Power of Consistent Connection
I call them Cabernet Coaches. No, they aren’t highly specialized sommeliers or vineyard strategists—and some of them actually prefer the chardonnay. Rather, these are the loosely gathered and rather eclectic group of women I meet with for weekly Wednesday night happy hours.
It’s not about the drink specials. It’s basic elemental networking without the use of that stifling—and for some, intimidating—buzzword. It’s real grass roots relationship building. And it’s a concerted strike back at a world that would keep us too busy for connection beyond those coworkers, neighbors and team moms lying directly in our paths.
How, and more importantly, why do we do this?
It’s a conscious choice to maintain connection. This means that when one of us gets the big promotion or adds a significant other to her life, we continue to value our friendships by maintaining a regular time slot for them on our calendars. “Disappearing friends”—those who get swept away by a change to relationship status or a bend in the career path—can fade like a mirage in the rearview mirror, so we aim for consistent contact. Frenetic schedules may not allow for regular lunch dates with everyone in our expanding circle—but once a week, we purposefully maintain connection.
It’s a conscious choice to create new connection. We’re completely inclusive. Invites have been extended in groceries, at doctors’ offices and on Facebook. There is something to be gained and given in every encounter. “Loneliness makes fools of us all” (Date Like A Grownup: Anecdotes, Admissions of Guilt & Advice Between Friends, epigraph)—and as we grow connection, we stem isolation. With affirming friends, we are less likely to wither in bad jobs and relationships. We gain momentum from the good choices of others and gain resolve to affect change in our own lives. And, we expand our options by creating a larger pool of friends. Nothing pleases me more than to discover two previous strangers meeting for lunch following a Wednesday night meeting.
It’s a conscious choice to value self. Sometimes, driving across town and traffic to meet with a few friends amidst the pressures of a busy workweek takes significant motivation. Many of our conversations begin with “I should be…” but they always seem to end with gratitude for time well spent. Generally, two hours around a high top table won’t negatively impact the productivity of a week, but it will often reenergize us to better adapt and achieve what is required. And, happy hour appetizers always trump microwaved leftovers as a dinner option.
It’s a conscious choice to build a bigger, better life. Our Wednesdays are more of a flow than a settled gathering—with friends bringing friends, and built around the absences caused by travel, parenting our children and all the normal demands of life. But it’s a repeat calendar entry for many of us—an almost sacred appointment that we strive to keep regardless of changes to relationship status or career. It’s a commitment to growth and a leg up over the status quo. New faces, fresh ideas, divergent careers…our little group is far more intriguing than anything we might be missing on reality TV.
We consciously create opportunity while banishing guilt by utilizing “ish” time—meeting at “5:30ish until 7:30ish”—to minimize time pressures. The demands of careers and kids, along with the havoc divorce can wreak on a life, often lead to stress and isolation. Life can become task-driven—with pleasure buried beneath loads of laundry and sales goals. So no one’s early, no one’s late and any “disappearing friends” are always welcomed back with open arms, tissues if necessary, introductions to the newbies and a toast… Whether we clink water glasses, chocolate martinis or cabernet is irrelevant. What matters is the steady encouragement and affirmation that comes with the table space.
Shared joys are amplified, and empathy can buoy a sinking heart… Has a friendship ever surprised or delighted you? Saved you? How have you navigated the inevitable disappointments, friendship “drift”—or worse, a complete betrayal? How has Connection—or the lack of it—impacted your enjoyment of life? Do your relationships make you a better person—or make you want to be a better person? If you’re interested in contributing your friendship story to the book, please email me via the contact page to set up an interview. Thanks! Heather
I Was A Gym Class Wallflower
It’s Never Too Late to Add Fitness to Your Life.
It’s true. Pressed against the cafeteria wall, hoping to camouflage my lack of athletic experience and skill as blasé disinterest—that was me. This surprises all those who missed my mandatory sixth grade gymnastics routine—heavy on dramatic spins and arm flourishes that did little to hide the fact that my abilities were limited to somersaults, ballet-style cartwheels and half of a back walk-over. As I recall it, half of my three minute routine was spent ineffectively attempting to kick my way out of a backbend—riveting humiliation back when “Reality TV” required nothing more than a video player outside the school cafeteria during the high traffic lunch hour.
I’m a fairly fit well over-40ish woman now, but the truth is, I sort of stumbled into personal fitness.
My first foray into team sports came my senior year of high school. Lacrosse. How good was I? Good enough to be my coach’s gift to an opposing team when they were short a couple of players for our game. My team won—that is, the team I arrived with, not the team I guest-played for, but I chose to call it a victory. And it was. I’d shown up and put my feet on the field.
I began running towards the end of college, primarily for the opportunity it provided my friends and me to pass a local fraternity on a regular basis. Running didn’t require great amounts of coordination (right left, right left…I could do that), and once I got past the whole “do I look silly” question, I found I enjoyed it.
The running habit stuck. My folks didn’t really know what to make of it when I returned home for summer break. We’d hiked and biked in the course of our travels, but with a regular exercise routine, I’d now swung far out of “normal” for my family. I kept at it anyways, because I was already noticing some remarkable benefits: less stress, more confidence, focused “thinking time”—and best of all, my “skinny” body now had runner’s legs.
Above the waist, however, I had the same willowy rag doll physique I’d always had. It lacked a certain something, but I just didn’t know what. Yet…
Years later, after prolonged manual labor on a landscaping project followed by an unfortunate stint on crutches, a neighbor commented favorably on my muscular “definition.” I confess that I had no idea what she meant. I looked in the mirror that evening, however, and discovered that I’d somehow grown baby arm muscles. I made an instant connection between my recent increases in strength and energy and decided to keep them.
Worth noting: These new muscles were “born” in my very late 30s making them younger than my three children! In the beginning, it was as simple as incorporating a few push-ups and crunches into my mornings. I advanced to trying pull-ups and chin-ups at playgrounds while playing with my kids. My method was simply to try and do at least as much as I did the last time. Nothing set in stone, but it became another positive habit to build upon. Eventually, I added free weights and began looking at how to further improve—rather than simply maintain, my accidental fitness. My “stumble” into physical fitness had taken me to a good place, and I was hooked.
That’s it! I use a gym now and find that the variety helps me keep my work-outs fresh and interesting. I lack the time for perfection but surge ahead on the theory that something is always better than nothing at all. I view my gym and outdoor running time as 1) my best investments in my future health, and 2) a sure way to keep positive about the present!
So, when a young lady stopped me at the gym a few months ago to ask what I did and if she was too late, I smiled. I told her that she was so far ahead of me already and gave her the basics of my routine along with a couple words of encouragement.
We’re all made so differently, and the same regimens will look completely different on the bodies of two different women. But, we can all do something to maximize what we’ve been given. And most importantly, it’s more fun to be out on the gym floor instead of leaning against a padded wall (or sitting on a sofa).
Take if from a former gym class wallflower.
Originally published by Her Fitness Hut.
Strategies for Stress
Float or Plant Your Feet
She sighed heavily and leaned into a splayed stack of junk mail on my kitchen countertop. “I can’t.” The words drifted wearily —in a flat line with no inflection.
The past months —years really— had included law suits, mental health issues, family division, death and a steady deadening of her marriage. She was taking in more nicotine than calories, and the constant stress had etched a pattern of pain across her attractive features, drawing the edges of her mouth into a perpetual frown.
“I just can’t.”
“You have to. When did you last see your doctor?”
She shrugged. “Need to, I know.” She coughed again. All ninety pounds of her. “My arm has been getting numb again.”
I felt angry. Sad. “You have to. For your little girls.”
But we both knew a doctor visit was unlikely to land on her schedule. Acting proactively required energy she could no longer access. She had been worn down to “reaction” mode —and it would take a small emergency.
“You’re getting buffeted by all this. The constant stress is like treading water in a choppy ocean. You have to either float over it all or find a place you can plant your feet.”
She looked at me. Defeated. “I can’t.”
“You have a choice.”
When you’re out of breath, it’s far easier to react to your environment than actively change it. And yet, often, we have to move to access the oxygen essential to fueling our future.
Stress —often a juxtaposition of expectation versus reality— is a given. None of us can predict the acts of others, circumstance, or even our own future feelings. But how we react to stress… that’s a choice. We can dog-paddle, tread water and gulp for air. We can float over it for a while —ignoring what isn’t truly critical. We can —at some point— stroke our way to where we can plant our feet and begin a redesign.
Choosing to choose is what move us from being observers of what happens in our life to actively participating in the direction it will take.
Floating (temporarily) can be a good choice. Planting your feet can be an excellent choice. Reacting to situations like a fishing bobber or swimmer treading water will exhaust, consume and deplete.