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!)

Best Friends are the Best

I never believed in the concept of love at first sight, until it happened to me. For me, it didn’t happen in a romantic context, but I immediately connected with my best friend, Toni.

We met almost 10 years ago, when we were both studying abroad in Japan. We had come from two different undergraduate universities on the same study abroad program. We connected instantly.

I kept a travel journal every day while I was in Japan. It not only helps me remember Japan, but I have documentation of the beginning of my friendship with Toni. The first six weeks of our friendship, I wrote about her almost every day. For example, the very first time she appears in my journal: “Right away, me and Toni hit it off… and planned to sit near each other on the bus tomorrow! :)” From our conversation on the bus the next day, “We had really bonded the night before, and we did it again today too… I enjoyed talking to her SO much. I just feel like we really clicked and just got along great!”

We continued to get close throughout our time in Japan. One of our favorite parts of the beginning of our friendship was the transition from Kamogawa to Waseda- the first to second part of the program. The first part was two weeks in the middle of nowhere (Kamogawa), 2 hours away from Tokyo in the mountains. The second part was four weeks in Tokyo. For the first part, we were placed with random roommates. For the part in Tokyo, we had filled out a roommate questionnaire ahead of time and they had matched us up at that time based on compatibility.

Toni and I sat with each other on the bus again when we rode from the seminar house to Tokyo and found out our roommate assignments. We promised we would continue spending a lot of time together, no matter who our roommates were. To our complete delight, we had been assigned each other as roommates! Even our pre-program questionnaire thought that we would be compatible. We were so happy with this and felt like our friendship was “meant to be!”

Though we’ve always been long distance friends, that has never stopped us. We visit each other a few times a year and even took a graduation trip together when I got my PhD and she got her MD. We’ve experienced a lot of similar life milestones at the same time, like getting our graduate degrees, switching programs (her for residency, me for my job), and its been amazing to have her support. I can talk to her about anything. When something goes wrong, she’s often the first person I call to ask for advice and support.

Recently, she moved to Ann Arbor, which is the closest (2.5 hours) we’ve ever lived to each other. It’s been awesome to see each other more often! The life of a medical Resident (aka Toni’s life) is incredibly stressful and her schedule packed, but we make time.

Like this weekend. She had only Saturday off and started a night shift on Sunday. Nevertheless, we decided to meet up halfway between where we both live for a staycation. We looked up the city (Toledo) and found that the number 1 most romantic hotel in the U.S, a spa hotel, was located there. So of course, we had to go. Since we made the plans only about 3-4 weeks out, there was limited availability. The only room available was the most expensive one. Oh, darn.

I was a little hesitant, but Toni talked me into it and I was SO glad she did. We decided to make it our 10 year friendship anniversary celebration! We brought wine, champagne, flowers, fondue, and snacks. The room itself had a gigantic bed with a fireplace, an unnecessarily large shower, a jacuzzi, a heated pool, and a sauna.

It was one of the best trips I’ve taken! We spent the first few hours pruning up in the pool as we dipped our rotisserie chicken in cheese fondue and drank wine. We pulled all the flowers off their stems and put them in the pool for extra “romance.” We lit dozens of tea light candles and put bubble bath in the jacuzzi. We ate fruit dipped in chocolate fondue on the bed. We played Code Names and painted our toenails. We talked about our lives until past 3 am. I can’t remember the last time I stayed up even close to that late, but I was barely tired at all because I was having such an amazing time.

It was hard to leave in the morning. Even though I’m on winter break, it was hard to come back to reality. My life without my best friend and a heated pool in my room. But I feel refreshed and rejuvenated after that wonderful break. I also feel amazingly grateful to have a person like Toni in my life.

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Self-Handicapping, Learned Helplessness, and Accomplishment

How many of you haven’t tried to do something because you were “sure” you wouldn’t succeed? How many of you waited until the last minute and threw something together so you could say you tried but not feel bad when you didn’t succeed? These, in psychology, are called learned helplessness and self-handicapping respectively.

These are amazingly and disturbingly common ways that we ensure we will fail. Not on purpose, of course. We are trying to protect ourselves. But in doing so, we often act as our own worst enemy.

I’ve done this a lot throughout my life. Most recently I was able to overcome the initial learned helplessness. In boxing last week, we had a plank competition- whoever could hold the longest plank (a low plank) after the workout would get a cool prize. I spent a lot of November thinking about if I wanted to enter this competition, because it would be pretty embarrassing to try and only get a really short time. They had a schedule of planks throughout the month that you could do every day to prepare. I thought a lot about taking one of the paper schedules to work on it at home, but didn’t.

When it came to November 30th, after my workout, everyone left. I wanted to leave too and skip the competition, but I had no excuses. I entered the plank competition. I asked what the longest time had been so far, and was surprised to hear that I was the first person to participate (it was the 9:30 am class, so maybe not that surprising, but there are two classes before it). Nevertheless, I had a goal in mind (3:30) and got to work.

It should come as no surprise that after a 60 minute intense workout, including planks, holding a plank was immensely difficult. Personally, I also find low planks harder than high ones. I could feel my muscles start shaking after 1 minute in. My goal seemed way too far off.

I asked the coach to tell me after each 30 second milestone for a morale boost. Time had never ticked slower. 1:30 and she could see me visibly shaking and asked how I was doing.

“Not good. But I want to get to at least 2 minutes.”

The two minute mark couldn’t come fast enough. I held my plank for a total of two minutes and two seconds. Not terribly impressive, but I had no benchmark to compare it to. Still, I was proud I had tried.

I went home, posted on Facebook, and forgot about it.

Yesterday night, I got an email saying that I won the longest plank at my club’s location and got a $25 gift certificate to the Title store.

Wait, what? I won?

My first thought was that no one else from my club participated, which is obviously the reason I won. Let me be clear and say that totally could be the case. But the fact that it’s what my mind first jumped to made me a little sad (and reflective).

It’s hard enough for us to get over our fears and try something, especially something difficult, especially when we might fail. But when we succeed and we still don’t think it’s enough, that is the worst offense we are committing against ourselves.

Even if I was the only one who competed, that shouldn’t lessen my victory any. I still had the courage to try and to keep going, even when it was difficult. I felt proud after I finished my plank. Winning shouldn’t take that away from me.

Take time to appreciate your accomplishments. Don’t lessen them. Be proud of the work that you put in- whether you succeed or not!

Anxiety in Everyday Life

I’ve written on this blog before about my anxiety. It’s something that I have a hard time talking about, because I really want to believe that I don’t or that it’s gotten better or I’ve gotten over it. But I don’t think it works that way. And sometimes I’m reminded of the role it plays in my everyday life.

When you have anxiety, you often get hung up on an incident that most people would be able to get over fairly quickly. For example, I always notice that my mom can get really worked up about things that happen to her and don’t seem like a big deal to me. Sometimes her boss will take off Fridays from work or call off because he doesn’t feel like coming in. She will get very upset about this. I can understand how frustrating it is when you’re really busy and someone doesn’t seem like they’re taking their job seriously. But my mom will rant about this on the phone for awhile, to several people, and will constantly bring it up later.

It sounds so ridiculous when it isn’t you in the situation. But I can empathize with her a lot more now that I see myself doing some of the same things. Recently, I didn’t get my proposal accepted for a class that pays me to do research with students. I felt really upset about this, because the head of the committee was a person who had insulted me and my research previously. I felt that this person rejected my proposal because he didn’t take me seriously. I talked to all my colleagues about it. In about 20 minutes, I have a lunch with this committee and I’ve been freaking out about this a little.

I talked to one of my colleagues about it, who also happens to be a counselor. I knew I was overly anxious, but it didn’t really register to me how irrational I was being until she pointed it out. I questioned whether or not I should prepare a Power Point for my students to use last minute. I made assumptions about when and how the committee would judge me in possibly re-considering my proposal. I worried about the brown boots I had accidentally worn this morning instead of the black ones I meant to wear with this outfit. I was seeing the worst in everything. I was catastrophizing. But all of these things seemed perfectly rational to me at the time. Of course I should worry about these things! Of course they were reasonable!

When you’re anxious, your thoughts and feelings seem normal to you. It seems only natural that you are worried about those particular things. Sometimes it takes an objective opinion to point out to you that you aren’t making sense.

I feel proud of myself that I was able to take that advice and take a step back from the situation. I knew she was right. So I stopped worrying about it and got back to my grading. Sometimes it isn’t that easy, but I’ve been making a lot of progress in this area.

Off to this lunch meeting. Hopefully I can retain this feeling of calm during it.