Life lessons - you can let go but you can't give up

We sat at Cafe 21 in the heart of San Diego’s Gaslamp district and watched the marathon finishers file past, one small group at a time.

I pushed my omelette around on my plate and sipped my coffee. 

“That was supposed to be me,” I said to Sheila, watching yet another gaggle of runners stroll past the sidewalk cafe. Some looked less beaten down by the miles and the California heat than others, but they all shared a similar expression.

Satisfaction. 

They all looked satisfied. I saw it in their faces, in the finishers medal around their necks, and the way they all seemed to carry the lightness of the day ahead. Whatever they did for the rest of the day, they’d be wearing the satisfaction of having completed a goal. 

“There’s always next year,” Sheila said, and I cringed. 

Next year.  

Those words are meant to comfort but they've always felt hollow to me. 

Next year. 

I pushed away from the table and leaned back in my chair, sipping my coffee.

 I didn't run a marathon but I did see a few stellar sunsets. 

I didn't run a marathon but I did see a few stellar sunsets. 

What’s the difference between giving up on something I’ve always wanted and letting go of something I’ve always wanted? 

Both of them are attitudes.  

But one of those attitudes is throwing in the towel. It’s a mindset that says I’m never going to do this, I’m never going to get there, I’m never going to achieve my goal. I’m never going to meet someone, I’m never going to have a job I like, I’m never going to have a body I can appreciate. 

Screw it. If what I’ve been pursuing is never going to happen, then why bother? 

So you quit. 

That’s giving up. 

Letting go - ah that’s more complicated, isn’t it? Because letting go is also a mindset and an attitude. But letting go is more about embracing the circumstances. Accepting your situation for what it is and making peace with yourself. 

Making peace with yourself. 

Letting go means trusting that you are enough as you are, right here in this moment, and that the pursuit of whatever goal you’re chasing does not define you. I don’t believe that pursuing a goal and embracing yourself as you are, right now in this moment - are separate from one another. 

I haven’t given up on the possibility of running a marathon. But I spent the better part of these past few days in San Diego trying to let go of my own expectations. I spent time on the beach, at a baseball game, reconnecting with my partner, of whom I’ve seen so very little lately. 

Had I come out here to run the marathon, we’d have had some time together. But the pace would have been different. Less exploring, less walking, less connecting. 

Yes, I still moped around a bit on Sunday - mostly out of the frustration that my body can't always do what I ask of it anymore. 

But, as we walked around  San Diego and I looked at the marathon signs and banners hanging in the streets I tried to shift my self-talk from "that should be me" and "why can't I stay healthy for anything" to "I'm grateful for this time away with my partner." 

I tried to shift the soundtrack. Sometimes that's enough. 

The trouble with numbers

125

4

100

1200

125 pounds was the weight I thought was perfect for me.

4 was the size of pants I thought I should wear.

100 was how many calories I burned in one mile of running, approximately.

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1200 was the number of calories I thought I should eat in a day.

Those numbers have been burned onto my brain since I was in my early twenties - maybe earlier. 

We have relationships in every part of the fitness process - we have a relationship with exercise, we have a relationship with food and many of us, especially women, also have a relationship with the numbers. When I was a freshman in high school, my friend Jodi told me that if we multiplied our height, then that was our ideal weight. 

My ideal weight came from a friend who heard it from someone who read it somewhere and I thought that number was gospel.

At 5’5, my ideal weight was 125 pounds. Less was okay, and throughout high school I weighed 115 pounds. But when I went off to college and gained a little weight. I was ok as long as I weighed no more than 125 pounds. Though I didn't proclaim to anyone that I was on a diet, the minute my weight went over 125, I ate nothing but salads and was strict about staying below 1200 calories, which was another number I soaked up from somewhere I can't remember. I also knew that running burned roughly 100 calories per mile, so I'd run three or four miles. 

This was my unwritten rule for myself. 

That is the unwritten rule for so many of us. 

The rule of my ideal weight exploded in my face in my early thirties when I took up strength training. I was feeling stronger and enjoying the workouts but I wasn’t prepared for the scale to go in the opposite direction. Instead of going from 130 pounds to 125, I went to 135. Then to 140. 

Intellectually I knew what was going on - I knew that muscle weighed more than fat and blah, blah, blah, science. I knew that. 

But I still could not reconcile this new number. Because the old one, as bogus as it was in its foundation (shockingly, not everything I learned in high school locker rooms was true…) was absolutely seared into my brain. 

Seeing a number on the scale that was more than my ideal weight made me feel shameful. I felt bad about myself, despite what I knew intellectually.  

For many of us, certain numbers bring elicit memories and emotions. 

Maybe it was how much you weighed on your wedding day or when you graduated from college or some other positive time in your life. The ideal number in our head triggers positive memories or experiences. And that’s what we want.

For many others, there is a goal weight in mind - those who have struggled with weight all of their lives might have a number in mind as an end to the journey. 

Once I hit this weight….fill in the blank.

Once I hit this weight I’ll be happy. Once I hit this weight I can stop going to the gym seven times a week. Once I hit this weight….

And it’s not enough to intellectually understand that it’s ok if your weight goes up when your muscle mass goes up and your body fat goes down. Because sometimes you can tell yourself over and over again that it’s ok, but you never really buy what you’re trying to sell yourself. 

Developing a relationship with your body that doesn’t have numbers is so. hard. to. do. 

It is so hard. 

Because we sure as hell don't like the other feedback we rely on, which for most of us is mirrors. Just this morning I got up, took one look at myself in the mirror, and was thoroughly disappointed with what I saw. I haven't trained consistently because of injury, so I feel sluggish and quite frankly, didn't like what I saw in the mirror. 

I share that mostly because I know there are so many out there who feel the same way. 

So what do we do? With the numbers and the feedback?

We work on it. I know - that work is hard and complicated. But we create awareness where we can, we remind ourselves, at every opportunity, that we are more than a number. 

We ask for help. 

We offer help.

We remind each other that we're beautiful. 

We lift each other up. 

In the words of the ladies over at Girls Gone Strong - "strong women lift each other up."

Lessons from an ugly teapot

On a Saturday afternoon in March of 2002, we were celebrating my friend Melissa's upcoming wedding. As bridesmaids, we took her dancing on Friday, showered her with gifts on Saturday, and then someone decided that should we paint our own pottery.

For Jon and Melissa.

As a gift.

That they'd have forever. 

My artistic skills begin and end with watching Bob Ross. Watching. While I was fascinated that he could create a painting in under 30 minutes, my skills were limited to stick figures.
 
But, I suppose I was feeling ambitious that day. More accurately, I was so wanting to show my appreciation for Melissa’s friendship that I decided to make a grand gesture. Melissa and I often shared cups of tea while trying to sort out our purpose in life (or mostly she listened to me trying to sort out my purpose in life) so I decided to go all in and paint a teapot.  

16 years later, that gesture continues to be grand. 

Rather than take the simple approach and paint my teapot one color, as my fellow bridesmaids did, I decided I’d paint a nature scene on the teapot. 

 I was an adult when I painted this.

I was an adult when I painted this.

But after finishing a barren tree with no leaves, I decided I’d just paint the other side green. Then I painted the lid yellow and gold, because Jon was a Steelers’ fan.

Then I painted the spout brown because…well, it was already pretty ugly.

By the time I was finished, the thing was so ugly that I felt compelled to add a quote on the outside that read, illegibly, that “it’s not what’s on the outside that matters.” 

When I took the final product to the employee, I tried to bribe her to break it before it made the kiln.

"Oh no," she said. "We're very careful with our pottery."

"But if I gave you an extra 50 bucks..." I offered.

 Nothing says best wishes for your future like a barren, dead tree in winter. 

Nothing says best wishes for your future like a barren, dead tree in winter. 

 My reaction when the teapot reappeared in my life a decade later...

My reaction when the teapot reappeared in my life a decade later...

This teapot, needless to say, has been the butt of jokes since 2002. It has survived multiple moves and plenty of questions from Jon and Melissa's kids. The teapot made a surprise trip from Pennsylvania to Maine in 2013 when Melissa spoke at our wedding. 

Melissa reminded me recently of the teapot last week when she told me that it was currently on prime display on her counter top. 

Originally, I was going to use the teapot as a symbol of what happens when you constantly change your nutrition and fitness routines - jumping from the Whole 30 to the 21 day fix to weight watchers to nutrisystem. 

And I do think that’s true when it comes to health and fitness. Jumping around from program to program makes it very difficult to see progress. You have to commit to a process for at least 90 days if not longer to see results. 

 Um...can you guess which ones her kids painted? Her kids whom are all under 10? 

Um...can you guess which ones her kids painted? Her kids whom are all under 10? 

But as I started writing this post, I was reminded of several conversations I've had in recent weeks with friends and clients. These folks are taking big risks - leaving old jobs for new ones - leaving jobs without a new one - going back to school - starting their own businesses, and deciding that it’s time for a change in their lives.

Sometimes a blank slate, while appealing and beautiful and filled with possibilities is also terrifying. It can feel permanent and scary. 

This teapot, ugly as it is, is pretty symbolic of the way my past 16 years have gone. I’ve started and stopped multiple journeys - second guessed decisions, tried to please other people, and in the process, created something that was sometimes ugly, sometimes beautiful, but always, always, always authentically mine.

So I guess my message today is two-fold:

Choose a fitness and nutrition plan and give it time to work.

But follow your curiosity and your heart. This is your journey. This is your story. Write it for you. Take that leap of faith. 

Be kind to yourself, today and always.

How gratitude changed my mindset

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I have been working on a project for the past six months. 

I’ve spent almost ever waking hour, when not at the gym, working on this project. The process was a source of energy and light for me, a place where I could bring my creativity and a way to work through some of the grief I’ve experienced in recent months. 

I was cruising along, checking off boxes and getting things done, until my godfather unexpectedly passed away in April. I took a week off and went home to Pennsylvania for the funeral. I thought I’d continue to work on my project while I was home during my down time. 

But instead, I got nothing done. 

By the time I got back to Maine, my self-imposed deadline had passed and I found myself sitting down everyday, trying to force myself to finish. Then I found myself avoiding the entire process in ways that I hadn’t done before - I was watching Netflix, reading a book, checking social media - avoiding the entire thing. 

The soundtrack was playing in my head. I have always, always, always struggled to finish creative projects. All I could think was well, here I go again. 

And not in that good "Whitesnake" kind of way. 

I have a therapist I work with and whom I trust a great deal and out of desperation, I asked her for some advice. I didn’t need a pep talk, I didn’t need anyone to cheer me on or tell me I could do it. That wasn’t going to motivate me. I’m not wired like that.

So that’s not what she said.

She offered this quote from Nina Simone “You have to learn to get up from the table when love is no longer being served.”

She suggested that sometimes it is us who is no longer serving love to ourselves - and she reminded me to not come back to the table until I could sit with love and gratitude for the process of creation I’d begun in the first place. 

It’s a nice thought. And while I could appreciate it intellectually, emotionally I was thinking something more like:

“Son of a *&^^%$%*&^^%*&(.”

I just want to finish what I set out to finish. But without a better idea, I followed her advice and stepped away from the process. 

I let go of my self-imposed deadline. 

I had to. 

And that was difficult. It took a great deal of energy for me to let go of my expectations. It hasn't been easy. I still felt awful that I'd already missed my self-imposed deadline; that I already let myself down.

But I stepped away from the process. Instead of avoiding the work - I let myself work on other creative things.  

I worked on gratitude - on being thankful for the process of creating. Sometimes I could genuinely be thankful. And sometimes I was begrudgingly thankful.  

I tried to flip the script from "here I go again" to "let it be." 

Because the Beatles. 

Easier said than done. 

We do what we can to move our own needle forward. 

Whether it's for a personal project, nutrition plan, or fitness. We do the best we can with what we've got. 

Even if it's only a little bit at a time. 

But if we can just let go, even a little bit, of those inner expectations, the world opens up for life to unfold naturally, in a way that isn't forced. 

Get in the picture

The photo is 14 years old. 

I’m wearing a long black dress, shawl and long earrings. My mom is in an elegant black dress, with a long slit up the side and looking glamorous. 

It’s the last time we posed together in a photo - just mother and daughter. 14 years ago.

If I want to extend the generation to include my mom’s mom…well, I can’t. I don’t have a photo of just the three of us. 

Think about that. I was one of two granddaughters; my mom was the only daughter, and yet there are no photos of just the three of us. Not a one. 

You know why? Because the three of us didn’t only stay out of photos, but would hurdle a cow to avoid a camera.  

And videos? That was a whole other adventure. My mom hid behind doors, jackets, furniture, people - at the very site of that blinking red light. 

I've got plenty of footage of my mom running away from the video camera - but very little of her doing the things I remember her doing best.

Loving us. 

My mom is beautiful. With her dark brown eyes and almost black hair (mostly gray these days), I thought she was stunning. But she loathed getting in photos.  

She was mortified when I took up photography as a hobby (and later profession) in college. 

 Yup - I'm totally wearing a dress here. 

Yup - I'm totally wearing a dress here. 

Tucking her chin, standing behind other people or just running away, she made every effort to stay away from the camera. But she's not alone. 

Women stay out of photos all of the time. Myself included. 

A client brought this topic up to me two years ago, challenging me to recall the number of photos I had with my mom. Later that summer, as my brothers and I planned for the 70th birthday party for both of our folks, we were reminded of just how few photos our mother was in. 

The gammet literally spanned from my little brother's first holy communion to his high school graduation. A full decade. A decade.

Because what happens when most women end up in photos? 

We hate ourselves for it. 

"Oh my goodness I am so fat."

"Is that what I really look like?"

"I am such a whale……."

And do you know what happens when we do that?

We deprive our loved ones of memories.

I don’t have any photos of me with just my grandmothers. Think about that. 

I was one of only nine grandchildren on my mom's side, and one of 19 on my dad's side. 

But I have no photos of just me with either of my grandmothers. 

And I have very limited photos of me with my mom. 

Maybe that’s harder these days, to stay out of photos. Because there are cameras everywhere we look, on phones, and iPads and well, just everywhere. 

But I still see women refusing to be photographed. 

We avoid mirrors, we avoid photos, we avoid reflections of ourselves - mostly based on our own individual body dysmorphia. And I don’t use that term lightly. It seems like most women have a certain perception of themselves that doesn’t always line up with reality. 

And I’m no exception to this rule. 

When I first joined Facebook, I didn't post any photos of myself. All I could imagine was people from my past judging my appearance the way I did. I thought everyone else was judging me for all of the same flaws that I saw everyday in the mirror.

Not once did I think of someone uttering a kindness about me.  

Photos and videos are important because they jog our memories. I know my mom and grandmothers were around me a lot as a kid. I know they were at birthday parties and holidays. But knowing that is different than seeing a photo of me sitting on my Dad's lap and remembering that he blew out the candles out with me. 

I don’t have kids. But I have a niece and nephew that I think are pretty awesome. 

As they get older, I’d like them to have evidence that I got down on the floor and played with them. Or that I got in the pool in a sports bra and my brother's gym shorts because I didn't have a bathing suit but they wanted me to swim with them anyway. 

Those are not flattering photos. But I genuinely hope that Ady and J.D., when looking at those photos, remember that Aunt Kimmie was up for anything. 

I have some very unflattering pictures of myself with the two of them. I see the bad hair, the awful tan line, the sports bra from 1997 that I should probably throw out. But I hope when they look at those pictures years from now that they will remember that we had fun.

That someday they will come across a photo on their computer (I mean we don't print them anymore) of the three of us swimming in that four foot pool and that they will smile. A big broad smile because they remember the fun. 

Looking at photos of yourself without judgment is more than just hard; it is a life-long practice. But allowing yourself to get into pictures so that your family and friends and kids especially can think of you as the fun, loving, kind person that you are is worth the trade off. 

It's Mother's Day. People who love you will want to buy you dinner, buy you flowers, and take pictures with you.

So I implore you - get in those photos. Embrace those moments. You are loved. You are special. You are kind. 

Let people love you. You are worthy. You are worthy of that love and appreciation.