Work in progress

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My first college advisor died after my freshman year.

My second advisor left the school.

By my senior year, I assumed the English department was drawing straws to see who got stuck with me next, given that I was prone to weekly existential crises about what to do with my life. Eventually I fell to former department chair Dr. Kelly, a kindly fellow who used long guttural “uhhhhhhs” to fill the silence while he searched for his next thought.

In my final meeting with him before graduating, he looked across his desk at me, touching his fingertips lightly together and his kind eyes smiled through his wire rim glasses.

“You Kim…uh……are a true….uh…..work in progress….”

I don’t know if I laughed awkwardly aloud, or just avoided eye contact as was often my style back then, but I thought the comment was spot on. If he’d said something like “you’re going to set the world on fire” or pretty much anything else, I would have shrugged it off as the kind of thing you say to any graduating college senior.

But in this case, I appreciated him complimenting me for who I really was. Someone who was working hard to understand herself, someone who was exploring her faith, trying to be a better writer, and mostly trying to find her place in this world.

I've thought of his comment a lot recently, in conversations with clients.

We are all works in progress, aren’t we?

But I think we often lose sight of our progress because we are so focused on the arrival. That because we did not “arrive” at our destination or our goal, we’ve come up short, didn’t work hard enough, or failed ourselves. I didn't enjoy my graduation from college for more than a hot minute before I was consumed with what came next.

Ok, ok. I basically had a panic attack the day after graduation…

At Spurling, we recently hosted an eight-week drop two jeans sizes challenge. Most clients have seen results - some more dramatic than others. But nothing was quite so shocking as sitting down with someone who lost 20 pounds and almost 7% body fat while gaining 5 pounds of muscle and hearing the disappointment in her voice.

But look at how far you’ve come, I said, imploring her to see what I was seeing.

You have made lifestyle changesnot been on some crazy diet that you can’t sustain. You will continue to see positive change.

She nodded, but quite frankly there were no words I was going to say that would have made a difference. Because it is so hard to suddenly un-do in 10 minutes what society has spent 50 years creating.

The constant perception that we're not good enough as we are. That we won't be good enough until....

I’m not going to just suddenly convince her in a 20 minute conversation to focus on how far she’s come. I can talk until my lips turn rubber and she’s not going to believe me. My words alone can’t suddenly change the belief.

My question as a coach - no - as a human being - is what's it going to take? What's it going to take to help each and every client understand that she is good enough as she is? Clients, students, partners, parents, friends - we need to change our language and our belief system to both/and.

You can be working towards progress AND celebrate your achievements.

As with kindness, as with civility, as with compassion, I can only think that it's going to take what it takes - a minute by minute, day by day effort from each and every one of us to help each other not only realize that we are all works in progress, but to love ourselves for the journey we're on, not the destination for which we search.

Be kind.

The struggle is real…but I kinda like it

 This thing happened…when I published an article…

This thing happened…when I published an article…

I often listen to books when I'm making the hour drive to the gym, and recently, I heard this quote:

"Who you are is defined by what you are willing to struggle for." **

I re-wound (I still listen to books on "tape" in my mind) and listened to the quote again. Well, I thought, laughing to myself, then one thing is absolutely clear to me. 

I am a writer. 

As much as I enjoy writing, I struggle with it. But putting my words down on metaphorical paper is important to me for a litany of reasons - it was how I found my voice over the years, and how I still find my voice. It’s how I coach and teach. It’s hopefully how I entertain sometimes. I’ve taken classes upon classes to try to perfect the craft, but the process is still a struggle, especially as I push myself to take more risks.

In 2017, I pitched an article to the website Girls Gone Strong, determined to try and publish outside of my little blog, and my pitch was accepted.

Then, I let the project slide through my hands. Even though I was pitching an article on a subject I know well, I kept writing and re-writing and bumping up against self-doubt. And I let the article fall through.

Hence the reason that I can somehow get a blog post out of writing a blog post (or article more correctly).

Until August of this year, when a good friend of mine who also contributes to the site brought it back up to me. And after a few months of struggle and lots of encouragement, the article was published last week. 

I get plenty of encouraging feedback about my writing - and chances are if you're reading this, it's because you have at some point enjoyed some of what I write. Thank you for that. 

And as much as I enjoyed the feeling of finishing the article and finally seeing a writing project through to completion, I think I enjoy the challenge just as much as the finish line. Not always…I mean I get crazy frustrated sometimes.

But for the most part, I’m willing to struggle for my writing. Because it’s important. Because it’s the one thing that has always called to me. Sometimes I feel tortured by it. But I’m also weirdly gratified by it.

We know that happiness doesn’t come after success. We aren’t suddenly happy if we hit our goal weight or land our dream job with our dream salary. If we are, the happiness is short lived. I enjoyed seeing my article published for a short period of time before I took a deep breath and thought well, what’s next?

It’s not that we shouldn’t savor the moments of success. We need to take a sacred pause and acknowledge our achievements. But if we can’t find some satisfaction in the struggle, well, maybe we need to pick something else for which we want to struggle.

This same author also talked about trading problems - I traded the problem of working 70 hours a week at a job I didn’t love for the problem of driving an hour each way to work - but also having more time to sit down and write.

So right now, I am very grateful for this particular struggle.

** The book is the Art of Not Giving a **** by Mark Manson

Pull yourself up by your bootstraps

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard and or used this expression. Pulling yourself up by your bootstraps might be the most common phrase out there when it comes to managing depression. It’s the call to action that we all believe will get us through our days.

And quite often, it does. 

Last week, in writing a post about depression for another website, I decided to look up the original meaning of the phrase.  

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As it turns out, bootstraps are literally the loops in the back of boots that help you put your boots on.

Mind blown. 

Originally, I was thinking that they were those weird things that you had to use in the olden days, before elastic, to keep your socks from falling down. Or your panty hose. Which sounds awful. I mean as if panty hose weren’t bad enough. 

Did I ever tell you that I was in a sorority in college and was rushed away one Sunday in the middle of the Steelers’ game and was PISSED that not only was I being torn from the game, but I had to put panty hose on for the ceremony? 

Ask me about leaving the sorority to join the convent later…

Anyway, bootstraps.

The other definition for the expression is to get oneself out of a situation using existing resources. 

I’ve often thought of the phrase as something that I had to do by myself - either by ignoring the way I really felt or trying to pretend that I was feeling better than I was. Either way, the onus was on me to just pull myself up by the bootstraps and grind out my day.

But what I love about that second definition, is the invitation to take advantage of the support around you to get out of a situation. It’s about tapping into your support network. 

One of the best parts about working at Spurling is watching the community grow and bond. Clients are constantly rallying around other clients in good times and bad - they’ve supported one another through the sudden loss of a gym member - through hip replacements and back surgeries, and through chemotherapy treatments.

We want our community to be a resource for you. We want to help you celebrate the big wins on your journey and support you during the tough times. 

Often, the hardest part about using an existing resource is trusting your vulnerability enough to ask. I think we can all appreciate how hard it can be to ask for help - to share that vulnerability with another person or people. 

But just remember that the next time you feel that you need to “pull yourself up by your bootstraps,” that you don’t have to do it alone. 

A year later

The snow crunched under my feet as we hiked in towards the harbor.

I looked down at my boots, picking my way around tree roots and patches of ice as we make our way towards the water. 

I remember, in that odd way that particular details stick like velcro in our minds, hiking this trail with you almost 10 years ago, wearing white nike sneakers and you laughed when I tried not to get them dirty. 

“We’re hiking,” you said. 

“Then I should have brought different shoes,” I grumbled. 

My mother n’ law and wife hike ahead of me, Mary carrying your ashes in a canvas bag, the two of them sharing memories of trips to Maine with you thirty years ago, and I lag behind, in disbelief that you’ve already been gone almost a year. 

You didn’t want a funeral, so we didn’t have one. You wanted a party, which no one has been able to throw just yet, and you wanted some of your ashes spread in Ship’s Harbor, so we’ve come to do that today. 

Grief is a weird animal, and one that I don’t fully understand. I miss you in different moments, at different and often unexpected times. I didn’t know you as long as the rest of your family, and it sometimes means that I feel less of a right to have much grief. As though grief is measured in moments spent together and not in the power of the connection felt.

As though a love for another person is predicated on marrying into a family, and not on the way your heart swells with affection around someone you love.

When we get to the harbor, I stand back, letting Mary and Sheila have their moment together - trying to respect their reminiscing about coming here when Sheila was a kid and you still had 30 years of your life ahead of you. They each take a turn spreading your ashes, when Mary turns to me.

“Do you want to spread some?” She asks.

I nod, and she fills a cracked red solo cup with some ashes. 

I’m a bit startled by the red solo cup, it seems less than ceremonious, but then again, you were a frugal yankee and would probably appreciate the simplicity of using what was available to do the job. 

I scramble down the rocks to get closer to the water, determined to get you to the water that you loved so well and not accidentally spread you on the seaweed. I crouch to my knees as the waves lap the rocks in front of me. I’m not sure what to say as I hesitate to throw you in the water. Just that I miss you. That life is different without you. That I hope you know how much I loved you, because I can’t remember if I said it. 

And with that, I let you go, back to the water. 

I stand up and look over the harbor one last time. It’s my nature to try and put words to moments and experiences; to try to get thoughts and feelings down on paper in a way that is both cathartic, and maybe of value to another person. This past year has held its share of grief for me personally, but the world in general feels divisive and angry.

Sometimes I think we need more reflection; more time to pause and let ourselves feel instead of rushing off to the next moment; instead of picking up our phone when we want to be distracted by what feels hard or sad or lonely. Buddhists call this the sacred pause, but I often get too swept up in the day to take that pause.

Until a moment like Saturday, when I took your ashes to the water. When I felt you, almost walking beside me as we climbed down the rocks. Despite the sadness of the moment, I was grateful, in this week where we try to pause and give thanks, for the time I had with you - while you were living - and on Saturday, when I watched the waves take you back out to sea.

What exactly is a Bonnie Raitt squat?

I stood at the podium at center stage and surveyed the auditorium. 

The balcony was empty, as were most of the first floor seats, save for my 20 or so eighth grade classmates. 

“O.Henry,” I began. “Who was he?”

I paused after the first sentence and gripped the side of the podium, startled by the sound of my voice in the microphone. As someone who rarely spoke above a whisper, I was stunned that the volume of my voice was seemingly booming, echoing off of the hard wooden seats and cracking plaster walls. I shook less and less with each line I delivered before returning to my seat, trembling as the adrenaline left my body. 

At the end of the class, Mrs. Howard tapped at my Jansport book bag as I walked out of the auditorium. 

“You have a knack for public speaking,” she said and I nodded shyly before walking to my next class. 

I think we were both surprised by the clarity and strength with which I had spoken, since I was loathe to speak up in class or make eye contact when speaking to a teacher. That speech was the first time I realized that I really had a voice. And I didn’t know quite what to make of it. 

 This is how you perform a Bonnie Raitt squat….

This is how you perform a Bonnie Raitt squat….

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Talking was always a problem for me as a student. My dad would come home from each parent/teacher conference and give me the same lecture. “They say that you are a good student but that you need to speak up,” he would say. “You need to raise your hand more. And you mumble too much. You need to E-NUN-CI-ATE.” 

For added emphasis, he would over-enunciate the word enunciate, just to be sure I got the message. I did get the message, I just didn’t care to speak up in class. I didn’t want to raise my hand, I certainly didn’t want to draw attention to myself, and the last thing I wanted to do was use my voice for, well, talking.   

This story came to mind last week when, for the 10th time of the day, someone misheard my directions for an exercise. 

“What is a Bonnie Raitt squat?” Suzanne asked one day in our team training class. 

“Um…I don’t know, but I asked you to do a body weight squat…” I replied. 

We now do Bonnie Raitt squats in class regularly. 

“What is a lame-ass squat?” Another asked on a different day. 

“Well, actually a landmine squat,” I said, as I shook my head, thinking of my dad’s yearly lectures. 

Finding my voice has been a life-long process and certainly not one that’s come easy. It took a number of seasons coaching high school and college kids before I realized that I needed to treat every practice and game as though I was on stage. That I needed to flip a switch and turn my voice and my presence “on” so that I could command the presence that a coach needed to effectively coach.

I don’t write about this today for any other reason than to acknowledge that finding your voice can be really difficult. Whether it’s finding the voice to advocate for yourself with a doctor, the voice to stand up to your boss, the voice to speak up for your children or your family, it can be really difficult to put yourself on stage and find the ability to speak up. It can be startling to hear your own voice ringing out in anger, in excitement, or in delight. 

Often when I write on this site, I do so to give voice to something that someone else might be thinking or struggling with. About body image, about mental health struggles, about life.

But how much better do we feel when we have some solidarity - some understanding that others have been where we have been - have felt what we have felt. So we try, I try, to give voice to struggles and to pains and to some joys as well.

You have a voice.

Remember that you have a voice. 

And as much as possible, surround yourself with people who support you and give you the courage to use that voice.