First, a couple of points on what this isn’t… This is not a piece on how to become unemployed. Generally speaking, I find most folks are able to figure that one out on their own. This also is not about how to get a job. There are loads of great articles on job hunting and the main suggestion I’ll make on that point is LinkedIn, LinkedIn, LinkedIn. (Oh, that, and I am finding the book Purple Squirrel by Michael Junge to be a great resource.)
This is more about how to spend the time you aren’t scouring the inter-webs and networking a go-go (LinkedIn – seriously, people). I was going to call this “rules for unemployment,” but they are more like pirate-style guidelines and don’t require 100% strict adherence.
- Make the bed – this requires that you actually get out of bed, which is good for you and prevents bed sores. I put away the alarm clock and don’t worry too much about when I get up, but I don’t lay around wallowing under the covers. (No one likes a wallower.)
- Put on clothes – they don’t have to be fancy, but they can’t be the same thing you woke up in. Repeats are okay, but clean underwear is a must.
- Go out into the world – hey, you’ve got clothes on, might as well take advantage. These don’t have to be big adventures and some days it’s just down to the 7-Eleven to get a Slurpee, but I try to make sure I leave the house at least once a day. Think of it as Vitamin D therapy.
- Do nothing – every day, I sit out on my deck and try to be still for at least 10 minutes. You could call this meditating or praying, but as long as there are no electronic devices present, I just call it being calm.
- Do something (for yourself) – lately for me this has been catching up on my Rom-Com DVDs (50 First Dates, anyone?), but it can be anything that is not job-hunt related that you enjoy. You will never be any good to anyone else, like a future employer, if you aren’t good to yourself first.
- Do something (for someone else) – I believe we’re on this earth to help each other. I try to find a way to do something, no matter how small, for someone else every single day. Maybe it’s volunteering, or maybe it’s helping a friend with their job search. And some days it’s just bringing home a Reece’s Big Cup for my husband when I make my 7-Eleven run.
- Be active – I find physical activity keeps both the cobwebs and the blues away. Some days, the hubby and I go for a long bike ride, and my running buddy, Duana, and I meet for runs once a week. Today, I took my pregnant friend for a walk (double bonus for helping someone else at the same time!)
- See people – setting the networking aspect of this aside for a moment, take advantage of the fact that your schedule is flexible and start catching up with all those folks you always promised you would meet for coffee when you had time. You now have that time. Sitting at home alone seeing no one makes your brain grow mold and who wants a moldy brain?
- Be grateful – I try my best to think of one thing I’m grateful for every day and when I’m having a hard day, I make a list. Again, this can be big stuff or little stuff. It all counts. Sometimes the little stuff is the big stuff.
Maybe your list is different, or maybe you don’t have a list and throwing the list away is part of your strategy. Whatever it is that you do while you are laying fallow, spend the time on your own terms. It may or may not take a long time to find that next job. You can choose to see that time as tortuous and long, or as a gift to be appreciated, but it is a choice – and the choice is yours. When I think about my next employer, whoever they may be, I imagine they would rather have someone positive, calm, and happy as a candidate and not someone bitter and frustrated. Or forget the job search for a minute, why would you want to be bitter and frustrated in any case? Life is precious and short and there’s no use wasting that precious time, regardless of your employment status.
Positive anything is better than negative nothing. ~Elbert Hubbard
A few weeks ago Zach Geballe wrote a short piece in the Seattle Weekly about the Best Neighborhood Bar, featuring my very own neighborhood bar, Solo. As one of Solo’s regulars, I was excited to see the review and it was quickly passed around all the usual social media channels. I believe the author meant to praise the bar as a place that welcomes people in and will, in time, “make you one of their own.” He even goes out of his way in the comments section to clarify why you can’t compare a neighborhood bar to other establishments, but he kicked off with a couple of statements that are still niggling at me and I had to address:
- Regulars will get served first
- Regulars may get charged less
Actually, to set the record straight, the regulars routinely get served last when the bar is full of theater-goers or other outside groups. In fact, I’m as likely to waive the bartender off to take care of the other guests before attending to me or my husband. And I know I’m not the only regular to do this. We’re not rushing in or out from a show so we can and do happily wait for a moment’s lull in the activity to get our drinks.
As far as getting charged less, that may happen occasionally, and the bartender may even buy us a drink once in a while, but that is hardly the norm. Besides, we are bringing the bar a lot more of our business over the long haul than is the random person stopping in one time ever. It’s not so different than the “frequent shopper” cards you get for any business you frequently visit. But more importantly, I think, is the true regular is a supporter of the business. We don’t want all our drinks to be cheap or free – we want the business to succeed so we can keep coming there.
However, neither of these points has anything to do with how the bartenders treat newcomers. I haven’t been a newcomer at Solo in awhile, so it’s hard for me to comment on that other than to say that I was new there once myself and felt welcome enough to keep coming back. My husband and I visited quite a few local Queen Anne places and while we enjoyed the service we received at those places (except for Pesos – never go there unless you are 21.0 years old, attractive, and looking for a hook-up), none of them became “home” like Solo.
There is something special and different about being a regular. So, yes, it’s true, there are some perks to being a regular at Solo that the casual visitor doesn’t receive from the bartender or the other regulars:
- You will be greeted by name when you come in and usually with a hug, or hugs, depending on how many other regulars are there. You’ll get and give another round of hugs when you leave.
- You know the bartenders by name. All of them. (Val-Michael-Elizabeth-Meredith-Allen-Dustin). If the bartender happens to be new, they will get introduced to you. You also probably know their dog’s names, and you’re friends with most of them on Facebook. And you’ll have exchanged cell numbers with a few as well.
- You get invited to birthday parties at their home.
- You’ve had them over to your home.
- You may have gone bowling with some of them.
- They will come and cheer you on when you run a half-marathon.
- They will invite you to their wedding.
- They will help you celebrate your own birthdays, anniversaries, first days, last days, hard times, happy hours, and even a few New Years. They will be a safe place for you to meet and repair fences with your ex-husband whom you hadn’t seen in over 10 years. They will let you sit quietly in the corner using the wireless because yours crapped out at home.
- You will have brought every visiting blood family member to meet them because they are part of your “other” family.
Before Solo I had never been a regular at a bar, or any other business for that matter. In fact, I probably has some preconceived notions about what being a regular at a bar meant and it wasn’t necessarily positive. What I have come to learn is just like everything else in life, it’s all about relationships. I suppose the alcohol amplifies and intensifies that in some ways, but we regulars are not a bunch of drunks elbowing first-time visitors out of the way. We are just people – people who enjoy each others company and care about each others lives, and we’ll care about yours, too, if you hang around a bit and get to know us.
Yesterday was my last day working at LexBlog. Although of my own choosing, the parting was nonetheless bittersweet (fortunately more sweet than bitter). But, I left because of, you know, reasons, and I certainly take full accountability for my own shortcomings in that equation as well. I requested a graceful exit and I am very appreciative that LexBlog, specifically CEO Kevin O’Keefe and President Kevin McKeown (aka “The Kevins”), honored and supported that request. So, I don’t want to spend my time and blog-space focusing on what did or didn’t happen and why it didn’t work out.
It can be challenging to leave a company, with no other job in hand, and keep relations friendly. It’s a little like breaking up and promising to still be friends. It’s theoretically possible and it does happen, but more often than not, it’s a bit more of a unicorn hunt in the making. But, hey, who doesn’t love a good unicorn hunt, and sometimes it is the trying that is as important as anything.
I have been reading a lot lately on the correlation between gratitude and happiness and have therefore been trying to spend a little more of my energy on being thankful versus being negative.
So, with all that in mind, I offer here a few of the things for which I’m grateful to LexBlog…
- This blog: Although the blog existed before I came to LexBlog, I had written exactly 0 posts prior to starting here. It was through the encouragement of Kevin O’Keefe that I was inspired to try my hand at blogging. To my surprise and delight, I found it was an outlet for expressing myself in writing that I didn’t realize just how much I would enjoy.
- Walking Meetings: Kevin McKeown and I had many a 1×1 walking from LexBlog’s office to downtown Seattle. Sometimes we talked business, more often we just chatted and occasionally we stopped to window gaze at shop displays.
- Pranks: As Kevin McKeown and I were walking down the street in one of the aforementioned meetings, my bus pulled up as we arrived at the stop and I decided to hop on. After I got on the bus, Kevin jumped on and told everyone on the bus that it was my first time ever riding a bus and then promptly jumped off as the bus pulled away. And, I’ll mention just one other instance where the Kevins got into a Twitter debate over whether martians would think dogs ruled over humans…
- Our Clients: I have formed some very close and hopefully long-lasting relationships with many of our clients. I have been touched beyond words at the support and encouragement I have received when I shared news of my departure. I hesitate to name names here for fear, like the Oscars, I would forget someone who deserved to be acknowledged, but for those of you who I’ve spoken with lately, I think you know who you are.
- Cat Videos: For whatever reason, sharing funny cat videos seems to be a “thing” here at LexBlog and I can’t count how many times a well-timed cat video seemed to be exactly what I needed at that moment. (Cat in shark costume is a current favorite…)
- My Colleagues: LexBlog knows how to pick ’em. Seriously. I’m not sure I have worked in another company where there is zero in-fighting behind the scenes and such a general sense of comradery. (Maybe it’s all the cat videos??) Y’all are great and it wasn’t easy to go because of that.
In fact, given all the good there has been, it hasn’t been easy to go, period. But just like that really great, really nice guy who you know in your heart isn’t the one, sometimes you still have to break up. Regardless, I’ll be rooting for LexBlog from the sidelines and will only be happy to see the company’s future success. As I walked out the door, I proudly put on my rose colored glasses, erased the bad memories, clung tight to the good ones and was grateful for the time I spent there.
Yesterday, I completed my 5th half marathon, running the Seattle Rock N Roll Half Marathon. If you were to ask me today how I felt about the race overall, I would say it was okay – not great, but okay. It was a little too sunny for my tastes (50 and overcast being my definition of perfect long distance running weather) and I got a little dehydrated as a result, but nothing horrible happened and although a little sore, my feet were in far better shape than they were after last year’s race. I think it’s fair to say I was hoping for better results, although runners are notoriously under-satisfied with whatever result they get, and I can’t really complain. Overall, the race was fine…
But it’s not the whole race that stands out for me this time around. It’s the last 1.1 miles that really make the story. Let’s go back for a moment to that sunny weather. When you train all season in typical Seattle weather (cool and cloudy), it can throw your game off a little to suddenly be running in the sun come race day. Although I was carrying plenty of Gatorade with me on the course, and every coach I encountered made a big stink about drinking electrolytes, I was not actually drinking enough of the stuff. I don’t have a good explanation for this. It was just one of those mistakes that you don’t realize has caught up to you until, well, it catches up. I was starting to feel less than great as we entered the second half of the race, and the chickens came home to roost somewhere between Miles 10 and 11. This is the point at which I was, as they say, bonking. My run intervals became shorter, my walk intervals became longer until it was all walking. My two race buddies had gone on to finish their own races (first rule of race day is that everyone runs their own race), so I was by myself and along with being exhausted, and a little nauseous, I was also in the midst of a good ol’ fashioned pity party.
I started thinking that after a season of extolling the miracles of interval training, here I was on race day sucking wind. The coaches I encountered were all telling me I looked great, but I felt grumpy and miserable and I didn’t believe them. I whined to myself that although I saw coaches, I hadn’t seen any of MY coaches that I had trained with all season. Wah, poor me. And then I actually saw a familiar face in Coach Erica and she pointed out that I was close to Mile 12, almost done, and that I looked good. I finally decided to look at my watch and face the music of how pathetic I must be performing. That was when I got a little surprise. I was at 3:00 hours exactly with just over 1.1 miles to go. One of my goals for this race was to finish it in less time than last year. Last year my finishing time was 3 hours and 24 minutes. I had 24 minutes to go a little over a mile. I suddenly realized that my goal was actually still within my reach. I even started to run (and made myself stick to my walk intervals so I wouldn’t burn out). My entire perspective shifted and I focused on the next 24 minutes. I ran into another teammate I knew, Craig, and then another TNT participant, Miguel, who each ran with me for a bit. And then I rounded the next to last corner and saw Coach Shelby, and soon after saw my husband and my friends cheering me on. Not only was I doing this, but after 3 hours on my feet in the sun, I felt not only good, but great. I had found that elusive second wind.
I crossed the finish line in 3 hours and 22 minutes. Not a particularly spectacular race time, even by my own standards, but I was overjoyed by the outcome. I had proved to myself that even when the chips are down, you don’t have to count yourself out. It ain’t over ’til the fat lady sings – or, in this case, until the huge lady crosses the finish line.
For all the talk about missing the forest for the trees, sometimes the opposite is true. We miss the miracle that is a single tree because we can’t stop thinking about the entire forest. If I had stayed hung up on the overall race, I would have missed the opportunity to prove to myself that there was still a reserve of grit and determination left to propel me forward. At the time I looked at my watch, I couldn’t change the three hours that had already gone by, but I did have the power to focus on what I had in front of me.
Ask yourself: ‘Can I give more?’. The answer is usually: ‘Yes’
~ Paul Tergat, Kenyan professional marathoner
I was on my way to my weekly Weight Watchers meeting leaving three women behind me on the elevator. As the doors closed, I very distinctly and clearly heard one of them say *cough*huge*cough*. This was not one of those situations where maybe someone said something that was misconstrued. There was no mistaking that the comment was referring to me.
At first, I was kind of confused. Huge? Am I huge? I know that I am overweight. (I was on my way to a Weight Watchers meeting after all…) In fact, I know specifically exactly how overweight I am and how much weight I need to lose. It’s not a pretty number, but I have to say I never think of myself as “huge.” The term is relative so I suppose it’s all a matter of opinion. I also asked myself if me and my size had done something to encourage the remark. The elevator was not full, I had gotten on first and wasn’t blocking the door. It’s not like the ride was slowed down on account of my huge-ness. I certainly wasn’t doing anything undignified that we huge people ought not to be (like the often awkward looking 40-plus-year old carrying too much stuff desperate run-shuffling to catch the bus I do every other day – I might actually make fun of myself if I saw me doing that). I guess I was wearing a bright pink Lands End jacket that would probably make Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Mike Jeffries cringe, but was that actually a reason to be snarky? Maybe I didn’t get the memo that we huge people aren’t supposed to wear pink in public.
From there, I couldn’t help thinking that those women were just plain mean. Working women mean girls. In my fantasy re-enactment of the event, I turn around just in time to stop the elevator door with my hand and defiantly say something witty and cutting like, “Did you just call me huge? At least I can actually do something about my weight. You’re going to be bitches forever…” and definitely swirl away in my fabulous berry-pink-jacket-ness and leave them shocked with the doors closing on their dropped jaws. In reality, I doubt they even realized I heard them and I was left to simply wonder what would make someone say something so mean.
I also told myself I shouldn’t care or be bothered by the comment. I was literally on my way to a meeting where I would be accepted for who I am as a person and at the same time encouraged to take steps to improve myself and my weight. It’s not like calling me weight-related names in any way motivates me to get un-huge. In fact, generally the opposite is true. If they had caught me on a day when I was already full up on my own negative self-talk, the remark might have made me cry, or added to the mountain of helplessness and self-loathing I sometimes succumb to regarding my weight. Fortunately, I was in a good mental space that day and had even shown a loss on the scale (ha-ha, mean girls, I’m 2 lbs less huge than you thought I was), so I quickly moved on with my day and my life.
But it did get me thinking. I don’t know if we truly realize the power that small words and gestures can have on other people. I’m sure those women have no idea that days later I am still turning what they said over in my mind and that it affected me enough to take it to the blogosphere. I also reminded myself that I have had some pretty positive experiences with random strangers, too.That same day when I was making my evening run/lurch/shlep towards the bus, a couple of guys got the bus driver’s attention and had him hold the bus for me. A few weeks ago someone in my office building who has seen me out training for my half marathon told me that seeing me run had inspired her to get active too.
I guess the trick is to tip the balance in favor of the positive. Because, if I’m honest, it’s not as if I’ve never been some variation of a mean girl myself. We all say inappropriate things at one time or another. Sometimes we do it to be funny, or to fit in, or we simply did not think through the implications of our words. Instead of imagining some fantastical revenge plot against those nameless women, or getting up on a moralistic high horse and pretending I’m better than them because I happened to be on the receiving end of their comment this time around, I am going to suggest a different response. Next time I hear (or make…) an inappropriate remark, I am going to find a way to put a little positive energy out in the universe in it’s place and I invite you to join me. Compliment the next person you see who’s wearing fabulous shoes. Hold the door open for a stranger. Be an inspiration to others by your actions.
Time is finite. I understand this intellectually. Yet I still went into my Lenten discipline of getting up at 5am every morning (weekends too) believing that this practice would give me MORE TIME. I held onto this delusion for a few weeks even though I pretty much immediately learned that getting up that early requires going to bed much earlier as well. And I can attest from those nights when I stayed up too late, that the quantity of time you gain is seriously compromised by the sleep-dreprived hazy quality of the time you get as a result. There are 24 hours in a day. You can slice and dice them any way you want, but you can’t make more of them. That’s the deal.
But, hey, if I am getting out of bed at 5am every morning, when I wasn’t before, I must be doing something with that slice of time, right? Without
much any forethought, I sort of assumed I would do deeply meaningful and spiritual things at that hour. What have I actually been doing? Uh, well, I started reading my work emails earlier. I started going in to work earlier too. I have been making far more of my breakfasts at home, so I guess I’m slightly healthier than when I went to the deli for breakfast every other day. This morning I watched Maid in Manhattan, which I enjoyed immensely (and maybe even cried a little when JLo’s character told Ralph Fiennes’ character that he never would have noticed her if he knew she was a maid), but that is hardly a meaningful or spiritual endeavor.
Okay, so much for the spiritual angle. Maybe I have at least become suddenly amazingly more productive at work. Not so much. I still have barely looked at my iPad since I started this practice – and reading blogs and sharing articles on Twitter is actually part of my job. If you go in earlier, you also burn out sooner at the end of day. Turns out there are just so many hours of professional productivity available as well. I think it’s fair to say that anyone I work with has noticed zero difference in my work output since I changed my sleeping habits. And looking at your inbox earlier in the morning only means you start getting stressed out about everything that’s in it sooner. It doesn’t change the number of emails you get.
Is there any point to this exercise other than a chronic lack of sleep? (As an aside, I do think it’s cosmically funny that Daylight Savings happened in the middle of Lent this year, ensuring I didn’t get *too* used to getting up at 5am before I had to get up yet an hour earlier.) I am re-learning again for the millionth time that magic doesn’t happen just because you temporarily change one thing in your life. Especially when you do it practically on a whim. Sometimes I think the reason I observe Lent each year is to keep reminding myself of how naive I am about the nature of personal transformation.
I am learning to appreciate that it is the choices you make about how you spend your time that matter, not the amount of time you have, even if I haven’t always been making those better choices.
I have had one “stand out” moment in my early awakenings. A few weekends ago, Brian and I went to Alderbrook Resort on the Hood Canal. I really was not looking forward to getting up at 5am on a Sunday when I was supposed to be getting away to relax. I thought about invoking the Sunday-Lent exemption, but since I observe my sacrifices on Sundays too, I reluctantly picked up the phone, requested a wake-up call and hoped they would forget. They didn’t and so I rose before the sun was up and went into the sitting area in our room. I was able to find a small light that I could turn on without waking Brian and I sat near the window reading. It was quiet and peaceful and although there was no jaw dropping sunrise, I was present to see the dawn break. Nothing dramatic happened, but for that short and precious time, the jangling chaos that so often invades my life was held at bay, and that was a true gift.
For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed. ~Khalil Gibran
Most years I know what I plan to sacrifice for Lent for weeks, sometimes months, in advance. Even the year I decided to give up giving stuff up I was clear on that well ahead of time. It’s not that I schedule making these decisions. Usually, what I need to set aside for a time is simply self-evident. There is an element of faith that is part of the process. But this year Lent snuck up on me. With Ash Wednesday only a few days away I suddenly realized that I had not actually given this Lenten season any of my time or attention. While it’s true that Easter is early this year, I don’t think that was the issue. And it’s not that my faith-life has been neglected – quite the opposite. Since this time last year, Brian and I have joined and become involved in the life of a new church. And we’re launching an organizational change at work. Oh, and let’s not forget that I am mentoring for Team in Training this spring…
Brian tells me I am the queen of over-functioning. It’s good to be queen, right? Except this honorific doesn’t come with a crown or any of the other trappings of royalty. This distinction comes with long hours, high stress, and little sleep. Plus one other by-product that has evolved over the past year. Although I am a died-in-the-wool morning person, it has become increasingly difficult for me to get out of bed and get going each morning. I have started lingering in bed longer and longer, with the excuse that I am using my iPad to follow blogs and share with my network. I work in the social media space, so that’s like work, right? Of course, what used to be 15-20 minutes each morning turned into a half-hour. And that doesn’t account for the rest of the time I spend watching TV, petting the cat, and calculating just how many more minutes I can stay in bed without being embarrassingly late for work. Get breakfast at the deli instead of at home? Five more minutes. Get lunch at the deli instead of packing my own? Five more… I set up the TV in the bedroom to turn on at 6:00 am and automatically shut off at 6:40. The theory was that I could get ready while watching the morning news and the TV clicked off right about the time I was heading to the kitchen to make breakfast. Now, I am generally still in bed and have to turn the TV back on because I haven’t even gotten up yet. I have an objective measure that I am now staying in bed at least 40 minutes longer than I was a year ago.
So, this year for Lent I am giving up sleeping in.
I set my alarm clock for 5am, every day, and the “rule” is that I must get up when the alarm goes off and cannot get back into bed.
My night-owl friends (of which, ironically, I have many) are probably laughing and/or rolling their eyes at the idea that I think I have an issue with sleeping late. One friend already commented that even with all my lolling about, I’m generally up and about by 7:30 most days, including the weekends. And my friends who already get up at 5am every day are not impressed either. Even if it’s ‘kind of’ hard at first, conventional wisdom is that my body will adjust to waking earlier. So, where is the so-called sacrifice?
Observing Lent is not a contest to see who has the most extreme sacrifice. The one who suffers most doesn’t win a prize. It is meant to be a time of personal preparation and to honor the time Jesus spent in the wilderness. Who is to say what is required for someone to do this preparation? Is the classic ‘giving up sugar’ somehow more (or less) honoring than any other choice someone might make, like not sleeping in? A seemingly smaller choice may open the door just enough to let the Spirit in. I try not to judge my own Lenten choices and instead simply do my best to honor that choice and see where it takes me. I cannot think of a single Lenten season where I have not reaped unexpected insights from that season’s journey and I expect this time to be no different.
How is it going so far? It’s early days yet, but here are a few initial observations…
- To get up earlier, it helps to go to bed earlier, but going to bed earlier does not necessarily mean you will fall asleep earlier.
- If you are going to get out of bed immediately, you have to put the iPad in the other room.
- In spite of getting up easily 2 hours earlier than usual for the past 3 days, somehow I have not managed to use my iPad at all. While this was not an intended outcome, it does raise an interesting question about the chicken-and-egg nature of the cause of my problems with getting up in the morning.
- Getting up and out of bed at 5am on Saturday is no fun (but it does contribute to getting blog posts written).
- I already miss the delightfully wonderful luxury of lazing about in bed with my husband and my cat.
- This may not be as easy as I thought.
There’s never enough time to do all the nothing you want. ~Bill Watterson, Calvin and Hobbes
I screw up. A lot. If I had a dollar for every missed opportunity, misstep, or flat out failure in my life, I would have a lot of dollars and I would be writing this post from my beach house in the tropics… I have weight issues, I had a failed marriage, and I’ve had plenty of professional failures too. I even failed my driver’s license test as a teenager. Three times. And for me, one mistake often leads to ten others. Which is a sign that I don’t even make mistakes the right way; because the best mistake-makers learn from their mistakes, right?
There are no mistakes, no coincidences. All mistakes are blessings given to us to learn from. ~Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
It would be really easy to pack up my bags and go home (writing this post is making the dark space under my covers particularly appealing right now). But one of the things I seem to actually have going for me is a deep reservoir of resilience.
Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm. ~Winston Churchill
Yes, I failed my driver’s license test three times, but I took the test four times and did ultimately pass. I had a marriage that ended in divorce, but I had the courage to marry again and I have now been happily married for over 13 years. I completed a boot camp that I had no business being in because I simply just kept showing up. Sometimes I think it’s not that I am so resilient, but rather that I am too stubborn and determined to know when to quit.
Fall seven times, stand up eight. ~Japanese Proverb
Many years ago, earlier in my career, I was in line for a big promotion at work. It was practically a done deal. So much so that my boss asked me not talk about it. So what did I do? I went to lunch the next day with a colleague and confessed it all in deepest confidence. What did she do? She went right to my bosses office after lunch to tell her about our discussion. Needless to say, I did not get that promotion. It was so tempting to quit. I dreamed about quitting. In fact, I polished up my resume and started looking. However, for some reason, I didn’t leave. I didn’t want to leave. I would love to say I learned some huge life lesson from it all, but mostly I learned to live with my disappointment.
For after all, the best thing one can do when it is raining is let it rain. ~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
I’m going to be honest here. Failure sucks. As great as it is for developing your character (I have enough character already, thanks), it is no fun. I have no regrets about my life and you couldn’t pay me any amount of dollars to go backwards in time. However, if it were possible to go through life and become self-actualized, non-egotistical, and fully functional-in-society without having to go through the school of hard knocks, I would be the first to sign up. Of course, it’s not possible. I am who I am today because of my failures. It’s what keeps us all from being complete asshats. No one is perfect, no one escapes making mistakes. That’s the deal.
You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you. ~Walt Disney
So, how do I cope with the inevitable failures in my life? Sometimes I write blog posts about them. This would hardly be the first post that is as much for me as it is about me. I have a great support system. One time, after coming home from a particularly tough day at work, my husband cheered me up by calculating how much money we could get if we cashed in both our 401k’s to move to Hawaii, complete with internet search results on affordable condos in Waikiki. I laugh with friends, or cry by myself – or vice versa. In a pinch, a minute or two on the site Cats In Sinks generally cheers me up. I plan trips. (When going through a box in the back of my closet the other day, I found a large stack of state visitor bureau catalogs that I used to order when I was feeling blue before the days of the internet.) I keep on keeping on, just like everyone else.
“You dropped something.” I looked down, and not seeing anything, looked back at the person who made the comment. “You dropped your smile.” I immediately replied to his comment with the lost smile, the moment passed, and I moved on with what I was doing.
The church Brian and I joined, First Church (http://firstchurchseattle.org/), serves a hot breakfast to 250-300 hungry people every Sunday morning. We signed up to help and for the past few months have been volunteering one Sunday a month. Although I live and work in an urban setting, and encounter homeless men and women on a daily basis, there has not been much in the way of engagement in those encounters. I put on my “city face” and walk with purpose past those in need without pause.
The first time we were to volunteer, I will confess that I was anxious and nervous. Would the people be scary? Should I worry about my safety? I’m not proud of these sentiments, but I was ignorant, and at least I was willing to show up anyway. Since we would be on our feet for two hours, serving food, and clearing tables, I dressed down in old jeans and sneakers. We were told to show up at the front entrance of the fellowship hall to be let in, and to further demonstrate my lack of experience, I wondered if we might be confused with those seeking a hot meal. Well, I should not have even bothered with that concern, as I quickly discovered that the chasm between the “haves” and the “have-nots” is deep and wide and hardly denoted by the clothes we wear. I suspect we all could have been wearing identical track suits and the differences would still have been obvious. I think there is something intrinsic in the way we carry ourselves when we know where our next meal will come from and where we will sleep at night, just as there is when we don’t.
My worries and expectations were turned upside down in the first moments we were there. The guests were gracious and thankful, and it was rewarding to be of service. If I had known how much I would have gotten out of the experience, I would have overcome my fears long ago. To be real, it’s not all fairy tales and unicorns. There are issues and challenges with working with those who are down on their luck, but my concerns were way overblown and the rewards much greater than expected.
It was my experience with the gentleman who encouraged me to smile that made me realize this experience is not a one-way street. When he prompted me to smile, he pulled me out of my head and my single-minded focus on the task at hand. He reminded me that smiling is important. In that moment, he helped me. I had hoped that serving at these shared breakfasts would be rewarding, but I had not realized that I myself would receive the service of those I thought I was serving. On the surface, it was a simple comment, but somehow he knew that at that moment I needed someone to ask me to smile.
As I watched the coverage of Hurricane Sandy’s devastation on TV and followed the personal stories from my friends on Facebook, my first thoughts were simply for the care and safety of those in Sandy’s path. When the coverage switched to recovery efforts, my attention switched to the decision of whether or not to hold the New York City Marathon. I have always seen endurance races as hopeful and inspirational events. Initially, I thought holding the race could be a positive way to distract people from the struggle to get their lives back to normal. However, as I watched the pain and anger in the faces of those still in the throes of trying simply to live; to get food and water, electricity, heat, gas, I realized the wounds were simply too fresh and raw. These folks were at the starting line of their own personal marathon to normalcy. Throwing a 26.2 mile city-wide party would simply add more salt to the wound. I understand that the economic impact to the city for cancelling was not insignificant and I doubt anyone argues that NY needs all the economic help it can get right now. And, as much as Mayor Bloomberg and race officials said the race would not divert resources from the recovery effort, I can also understand how anyone else might say ANY police, fire, or other workers that were working the race are resources that could be helping those in need. I don’t really know if their reassurances about resources were true or not, but the reactions of the people of NY were emotional responses, not rational ones and they were starting to turn that emotion against the running community in general. I am such a lover of this sport, and I hated to see runners cast in the role of villain, so I was honestly relieved when the race was cancelled.
Of course, I wasn’t registered to run this race, so it’s easy for me to be relieved from the comfort of my armchair. I didn’t spend months and months training, I hadn’t asked my friends and family to donate funds to a charitable cause on my behalf, I wasn’t running in honor or in memory of someone close to my heart, or in celebration of any personal triumph over adversity. But I have done all those things for other races and I can easily imagine the aching hearts of those who did them in anticipation of this event. After one of the worst hurricanes this nation has seen, missing this one race pales so much in comparison that these disappointed runners didn’t even have a right to complain. They must put on their brave faces, openly share only their concern for the hurricane victims, and try to tell themselves and the world that it’s only a foot race.
Having been to the running rodeo a few times now, I have come to learn that disappointment and running are often partners in endurance running. Injuries plague even the fittest runners. For slow-pokes like myself there is the ever-present threat of being taken off the course for missing time limits. They don’t call it “hitting the wall” for nothing and some runners aren’t able to finish their race in the face of overwhelming physical and/or emotional obstacles. Even if you cross the finish line, it’s often in a disappointing time – maybe just short of a Boston qualifier for the faster runners, or your body is so wrecked you can barely remember getting there. It’s also not unusual for runners to find depression waiting for them on the other side of 26.2 miles once the high from crossing the finish line wears off. Given the never-ending opportunities for disappointment and disillusionment, it’s sometimes a wonder that anyone does these events at all.
In the middle of writing this, I took a break to meet a friend for lunch. We were chatting about the NYC marathon decision and I remembered that she had recently run a local half-marathon. I asked her how it went and she excitedly recounted the highlights of the race – where she saw her son and her husband on the race course, how Mission Impossible played in her headphones as she powered her way up one of the tough hills, and how for the first time she actually sprinted the last few hundred feet to the finish line. She said it was one of the best races she had ever run, and she even beat her time just a few months prior by almost 20 minutes. I could almost see that runner’s high in her eyes as she described the run. For even a chance at one of those magical moments, that is why we bear the pain and suffering that is training for an endurance event. And, honestly, if the training were not fraught with peril and frustration, the rewards would not be nearly so rewarding. Every lost opportunity and failed effort steels a runner’s resolve and makes the victory later just that much sweeter.
To the NYC marathoners who are staring straight into the face of disappointment and let-down right now, take heart. This too is part of your journey and the true athlete knows there will be more chances, more races, and victories yet to be had.