Thursday, October 21, 2010

Banning the Shoulds

Or: In Which I Become a Bossy Shrew

The word "should" should be stricken from our language. I despise that word, and I'll tell you why. Think about it. What are the things you tell yourself you should do, be, think, or say?

I should:

work out
go on a diet
get up earlier
read more
spend more time in prayer
serve my spouse
serve my kids
shop less
rake the leaves
clean the toilet
make a calendar
watch my mouth

Do you hear that? That's the sound of guilt smearing itself all over your good intentions. The guilt implied by the word "should" takes a simple task that probably has merit and makes it ugly and hard. It smears a thick layer of "idon'twanna" right on top of your perfectly normal thought sandwich.

When I hear the word "should" I feel like I'm getting in trouble. Like I've colored outside the lines, again, and now they have to call my parents.

Should says you are not good enough, thin enough, kind enough, tall enough. Should says you're wrong. You'll always be wrong. There is something about you that's Should spits on you and kicks you when you're down. Should causes sighs and lowered heads and discouragement.

I hate should. Should sucks.


I think sometimes should comes from a good place. It comes from a place that desires change. That wants to be better, that wants a challenge, that craves something new. It comes from that place inside us that says, "You know, life is pretty good. I'm clicking along. And, if I (did x) my life would be better because of y." And this is not wrong, per se. It is not wrong to want to grow, or change, or learn something.

Yeah, maybe a diet isn't a bad idea. Maybe showing a servant heart to your family wouldn't kill you. Maybe getting up earlier would make your morning less hectic. See? Those are good things. Should takes that good intention, that good desire and makes it a task rather than a act. A chore rather than a mere action.

Therefore I made the following change.

When I hear "should" in my head, I change it to "need." If it makes sense that way, I consider making the change. The shoulds become less about guilt and more about simple imperatives.

Listen to the difference:

"I should call the doctor and schedule my yearly." Blah. That says I've been remiss in taking care of my health.
"I need to call the doctor and schedule my yearly." Yes. Yes, I do. No judgment. Just fact.

But wait! There's more. The intent matters, too. "I need to serve my spouse so he'll serve me in return and I could really use a servant right now." Vastly different from "I need to serve my spouse so he can see how much I care for him."

I know two young mothers with wee ones at home. Both feel discouraged that they don't have more time to devote to working out. As one who was once a young mother, I get that. I get that having a moment or two alone makes a huge difference in your day. I worry, though, that regretting the time you don't get to yourself shifts focus. Because not only are the wee one days short, but not working out does not equal a bad mom or an unfit mother. Should they run more? Or do they need to run more? Or something else entirely?

We make a habit of telling ourselves that if we don't do what we should, then we are not good enough. Not a good enough mom, wife, woman, boss, employee, student, teacher, person. And our ideas of what we should be doing come from crazy external forces, like other people, who do not live our lives, who do not have our needs, who do not have our schedules. See that? Everyone is different and this is amazing and needs to be embraced, not copied. You do not have to be Suzy Homemaker the tennis playing wunderhousekeeper PhD student whose children are so well behaved people think they're zombies. You need to be you.

Whew. I got worked up there. (stepping off soapbox). See, what I want to say is you found your reason, right? Now get rid of your shoulds. We are not going to do shoulds anymore. They waste our time and energy. We are only going to do needs. If you NEED to do what you have a reason to do, then do it with all your heart. If you find yourself shoulding yourself, gently remind yourself. (Do not berate yourself for being stupidstupidstupidhowcouldiforgetthatagain?) Gently. Gently. We are learning here.

So, you want to run. You have your reason to run. Do you need to run? Is it important to you? Do you have the time, energy and effort to devote to it. Then get out there and do it.

Next time, more on gently correcting ourselves.

The WHYs

I have a friend who trained for and finished a half marathon. Awesome, right? But when I hear her talk about it, she uses terms like "that stupid half marathon," and "I hate long run days."

When I started posting my runs to facebook, friends asked if I was training for something. Nope. (Remember, keeping the dog poo at bay.) I hated it. HATED IT. It hurt. It was hard. It was boring. I couldn't find the right music. It was too early. It took forever. I couldn't see any results (except for less dog poo in the house). I'm very good at complaining and justifying. But the power of the poo was strong, and I had to keep running. I was like my half marathon friend.

Over time, the power of the poo paled in comparison to what I had discovered. I discovered that I loved feeling like a total rock star at how many miles I'd logged. I smiled to hear my kids tell their friends how far their mom can run. I blushed to read so many nice comments from my completely cool friends. Rejoiced that my running clothes were TOO BIG! (Can I get a woot woot?) What I found was that my reason for running had changed.

Don't misunderstand. It was more than the weight, more than impressing my kids, more than getting my ego stroked. My reason had morphed from an external impetus (poo) to an internal one.

That's a long way of asking, "what are your reasons for running (or doing the thing you are doing)?" I asked my half-marathon-hating-friend to define hers. I don't know if she did but it occurred to me that maybe her reasons were like mine, outwardly impressed upon her.

When I act at the prompting of others, I can do the job, but I can't sustain motivation for it. I might lose the desire (if I ever had it) to complete it well. I could not keep running to prevent the poo because there would be a day when picking it up would be more appealing than running in the rain or cold.

When I act for a reason that I can firmly stand behind come rain, cold or fatigue, then I can get my running clothes on and get out the door like I'm headed to a party.

But here's the thing. Your reason will be different from mine. That's okay. You may start like I did, hating every single minute of it. That's okay. You may not really want to define it. That's okay, too. You may start with one and move on to another. Again, it's okay.

What I've learned is that when you have a reason that is strictly and solely yours, you will act with abandon and joy. You will own the track, or the class, or the whatever. You will be a total rock star.

A word of caution: Don't think it has to be a pretty reason, an altruistic reason, a glamorous reason. It just has to be yours and you have to believe it. It can even be as simple as "I want to."

Find your why, and write it down. Somewhere. Anywhere. You can tell it to someone if you want, but you don't have to. Just find it and know it.

Next time I'll tell you why I refuse to say the word, "should."

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

I'm No Expert, But That Won't Stop Me

If you have been here before, you know I've been a running fool lately. You can read all about the whys and wheretofores if you don't know that running has become something of a favorite hobby for me. Suffice it to say, if you're here and not at all interested in this running nonsense, I run. A lot. And I like to run. A lot.

"Who cares?" you ask, maybe glibly while rolling your eyes, scrolling down quickly to get to the good stuff, assuming, again rather glibly, that there is, in fact, good stuff. And I shall raise my eyebrows at you and tell you just exactly who cares.

You do.

And I know this because some of you have been asking me questions about my training.

You flatter me. I like this also. A lot. I've been emailing a bunch of you lovelies with my thoughts, and some of it seemed to make a rather cohesive whole on running, physical and mental training, and, if I may be so bold, some lessons I've learned along the way.

Now, let this be my legally binding (eye rolling) disclaimer that I am in NO WAY an expert. You saw that in the title. If you even try to suggest the old bait and switch, I will refer you heretofore, forthwith, ergo and nonesuch to the top of this little page, wherein ye shall find, for your reading pleasure, the title of my merry script, in which I declare my utter lack of expertise.

Okay, then, now that we have the legal mumbo jumbo out of the way... *slaps hands together in relief*

Here's what I want to say to everyone who has said or written that my running has been inspiring.

That's great! I love that you are inspired. But. It's not a big butt, because, you know, I've been running. But don't just be inspired in thought. Be inspired in action. I'm not saying go run a marathon tomorrow, you silly. That's crazy talk. I'm saying do something you didn't know you could do and see what happens.

I did not set out to run the Tulsa Run that would be a 15k, I don't mind telling ya. I did not set out to get super sexy calves (but I will show them to you, just ask). When I started, I've said before, running three miles was the most taxing thing in my day. I hated it. I hated that I was the one who had to go with the dog because I'm the one with flexible schedule. I hated it that sometimes it was too hot. Sometimes it was raining. Sometimes too many cosmos on date night...well you get the idea. It took forever it seems. If you cannot hear me whining, just thank your lucky stars, because I so am whining.

And again, I am in no way some kind of freakishly fast, super trim "athlete." When I registered on Dailymile to get cyber credit for every.single. stinkin'. mile, I didn't want to pick a category. They were so binding and scary and none of them applied to me. "Choose one: runner, athlete, cyclist, swimmer" and some other crazy things like tree climber, mountain maker...I don't even know. I sat and stared at that screen, cursor blinking like an annoying little sister, trying to decide. Finally, I clicked "athlete." For months, I ran in fear; I just knew Dailymile staff would track me down for the lying liar that I am. Athlete? Yeah, if eating, knitting and sewing are sports then heck to the yeah.

The point is, I love that some people find my running inspirational. I won't lie: I signed up for Dailymile just so I could brag about my incredibly amateur results. I'm a sucker for kind words so I went reaching for some. You people are putty in my hands. But here's what I'm trying to say, in a longwinded, friendly, conversational tone. If I can do it, you can do it. Promise. And in the coming days and weeks, I'm going to tell you exactly how I know that. Notice I did not say, HOW TO DO THAT.

And because I'm too excited, I'll whet your appetite for my un-expertise. I know. You might want to sit down. Some topics I want to cover: your reason to run (or take that class, or climb a mountain, or join a new church, or leave a bad relationship), mental training, self talk that works, and getting over the bad days.

Is there something you want to hear about that's NOT technical? Let me know. Let me stress just one more time, this is not a fitness plan, a guru lesson, or a technique forum. It's just one woman's thoughts on how to do something you never thought you could do.

Who's with me?

Friday, October 1, 2010

Friends in Good Places

Say what you will about social networking, social media, or wasting time online. Me? I freaking love it. I cannot get enough of it. Through Twitter and Facebook, I have reconnected with dear but long-lost friends. I have grown my business. I have become an avid runner with online encouragement. I have "met" some fine folks all around the world, and even in my own town. I love it. Is love too strong a word?

My brother says he doesn't have time for Facebook. I laugh in the face of his busy-ness. My sister never comments on my blog, so I in turn make mocking statements on her Facebook wall. It's what any good sibling would do. My parents will not go near that social network stuff. Of course, I have to give my mom an ipod syncing tutorial every time I see her. That poor woman only gets to sync her new music twice a year.

Recently, I needed some love from some good peeps. I wrote an email to five of my closest, bestest, most favorite women, explaining in gory detail all the ups and downs and important asides, asking for an extra measure of their goodness. They all replied, and each in her own way. One wrote me, a week later, a super long email with loads of questions, thoughts, potential problems with my reasoning. Very detailed and thorough. Just like her. Another wrote a quick concise email about how this was common among her friends and that she loved me. One wrote that I had included a ton of info and that she'd reply in detail soon. That was a few months ago. She will. Eventually. It's okay.

So I have these awesome women who care for me, but what I didn't expect was to get support from two Facebook friends I didn't have strong relationships with. They both reached out to me when they noticed some cues. And to be honest? I was really hoping for that.

I knew Beth in college. We went to different schools but ran in overlapping circles. We had one mutual friend who really tied us together. I think we were both in her wedding. A surface friendship. I never really knew her. Beth noticed that I'd been absent from Facebook and wrote me an email, tentative and very sweet. She wondered if I was okay. Would if it too forward to ask what was going on? She wondered how she could pray for me, and if I needed to talk. Beth has been the most faithful friend, including my five most faithful friends, to lend me emotional support. She prompts me, responds to me, and challenges me. Beth and I now text, and have a date for coffee next time I'm in her town. At Christmas. I'm too excited.

I have never met Aubrey. We had a few mutual friends who were busting our chops about being strong women (if you have to say you are a strong woman, are you a strong woman?) After speaking through other's Facebook walls for months, we finally friended each other, because we are both intelligent, thoughtful, gorgeous reading women. Her favorite book list is almost identical to mine. She is a runner. She works hard as a mom pursuing a professional life she is proud of and passionate about. Aubrey and I connected on one of those cosmic levels that makes you feel like you're not alone in the world. Aubrey listened to my ranting and replied with logic, reason and care. Because Aubrey doesn't really "know" me, she could have turned on her heels and walked away. She doesn't need my drama. Her life's got enough of its own.

I have come to realize that I like online socializing for the same reason I like "in real life" socializing. I am intrigued by people and I am energized by learning about others. We used to tease my sister about interviewing every one she met. Pot? This is the kettle calling. Making connections with people lights my fire. Finding cool new friends who really care? Bonus.

Running on Full

This is the dog, Cooper, sitting in a puddle in the last mile of our run. He is so hot, the water's rippling. He is the bane of my existence.

I started running in late April, my only goal being to prevent the dog from laying pipe under my sewing machine. Really. That was my only reason. I could have walked but walking is terribly inefficient and mind-numbingly tedious. If I was going to do this, it would be on my terms: fast, easy and relatively painless.

I had no goals. No desire to compete in races. No need for special gear or garments. I just wanted to stop the poop. (It did not, in fact, stop the poop, and we're still working on that. I'm bitter about it, yes, but that's not the point.)

A few tools became available to me that made the runs more fun. Running without my ipod is a big no-no. I must have music, cranked up as loud as my old eardrums can tolerate. Without the music I can not only feel myself sucking wind, but hear it also. One or the other. That's all I can take. Podrunner totally rocks for this. also added a social component to my runs, making my solo runs more communal. As I ran, I'd try out different statements in my head to summarize each day's adventures. And while readers may not have been impressed at my comedic attempts, it entertained me and kept my mind off how many more miles.

At first, I was happy with two miles. A quick, easy route, past the neighborhood school, up to the big stoplight and back to my door. Enough time for dog business, and enough time for me to work up a mild sweat. After a few weeks of this, I was bored. I thought I'd see if I could go three miles. Then it was four, then five. I didn't really have a plan or a regimen, although I do like that word, regimen. Sounds so official. At this point, it was still about the poo. The running got easier and more fun. My podrunner repertoire grew as did my dailymile circle.

I found as I ran that I rather liked the feeling of accomplishment. I felt proud that I could run 3 or 4 or 5 miles. I stopped making jokes about my running ineptitude and started basking in the glow of finishing something I started. And let me tell you, that feeling is unbeatable.

Then the inevitable happened. I wanted to go father than I knew the dog could handle. I *gasp* left the dog at home (in the backyard, again, pooping). Now this was liberating. I was faster, lighter, freer. I was like the wind! Excuse me while I wax hyperbolic. I discovered something I did not know.
I. Enjoy. Running.

In fact, I love it. I look forward to it as I'd look forward to a date with my husband. I crave it like I crave air.

It occurred to me that the reason for this new-found passion was that it was, essentially, all for me. I realize that sounds selfish. Hear me out. My past running attempts were prompted by outward impetus. I would "train" to run a race with a friend or to lose weight or to avoid poop.

But now, I was unfettered. I was running to challenge myself, and only myself. I ran to shake loose the crumbs of half-decent thought in my brain, or to clear out the cobwebs of doubt or frustration or anger or whatever. I ran to push myself, mind and body. And in the running, I found that I love the running.

So I am going to do some races, but now because I want to, and because I am no longer crippled by fear of the length of those races. I can do anything for three miles, or five miles, or ten. I'm stronger than I thought I was, deeper than I realized and more capable than I imagined.

And I keep plastic poop bags in the studio now.