Tipping “Normal”: Adult Singles in America

3567904905_66cf7378da_bOne by one—but as a singular collective group—we’ve tipped “normal.” For the first time since such data has been tracked, there are more single than married adults in the US. That “I’m the only one” feeling you had walking into your first post-divorce school meeting? No longer valid.

What does this mean? I’ll leave the ramifications of changing lifestyle choices and spending priorities to the economists, but this statistical verification that we are getting better at leaving legal unions than creating them reveals disjointed and turbulent times—where we can easily connect from an Internet-cloaked distance and yet live alone in a crowd of neighbors.

This isn’t really about marriage. It is instead, a vision of our growing disconnection—where “busy” has become the standard response to “How are you?” and slow-cooked conversations have become a luxury meal. With so many fast-flying opportunities, we’ve applied efficiency beyond its “intended use,” compressing relationships to fit available calendar windows instead of creating the space to grow them well. Mobility, efficient living and a lessened focus on fundamental connection skills has left many of us as unconnected islands—more archipelago than community.

An unfortunate career or financial choice, divorce, death, chronic illness… all of these can breed isolation and start a secluding spiral. From childhood “time outs” to penally-administered solitary confinement, isolation is a clear communication of “unacceptable.” For connection-craving creatures such as us, isolation grows loneliness, and lonely people often make desperate choices to fill the unwelcome emotional space—grabbing at unhealthy behaviors to pull their heads above water, no matter how they may ultimately harm themselves or others.  From the quiet individual tragedy of an unfulfilled life to the headline-generating disenfranchisement of a generation, lack of connection leaves too many with no lifelines to support, correction and perspective with which to find their way back.

Our new “normal must include purposeful connection—born of proactive kindness and intentional interactions. Rather than networking resources, we need to connect people. Not gathering them as knots to be used in our own ascent but rather, weaving them—one to another—into society’s fabric. This is how we will harness hope, create vision and channel volatile energy into forward momentum…because the difference-making handout will never come from a government or political entity. It will be the one we stretch out to the lonely one in need of a friend.

Date Like A Grownup: Anecdotes, Admissions of Guilt & Advice Between Friends

 

Cabernet Coaches: Power of Consistent Connection

ccWBistro7.2014Cabernet Coaches

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

 

How Can I Stop Hating My Job?

Author, Columnist, Speaker, Voiceover & Video Spokesperson

Salary.com Columnist

How Can I Stop Hating My Job?

Quit, Improve Your Lot, or Get a Hobby

As an advice columnist for Salary.com, I answer letters related to balancing and blending our work and personal lives for better overall living. It is rare that we can successfully relegate an office issue to “office hours,” so effective navigation of these situations is critical to our general well being and productivity. Read on for what happens when ophthalmologists lose sight of office management:

Dear Heather,

I read one of your articles on what to do about hating your job and it moved me to write you a message myself.

Like the woman in the story I too have come to absolutely loathe coming into work. I’ve been in my current line of work for close to five years, and to be honest I really enjoy what I do. In case you were wondering I’m an Ophthalmic Technician for an Ophthalmology office. At first my advice and actions were very respected and the rest of the office seemed to care about them. But as time slipped past the luster started to fade and the true beast began to rear its ugly head. We have two doctors here in the practice and they couldn’t be more opposite one another. One is very old school and is resisting the technological advancements we have to make with everything he has. The other couldn’t embrace it fast enough. Due to the intense nature of this job its imperative that we follow through with all the electronic issues that we face. And since I came from the computer programming/troubleshooting background I have even more knowledge and responsibility in the office.

There are three of us (technicians) in this office and we are all responsible for loading patients into exam rooms, working up their charts, doing the testing required for their exams, and getting them set for the doctor to come see them. However over the last 6 months the others have started slacking off their duties or “specializing” in one area over the other. I’d have no problem with this if the job titles were different. Instead I’m seeing more than my fair share of the load and still getting paid like the underling I was 5 years ago.

To combat this little problem we’re supposed to have weekly staff meetings to address our concerns in a professional manner. Instead weeks, possibly months, go by without said meetings even occurring. And when they do, it’s a blame-fest. No one likes to take responsibility for anything. The phrase “I was told” is used a lot when referring to the wrong way of doing a test, etc.

Basically the problem boils down to this. I’ve lost respect for this position because it doesn’t respect me. Too many times I’ve been walked all over and expected to pick up the pieces like nothing has ever happened. No one wants to man up and take charge, and the authority around here is terrible.

What can I do to stop (or at least limit the amount of) hating my job?

Thanks,
Jason

Dear Jason,

I’m sorry you’re in such a tough and depleting situation. It sounds as if divergent leadership has left your office with no leadership at all. Consequently, guidelines have been blurred and rules have grown fuzzy creating an “every man for himself” environment with lot of the unhealthy brand of competition. It’s no wonder you hate your job. I bet you aren’t the only one.

You have three basic choices in front of you, Jason:

1) You can muscle up your motivation and focus on filling your life outside the office with rewarding endeavors, amp up your business/social networking and simply wait out the current situation. Focus on the parts of the job you enjoy and your interactions with patients. What you’ve described is unlikely to last indefinitely. Either one of the partners will “win,” one will split, co-workers will quit or there will be a leveling process in which the technological advances take hold and positions realign to fit present need. There is no timetable, however, so this is an undefined period of stress. I’ve written elsewhere that the indefinite aspect of limitless stress can be a debilitating energy drain. These situations, whether an unfulfilling job, tenuous relationship or chronic health difficulty, can feel like an ongoing sprint with no finish line —and we need a finish line. So, I’d suggest that if you choose this route, you set a deadline at which point you will move on to option 2 or 3.

2) You can seek to create a resolution yourself. The main issue is the doctors’ opposing views and weak leadership. This has created opportunities for co-workers to basically redefine their own job descriptions. It has also fostered a defensive atmosphere in which office staff is unwilling to shoulder responsibilities. The randomness and combativeness of the staff meetings only magnify these issues and serve to etch those battle lines more deeply. You can’t fix the doctors’ dysfunctional partnership, but you can seek some clarifications. Ask to meet with both doctors (or the office manager if there is one) and share your observations regarding the shift in job responsibilities. Be careful to a) meet with both together (say that you have some ideas that you think could improve staff/patient relations) and b) avoid bad-mouthing co-workers. Instead, explain that responsibilities have become unclear and that you’d hate for there to be an error with a patient that would reflect poorly on their practice. Offer to take notes regarding proper protocol at the next staff meeting —this will at least start a paper trail to refer back to when disputes arise and will possibly provide a means from which to routinize procedures.

3) You can set your sights on greener pastures. You sound like a smart and capable man, Jason. It is to your credit that you have tried to keep your focus on maintaining quality patient care within such turmoil. If you don’t feel you’ll be appreciated or allowed to grow where you are, consider searching out another office. Chances are you can list half a dozen reasons why this is a bad idea: lack of job opportunities, seniority, location or benefits to name a few. But consider the toll that stagnating in a contentious atmosphere will have on your career and mental health. Your present situation is creating drag and wasting a lot of your energy. The mere act of choosing to take control of this area of your life by creating some new possibilities will generate positive energy and be a reminder that your world is bigger than the one you’ve live in these past five years.

It may be that a combination of all three strategies will be your best course, allowing you to take action in the present as you also plan for the future. Best of luck to you, Jason.

~Heather

Originally published at Salary.com.

How Can Busy Parents Get Ahead at Work?

Author, Columnist, Speaker, Voiceover & Video Spokesperson

Salary.com Columnist

How Can Busy Parents Get Ahead at Work?

Climbing the Career Ladder is Difficult With Children in Each Arm

Dear Heather,

Hello, you don’t know me, but I saw your profile on Salary.com. You look so happy in your picture and I would love to see myself so accomplished in the near future! Do you have any advice for a hard working creative woman like me? I’ve been designing and managing at the same stable, but unfulfilling job for the past 8 years. I need a kick in the a** to make a move to senior management ELSEWHERE, but I have little time with a toddler underfoot? Please help!

~Mindy

Heather: What a compliment! Thank you. But make no mistake, that photo was cropped to exclude unfinished laundry, a carry-in dinner and the pile of work sitting in my office! It is hard for working parents –especially in that “it’s a good thing you’re so cute” toddler stage.

The first thing is to identify what is truly holding you back from surging towards a senior management position. Exhaustion? Understandable. Or, is it a lack of time or confidence? It’s time to invest in yourself.

Once you’ve identified your particular barrier, purpose to chip at it until it’s a pile of rubble on your Cheerio-strewn floor. You may or may not be able to combat exhaustion. Your vision of your dream job needs to be tangible enough to wake you up to opportunities even with a standing sleep deficit.

If you’re battling a complete lack of time, you’ll have to break down each necessary task to toddler bite-sized pieces. “Find management job” is overwhelming, particularly with a two-year old eyeing the viability of an applesauce launch. So, write down each step of the process and visibly mark off your progress (I even write things down after I do them for the pure satisfaction of crossing them out). Instead of burdening yourself to “do your resume” when your child has perhaps a ten minute attention span for coloring, plan to tackle a single resume section at a time. Research your job opportunities one company at a time if need be. Dedicate ten minutes on other days to renewing old contacts via email or on a business site such as LinkedIn. Moving forward slowly, ten or twenty minutes at a time, is better than getting comfortable in a rut.

If you want that next job, know you can do the work, have identified the necessary steps and are still hesitating? Encourage yourself. When my energy flags, I send myself a short affirming email, most often with nothing more than a positive quality, quotation or truth as the subject. There is a benefit in both recording and reading such a positive message. Be your own fan. Self-affirmation along with a step-by-step checklist to guide you to your goal will give definition to the dream. Then, it becomes a matter of tackling those details one at a time. Nothing is out of reach for a determined toddler. Tap into some of that focused energy. Good luck, and please keep me posted!

~Heather

Originally published at Salary.com.

How Should I Handle a Passive-Aggressive Boss?

Author, Columnist, Speaker, Voiceover & Video Spokesperson

Salary.com Columnist

How Should I Handle a Passive-Aggressive Boss?

Your Boss’ Behavior May Not Be Your Fault, But It Is Your Problem

Hi Heather,

One form of passive aggressive behavior is a boss who looks displeased but does not speak to you for a day or several days. I am retired now but have been through a variety of good & bad managers. There is seemingly no recourse from moody nonspeaking bosses. If reported, one may be labeled as being over sensitive. What are your recommendations?

Wouldn’t it be nice to just sit down and have a little chat when those situations arise? But that is exactly what the passive-aggressive personality seeks to avoid. Whether due to unresolved issues from childhood or problems with authority or maybe a poorly masked lack of self-confidence, this type of individual is extremely uncomfortable with confrontation and personal accountability.

The good news is: It’s not your fault. Blame his mom (doesn’t everybody?) or the fact that he was an underappreciated late bloomer or — the cause is unimportant, but rest assured, something happened long before he started ignoring and procrastinating in your office.

The bad news is that it’s happening in your office. So it becomes a matter of letting it remain the boss’ issue in a way that won’t unduly affect the employee’s work performance.

Passive-aggressive behavior manifests in multiple ways: procrastination, subtle sabotage, sullenness and a discrepancy between words and behavior to name just a few. Sounds a little childish, doesn’t it? And yet, he (or she) is the boss.

Here’s what you do. My three “D”s for dealing with passive-aggressive personalities are:

1) Be Direct. Yeah, Jim doesn’t want to discuss what angered him in the meeting. Maybe it was that Tom took off with an initiative. Maybe he thought you missed a point. Maybe there wasn’t enough caffeine in the coffee. Instead of agonizing over which one it might be, just ask. “Hey Jim, you don’t seem very happy with how the meeting went. Is there anything you’d like me to do differently next time?” Jim may brush you off with a smile. He may shrug indifferently, and then stomp off down the hallway. Or he may tell you. Open the opportunity -and then let it go. You can’t make him talk.

2) Document. So she isn’t being clear about things? She says things are fine, but is acting a little sullen toward you? If you’ve tried using your words, use your email. Address issues in written form. Yes, they may be ignored. But you will have a record of your sent emails showing your attempts to identify and rectify. Keep written and electronic records from meetings and discussions. Maintain a digital paper trail to protect yourself from sudden sabotage.

3: Be a Duck. Your boss has the issue. Don’t let it become your problem by stressing over unspoken words and vibes. Be as professional as you know how to be. Accept criticism with grace. Be grateful and generous with praise. Don’t be absorbent, allowing your mood to ebb and flow with his passive-aggressive quirks. Let the good and the bad roll off your back, and then move on out of the puddle before you get your feet wet!

~Heather

Originally published at Salary.com.

Resolutions for Building a Bigger Life


Resolutions for Building a Bigger Life

Psst…It’s About Connection.

A bigger life. No, this isn’t a reference to carbo-loading before your next triathlon. Nor is it a call to upsize your house, number of dependents or credit card bill. Towards the end of holiday grazing season, it’s easy to focus on dress sizes over life sizes. But a bigger life, one that is rich in connection, will enable traction on long term goals such as legacy-building and dream achievement, creating credible paths to fulfillment and success.

People generally trek into one of two camps as January approaches: either methodically listing their New Year’s resolutions or categorically shaking their heads at such unmeasured optimism. But the majority of us will at least pause for a brief moment of reflection as we cross the border into a new year. For it’s a marker. A roadside sign that shows how far we’ve traveled and how far we’ve yet to go.

Every other “put your best foot forward” article is going to tell you to set goals for your health, finances and career —which is great advice. So do that. But consider that most of these laudable choices will be more effectively achieved with a powerful interpersonal support system.

So pause and measure. How connected are you? Forget the obligatory work comrades, neighbors with whom you have a nodding acquaintance and those sideline parents who are more of a “familiar face” than functional friend. Consider whom you interact with as opposed to those you stand or sit alongside. A life webbed with strong interpersonal connections holds more opportunities and is worthy of your time and effort to build. If you have a lengthy list of “should call” and “should do lunch” names buried under good intentions —it’s grow time.

Clear Space.

Who has the time? None of us. And yet making strong connections will actually save time in the long run. Your more fully developed network will provide you with recommendations for mechanics, accountants and new hires. It will be your backup when you have a sick child or no way to pick up your dog from the kennel. Your network will be both your sounding board and your fan club. Admit it. You need this. So it is well worth devoting calendar space to some connection time.

Choose Your Connections.

If all your friends work in HR or have matching company logo coffee mugs, you need to diversify your friendships. This is like having a team of quarterbacks. Who’s going to catch the ball? Surround yourself with women with varied careers and pursuits. You aren’t going to learn anything new from a high-heeled clone of yourself. And if you don’t know how to throw a decent dinner party —and hang out with similarly stunted friends— you aren’t going to eat very well on the weekends. Seek passion, conviction and commitment. Encircle yourself with accomplished or motivated-to-accomplish women. Energy sparks energy, so look for inner momentum. Solid positive connections will create bridges to anywhere you want to go.

Keep Your Eye on the Glass Ball.

Juggling too much? That sounds about normal. Brian Dyson, CEO of Coca-Cola Enterprises, once described multi-tasked living as a process of keeping rubber and glass balls in the air. While our tasks will differ, prioritizing our families requires that we designate them as one of the glass “do not drop” balls. Redesigning your kitchen is a rubber ball that will bounce. You may even be able to double dribble some of your lower priority social connections as well. But bubble-wrap your spouse/significant other and children and keep an attentive eye on that ball.

Find Two-fers.

One terrific strategy for creating connection time is to incorporate another tangent goal. You plan to hit the ground running in January? Literally? Then seek out a running buddy. But don’t stop there. Regular gym workouts with weight work will make the difference between getting older and aging gracefully, and may actually hold the process at bay for a while. Do your weight sets with a female friend to build in accountability and connection. Split the cost of a trainer and you’re making a more economical financial choice as well —all while growing a relationship with a like-minded friend.

Face-to-face.

Phone calls don’t count unless they’re punctuated by actual face-to-face communication. Choosing to create time for someone establishes esteem for both the individual and the relationship. Value your friendships, old and new, by scheduling regular coffees, lunches or happy hours. Aim to create at least two one-on-one friend spaces in each calendar week. And be open to spontaneous opportunities. Maintain growth by seeking out potential friends and business contacts and following through with at least an initial coffee. A certain number of relationships will fade through job, life or location changes —so continue planting seeds to maintain a continuous season of connection.

Grow Group Gigs.

Growing your connections can be as easy as setting up a regular, open-to-all happy hour meeting. Encourage friends to bring friends to multiply new mutually beneficial links. This low pressure, two-hour commitment will allow you to sift through “contacts” to choose “connections.” And by encouraging an inclusive atmosphere in which all are invited to invite, you create an infinity pool of professional and social possibilities.

Maintain an Inflow.

Yawn. Yes, sometimes. But it is difficult to grow a diverse network from an insulated workspace where time constraints force most of us to focus more on culling the flow into inbox, voicemail and calendar than on expanding our sources. Filtering is a necessity, but closing off the stream will eventually dry up the pond, so aim to schedule regular business/ social networking events. Remember that you don’t have to score a direct association at an event for it to be construed a success. Contacts have contacts (who have contacts) who could become a connection.

Be the Mentor.

Remember those early job interviews when you agonized over resume wording and sending the right message via your choice of pumps? There are women —on this very day— laying out conservative earrings and practicing a firm-gripped handshake and friendly greeting for tomorrow morning. Help them. You’ve earned your confidence. Share it with another. What’s in it for you? Connection to someone who will birth new ideas and improve what you’ve begun. And chances are quite good that you will learn something in the teaching of another.

Resist Connect-the-Dot Thinking.

It’s tempting to view connection as a connect-the-dot sort of endeavor, achieved by working a room with a fistful of business cards augmented by quick phone call “check-ins” between appointments to fan the flame of friendships. But it can —and should— be so much more. Instead of doing the time saving, quick tie knot —”Here’s my card. Let’s connect on LinkedIn”— focus on weaving connection into the fabric of your life. People themselves are the discoveries that lead to innovative ideas and solutions. Your key connections, male and female, will provide valuable support, provide affirmation, spark ideas and help you along the path to being your best self. Having reliable connections —ones you can occasionally lean on and, often, laugh with— is that valuable extra layer that will enable you to weather personal and professional squalls with dignity, grace and assurance. Building a bigger life through connection will perpetuate a better one.

What to Do When You Hate Your Job but Need the Money

Author, Columnist, Speaker, Voiceover & Video Spokesperson

Salary.com Columnist

 

What to Do When You Hate Your Job but Need the Money

Choosing Change.

Dear Heather,

I hate my job. Ten years ago, it was fun and challenging. Even two years ago, I felt like my opinion was of value, and that I was having a positive impact on the company’s direction. At this point, however, after some unfortunate corporate choices at the upper levels, I have more responsibility than actual power. I’ve been forced to implement decisions I disagree with as if they were my own. My heart races when I walk into the office, and I actually cried during my commute this morning. My husband is doing OK at his job, but my income has factored heavily into the family budget. We have two young boys headed for college someday. How can I know what to do and how to do it? I have a history of depression, and my job isn’t helping me stay in a positive zone.

~Linda

Dear Linda,

Your body is already telling you what to do. The racing heart, the tears — these are emphatic indications that you are treating yourself in an unacceptable manner. Even if you began this current path with starry-eyed “happily ever after” in your heart, the relationship has changed. You don’t feel valued and are going through the motions. Your present inability to match action and principle has compromised your personal integrity. Your body is saying “no.” Yes, something does have to change because this is a dysfunctional situation.

You can wait for management to have an epiphany, but do you really want to loiter in the lobby waiting for a happy ending? You’re missing the show, waiting for someone else to lead you to your seat. Unless there are clear signs that change is in motion, there simply isn’t enough popcorn in the bucket to make that worthwhile. So, this next step is up to you.

Rash choices can generate a string of reactionary responses, so it’s good to thoughtfully consider your options and act rather than react. But you do need to act. If placing yourself on the bar graph helps, five years is the outside edge of the average job tenure, and you’ve doubled the math on this. Instead of being miserable, why not recognize this chance to launch toward your next opportunity?

Here’s how: Sit down with that husband of yours after the kids are settled in for the night and start dreaming. There’s something better out there that might make your heart pump with excitement rather than race with dread. It might be with another company. It might lie within a whole new career direction. Can you get excited about this? If not, I can be excited for you until your brain catches up to the possibilities.

So, you might have to cut a few expenses and live with a curtained future for a while as you map out your new career path. Try to envision it as a well-wrapped gift, yet to be opened. Isn’t that better than living within a reality that is completely unreal to you? Psst. Yes, it is. Trust me on this.

~Heather

Stuck in “launch” mode? Unsure of your best option in navigating a workplace issue? Looking for perspective on a critical relationship? Or maybe you’re one of the new—often isolated—single majority seeking next steps for this next stage of life… Send an email and your question may be answered in one of Heather’s columns.

Originally published at Salary.com.

I Was A Gym Class Wallflower

Date Like A Grownup book coverI 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

HD3Strategies 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.”

“I know.”

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.

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