How gratitude changed my mindset


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. 

A Life Well Lived

I leaned over and kissed his forehead.

It was ice cold, and I surprised myself with the gesture. 

I guess that’s what you do when words won’t suffice. I couldn’t tell him I loved him. I couldn’t tell him that I was sorry I didn’t see him when I was home for Christmas. And my mind felt too cluttered to pray. So I bent into the casket and kissed his forehead before tearfully walking away. 

 My Uncle "Smitty" Clair, home from Vietnam. 

My Uncle "Smitty" Clair, home from Vietnam. 

During the funeral, the priest asked what it meant to say that we had a life well lived.

My brothers and cousins carried the casket to the front of the church, draped with the American Flag. My mom’s younger brother served his country in Vietnam, where he was exposed to horrors I’ll never know. He worked in the coal mines and later in the prison before living the final six years of his life crippled by a drunk driver. He was married to my godmother for 44 years. He was the best man in my parent’s wedding. 

He had only 67 years, but it was 67 years of a life well lived. That was evident by the stream of visitors who filled the funeral home to pay their respects. It was evident in the tears - from his 11 year old grandson to his 74 year old brother; by the eulogy that both of his kids struggled to get through. 

They spoke not of what he did, but of who he was. A father who taught them what it meant to be a good person, who inspired them, and who made them laugh. 

We strive every day for a life well-lived. I believe that all of us, whether we feel lost, confused or hopeless, ultimately want to feel that when it comes to the end, we’ve made the most of the time we’ve had. Even when the trials of life wear us out and beat us down, I believe that it’s the sincerest desire in all of our hearts to be the best version of ourselves that we can be. 

For the longest time, I thought that meant checking certain boxes. I thought that a life well lived was, at least for me, a college education, a master’s degree and authoring a book. I thought that a life well lived was more about what I did than who I was. I thought that legacy was doing something big that landed you in the history books, or these days, with a Wikipedia page. 

Sometimes I still think that. 

In the end there are no checkboxes for what really matters. There’s no place to mark how much you loved - how much you made others laugh - the way you made other people feel. There is no measuring stick for touching another person’s life. 

At least I guess, there are kisses on the forehead when words will not suffice.  





My Place in this World

My first class was a disaster.

The exercises were chosen, the stations were set up, and I arrived at 5:15 that morning, groggy from my 3:30 wake-up and two hours of sleep.

 I am lucky. 

I am lucky. 

I looked around the empty gym, quiet from the night, chilly from the cold spring morning, and tried to calm the butterflies in my stomach as I prepared to coach the 20 people about to walk through the doors of what was then, Spurling Training Systems.

By the time the class was over, one person left with a bad knee, others looked bored, and still others were skeptical of "the new coach."

The class ended and I walked to the window, looking at the red sky of sunrise, wondering what the hell I'd gotten myself into. 

Before the next class, one of the other coaches pulled me into the office to give me some feedback. From Doug. Who wasn’t there.

“He watched from home,” the coach said, when I asked how Doug was giving me feedback. “There are cameras.”

I walked out to the parking lot and called Sheila.

“I don’t know what the f*** I got myself into, but I'm not staying past April."**

That was two years ago, yesterday. 

April 5th, 2016 marks the date of my arrival. It’s the date when I finally docked my boat after years and years of sailing around, trying different ports.

Remembering dates is a trait I inherited from my dad I suppose, who can tell you with ease the day he finished his four years of service in the Navy, the day he started in the steel mills, and the birthdays of hundreds of cousins and family members. (Yes there are hundreds..)

In turn, I can tell you that I got my driver’s license on October 19th, 1994, we adopted Rooney on July 11th 2008, and that Jamie Gillespie’s birthday is December 12th. (Hi Jamie!) 

But perhaps no date is as important or memorable for me as April 5th.* 

I stayed past April (clearly), but almost left for a second time that same summer. I loved the work, but the hour-drive and long days were wearing on me. It was a tough decision, and was teary eyed as I told my decision to Doug and the staff.  

What happened next, was something I could have never anticipated.

Doug made an effort to keep me. 

It was the first time in my professional life that I felt valued. Don’t get me wrong, I’d worked plenty of places where fellow co-workers and even supervisors valued me and treated me well. But few were in a position to do anything about it. 

Every few months, I send Doug a text, thanking him for my job. It probably seems like overkill, though I know he appreciates it. But so many nights, on the drive home, I think about the long nights I spent keeping stats at sporting events. I think about weekend trips to random places in Vermont spending time away from my family.

I think about the day in 2011 when I was folding t-shirts at a retail Nike store wondering how, at 34 years old, I ended up here. I think about the 70 hour weeks at a local college, making 25k a year, making no impact on the world, and wondering if I was going to die in a job like this. 

I think about the throws of anxiety and depression.

And that’s when I thank Doug.

I get emails like this. 

 She's a fellow Yinzer too...

She's a fellow Yinzer too...

I get to help people.

I get to help older clients feel more independent. I get to help younger clients (hopefully) enjoy the gym. I get to watch women and men do things they didn't believe they could do. 

I get to work with people like Jayne. 

I work with a staff of guys who are beyond their years (sadly, not in musical taste) in their passion for helping others and in their true love for clients and for each other. I work for a guy who works as hard on being a better person as he does on being a better businessman. 

I get to see the world through the eyes of positivity, struggle, and humor.  

I'm reminded as I write this post, that careers and relationships and good things are not always love at first sight. That even when you find yourself on the right path, there is still work to be done, brush to be cleared, and mountains to climb. 

April 5th will never be just a date for me. 

It will be the date that I came home. 

And how lucky am I that I get to say that.

Thank you, to all of you. Who read my site. Whom I get to work with personally. Who support me in my struggles and let me support you in yours. Together, with positive energy and love and appreciation for each other, we get to move this world forward and shine a light through the darkness. 

And we need that kind of light now, more than ever.

Thank you Doug, Josh, Chris, Trent, Melanie, Judy and Amy C.

Thank you to all of the clients I've had the good fortune to meet. To all of the clients who have become such good friends and the friends who trust me enough to be clients. For every facebook message you write or text that you send.

Thank you. 

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** I bust Doug's chops about this all of the time now - as a business person, he uses the cameras to check on traffic flow at the gym, and he was watching because it was really important that our group training classes were successful. I told him to give a girl a head's up next time though ;-)

*Except the day I met Sheila of course...:-)


Using your injury as a teachable moment

Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know.
— Pema Chodron

I’ve referenced Buddhist nun Pema Chodron a number of times over the past few years, and in looking for something to write about, came upon the above quote. 

I looked down at the boot on my right foot and sighed.

 I tried to find the origin of this image and had no luck. But yes, pretty much this. 

I tried to find the origin of this image and had no luck. But yes, pretty much this. 

I mentioned a few weeks ago that my great white whale is the marathon, and I’m signed up to do one in June. The stress fracture in my right foot has sidelined my training, and because I work on my feet, it hasn't quite healed yet.

Ok, also because I continue to train...I'm not running, but I'm not exactly staying off of it. 

I read the quote again and looked back to my foot.

Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know. 

Injuries are probably one of the most frustrating things that we deal with in our sports and fitness journey. I watch professional athletes pitch a fit at being pulled from the game and I both admire their competitive nature and admonish their stupidity. 

Probably because I identify with both. 

As a coach I scold people who go through a workout without disclosing an injury, yet know that I'm sometimes guilty of doing the same. I think injuries become more frustrating as you get older - you get in a good groove with your workouts and you're finally feeling good and then bam - you tweak your back. Your knee swells up. You've got a pinched nerve, a bum shoulder or a stress fracture. 

I've always trusted my body to do the things I want to do - to run, to lift, to help someone move or hike a mountain. I literally work a job now that I can't do without my physical health. 

It becomes harder to trust our bodies and do the things we want to do. So we either ignore the injuries and just plow through the workouts (yes I've done this), or we throw in the towel entirely. As a friend once told me, her aunt quit working out because her back was sore and that was 30 years ago. 

While I do believe it's really important to continue working out around an injury to keep your habits strong, I also believe there are lessons to be learned along the way.

Yes, I'm mostly talking to myself right now. 

Because I’m pretty sure my foot is trying to teach me a lesson right now. 

Or maybe it's the universe speaking. Or some cosmic energy. 

Regardless, there is a lesson to be learned here and I've had my nose in the sand, ignoring it. 

My lesson might be patience. I got the diagnosis on my foot, was given a boot, and hobbled through the next week at work making my foot worse. 

Maybe the lesson is to listen: to professional advice AND to my body. I've kind of ignored both. 

To slow down.

This might be my biggest lesson of all with this injury. 

Lately I've been going a hundred and ten miles an hour. I am (quite happily) spending almost every waking hour working on something for either Spurling or for my personal business. I've ignored social engagements, time with my other half and even time with my dog in favor of work. And my marathon training was isolating me even more. 

I think more than anything, the lesson to be learned here is to put the brakes on. Savor my first cup of coffee. Stop "nexting" in each moment. 

Maybe if I can acknowledge the lessons this experience is trying to teach me - just maybe, this injury will go away.

Nothing goes away until it has taught us what we need to know. 

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