Our stuff tells our stories

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Shortly after I graduated college - my favorite professor - who had painted an orange trapezoid in the breakfast nook of her kitchen just because she could - looked out her window and sipped her coffee.

"Your stuff is your history," she'd said. I didn't know much about her life, except that she'd had some very hard years after earning her Ph.D and was the quirkiest person I'd ever met. I don't know what I was telling her, but probably something about wanting to own nothing more in life than my guitar, Birkenstocks, and a few pairs of pants.

I wasn't interested in owning things, and once wrote of a salary requirement for a job that I just wanted enough money to pay my bills and have some left over to have dinner with a friend. I imagine the chuckles that an HR person probably had, seeing that I had just graduated from college and commenting to herself on my youth.

I had just left the convent where the nuns, for the most part, owned relatively little. Things seemed evil to me - having too much stuff seemed greedy, and like it could distract you from the things in life that were really important.

Even now, despite my well known affinity for shoes, clothes, and technology, I could probably be satisfied with my laptop, guitar and a small collection of clothes.

But I've never forgotten what my professor said that day in her kitchen. Our stuff is our history, and I've appreciated how right she is.

Two weeks ago, we got a new pub table at the gym. Did you notice? Probably not - it's the same style of pub table we had before. But as Josh was getting rid of it, I made him stop for a moment.

"My life changed forever at this pub table," I said. I'd sat with Doug at that pub table for the first time on February 12th 2015. I'd just started a job at Bates College, and knew that's not where I wanted to be. I met Doug through an online network (he had a former intern who worked there - his name is Trent Dubois). So on a snowy February evening, I sat with Doug and talked about my goals, my ambitions, and my dreams.

Exactly the way you have all sat at that pub table. With Doug Spurling, with Trent, with Chris or Mel or maybe me. And you've tried to answer the same questions about yourself - what do you want? What are your goals? What do you need? How can we help?

In so many ways, it's just a thing. A singular thing - a forgotten piece of furniture that, had I not been there to see it, would not have realized was even different.

But how how very, very, very right you were Dr. Marsters, that our stuff is our history.

Life is too short for black coffee

And coffee is even better in this Wonder Woman mug. Thanks Cheryl.

And coffee is even better in this Wonder Woman mug. Thanks Cheryl.

“I like cream in my coffee. And I like to sleep late on Sundays. And nobody knows me…”

While those things are both true, they’re also lines from a song – can you name it? 

About five years ago, when I hired my first coach to help me with both nutrition and exercise, I got pretty strict with my diet. I practiced intermittent fasting, (click here to understand more of what that is about), counted out my calories for every meal, and measured all of my macronutrients

It was the most time and effort I'd ever invested in my nutrition, and I learned a lot during those first few months. Tracking food intake, measuring portions and learning to measure those portions based on macronutrients changed the way I ate, and it helped me get myself back on track after being laid off from my full time job. 

It was also during that period that I started to drink black coffee. (And asking the kind people at Starbucks to put ice in my coffee so I could drink it the same day because nuclear).

I continued drinking black coffee for the next year or more, indulging in half n’half only on the occasional weekend or when I went home to visit my parents, because my mom makes the best coffee ever. It’s Maxwell House, she makes it with a Mr. Coffee pot that she bought for 50 cents at a yard sale and it’s the best. Coffee. Ever. 

Gradually, I started putting half n’ half in my coffee, not just on Sunday’s, but on Saturdays too. Then on Fridays. And then finally, I realized something:

My life is too short to drink black coffee. Black coffee is ok. And by ok I mean disgusting. Like eating coffee grounds. Probably. Not that I've eaten coffee grounds. Except that one time when I was desperate.

Have you ever read about natural highs? Waking up two hours before your alarm goes off and realizing you can nuzzle under the covers a bit longer, the feeling of brand new squishy socks, and for me, my first cup of coffee. With cream in it. 

After suffering through black coffee for a few years, I finally decided that cream in my coffee is my non-negotiable. 

Every day I have conversations with clients about nutrition, and I ask them to do the same things I listed above – track food – measure portions – and that information is often eye-opening. If you’re trying to stay at 1600 calories for the day and you’re putting 300 calories worth of sugar and cream in your coffee, then that is certainly something to pay attention to. But once you’ve educated yourself on where your calories are coming from – once you’ve begun to measure your salad dressing and servings of almonds and the tastes you take of everything while you’re cooking, it’s important to parse out what you truly enjoy.

I can forgo a second tablespoon of olive oil on my salad, I can be content with one small piece of dark chocolate - I'm willing to make other concessions. But not with my coffee.

Be honest with yourself about your quality of life - about the things that are important to you and that you truly enjoy - and, within reason, let yourself have it.

Because life is too short to drink black coffee.

Last for the last time

Last week I hit a wall.

I know, it's pretty early for that, considering we’re less than three weeks into the new year. But I hit it anyway.

For the past eight months, maybe longer, I’ve barely squeezed my workouts in. 20 minutes here. 30 minutes there. Very little warm up, no rhyme or reason to the exercises I choose. Just trying to get something in. And something is better than nothing, right? 

When I'm missing my workouts, that's when I know my life is out of balance. Because the one thing I find most restorative in my life is training on a consistent basis. 

The lack of balance in my life was brought to light last week when my therapist handed me a worksheet with a list of standard questions: How much time do you spend tending to the needs of others, professionally or with family and friends? How much time do you dedicate to taking care of “you” and what does that look like? Do you do activities that are restoring - what other activities do you do that restore you? What activities give you energy? What activities take your energy?

All good questions right? 

My therapist then handed me a sketch pad, and asked me to sketch out the answers.  I laughed, but she was serious. The thing is, I see her on Fridays and usually by the time I walk through her door I’m so smoked from the first four days of the week that I can barely concentrate on conversation with her. 

So I sketched out my week - and this is what it looked like. 

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The red is time I spend doing something restorative - the purple is any time I spend with Sheila. And the rest is everyone and everything else. My weekends are a bit better of course, but this is the time I spend growing my business and writing - which are both things I enjoy - but they aren’t always very restorative. I’ve known for awhile that I pack my weeks pretty full. But I don’t think I realized just how full I’ve been packing them.

But why? 

Well, I've come to my calling in life a bit later than some. I didn't walk into my twenties and thirties doing the work I loved. I walked into both of those decades blind, trying to feel my way towards my purpose. So while I'm 42 years old, I have some catching up to do in the fitness industry, and so I'm still trying to pay the dues I should have paid at 25.

But that's only part of the story.

You could say I focus on other people’s problems because I’m trying to avoid working on my own. But I don’t think that’s the entire story either. I genuinely want to help people, and I meet with my therapist because I'm genuinely trying to figure some things out for myself. 

I think a larger part of the story, the one that's harder to tell, is the layer of self-loathing I have for myself. I try to help and support as many people as I can because that’s the only way I can feel worthy. Of what, I don’t exactly know. Love, time to myself, success - I'm sure the list goes on and on.

I don't write this because I want anyone to write back and tell me I'm worthy - please save your words. I write this because I know that many of us feel unworthy - of love or acceptance or self care or a balanced life. We put ourselves last yes, because we care that much, but also because we feel that we deserve so little. 

I don’t believe the line that we need to care for ourselves so that we can better care for others. We care for ourselves because we are worthy. 

I know, that’s just one big dung heap of a mess to get into on a Sunday morning, isn’t it? 

Welcome to the inside of my head. 

Sheila calls these my existential crises, which she is privy to more than most. 

But on the other end of this existential crisis was a pledge I'm making to myself, that I put in an Instagram video last week. That I've put myself last for the last time. 

I've asked several folks to hold me accountable to this pledge, and I had one person text me a reminder on Friday. My pledge is to train at least three hours in the next week. Training for me means that I have a program (thanks Josh Williams Fitness) to follow, and that I'll dedicate those three hours to restoring my body. 

What is your pledge to yourself? And who can you ask to hold you accountable. 

I'm here, and I'm available, except for those three hours of next week. :-) 

Stop minimizing yourself

For one day, I’d like you to remove one word from your vocabulary. 

Only.

As an adjective, the definition is “alone of its or their kind, single or solitary.”  It's the only jazz joint in town. 

But I would add another definition. 

To minimize. 

So often I hear clients use the word to minimize themselves and their actions. “I only did 10 reps instead of 12. I only did three sets instead of four.” 

And these are not clients who are being lazy. They are not clients who are dogging it and taking the easy way out. These are usually people that are working as hard as they can - they are working 60 hour weeks, driving three kids to three different extracurricular activities and somedays it's all they can do to even walk through the doors for a workout. 

Ok, to be fair, I do it too sometimes.

I only worked out twice last week instead of three times.

Stop it, ok? For today, stop minimizing what you do.

When we use words like only or  just (click here to read my post on the word just) we minimize the work that we are doing.

We minimize ourselves and our efforts. We are, in effect, saying to ourselves that we are not enough and that what we have done is not good enough.

The word only, much like exclamation points (thanks to my college professor Dr. Minot) is unnecessary. When someone says they only did three sets, I repeat it back to them:

So you did three sets. 

I only journaled my food three days last week.

So you journaled three days, as opposed to the zero the week before. 

Language matters, ok? What we say matters and what we repeat to ourselves matters.

Let me say that again.

Language matters. 

What we say aloud to our friends, our coaches and ourselves matters. What we say in front of our children matters even more.  

I'm not saying that you shouldn't work hard. I'm not saying that you shouldn't push yourself. In fact, set three goals for the week. My stretch goal for meal prep is five days, my ideal is four, and my minimum is three days. Sure, you can push for five, but if you get three days in then you've done a damn good job for yourself. 

And don’t you dare tell me that you only did anything.

Ok?

Stack those successes on top of each other. Keep pushing forward. 

But stop minimizing yourself. You deserve more. 

Every little bit counts

I was well into my 20’s before I realized that Santa wrapped presents for other kids.

Seriously.

DB curls while drinking coffee from my Captain America mug? Why not? Every little bit counts.

DB curls while drinking coffee from my Captain America mug? Why not? Every little bit counts.

Every Christmas morning I’d wake up with my brothers, and we’d race out to the living room of my parents tiny ranch house to see what Santa had left us. You could generally tell by the piles of gifts which presents Santa had left for whom. Anything baseball related was mine, and anything else I didn’t care about it.

Especially the Barbies that were left for me in an effort to sway my interests. 

I never thought twice about the lack of wrapping until a friend and I were discussing this after I graduated from college.

You mean your parents actually wrapped the presents from Santa? I asked, flabbergasted. Really?

You mean your parents didn’t? She asked, equally incredulous. 

One day a few years ago I asked my mom about not wrapping gifts for us. “It was a way to save money,” she said. “Every little bit counts.”

I’ve said before that my dad lost his job in the steel mills when I was a kid, and there were some years where things were lean. We tease my mom about her frugality now. She buys slightly expired bread “it’s still good,” she says; never buys anything without a coupon, and will drive an extra five miles out of the way to save 3 cents a gallon on gas. Without my mom’s efforts, I’m not sure where we would have been back then, or even now.

My mom doesn’t like us spending our money on her either. In fact, her favorite gift from me is the slightly cracked pot of flowers I picked up in the middle of the road one day 20 years ago.

Seriously.

I think they were funeral flowers that fell out of a delivery truck. And she was like OMG! Best. Gift. Ever. (She doesn’t believe me now when I try to pass off that the new sweater I bought her came from the side of the street. But I try.)

Every little bit counts. 

I think about this now, when I’m looking for ways to save money. I think about it when I make the decision to walk up the flights of stairs at the Portland Jetport instead of taking the escalator. I think of this when I get up in the morning and struggle to write 100 crappy words, which is my commitment to myself every day. I think about this when I opt to skip the Christmas cookies for breakfast when I know I don’t really want them.

Mostly, I try to take inventory of what’s really important - because after all, that’s what my mom was doing. Our birthday gifts were always wrapped, after all (usually with leftover paper from the previous person’s birthday), and I never felt like we were deprived of anything growing up.

So this holiday season, I take my mom’s words and actions to heart, as much as I can. In trying to make positive change in my life, wherever and whenever I can, I try to remember that every little bit counts.