom, outdoors fanatic or athlete. (Don’t believe me? Give it up for just a week and you’ll become hyper-sensitive to its presence.)

The food itself is a big factor, but even bigger are the continual messages we hear related to what we eat. If it’s not a commercial pushing low-fat this or multi-grain that, all in the name of “healthy” eating, it’s a reminder of how good these particular foods make you feel, at least in the short-term.

Also difficult, especially for someone like me who prefers not to rock the boat, attract attention to myself or be the difficult, hard-to-please one in the group (despite what my husband would tell you), is having to step up and request a substitution at that convention dinner or ask the family to make an additional stop on the way to the $5 pizza joint in order to have a healthier (and inevitably more expensive) option.

But perhaps most harmful … and most aggravating to me … are the messages we continually hear from supposed “experts” who, from what I’ve read and come to strongly believe, are the ones largely responsible for leading us all to this unhealthy lifestyle in the first place.

The science showing the connection between low-fat eating combined with sugar overload (including natural sugars we’ve been told are better choices and “whole grains” which eventually become sugar, albeit a bit more slowly) and a whole range of diseases (obesity, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, all kinds of immune system diseases … the list goes on and on and ON …) has been around for DECADES, yet we are still given advice that flies directly in the face of that science… and that advice is coming from our doctors, our government and other professionals we generally trust to have our best interests at heart.

It’s disconcerting to find out just how much influence the producers of those products have on the advice disseminated through the health industry, oftentimes by doctors, nutritionists and others I believe aren’t even aware they are being fed … and then promote … inaccurate or incomplete information.

The hardest part is not avoiding the Frankenfood or passing on the bread basket or choosing iced tea over Diet Coke or being “that customer” in the mostly carb-based food establishment. The hardest part is having to continually remind yourself … despite all of these messages you hear, the mainstream low-fat/low-cal/high carb “health” reports on your favorite morning news show, and the fact that everyone around you is doing something different than you are … that what you are doing really is in your best, most healthy, interest.

I am hopeful that the field of “experts” on board with this new (if you can call the way our ancestors ate “new”) definition of “healthy” eating will continue to grow and that someday I and others who believe in their message will become the norm instead of the exception.

It sure would make a healthy lifestyle a lot easier to pursue.

 

Curious why wheat (including the “healthy whole grain” variety) may be far less healthy then you’ve been led to believe? Read Dr. William Davis’s book Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health.

Wishing For a New BFF? We’re Not Alone…

I am a voracious reader. Not in a “I want to read 100 classics this summer” type of way but more in a “I’ve become obsessed with this topic and want to read everything I can get my hands on before the interest burns out” kind of way.

My usual routine is to read each night when I go to bed. This has been made especially easy ever since my husband gave me a Kindle for Christmas two years ago because 1) I bought myself a handy  little read-anywhere-anytime book light to use with it, and 2) I can (and often do) buy just about any book I feel like reading on a whim. Living in the middle of nowhere (aka Central Montana) with the nearest bookstore more than 100 miles away, this has been a Godsend for someone who loves to read as much as I do.

While I tend to save my reading indulgences for bedtime, occasionally a book will get such a grip on me that I literally cannot put it down until I’m done. Such was the case this weekend.

MWF-Seeking-BFFEven though it was just yesterday afternoon, I cannot remember how I stumbled upon MWF Seeking BFF: My Yearlong Search for a New Best Friend.

Generally I will read about a book in another book and look it up … or find a link on a website … or occasionally search for a specific topic in the Amazon.com store.

But however I ended up with it, I’m glad that I did.

The book is written by Rachel Bertsche, a 28-year-old newlywed journalist living in Chicago who decided to embark on a year-long project in search of a new best friend. She first chronicled this experience through her blog (similar to what Gretchin Rubin did with The Happiness Project) and after the year was over, published her story as a book.

I found this book so captivating because I can totally relate to Rachel’s struggle to move beyond “casual acquaintance” on the female friendship ladder. Rachel had left her close friends behind in New York when she and her then-boyfriend moved to Chicago. Though she maintained her now long-distance friendships, she craved the kind of connection so many of us remember from our childhoods … the spur-of-the-moment get-togethers, the movie nights, the hanging out and not doing anything really other than talking and just being together. It’s a role hubby just can’t fill, no matter how hard we try, and a level of friendship we so often don’t feel comfortable reaching for with friends we know through work or more recent connections.

And as Rachel relates through her story, it’s a role that’s a lot tougher to fill as we get older, thanks to busy schedules, demanding families, and our own insecurities. Often times, we don’t even know how. Following Rachel’s year of “dates” with prospective BFFs … and her commentary throughout … was a great reminder that many of us are experiencing the same thing, even though we tend to believe the grass is greener on that girl’s side of the fence. We tend to think others will not be interested in our pursuit of them as friends. Or that they already have a ton of friends. Or that they will be annoyed if we interrupt their life with a phone call. Or that if they were interested in being friends, they would have called us. Or any number of other reasons that keep us from reaching out and trying to make a connection.

I finished the book this afternoon, not even 24 hours after downloading it to my Kindle, and came away feeling 1) a little sad to be done with the story, 2) wishing I lived in Chicago so I could potentially connect with Rachel in person, and 3) feeling a renewed desire to find ways to better connect with potential friends in my own area, especially after hearing some of the research & statistics on friendship that Rachel weaved into her book. I even signed up for GirlFriendCircles.com, one of the networks Rachel recommended along the way, though I am the only one that’s done so within who knows how many miles of where I live, so it could be a (long) while before anything comes of it. (One can hope…)

Not sure what I’ll read next, but there’s a pretty extensive list of books related to friendship in the back of Rachel’s book, so chances are good I’ll find one there … maybe even one I haven’t already read. In the meantime, this book has spurred me to start thinking more about being a bit more proactive in my own search for a “new BFF.”