Hiatus and International Travel

I’m in the airport right now, about to head out of the country for my trip to Japan! I’m going with one of my close friends (and colleagues) to explore Japan before we take students next summer.

It also happens to be 10 years since I studied abroad in Japan in college. I never expected to go back so soon. I wanted to, of course, but I assumed I would travel to other places I had never been before first.

I wish I had kept up with my Japanese language skills. I remember thinking in college- when will I ever use this? So after my two required years (and partly because it was really hard and bringing down my GPA), I stopped taking Japanese in college. I went to some Japanese language meetups during junior year and fewer in senior year. I stopped altogether in grad school and beyond.

What I really learned from this is that you can make anything relevant to your career if you want it to be. If you are passionate enough about something, you can make it happen. I love Japan and tried to figure out how I could get there again. When Clare (my friend and colleague) was interested in Study Abroad too, it became a reality!

I tried studying Japanese, but as a non-student, it is much harder to learn. A lot of free sites and apps will teach you the basics- but I really need a more intermediate level, which is much harder. I wish I had spent more time on it, too, this past year. Next year, my goal will be to study Japanese before I go with students!

Either way, I am beyond excited to be going back! I can’t wait!

This blog will be on hiatus for about a month as I travel to Japan for two weeks and then to China for another two weeks for vacation with my family. You can follow my Japan trip on my travel blog (primarily for students going on the trip with us next year, which is why it isn’t hosted here).

I hope everyone has a wonderful month. Don’t give up on the things you love. You never know when they might be back in your life one day!

Happiness and Goal Updates

I’ve been meaning to post about some goal updates for about a week or so now, but I never get around to it. I’ve been frustrated at myself in general for posting less on this blog. At first I told myself it was because I had a crazy busy semester (which was true), but then when things settled down, I spent a lot of time thinking about what to say and not much at all writing it.

I’ve thought a lot about how mood affects creativity. When I was younger I was frustrated I hadn’t had any negative life events because I felt that that was why I wasn’t inspired to write. Now that I’ve had some, that’s really not what’s stopping me. What I’m trying to say is that I think that this year- and this semester in particular- I’m happier than I have been in a long time. And sometimes happiness can be distracting- I’d rather keep doing things that make me happy (finish that book or go boxing or play Magic) than pause to write a blog post.

But here we are, finally. So: the goal updates!

Despite occasional setbacks and snags, my weight loss/health goal has been progressing extremely well! I’ve gotten quite frustrated by a lot of these setbacks, but recently I’ve been reminded in several areas that I’m making great progress. One of the trainers at the boxing gym two weeks ago complimented me on how good I looked. My parents both commented on how it looked like I lost weight. My doctor reminded me that I’ve lost 16 pounds since this time last year. I even managed to complete my goal of a no dessert weekend last weekend (and let me tell you, passing up a free cake party was one of the hardest things I’ve done!) I box at least 4 times a week and I’m hoping to increase that number over the summer.

I’m a little concerned with how my upcoming trip to Asia is going to affect both of these goals. I won’t be able to box for a month and while food in Asia is relatively healthy, I’m worried I’ll go into “vacation mode” and pig out. My hope is to work out when I can (even if it’s just doing core or squats in my hotel room for 10 minutes every day!) I’m going to try to be reasonable with food as well. Last time I went to Japan, I lost a bunch of weight, so I’m hoping that will happen again, or at least that I won’t gain any!

Writing has been not going so well. I failed spectacularly on my short story goal- at least in terms of getting those out once a week. It was a really rough semester in terms of my workload and I often used this as an excuse not to write. On the bright side, I did get a couple of short stories written. None of them won the weekly award, but I am proud of them. Honestly, I think working really hard on this one story that I submitted to the weekly award and a local literary journal and having it be rejected in both places really sunk my motivation. I wish rejection of my writing didn’t affect me quite so much, but I’m not sure how to change that other than sheer willpower (which hasn’t been terribly effective so far).

I haven’t renewed my commitment to my year of spending less, but for the most part the habits continued. Last weekend was the first time in over a year that I had a sort of “shopping spree” where I went out and bought way too many clothes, some of which I really didn’t need. It was especially hard to resist because my mom was buying them and I had the excuse of “needing” some of them for an upcoming trip. I think I also felt that since I hadn’t done it in awhile, it was okay. Some of my wardrobe did need updating, but I did splurge on some pajamas I didn’t need, for example. I’d like to continue to minimize my spending in these areas and give away at least as many older clothes as I buy newer ones.

Unrelated to goals, but an exciting life update: I’m about to leave for my trip to Asia! I’m going to spend the first two weeks in Japan on an exploratory trip in preparation for the Study Abroad trip I’m co-leading with students next week. I imagine I won’t have too much time to post here in the next month, but if you’d like to follow my travel blog in Japan (it’s not hosted here, because it’s mostly for my students who are going on the trip), here’s the link!

I hope your lives are just as happy and, if not, it’s time to start doing something to change that!

Health and Support

A few weeks ago, I finally set some health goals for myself for the first time in months! I’ve been making very slow progress since around August or so, but I haven’t really been doing it very seriously. I’ve been making excuses like “I’m focusing on exercise now” or “I want to set realistic goals” or “I want to do something sustainable” and then I don’t feel bad when I don’t make much progress on them.

Recently, I’ve been inspired to be healthy again and support came from a somewhat surprising area. SeaMonkeys! Not the fish things, but the people on the JoCo cruise. To me, the community of SeaMonkeys has always been incredible. Going on the cruise each year is like being with my people. It’s being somewhere I really, truly belong. We share similar hobbies and interests and mostly a community of kindness and understanding.

I found a SeaMonkey Facebook group for health and fitness and it’s been great! I tried a paid app a few months ago that tried to set this up with random people and health coaches, but this is much better! Everyone is so supportive, asks you about your goals, follows up if they haven’t heard from you, and gives you the kindest encouragement. It’s been so refreshing to have this kind of support.

Last week, I got a surprise message from the group saying I won! Winning is always nice, but I got a $25 gift card to wherever I wanted! (Chipotle, of course!) It was a really great feeling to have a surprise gift like this. It made me extra motivated to keep going with my health and fitness goals.

I had a bit of a setback this weekend, when I discovered one of my biggest weaknesses- movie theater popcorn. It doesn’t help that I can just eat it mindlessly while I watch a movie either.

What I’m learning, though, is that the important thing isn’t to do amazing all the time, but to not give up when you have a setback. It’s so easy to say Darn, I failed! Let’s go eat some more popcorn! It’s a lot harder to say Well, that wasn’t the best decision, but let’s get back on track.

Nevertheless, that’s what I’m doing. I’m committed to being healthier in the long term, not just when it’s convenient. I want to make this a permanent change in my life.

I’m buying and eating more fruits and vegetables so I have healthy snacks instead of unhealthy ones. I’m buying desserts I like too, though. Surprisingly, this has actually helped. When I want dessert, it’s good to have something I want and feel like I get a treat. I used to scavenge around to eat any dessert I have because I desperately wanted something.

Most importantly, I’m learning what works for me, doing that, and not giving up!

Embrace the Pain

Today, the owner of the Title Boxing franchise I work out at came to teach our class, which was a real treat. He is especially motivational and intense.  He pushed us farther than we usual go in practice, in the best possible way, while shouting things like “Embrace the pain!” and “It’s either positive or negative; you work or you don’t” and telling us to focus on our minds.

It was an incredible workout, even though it was one of the hardest I’ve had in awhile. I feel like I did after my first few boxing workouts- great, but rather sore and tired.

I really appreciate the kind of motivation he gave us throughout the class. When I was in college, one of my friends remarked about me that I “relish a challenge.” It’s a phrase that has stuck with me for years, because it sounds cool but also because I think it describes me well. At the time, it rang true, but it wasn’t something I had thought of before. Since then, I always come back to it while I introspect.

I love being pushed to reach my goals. I’ve had some great mentors in life who have taken this approach with me too- my mom, my graduate advisor, and my boxing coaches stick out in particular. People who challenge me to work harder than I think I can. People who push me test my limits and see what I can do.

It feels incredible to succeed in these challenges. To do something you didn’t think you could. My boxing workout today reminded me of that feeling. Before today, I certainly wouldn’t have thought I could spend 3 minutes straight doing push ups (if this doesn’t sound impressive, try it, especially after 40 minutes of cardio!) One year ago, I never thought I could be boxing four days a week.

You may not always succeed. Some of the exercises tonight, for example, I couldn’t quite do. Holding a 10 pound ball 6 inches off the ground on your back while also holding your feet up 6 inches off the ground is something I have yet to master for more than about 5 seconds, while we were supposed to be doing it for 30 or so at a time. But I made progress. Two weeks ago I wasn’t even using the 10 pound ball.

Most importantly, if I never tried Title or avoided tonight’s workout or slacked off during it, I would never have felt the sense of accomplishment and empowerment that I get from these experiences. If you don’t try, you will never succeed. Nothing works unless you do.

 

One Year Later

On the 19th, Facebook informed me that it was the 1 year anniversary of this blog! It is amazing how fast time speeds by. I thought I’d reflect back on the past year and the goals I’ve been working on.

I think this blog honestly started because I was bored and lonely after I broke up with my last boyfriend, but it, like me, has come a long way since then.

The very first post I made was about a project I wanted to undertake, over the course of a year, in which I drastically reduced my spending- especially on clothes and books. In case anyone is interested in my progress there, I failed pretty spectacularly in my specific goals. I definitely bought more than three items of clothing over the year and some months bought five or so books instead of just the one. However, I think it was a success overall. It really changed the way I thought about my spending. It made me more conscious of it. It reduced the number of times I went into a bookstore or a clothing store and just bought stuff because I was lonely or bored or felt like it. I spent a long time thinking about my purchases, especially when I was already over my self-imposed limit. Going forward, I hope this will help me reduce this kind of spending in the future as well.

After that project, my blog kind of morphed into my emotional progress in getting over my relationship. It was a pretty bad break up and I don’t think I realized how deeply it affected me at the time. I wrote to help others who might have been in a similar situation. And I wrote because it helped me to heal. Recently, I started a new relationship with an incredible guy that I have been friends with for a long time. Comparing the two has been like night and day and I’m grateful that I went through the hell I did with my ex so that I could come out of it with the growth and self-understanding that allowed me to be ready for this relationship.

I wrote a lot also about my struggles with eating healthy and working out. Partly, I was inspired by one of my undergraduate mentor’s book’s, Beauty Sick, though it’s something I have struggled with my entire life. I reflected on this a lot, until I finally joined Title Boxing Club. Truly, this was life changing. I have not exercised regularly or been in this good of shape since high school sports. I didn’t realize how big of an energy- and self-esteem- boost working out was, especially making it a habit. As time went on, more people have commented on how good I look and how in shape I am. It is so surreal to hear those comments, because that has never been me. It’s been so odd to adjust my self-image to include these new parts of me.

The last area I’ve focused on has been writing. November tends to be the most writing focused, as I almost always participate in National Novel Writing Month. But I’ve slowly been trying to spend more time writing throughout the year. It’s one of the few goals in my life that I want so badly, but also don’t put much effort into because I am paralyzingly terrified of failing. I’ve been writing short stories (almost) every week now. It has been tough because of how much I’ve had going on these past few months, but when I finish a story I’m proud of, it is amazingly rewarding. Each story is like a small, sometimes painstaking, step toward showing me that I can write and I can be a writer.

The underlying theme through all of these seemingly unrelated events has been inspiration and encouragement. One of my primary goals in life is to inspire others. This is one of the reasons I teach. I believe that if I make the world better for just one person, then my life will have been a success. I don’t want to just give up after one though; I’d like to make the world a better place for as many people as possible, one person at a time. I love hearing feedback from people who say that my blog has inspired them. I hope it continues to do so!

Thanks to everyone who is reading this for helping to make my life better. It truly is the people in your life who make it worth living. Surround yourself with people you care about and who care about you.

The Best Things In Life

I am the kind of person who feels emotions really strongly. Sometimes this makes me think that in order to enjoy something or to be happy, that I have to be REALLY happy. But recently, I realized that some of the best things in life just feel natural. They don’t necessarily make you deliriously happy in the moment.

Let me explain.

I talked with my Case Worker today for the Big Brother Big Sister Program. I’ve been doing the program for nearly a year now- spending some time with my little sister about twice a month. When they ask me how it’s going, I always think about what I expected and what my relationship with my little sister is actually like. I expected to walk into her life and be A Hero. I was going to save her from everything bad and she would love me and it would be amazing. It didn’t work out that way, obviously. But that isn’t bad. I love my little sister. She is one of my favorite people to spend time with. She constantly defies my expectations in the best possible ways. But I’m not A Hero. I’m not Amazing and Infallible. I’m a person. And so is she. The best part of our relationship is getting to know each other. It’s our genuine conversations on my couch or at Starbucks or as we are terrified together completing a high ropes course. It’s watching the TV show she recommended to me and texting her when something absolutely crazy happens. It’s how I can be genuine with her. It’s how we can know each other and appreciate each other for who we are. That’s far better than being worshipped.

I recently started a relationship with one of my close friends from college. It’s been very different for me in a few ways- the biggest one being that all of my past relationships have been with someone who I just met relatively recently. In this case, I’ve known him for 11 years. I’m used to the beginnings of relationships being emotionally intense, full of that immediate infatuation you feel for someone you just met and are attracted to. This isn’t like that, but not in a bad way. In most of my past relationships, I felt like I had to change my life and myself to accommodate my partner. I didn’t think of it like this at the time, but in retrospect, that’s definitely what I was doing, and it wasn’t good. What I love about this relationship is that I can be myself. I can still engage in my hobbies and hang out with my friends and also be in a relationship. We got together on the beginning of the JoCo Cruise. We were able to spend some time alone together on it, but we didn’t let that monopolize our purpose for being there: playing board games and hanging out with fellow nerds. I loved that we could do what we wanted, while also being together. It feels like my life, but enhanced.

Sometimes the best things in life don’t always bring amazing intense feelings. These are deceptive: they feel good, but don’t last. Instead, I’m learning to look out for those things- or those people- that just feel right. Those people around who you can be yourself. Who make you happy. Who make you more yourself.

 

Down to the Wire

Last Friday, I received the short story contest prompt from Reedsy. I wasn’t sure when it was due, so I started on it immediately. I was excited- I had a cool idea (a supernatural twist on a day at the office) and my character’s voice was coming through really strongly. The length requirement was 1,000-3,000 words and I got to about 850 before I was stuck. My main character just realized his gun wouldn’t work on the ghost- his ex-wife- who was pointing a gun at him (which would). How was he going to get out of that situation? And more importantly, how was the story even going to end?

I decided to take a break from the story and work on other things. Throughout the week I revisited the story, mostly just to look at it, think Wow, what a cool start! and procrastinate some more. To be fair, it was a busy week, but I made time for reading and playing Magic, so it wasn’t like I actually didn’t have time to write.

I made myself finish it this evening (after discovering that today was the deadline. Hopefully 9:30 pm wasn’t too late). When I sat down to write it and made myself put words on the page, I was surprised to find that they came . I didn’t eat dinner until 9 because I was so excited to start writing, and I didn’t stop writing as I finally got around to eating it. I really got into the story!

I told myself I just needed to finish it, even if it wasn’t good, but honestly, I think it is pretty good. It’s probably not professional quality, but I’m proud of it. I wasn’t expecting that.

It’s not that we don’t do things because they are hard, but they are hard because we don’t do them. Once I actually started writing, it was a lot easier than I had expected. We psych ourselves out about things like this that we are really nervous about. That’s what actually makes them hard.

Don’t doubt yourself. You are capable of more than you think you are.

Go out there and do the thing that you want to!

 

Fight Your Fears

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a writer. I never really considered it as a career (I like stability), but I always wanted to publish novels. I make up stories in my head when I’m bored and am constantly thinking of new story ideas.

But I rarely write.

There’s always some excuse. I don’t have enough time is the most common. Like most writers, I also use the mythic writer’s block as an excuse- I’m not feeling inspired now, I’ll write later. But later never comes. Another popular one is that I just need to learn more about the craft of writing before I’ll be able to write well, so why not just wait until then?

None of these are the real reason that I don’t write. The real reason is because it’s really fucking hard. I’m so afraid of what other people will think of my writing and how they will judge it, that I’m paralyzed into inaction.

Sometimes, like in November when I do NaNoWriMo, I’ll get into a good writing habit. Then I’ll think to myself, this is great! This is what I’ve needed all along! Now I can just keep this up and I’ll finally get more writing done.

But then November ends and I get back to the grind, making excuses to avoid writing.

So many people say that the key to being a good writer isn’t having talent, it’s perseverance. You need to be able to face the criticism, judgment, and rejection and still believe in yourself and your story. You need to experience these things and keep writing. I like to think that I’m the kind of person who does persevere. A friend once described me as someone who “relishes a challenge.” Why is it then that writing is so hard for me?

One quote I really like that applies here: “Perseverance isn’t one long race, it’s several short races one after another.”

The way I’ve been thinking about writing is that I get over the stumbling block once and keep going. But that’s not how it works. Literally every time I write, I have to face that fear and that anxiety. It doesn’t get easier and it doesn’t go away.

The first step in fighting your enemies is knowing them. I don’t feel inhibited by this knowledge, I feel armed by it.

I want so badly to publish novels. If I didn’t want it this much, I would have given up long ago.

But I refuse to give up on my dreams. I refuse to let my fears rule who I am and what I do.

will be a writer.

I am going to start today, by committing to writing one short story every week. I just found a website (Reedsy) that sends out writing prompts every week that you can respond to, which will enter you in a contest to win $50 and be published on their website. I will either link them here so you can follow my progress and read my stories or, if they are hopefully published, link you to where you can read them on Reedsy.

Don’t give up on your dreams. Fight your fears. It’s worth it.

Be An Agent For Change

Recently, a friend of mine stopped coming to a regularly scheduled social event I organized. I had seen it coming for some time, but it was still frustrating and sad. He missed several meetings without explanation and got angry with me when I confronted him about it. Now he’s ignoring me entirely.

It got me to thinking about powerlessness (I swear this is going to be a positive post overall, just bear with me!). One of the most important, and most frustrating, lessons that I’ve learned in life is that you can’t make anyone do anything, no matter how much you want them to.

My life has been fraught with these kinds of frustrations. I keep trying to encourage someone I’m very close to to go to a psychiatrist for her anxiety, but she refuses. I keep trying to encourage another person to take control of his life and pursue his dreams, but he lacks the motivation. Another to break up with their partner who they’re dissatisfied with, but she keeps getting cold feet. Another to go to a psychologist for his crippling depression, but he insists he’s fine.

This lesson was really beat home with my alcoholic ex last year. I wanted so much for him to stop drinking. I tried everything: screaming, crying, threats, pretending the problem didn’t exist. And nothing worked. It took me a long time to realize that nothing worked because it wasn’t about me. It took me a long time to realize that he wasn’t choosing alcohol over me, even the time he got so drunk he missed his flight and my birthday party or all the times he lied about his drinking and sabotaged our relationship. There was nothing could do to get him to stop.

If the strength of me wanting my loved ones to do (or not do) these things was enough to get them to change, believe me, they would have done so.

But it’s not about me. Nothing I can do will ever get them to change. Nothing you can do will ever get anyone you love to change.

There is something you can do though. You can take care of yourself.

Obviously this is a good goal in and of itself. But that’s not all. Being positive and taking care of yourself inspires others to do the same. Too often in our lives we are terrible role models for others. People brag about how little sleep they got, how long they spent in the office, or how much they hate their jobs. They don’t brag about getting a full 8 hours, having a good work life balance, or loving them. But why not?

Since I’ve been boxing and trying to be healthier, I’ve noticed it’s inspired others to do the same. My dad worked out with me the other day when the boxing gym was closed. My mom finally got the orthodics she needed in her shoes so her feet wouldn’t be in pain.

When you take care of yourself and do what you live, it makes a difference. You become a more positive person and treat others better. You motivate others to change. You become a source of inspiration. You become an agent for change.

Go out there and take care of yourself. Because you deserve it. And because it is up to us to make the world a more positive place.

Celebrate Your Success

Today was my boxing club’s one year anniversary. We had an extra long boxing session followed by cake and other snacks, and awards. Much to my surprise, and to my incredible delight, I won an award! I received the “Best Transformation” award and could not have been prouder.

I rarely win awards. Sometimes I feel like I’m the kind of person who works really hard but rarely gets recognized by others. Being recognized at Title in a domain (working out) that I usually think I’m terrible at meant a lot. In high school, I was on the swim team for all four years. I was the worst member on the team for that entire time, spending all my days swimming in “Lane One.” I was also on the track team for four years, but my letter jacket never had “Track & Field” emblazoned on it, because you needed to win in a meet to get a letter.

I’ve been working hard at boxing. I went from doing no physical activity at all, to boxing twice a week, then three times a week, and now every other day. Personally, I do feel transformed. In the 6 months that I’ve been a member, I have lost 15 pounds, acquired real muscles (even abs!), and feel so much better about my body and myself.

But like in so many other areas of my life, I rarely dwell on my success. Instead of focusing on what I’ve accomplished, I instead focus on how far I still have to go. I’ve lost 15 pounds, but I want to lose 15 more. I’m boxing every other day, but I want to be going every day. I have two very developed abs and two half developed ones, but I want a six pack.

If you are a very goal-oriented person, like I am, it is easy to focus on the next goal and forget to be proud of what you’ve already accomplished. Awards like the one I won tonight make it easy to remember that I’ve done a lot!

But you don’t need an award to celebrate what you’ve done. You just need to change the way you think. Since I was a child, my dad has sworn by what he calls the “Disney World Line Theory of Life.” He tells me not to focus on how far you yet have to go, but instead to look back and see how far you’ve come. Everyone could benefit from looking back every so often.

Take the time to look behind you in line. Think about what you’ve accomplished and celebrate it! Be proud of who you are and what you’ve done.

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(Me after the workout with three of my favorite boxing coaches!)