On practicing stillness

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Photo credit: Flickr user Pictoquotes

Ever since my best friend’s wedding in early July, I have felt the tug. The tug is a constant nagging reminder that I must move forward; must make something major happen in my life. What is that something, exactly?

I have no idea.

Perhaps watching my best friend take a major step in her life propelled me to think I should be doing the same. Or perhaps the tug has been lying dormant in me for a long while, pushed down to the depths of my subconscious to be dealt with at a later date. All I know for sure is that it’s there, and that it can’t be ignored. It’s always tugging.

For the better part of my life — ages 2 through 25 — I was a student, which was rather simple. My goals were clear: to graduate and to find employment. Outside of graduating from college and law school, the only other tangible #lifegoals I can ever remember having were: to move to New York City, to find someone to love, to write, and to eventually move to the beach. Check, check, check and check.

Now what?

I guess I never considered the fact that I might accomplish my major milestone goals by 30. Or that my “life goals” were not very specific or ambitious (unlike the adorably unrealistic goals I used to set for myself in my journal, like “I vow to lose 4,000 pounds in the next 3 weeks!” or, “I will become fluent in Spanish by the new year — two months left is plenty of time!”).

So, I decided to take some time to reflect on where I’m at and where I’d like to go. All summer long, I have allowed myself the luxury of stillness. I haven’t written much, or accomplished much at all, other than the usual work and chores around the house.

I swam in the ocean almost every day, convinced that the salt water would invigorate my mind and pull me from my stupor. I went for long walks in the woods and did yoga, and even tried meditation after years of resisting the very idea of it. I thought if I could just learn to listen to myself without the judgment of my critical inner voice, I might understand where the tug was coming from.

No such luck. At least not yet.

In some ways, it’s extremely frustrating to feel like I am falling behind, when there is no good reason for it. The reality is that I’m doing just fine. I’m happy and healthy. I’m in a long-term relationship with an incredibly supportive partner. I have two perfect little fur-babies, a good job, a beautiful apartment 4 blocks from the beach, many friends who love me deeply for who I am, a family who always comes to visit, and a blog with engaged readers who put up with my endless and often insufferable philosophizing. By most accounts, I’m living the dream! (Permission to want to punch me in my face for even listing these things out, or thinking they’re not enough: GRANTED.)

Maybe the lesson in all of this is that I must learn to appreciate my life as it is, and to stop itching for something more.

As frustrating as the tug can be, it is also an extraordinary gift. I’m slowly learning to let go of all of the pressure and expectations I put on myself and others. Instead, I’m choosing to listen — really listen — to my own inner voice, and the whispers of the world around me. In doing so, I am humbled. I haven’t figured it all out, and that is ok. I will never figure it all out. There will probably always be another tug of discontentment right around the corner.

In the meantime, I think I will take one more swim in the ocean today, and revel in the joy of being exactly where I always hoped I would be.

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Readers: have you experienced the tug lately? How have you dealt with it?

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On surviving, and taking the long road to “success”

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While responding to a reader email this weekend regarding my latest essay “What are you willing to sacrifice?” I found myself grappling with the idea of finding happiness in success. Without thinking much about my words, I wrote the following:

“As for being happy, I don’t think that success with writing will necessarily make me happy. It would help, in terms of career and life goal fulfillment (like, not looking back on my life, and saying “you know, I should really have tried to make something of my writing. I was pretty good back there!”). But I really want to check that box and say, I tried. I’ve missed out on much of the opportunity for achievement in my life up until this point. I’ve never really lived up to my potential, and a huge part of that has been because so much of my energy has been tied up in healing from a laundry list of traumas: early sexual abuse, being raped in college, an emotionally abusive relationship, devastating injury, and losing my mother at 27. I’ve always felt a bit damaged, and I’ve learned to find happiness outside of the traditional ideas of success. But again… here comes the yearning!” 

This concept — of fulfilling my potential — has been exceedingly salient in my life. For as long as I can remember, I’ve berated myself for not doing more. I’ve always thought myself to be a bit bored and lazy. I set myself lofty goals, and then when I (obviously) can’t fulfill them, I enter into the shame spiral. Whenever I read back on my old journals, I wince at how hard I am on myself. It’s always should, should, should. I’m never doing enough. I am always behind; always failing.  Continue reading

Dear Judgy Gym Rats: Stop Complaining about “Resolutioners”

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Here they come again — the barrage of gym rats complaining about “resolutioners” on social media. “Watch out!” they say, “the resolutioners are coming!”

“Ugh!” they complain, “the gym is crawling with resolutioners. Can’t wait until February when they all give up on their goals and go home so I can have my gym back.”

As though their $20 monthly fee to Planet Fitness entitles them to an empty, private gym.

As though they are more entitled to the equipment than a person who pays the same membership fee, but only walks into the gym 12 days out of the year.

As though those “resolutioners” aren’t contributing to the very reason why their membership is so dirt cheap.

I’ve got news for all of you hoity-toity daily gymgoers complaining about the January sign-ups: you look like assholes. There I said it. Now I’ll explain why.

First off, your gym membership is subsidized by those “resolutioners” whom you find so annoying. Studies show that a whopping 67% of people with gym memberships never use them. If everybody who paid for a gym membership actually used it on the regular, costs would skyrocket: Gyms would need more space, more equipment, more repairs to that equipment and a heck of a lot more staff. Conversely, if none of those January people bought memberships, guess who’d pick up the rest of the tab? You and your holier-than-thou gym buddies is who. Would you like paying over $100 per month for your gym rats – only facility? Probably not. You save hundreds of dollars each year for the slight inconvenience of dealing with a packed gym during one month. Oh, the horror!

Secondly, and this should really go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: You don’t own the gym. I know it’s hard to believe, since you’re there almost every day. You know the staff and the other gym-goers. You have your routine. You shower at the gym more than you shower at your own house. You feel like you’re at home. But you’re not. You’re just another customer, like all the other paying costumers. You don’t pay more for your membership than the guy on the machine next to you, and frankly, you’re far costlier to the business than any resolutioner will ever be. So stop thinking that because you hang around at the gym every day, you own it. The owner owns it. And they probably can’t stand your attitude towards the people who actually make their business a lot of money.

Your attitude towards those “resolutioners” actually brings me to my third, final, and most important point: you are contributing to the reason why so many January sign-ups fail to meet their goals. Now, I’m not saying you’re to blame for their “failures.” That would be a huge stretch, to say the very least. But imagine you’re going to a gym for the first time. It’s cold outside, you’re feeling unsure about yourself. You’re not sure what to do once you’re there. Or maybe you’re sure about your routine, but not sure where all of the machines are located. You’re nervous and a little embarrassed about how out-of-shape you are, but you’re ready to get started on your goals. You get to the gym and the staff is super nice to you, encouraging you to sign up for a premium membership, which, they explain, is a much better deal overall. You like perks. So you sign up. Then you actually get to your workout. You’re surrounded by other folks like yourself, but you can’t help but notice some bad energy in the room. There are a few people looking at you with disdain. They’re muscular — obvious regulars — and they’re walking around like they own the place. They sneer at you as you take your turn on the squat rack. They seem obviously annoyed by your presence. Your sense of shame deepens. You feel watched. You feel unwelcome. You feel like you don’t belong. You go back a few times, but you can’t shake the feeling that this is not the place for you. That you’re not really welcome, despite the smiles from the staff, and the convenience of the location. You feel dread every time you tell yourself to go to that place, and sustain those stares and that judgment.

You may think this example is overly dramatic, but this has been my exact experience at almost every gym I’ve ever joined (and those gyms span three states and nearly every price point out there). Even though I am a former elite athlete, I have always felt rather uncomfortable in gyms. The environment is really not welcoming to newcomers, or folks coming off injuries, or even former athletes trying to get back in shape (all of which I’ve been at various points). It wasn’t until I joined an all-women’s gym with an extremely supportive community environment that I felt comfortable at the gym. Since then, I’ve realized that I don’t actually hate the gym, I just hate the hostile environment that pervades so many. And guess what? I’ve been consistently going to that gym multiple days every single week. I’m now a year-round gym rat, when I used to be a resolutioner. I no longer feel a sense of shame every time I go to work out (which is perhaps the most de-motivating feeling on earth). I’ve gained confidence, a support system, new friends, strength and most importantly, a healthier relationship with both my body and mind.

Hostile, non-welcoming environments are really pervasive in gym culture, and they need to end. If you are going to judge people for “giving up,” perhaps you should consider how difficult it is to be in their shoes; how overwhelming it is to step into an unfamiliar environment and feel unwelcome. Perhaps more people would live a healthy lifestyle and reach their fitness goals if they didn’t feel shut out and judged.

But that’s not really what you want, is it? You obviously don’t want the resolutioners to succeed if you “can’t wait” for the time when they “fail” and leave the gym. You want the gym to be cheap and empty, and that rests on those people failing. The absolute least you could do is stop complaining about the one month they’re filling up the gym, and subsidizing you for the rest of the year.

The most you could do is be a little kinder. I’m not saying that you need to stand at the door and greet the newcomers or show them the ropes (let’s leave that to the professionals). You don’t need to spot them, or even converse with them. A simple smile would do. Or just, you know, not openly mocking them on social media and glaring at them while they try to work out. The smallest bit of compassion and kindness can go a long way with someone who’s just starting out.

Remember: we all start somewhere. This year, I’m hoping every single one of those resolutioners meets their goals, and sticks it to the assholes who complain about them. Even more than that, I’m hoping those newly minted gym rats don’t need to read this next year.

Happy fitness-ing in 2016, folks! Be kind to yourself and others.