I won my election as Division Director in Toastmasters!
This is the first time I’ve won an elected office. Another kid encouraged me to run for class president in sixth grade, and I didn’t win. Since that time, I’ve held a number of offices in various clubs, but never in a contested election. I’m not a very competitive person; in fact, I have a distaste for competing and I tend to prefer to serve in the background.
I’m motivated mostly by two forces: curiosity, and a feeling of duty. As long as I’m interested in doing something, I feel like I might as well be helping out and contributing.
This is why you’ll often see me moving tables and chairs, picking up litter, or submitting reports. Not only do I not need to be in the spotlight, I actively avoid it. At least I used to until I decided it was time to get over my aversion to public speaking.
Did I say ‘aversion’? Another way to say it is that I began with a level of stage fright that I have only seen surpassed by three or four people.
It turns out that in an organization like Toastmasters, this willingness to work hard, coupled with the drive to push yourself past your comfort zone, is recognized and rewarded. This makes it dangerous for a shy person who wants to avoid the spotlight.
As an area director, I was asked to apply for a position as division director. Sure, I thought, if you need me, I can at least go through the motions.
Then my application was approved.
Then I did my panel interview, and I was nominated unanimously.
I wrote my candidate statement and designed my campaign poster and had it printed and mounted.
Embarrassed every step of the way! The last thing I wanted was to be putting up a big old poster with a head shot of myself on it. I moved from a desire to do a competent job.
As far as I knew, I was running uncontested.
The day of the conference arrived. I was fighting a cold and short three hours of sleep, but I arrived early for the business meeting. Let’s just get through this and then I can focus on preparing for next year’s term, right?
The way this typically works, one candidate is nominated for each of a slate of positions, and the elections are somewhat of a formality. Everyone knows each other, and everyone on the slate has just spent at least a year serving the district in one office or another. We’ve had plenty of time to form impressions.
There’s an opportunity for other members to run a “floor campaign,” in which they submit the appropriate paperwork and then have a club officer nominate them from the audience. Sometimes the candidate knows there will be a competitor months in advance. Other times, the floor campaign might be a surprise.
This is what happened.
First, there was a floor campaign for Program Quality Director, and the floor campaign won.
Then, there was a floor campaign for one of the division director positions, and the floor campaign won.
The nominated candidate for that division, having lost his election, suddenly decided to run against me and try to win my division.
This is technically perfectly legitimate, and it’s been done before, although I did not know this at the time. In practice, it rarely works.
Rationally it makes sense: games have rules.
Physically, my body reacted as though I had been attacked. My heart hammered and all the blood drained from my face. Alphabetically I’d have to go first. I understood that I had approximately one minute to prepare to give a campaign speech, walk up onto the stage, take the microphone, and speak in front of over two hundred people.
Are you kidding me with this??
Emotionally I felt one thing. BETRAYAL. What a weird and medieval word. In my mind I fully understood that this was *not personal.* In point of fact, I had helped this man with his campaign. I had noticed that he didn’t have his poster made, and I went out of my way to help him with resources. I knew he had nothing against me, that this was about him and his personal ambitions and the rules of the game.
The undeniable fact that my body was flooded with stress chemicals, and that my emotions were thoroughly activated, was irksome to me. I hardly needed the distraction of my emo, weepy inner child when I had a speech to give.
But my heart was still pounding so hard I could barely see straight. My arms were shaking, not trembling but shaking.
I took the mic and walked out, feeling utterly unprepared, with my natural hair. Yet another emotional hot button for me. If I had understood that I would be performing this morning, I would certainly have gotten out my flat iron!
I gave one of the most lackluster speeches of my speaking career.
No idea if anyone else felt that way, but I know that I did not meet my own standards. Tired, kinda ill, frumpy, shaken up, such a frazzled mess that I actually... said... ‘um.’
(I’m legendary for my almost perfectly clean speeches and lack of vocal tics).
I’d just heard my rival speak. He wore a suit, and he was so vibrant and charismatic, I knew I couldn’t match his performance on my best day.
I spelled out my platform and how glad I was to work with such fine people in such a fine district, one with such high standards.
My speech was probably too short, but I just wanted to be done and go sit down before I fell down. I felt like I might faint and I didn’t want to do it up there.
Then my opponent spoke. He looked great, he owned the stage, he sounded completely pumped. My heart sank.
Then they went off to count the ballots, and the next ten minutes felt like ten hours. My arms were still shaking.
I won. I had 39% more votes.
My rival hadn’t gained a single vote.
This basically meant that everyone who voted for him the first time voted for him the second time, which is great. He’d successfully built a base of people who knew him and respected his work.
The contest was between his clearly superior performance on stage and my carefully developed platform. His ambitious power move and my reputation. It’s entirely possible that some of the votes weren’t so much for me as they were against my opponent’s strategy.
Afterward, a number of people came up to congratulate me and, in some cases, dish about what happened. I realized that time after time, I was talking to someone I had helped in some way. We had worked together side by side and I had shown up for them, as they were showing up for me.
My rival came up during lunch to shake my hand and say, hey, no hard feelings. I reminded him that on the bright side, he was now eligible to compete in speech contests again! I told him he was twice the speaker I am, and I encouraged him to compete next year.
The reason I am not competitive is that I don’t think it proves anything. If I’m up against someone and they win, then I’m not learning by competing with them, I’m learning by watching them. If I win, then it might just be because I’m more experienced or because someone else had a headache that day. Winning doesn’t help me improve; improving helps me win. If I’m truly focused on improving, then winning one day is irrelevant for the next day.
I play the long game. When I’m in, I’m in for my own reasons. The competition is between Yesterday Me and Tomorrow Me, and Tomorrow Me had better come out ahead. The real game is building allies, working together for a common cause. I never know where I’ll be in relation to everyone else three years from now.
I do know where I’ll be next year, and that’s filling out a ballot to help choose my successor, because hey! I won my election!
Would anything have been different if I had known sooner?
I went to a destination wedding with my family. I was about to turn thirty. I was painfully single, at least as broke as I had ever been, and recovering from an illness in which I temporarily lost half my lung capacity. As I sat in a rental car with five relatives, it felt like I had nothing going for me.
Little did I know, in exactly three months I would meet the man who would become my second husband.
I had no way to know that not only would I get my breathing back, I would eventually go on to run a marathon.
I couldn’t really imagine it at the time, but I would also pay off my student loans one day. My credit limit on one card would be higher than my loans ever were.
I didn’t even know that I would one day live with my little love, my gray parrot Noelle.
I couldn’t see three months into the future. It just felt like one day after another, the same the same the same, with this little blip of the family vacation. I felt like I would always be broke and single and ill.
This is why I wonder what would be different, if I had known what was coming.
If I’d known I would eventually be debt-free, would it have helped me sleep better at night?
If I’d known I would get my health back, and fairly soon, would I have started working out sooner? Would I have started losing weight sooner? Today I understand that having an extra thirty-five pounds on my chest wasn’t doing my lungs any favors, but I didn’t then. I would have been shocked and angry if anyone had suggested it. If I had seen the future, would I have taken action?
If I’d known I would meet a future husband in only three months, would I have felt less lonely? Would I have skipped the handful of painful blind dates? Would I have avoided dating the couple of guys I dated in between?
What would I have done? What would I have done with the time that I spent crying at night? The time that I spent writing hundreds of pages in my journal, trying to wring something out of my existential pain?
There were a few things I did that worked very well. These were things I did for myself, comforting actions born of optimism. These things helped set me up when I did embark on the relationship that became my second marriage.
The first of these optimistic actions, the one that mattered the most, was to pay down my debt. My frugality and focus on building financial security helped me to feel stronger and more confident. It also turned out to be the single factor that my hubby found most attractive! For anyone over 35, every decade that goes by makes this even more important.
Any marriage-minded person has to take into account the question: Did I save enough for TWO retirements and can I afford to pay off someone else’s debt as well?
(Hint: probably not)
The second thing I did for myself that paid off in my future relationship was to fight for my health. When my hubby and I met, we were both... well, to put it bluntly, we were both fat, broke, and angry at our exes. In other words, we were on the same emotional wavelength. Getting fit together helped to build our friendship. I was trying to get both lungs back and he was recovering from herniated disks in his spine. Two wildly different problems both helped by increasing mobility and cardio endurance, and dropping body fat.
Now we spend our vacations walking 8-10 miles a day, climbing multiple staircases, and backpacking into wild areas. Old Us couldn’t have had this kind of fun, either alone or together.
The third thing I did for myself when I was single and lonely was to prioritize domestic contentment. This is by no means the only type of love and romance in the world, but it’s a pretty darn good one. I had my own apartment again for the first time since I was 19, and I definitely made the most of it! When I signed the lease and got the keys, I showed my landlords the door, shut it behind them, and started doing the Sound of Music twirl through all the (four) rooms. I believe I even rolled around on the carpet and kicked my feet.
What attracts a friendly kind of romance is that confidence and domestic contentment. If you don’t like your life, why would anyone else? If you aren’t happy by yourself, how could you be happy with anyone else? Domestic contentment is the radical act of taking responsibility for your own happiness. Guess what? Having a partner means that your happiness is still just as much your own personal obligation and responsibility as it was when you were alone. You can’t outsource it, you can’t delegate it, and you can’t abdicate either.
Three months from the click, the main emotional commitment I had made was a solemn belief in poverty, illness, loneliness, and misery. All I thought I had was myself and I didn’t even want me.
Three months from the click, I had a travel disaster. I wound up spending the night in a downtown hotel that I couldn’t afford. A kindly desk clerk shifted a few things and got me a half-price room. In the room that night, at the end of my trip, I soaked in the bathtub for two hours. I made myself the internal commitment that I would do whatever it took to improve my situation. I couldn’t know just how much better things would be in three months. As a matter of fact, everything got at least ten times worse shortly afterward! It wasn’t certainty in a brighter future that brought me that future. It was nothing more or less than a blind commitment to work at it. To keep my head up and to keep trying.
The question that arises out of all this is, if I could see three months into the future (or three years, or thirty), what would I do differently today? Am I doing everything that I know I can to move me in that direction?
Money problems are the best kind of problems, because they can actually be solved. Most problems that can’t be solved with money can’t be solved at all!
I tried to make that list longer and I had trouble doing it. Missing someone who is far away? Call or visit, problems that money can solve even if it takes a satellite phone. Have a problem you don’t know how to solve? Hire someone and ask for their expert opinion. Want something that doesn’t exist? Hire some designers and start making it, or write it into a novel or screenplay.
Then I went back over my list of Problems That Can’t Be Solved With Money and realized I might not be imaginative enough there. The Taj Mahal was built as a way to use money to deal with grief, and it’s a monument to undying love that has inspired generations. Stephen Hawking survived far past the limited medical knowledge of his youth and lived to a respectable old age, and there must have been money involved in that. Getting a song out of your head I guess could be solved by playing a different song, or going to Disneyland and riding the Small World ride. Hurt someone’s feelings, not much you can do about that, but paying off their student loans would probably help.
It seems that a large chunk of what qualifies as existential dread may come from the idea that we are surrounded by problems with no solution.
How much more manageable is that feeling when more problems feel like they can be solved after all?
We argue for our problems. We argue that they are inevitable and we argue that there is nothing we can do about them. Ask around and you’ll find that people are constantly arguing for their own limitations and against the concept that they have free will.
Ask anyone with a problem to imagine what it would be like to not have that problem. Usually you get a blank look. Nobody thinks that far. This is sad, because imagining a world without the problem often includes the obvious solution to the problem.
As an example, the biggest problem in my life right now is that my upstairs neighbors are constantly waking me up at 5:30 in the morning. What are some ways that I can solve this problem with money?
I’m so tired that I can’t think of any.
False. I could stay at a hotel, I could bribe my neighbors to stop wearing shoes in the house, I could hire a contractor to soundproof our apartment, or, hey! I could pay the seven grand to break our lease and move elsewhere.
The mental exercise involved in solving a problem with money is the same type of mental exercise involved in solving problems WITHOUT money,
The main factor is to think of a problem as a paradigm, one possible instance out of infinite possible variations on a timeline. In one universe, this problem exists. In most other universes, it does not.
Often, solving the problem only means stepping out of the current paradigm.
Quitting a job is one example of this. Every problem associated with the bad job goes away. The commute, the bad boss, the untrustworthy coworkers, the annoying customers, the poor lighting, sick building syndrome, the breakroom that smells of burnt popcorn and reheated fish.
Divorce is another example. My own divorce created a huge slew of problems for the first year. It also took away a bunch of problems, including my wasband’s snoring. Just like changing jobs, getting divorced resets the scoreboard. You get a fresh start and a chance at something better.
Note that both a job change and a divorce are problems that can be solved with money. You can hire someone to help with your resume just as you can hire a divorce lawyer.
I was poor until I was thirty. In my younger days, my diary was almost entirely full of worry about how to pay bills or make rent. I wonder what I would have worried about if I hadn’t had so many money problems. Another way to put that is that I wonder if I had really had any problems back then that couldn’t have been solved with money.
Now I’m not so poor that I lie awake crying or pay 80% of my income toward rent.
Now I am gradually learning to ask, whenever I have a problem, Could this problem be solved with money?
Can I buy my way out of this?
An example came up of a problem that I couldn’t solve with money. I was only partway through writing this post, and I realized I needed to finish it before I went to bed. Maybe there might have been a way to pay someone else to finish it, although that wouldn’t have been my desired outcome, but not on the timeline that I had. I got a good laugh out of the thought that in the process of writing about solving problems with money, I had created a problem that couldn’t be solved with money.
This is where I circle back to my “loud neighbor” problem. My real issue isn’t the neighbors waking me up so early, it’s that I keep prioritizing other things late in the evening that keep me from going to bed earlier. I don’t want to go to bed at 9:00 PM, even though that is a money-free way to solve my problem. Apparently I also value $7100 more than I value my lack of sleep. If problems can be monetized, then they can be specifically quantified.
Ultimately every problem is about the tradeoff between one thing that I want, and something else that I want, and the friction between them.
Solving a problem is a form of investment. It takes away the problem from this moment, as well as all future moments. Thus it’s always worth more than we think it is. We just have to try harder to imagine what it would be like to step into that future timeline where the problem doesn’t exist. That future point without the current problem, that’s a future point with more options, and, often, more financial means. The better we get at solving problems with or without money, the better we get at figuring out the money problem itself.
Some ways to solve problems with money:
A plumber, electrician, or general contractor
A chiropractor or physical therapist
A dentist or orthodontist
A personal trainer or nutritionist
A new wardrobe
A down payment
A dog trainer
Now you try!
I married a jocknerd. Then I became one. I may well be married to the only aerospace engineer / football player / ice hockey player / ex-lumberjack in the galaxy. When I was young, I was such a snob that my top two criteria for a boyfriend were 1. Can beat me at Scrabble and 2. Does not watch football. My identity as an intellectual included a sizable chunk dedicated to Not Being an Athlete. As usual when I based my decisions on resistance and rejection, I had no idea what I was talking about. I didn’t have to sacrifice any of my alignment with books or other brainy pursuits in order to inhabit my body more fully. I didn’t have to feel like a spy crossing over hostile enemy territory. All I had to do was to embrace the fact that being a nerd and being a jock are not mutually exclusive. It turns out that there are many jocknerds among us.
The nerd life chose me. Due to my July birthday, I was always one of the youngest, smallest kids in my grade. That weird policy of putting kids in school based on one chronological deadline means that some kids in the same classroom may be nearly a year apart in age. Those kids who were a few months older than me were also larger and more coordinated. Then, in second grade, I was placed in a split classroom with both second- and third-graders. The school approached my parents about having me skip a grade, but it was decided that this would be too hard on me socially. TRUE! Being both small and smart set me up for some hassles. I was also awkward and clueless about the rules of team sports. P.E. alienated me from any kind of physical activity until I was over thirty.
If I had the chance, I’d offer a symposium of advice for physical education teachers who wanted to reach all the uncoordinated shy kids. 1. Offer more options that teach proprioception and spatial awareness rather than having bigger, tougher kids crash into everyone, throw balls at heads, etc. 2. STEP IN when you even suspect bullying. 3. Encourage and never, ever tease shy kids. What worked for your personality won’t work for everyone.
Now that I’m a small adult, I understand that my tiny frame gives me some major advantages. My height-weight ratio allows me to carry disproportionate amounts of heavy weights, such as an expedition backpack. I have an easier time hoisting my own weight, such as when I want to climb a rope, do a pull-up, climb a fence, get back into a sea kayak, or complete an obstacle course in an adventure race. My metabolism suits me for endurance racing and long backpacking trips. I’m great at yoga. I wish they’d told me any of this when I was a little kid, rather than forcing me to play dodgeball with aggressive boys twice my size.
As a grade schooler, I used to fantasize that I was in a prison camp, and try to imagine whether I could withstand torture. I pictured having my fingernails ripped off, and whether I would faint from the pain or just refuse to give up state secrets. There was a tough person inside of me. It says a lot that my POW daydreams seemed ever so much more appealing than going to gym class.
One day in eighth grade, a boy came up behind me in gym class and pulled a pair of boy’s underwear over my head and face. Did the teacher do anything? I’ll give you three guesses.
Ugh! This post wasn’t going to be about trauma, but I guess it is. Only those who have suffered it understand just exactly how deep the aversion to physical activity can go. Our picture of “move your body” is the picture of public humiliation and shame that we endured as an educational requirement in school.
What I learned through the patient tutelage of my now-husband is that it’s different for adults. We choose when and where we come and go. We choose our own training schedules. We pick out our own equipment. We can change gyms and trainers and routines any time we want.
I also learned that I LOVE working out. I love it. Building muscle and cardiovascular endurance takes me to places that books never did.
I also learned that nothing is mutually exclusive. I can and do read while working out. What I also learned is that there are a lot of jocknerds out there, because physical culture is a fascinating area of research in its own right. People you might have been taught to think of as “dumb jocks” know tons of stuff about sports physiology, nutrition, physics, first aid, history, game theory, and of course mundane topics relating to current events, their careers, and more. Middle-aged athletes tend to be high achievers in all areas of life. I never would have guessed it, but the jocknerds I have met tend to be smarter than the bookish sedentary people I always would have chosen before.
“Going to the gym” is a totally different experience for adults than it is for kids. We’re mature! Everyone in the gym is just trying to fit a workout into a busy schedule. There are grandparents, young moms, business executives, college students, and all sorts of distracted people who have no time to stare at you. Nobody cares. Nobody is looking at anybody. We’re watching our form, listening to podcasts, reading magazines, sometimes messing with our phones. You’re allowed to wear a stained t-shirt with holes in it, drip sweat, and have messy hair. You’re even allowed to maintain your self-image as whatever you want, mentally holding yourself above it all. You don’t even have to be a jocknerd to go to the gym; you can just be a regular nerd. Welcome to the adult playground, the one with no dodgeballs.
Conversation the other night between myself, a Twitch streamer, and a stand-up comic revolved around trolling and how to deal with criticism. These conversations are more interesting when everyone involved represents a different decade of age and experience. Older people tend to forget just how devastating criticism is to young people. I think about it all the time, and this is what I had to share with my younger friends.
There are seven billion people in the world who will never know who I am or care about what I do. That’s liberating.
If someone hate-reads my work, great! It just improves my stats.
My work won’t matter to most people who ever lived or ever will. My fans are a statistical anomaly out of the population of the world. To those few thousand people, though, my work matters. I can’t allow the negative opinions of even a billion people to stop me from creating anything, because they’re not my audience.
Trolls are doing nothing but attacking other people’s work. If that is the only thing they have to contribute, then their opinion is worthless. Anyone can do it and it has no value.
Trolls! Go do something with your life. Donate blood. Shelve books at the library. Walk dogs at the animal shelter. Pick up litter.
See, that message is going to go nowhere because as far as I know, trolls don’t read my blog. That’s probably because I don’t allow comments, and I never have.
It’s not that I’m trying to stave off criticism. Critique is always welcome if it comes from a valid source. I am constantly getting evaluated in public speaking, and I understand that it’s necessary for anyone who wants to improve.
That’s not the same, though, as accepting any and all negative comments from any and all sources.
There’s nothing easier to find in our world than a one-star review. Only rarely have I ever found a one-star review of any product, service, or location to have any value. It winds up being annoying. One-star reviewers are usually venting anger about something irrelevant, like how long something took to ship, rather than anything that would matter to me as a customer or client.
You have that much pent-up anger about the world? Try kickboxing.
People should work harder at seeking out things they are likely to enjoy, or learning to enjoy new things, rather than constantly being disappointed by everything they watch, read, eat, and do.
Anyway. I don’t give it a lot of thought because I don’t really encounter trolling or random criticism in my life.
The first thing I did was to drop out of a social organization that was no longer on my wavelength.
The second thing I did was to quit Facebook.
The third thing I did was to join a club that is very focused on a single activity.
What happens when you and the people around you are focused on something positive that you all voluntarily chose to do? What happens is that you see each other as natural allies, colleagues, neighbors, and friends.
Almost all my social interactions now are face to face. That changes everything!
If I’m texting with someone, it’s probably someone I’ve seen within the last couple of days or will be seeing soon. The exceptions are family members.
How to deal with criticism from family members: Only tell them about stuff after you’ve already done it. People who know you well are always going to try to talk you out of doing things like changing careers, relocating, traveling, or training for anything physical. Either they’ll list off a bunch of scary stories of all the ways it’s gone wrong for other people they know, or they’ll tell you all about your deep-seated character flaws and why you’ll always fail at everything.
Why? Nobody knows.
Actually we do know. It’s because we can quit talking to naysayers if we’re not related to them. Family gets a free pass on behavior that strangers never could get away with, like borrowing money and not repaying it, making a scene at parties or weddings, or calling you nicknames from when you were eight.
Why would you accept advice and criticism from people with no relevant experience or credentials? Genetics?
The difference between criticism and critique is that critique is specific, constructive, and relevant, and it comes from someone whose job it is to provide that critique. You should look forward to it because you genuinely know that it will help you solve a problem and improve at what you’re doing.
Criticism, on the other hand, would be vague, irrelevant, personal, and unhelpful, and it would come from someone who has no business offering an opinion on that topic.
For instance, if someone wanted advice on how to get their cat to quit clawing their couch, I would have no business offering my opinion because I don’t know the answer. All I’d be able to say is, I have a dog and a parrot and they don’t claw the furniture. How would that be helpful? It’s my job to save my breath, or maybe connect that person with a cat lover who has more experience.
For whatever reason, people love running their mouths, and I think we don’t always realize what we’re saying. No filter. Critical people think they’re being helpful, and they also think they’re funny and interesting. If they understood the effects their words were having, that would just give them one more thing to criticize.
That’s why the secret to dealing with criticism is to, first, find a way to either ignore it or integrate it despite how sloppy it might be. Then simply align yourself with people who share a common purpose, and only ask for advice and input from them. The people in your life who aren’t on that wavelength can then focus their negativity on the shows they’re hate-watching, foods they don’t like, and anything else they want to criticize.
Almost everyone’s a critic, and anyone can do it. Look for people who are better at giving constructive feedback, and learn from them how it’s done.
Decisions, decisions. What is it about decisions that is so difficult for people? We’d rather suffer than have to make a choice that involves a tough decision. Avoiding these choice points has a tendency of adding up, and that’s where decision debt comes from.
If you hate your job, why are you still there?
If you’re unhappy in your relationship, why are you still together?
More to the point, how many times do I have to get bangs before I finally realize that I can’t have bangs?
Decisions are easy for me because I enjoy change for the sake of change. I’ve moved over two dozen times, for instance, and I’ve literally tried every flavor of every brand of toothpaste at my store. Even apricot. Frame decisions rather as a series of experiments, and it feels less like risk and more like... fun.
Go to a restaurant and make a point of trying every dish at least once, unless of course you realize you don’t care for their food. Maybe make a point of going to every restaurant in your neighborhood instead. There was a Mensa group in my old city that had spent over a decade attempting to sample every single Chinese restaurant in the greater Los Angeles area. Fun, right?
Under those circumstances, getting the occasional uninspiring dish can be funny, rather than disappointing.
Maybe that’s one of the big problems with decisions? Being afraid that it won’t work out well? But then, what happens after that? Time continues to travel onward and other decision points continue to turn up, right?
The haircut grows out, there’s another lunch and another dinner tomorrow, there are more jobs to be had, and there will always be another musician to date.
When you’re driven by curiosity, it takes a lot of the dread out of decisions, because you can’t wait to find out what’s going to happen next! When you’re eager for the result, the decision is no more of a big deal than flipping a switch or fastening a button. It’s just a small piece in an overall grand plan.
As an example, when my husband got his dream job, a whole series of decisions popped into position. In under two weeks, we had given away or sold almost everything we owned (including OUR CAR) and moved into a tiny apartment at the beach. Other people might have agonized over whether to keep or get rid of each and every tiny item, from a pancake flipper to a pair of pants, and wept bitter tears. We were so fired up about DREAM JOB + LIVE AT THE BEACH that we couldn’t throw stuff over our shoulders fast enough.
Decisions are easier when there’s a total paradigm shift. First there was “the time we lived in the North Bay and went running together a lot.” Then there was “the time we lived in the Sacramento area and did a lot of gardening and canning.” Then there was “the time we moved south and I finally lost my weight.” After that there was “the time we got rid of everything, went car-free, and moved to the beach.” Very different lifestyles in each case, same people, same marriage, different home, different stuff.
We don’t tend to build up much decision debt because we do a lot of strategic planning.
Every New Year, we spend at least the few days around New Year’s Eve going over the past year and making plans. What worked well? What didn’t? What do we want to change? Where do we want to go on vacation? Do we need to save more money or cut back on the french fries for a while? We check in every weekend at our breakfast status meeting. It’s fun because these are our plans, plans that we made in order to have more fun and a better quality of life.
Decisions are lifestyle upgrades!
I keep an actual list, a page in my day planner called DECISIONS. They go in the format “which,” “when,” or “whether to.” I write out the decision, and then I put a check mark next to it once I decide what to do. Later on, these decisions always seem hilarious to me because they’ve worked out, like when I couldn’t decide to upgrade my desktop but it turned out to cost half of what I had expected. Sometimes the passing of time makes the decision for me.
I’ve just checked my decision list, and the undecided decisions all have to do with time-consuming activities. These are things I really want to do, but realistically, I’m overextended already. If I had the time to do them, they’d already be in my calendar. Calling them ‘decisions’ is a way of saying “I’m too busy but I don’t want to rule this out.” For a lot of people, decision debt may be more of a question of time debt, or even financial debt.
A case could be made that both time debt and financial debt are also cases of decision debt.
At some point, a strategic decision needs to be made, because at some point, being too busy and overbooked can make you ill. Being overextended financially can lead to progressively more expensive problems. Something’s got to give.
Making a decision list can be a big help in paying off decision debt. It makes the choice point real in your mind. Secretly writing something like “whether to stay in this relationship” or “when to see the doctor” is a way of admitting that the current situation is not your ultimate fantasy.
Why not be working at your dream job? Every day you stay at a job you hate is cheating both your employer and yourself, not to mention your clients, customers, and anyone who depends on you.
Why not be in your dream romance? Every day you stay in a relationship that has died for you, you’re cheating your partner and yourself, not to mention the other people you could both be with instead.
Why not be thrilled and blissed out by your life? What would have to happen in order to feel that way, to be in love with how lucky you are?
What decisions do you need to make? How much decision debt do you have to pay off in order to move forward?
If you hate affirmations, you have three choices right now. 1. Hate-read! That’s always fun. 2. Stop now and spend the next ten minutes reading or doing something else. 3. Activate your curiosity and hear me out.
You’re right, affirmations are dumb.
It’s dumb to lie to yourself and try to hypnotize yourself into something that you know isn’t true.
That’s not how I use affirmations, though. I use them, but first I put them through my process of inquiry. Aren’t you lucky that I’m going to share it with you?
(Here you could practice an affirmation: I AM LUCKY, and ask yourself whether you believe that is generally true, or only just now).
I am happy to make affirmations about my personal values, because I’m reminding myself of things I believe are important. I AM PATIENT, I remind myself, the few times that I need a reminder. I value patience and I practice it. I’m fine with giving myself credit for that.
On the other hand, I would not do the affirmation I AM BEAUTIFUL, because I don’t give a care. That’s not a quality that matters to me. In fact, I find the concept annoying.
I also absolutely hate the expression “comfortable in my own skin” because every time I hear it, it makes my skin crawl. Like, what are the other options? Comfortable out of your skin? Comfortable in someone else’s skin?? I fit the description - I have a fantastic body image and a very high regard for my physical self - (and see how I sneaked in a few extra affirmations there) - but I certainly don’t need to use other people’s preferred language to express that about myself. I will be delighted when this phrase falls out of favor and I can quit hearing it.
That’s another step in my affirmation interrogation. If I generally like the concept of someone else’s affirmation, I will rephrase it and adopt it for myself. It’s poetic. Maybe one person might respond better to an affirmation in the form of a haiku, or a request, such as MAY I BE PATIENT or:
I’m getting better
At tolerating these jerks
Though I don’t want to.
I AM A POET!
Argue that one if you like. I say if you claim to be an artist, then you are one. Presto change-o.
I also think affirmations work very well as missives of gratitude, such as I FREAKING LOVE TACOS or THIS IS MY FAVORITE! Hang around me long enough and you’ll find that I say stuff like this all the time.
Pro tip: You can do this stuff without ever publicly declaring that you are doing it, or making any kind of issue out of it. This is especially important if you find yourself amongst naysayers or those who describe themselves as “fluent in sarcasm.”
Ha, now there’s an affirmation if I ever heard one! It comes up in dating profiles all the time. I AM FLUENT IN SARCASM. *snort*
(That one is definitely not mine. I think sarcasm is very lazy, mean, and not at all funny).
The thing about affirmations is that for most of us, our self-image is far behind where we are actually presenting in the world. Try to compliment a woman - any woman! - and watch what happens. She will fight you. It’s like we’ve collectively decided that there’s a moral hazard in graciously accepting someone’s compliment.
That’s the same feeling that makes us so squirmy about affirmations. It feels icky and gross. We’re much better at the nasty kind of negative self-talk, such as:
* i am an idiot *
* i suck at this *
* i should never have come here *
If anyone comes along and tries to talk us out of these dreadful thoughts, we feel compelled to argue our point. Please, let me explain to you in meticulous detail just why exactly I suck so much.
I’ve spent some time convincing myself that what is truly important is that this other person, this tricky complimenter, is reaching out and trying to make a connection. Rejecting a compliment is more than just rejecting a gift, it’s rejecting a person and telling them that their opinion and their act of caring means nothing to you.
Also, what if they’re right?
What if, when they tell you YOU’RE SO SWEET or MMM, YOU’RE THE BEST HUGGER, what if they’re right? What if you allow that factual statement to define you such that you bring more of that desirable quality into the culture?
What if compliments are people’s preferred way of building a better world? What if they’re... a performance evaluation?
This is how I got myself into trouble. I started forcing myself to do public speaking because I knew myself to be a physical coward. <— Negation alert!
Part of public speaking is learning to accept evaluations. You have to accept that if people who don’t know each other give the same feedback, then objectively it’s true. For instance: “Nobody can hear you in the back of the room.” Okay, thanks for telling me!
I steadied myself to hear a constant barrage of difficult feedback, because I like to challenge and push myself [yeah, you know what that was just now, *nod*].
Instead, people kept telling me: YOU ARE SO FUNNY!
Dang. Now how am I supposed to get my head around that?
I didn’t agree with this assessment, but I kept hearing it. People from entirely different clubs would say the exact same thing, over and over, that I had “such a dry sense of humor.” I’m still not entirely sure what that means, but what am I going to do, call these people a bunch of liars?
I had to accept that whatever it was I was doing, the audience liked it and wanted more of it. Who was I to refuse?
As an affirmation, I wouldn’t go so far as to say I AM SO FUNNY, because that’s practically inviting my inner self to step up with an attack and a negation. I can, though, tell myself that my strong points in speaking are humor, research, and informational speeches.
What comes out of that kind of affirmation is a resume. It leads directly to a dispassionate and objective assessment of your marketable skills. That in turn leads to better jobs and contributing at a higher level.
Is it fair for a surgeon to affirm that I CAN SAVE LIVES? Is it fair to say something like I AM ACCURATE or I AM CAREFUL or I WORK HARD?
Can we grudgingly allow ourselves to admit, secretly and in private, that maybe we’re not 100% terrible?
If we come across an affirmation with which we disagree, shouldn’t we ask ourselves why we feel that it is not true? Something like I AM WORTHY or I DESERVE TO BE HAPPY?
This is how I use affirmations. I introduce something that is new to my self-concept, something that objectively seems to be true. I talk myself into why this is true and why it matters that I agree with it.
It’s allowed because we’re allowed to grow and change. In fact, we’re supposed to, partly because it makes life better for other people.
Whatever you are, be a good one.
“Don’t overthink it!” I hear this a lot in my martial arts classes. True to form, now I’m overthinking overthinking. Or am I? I’m getting my head around the difference between athletes and people like me.
It’s also the difference between anyone who is “natural” at anything and those who aren’t.
What am I doing in class that qualifies as “overthinking”? I’m asking questions when I’m doing something wrong, for instance trying to block a head shot and instead smacking myself in the face. What “everyone else” is doing is practicing the block over and over.
Makes sense, right?
The part that doesn’t really make sense is why an otherwise intelligent person would keep showing up in a room only to make hundreds of mistakes and punch herself in the eye with a boxing glove.
This is the essence of growth mindset versus fixed mindset. I’m in the room because I believe I can be taught, eventually, despite all evidence to the contrary. I believe it is necessary to my wellbeing to push myself to learn new things. I believe strength comes from facing obstacles and overcoming them.
“Everyone else” is there for more or less the same reasons: enjoying the difficult workout, needing an outlet for intense competitive drive and physicality, or simply loving martial arts culture.
Why are my fellow students grasping things so much more quickly than I do?
A young man in my classes hit upon it the other day. He’s young enough to be my son and he started training as a beginner around the time I got into the advanced class. He’s already better than I am.
“Did you do sports in school?”
I explained that when I was in school, girls weren’t allowed to play sports because Title IX wasn’t being enforced. The only option for us was girls’ softball, but that was a league sport.
“That makes no sense,” he said, mystified, and then explained why he had asked. He had two female friends who wanted him to teach them how to skateboard. One got it right away, and she had a sports background. The other, a musician, struggled terribly. He saw it as a matter of time spent rather than a matter of aptitude.
I’ve thought about this for a long time, and it’s interesting that it would be obvious to a young person. My husband, for instance, started on athletics as a preschooler. He can’t even remember exactly when he got on the swim team. It’s just always been a part of his life. He participated in every possible sport offered in his region.
Does swimming at age five have anything to do with swinging a sword at age forty? Evidently!
What all these “natural” athletes have that I don’t is a track record. (Sometimes literally on the track team!). They were up and moving their bodies at a younger age. Every year of our lives, these “natural” athletes have spent a significant part of their day in motion while I sat on my butt reading a book.
They acquired what I have to learn. It did NOT come “naturally” - it came from deliberate practice. It came from doing different things as children. It wasn’t always even their choice; their parents may have pressured them and insisted that they do stuff they deeply loathed doing.
In some cases, they’ve built a different physical framework than I have. For instance, my thirteen-year-old training partner is shockingly heavy for her size. If someone told me she had a titanium skeleton, I wouldn’t be surprised. She’s been practicing martial arts since the age of three, and her bones are undoubtedly denser than those of another child. Her body composition is also probably much more muscular and lower in fat.
These “natural” athletes have been building better cardiovascular fitness all this time. By ‘fitness’ I mean that exercise actually grows more blood vessels and expands the lungs, among other changes. While I was sitting around reading for thousands of hours, I was not building that same infrastructure.
The biggest difference is in proprioception, I’m sure of it. My classmates are able to watch something demonstrated once, maybe twice, and then copy it. I watch the same movements and I’m completely befuddled. I have to see the same motions at least five times before I start to get it. Often I’ll misremember whether to go left or right.
I have trouble knowing where my body parts are. I can only seem to track three out of four limbs. If I’m moving both legs and grabbing someone, my other hand seems to float off on its own. After a year I’m still being constantly reminded to keep my hands up. In my mind, I am! I can’t tell when my butt is sticking out. It feels like motions that should be in 3D are only 2D for me. What I’m worst at is moving with my face blocked, when I can’t see what I’m doing.
What I have is like being tone-deaf, which I’m not, or having a tin ear for languages, which I don’t. Colorblind, I’m not either. I’m fairly good at yoga, probably because I’ve spent so long in two dozen familiar poses over the years. I’m competent at ballroom dancing because I went to the kind of dance school where you drill the box step hundreds of times and learn where to put your arms separately. What I’m telling myself is that I’m already good at certain things, because I spent time on them when I was younger, and I’m not yet good at other things, because they are new to me.
I seem to be overthinking things in class because I lack the facility to copy what I see. This is strange to sporty types who have done it all their lives. They can’t understand why not everyone can do it. They don’t understand why everyone isn’t like them. They’ve never experienced being awkward or inept in the kinetic world. To them, it isn’t a subject of study. This is part of why I stay in a class where objectively I don’t belong, because I have as much to teach as I have to learn. If they can teach me, they can teach anyone.
I had a bad night. There are always at least three things going on during heavy training: the physical battle, the mental battle, and the emotional battle. Sometimes there’s also some social conflict thrown in just for fun. On this night, I had a mix of all of these.
It goes something like this. You want to train, but you’re out of condition and training makes you sore, tired, sweaty, and uncomfortable. That’s the physical battle. You aren’t convinced that this activity is a good use of your time, money, or resources. That’s the mental battle. You feel like other people are judging you, that your body is your enemy, and that you’ll never get the results of those awesome people over there. That’s the emotional battle. Then maybe you have a naysayer who keeps trying to get you to quit, and that’s the social battle.
That’s not me, by the way. Well, the physical part is, but that’s honestly part of why I train in the first place. I don’t do anything at all unless I’m convinced that it’s a good use of my time. I couldn’t possibly care less if other people are judging my physical appearance, and I’m not particularly competitive. Naysayers just make me double down on my commitment, because their presence means I’m onto something. I recognize the mainstream battles around fitness. That helps me to shrug them off.
No, I have to go out and dig up my own special fitness issues.
I’m studying Krav Maga, a non-joke sport that is officially not for sissies. Mentally I am convinced that Krav is the best and most effective martial art and that I’m training at the best school in the region. I believe that the combination of bodyweight, impact, and HIIT exercises is the optimum and that it is more time-efficient than other workouts. I also have all the grit and persistence in the world.
Keep telling myself that.
My mental block is that I am usually the weak link in class - slowest on the uptake, slowest in speed, physically weakest, lowest stamina - and that it holds others back. I keep coming back to the idea that I should put my membership on hold for a few months and come back after I put on a few more pounds of muscle. It’s when my head isn’t completely in the game that I start having more emotional issues. When I’m 100% convinced of something, then nothing but nothing can stop me.
Finally, tonight, after a couple of hours of processing, I realized that this mindset problem is emotionally driven, and it’s compounded by my overall physicality.
Everyone has the occasional difficult moment. They come in flavors. Some people default to anger and “why do these idiots always.” Others default to depressive “this is pointless, why bother.” For some it’s the self-hating “ugly stupid.” Mine runs to helplessness, specifically feeling physically powerless.
My demons: night terrors, being susceptible to the common cold, this fainting issue I had in my mid-twenties, fear of Alzheimer’s disease, and, apparently, being pinned to the floor.
Objectively, plenty of people have far worse issues. I feel dumb even thinking about mine.
Thinking about it, it’s weird that I have no problems with certain things when I do with others. For instance, I’m not afraid of snakes, the IRS, public speaking, or being seen naked. In fact, I wouldn’t even be all that bothered by speaking nude at the IRS in front of some snakes.
What I’ve learned from martial arts is that I’m not particularly troubled by wrestling or being thrown to the ground. I’m relatively unphased by choke holds, being lifted off my feet, or being attacked with my eyes closed. I can shake off being hit in the mouth, nose, or eye and keep going. I’ve been throat-tagged and continued on without a pause. I’ve had small cuts that bled and had to get a bandage (DON’T BLEED ON THE MAT) and gotten right back to it. Hands taped together? Yay, cool. Pinned under a blanket? Okay, got it. Bag over the head? Not my favorite but hey, I’m here to train. Gun disarms, knife fighting? Bring it on!
I have two problems.
Okay, now how dumb is that? Ooh, yelling, help me officer. Out of all the dumb things to set someone off... At least the other one is more obvious and realistic.
It was processing my issues with being pinned that helped me finally understand why this is a demon-level emotional block in my world. It’s that “physically helpless” feeling. Like any emotional block, it’s a package deal. Another person’s self-loathing might lead to a variety of self-sabotaging behaviors, while someone else’s contempt and rage might lead to an entirely different type of self-limiting issues. Mine is this emotional trigger that I am somehow powerless.
It’s worth looking at where else I do and don’t feel powerless, or rather, where I do feel powerful and how I can bring that into the mat room. Powerful: bureaucratic red tape, foreign languages and writing systems, wilderness survival, panel interviews. Powerless: navigation, math.
I’m good at lots of things! I’m good at learning! I’m good at talking myself back into commitments!
Keep telling myself that.
Now that I’ve found my demons and given them names, I can deal with them. I can come up with some strategies to take their power away. It’s my life and my body and I can make choices that make me stronger.
Quitting, what would that do? Because certainly I have felt like quitting. The thought has crossed my mind so many times: “you don’t belong here, nobody wants to be your partner, nobody will judge you if you switch to CrossFit.” Those are emotion-driven and temporary distractions, irrelevant to my aims. 1. Be a quitter for life. 2. Lose all the many benefits of this training. 3. What, sit in a chair? Just start quitting things and become boring?
I have another emotional demon hidden in there, the “nobody wants you here anyway, nobody likes you” demon that is a remnant of childhood bullying. When I’m pinned and I can’t get out and the instructor starts shouting advice at me, this puny feeling starts up this story. “Nobody is coming, nobody will help you, nobody is on your side, nobody is looking out for you, friendless and alone.” Really that’s pretty solid evidence that studying Krav Maga is a terrific and practical plan!
Another person would ball up all that energy of being picked on, tricked, set up, and bullied and use that to fuel an intense and sacred flame of righteous fury. I mean, that’s one way. Some natural and biologically based reactions to being pinned would be aggression, an adrenalin surge, tenacity, and territorial instinct. GET OFF ME. My feeling of helplessness is contrary to survival; it’s not innate, it was learned - and that means it can be unlearned.
I know exactly what I need to do, and the insight came as I was lathering my poor bruised shoulders with gardenia-scented soap, proof that I am fine and I do have control over my world. I need to build upper-body strength. I need to keep training. I need to visualize the specific circumstance of being pinned every time I go to my gym, and use it to fuel a strong sense of AW HAIL NO.
I also need to tell the instructor that yelling triggers me, so she’ll yell at me more.
The whole point of this training is, like everything, to enter the arena and fight the fight. Life is an endless rain of trouble and strife that will never stop. Quitting won’t make it stop. Nothing will make it stop. Might as well figure out a way to carry on, or maybe even prevail. If there are demons to be wrassled, at least I’m going to hit one with a chair before I tap out.
“I’m going to thump you in the noggin.” That’s an example of the type of comment she just made to me, only not as funny. A threat, not a veiled threat. I laughed and brushed it off, and she doubled down.
What’s going on here?
This is a basic business transaction, and this woman just implied that she wants to use physical violence on me! Twice!
“Well,” I grinned, “I’m a kickboxer, so let’s do this!”
The weirdly rude woman frowned and said nothing.
Hey, you started it, lady.
The truth was, in that moment, I was ready. If for some bizarre reason this person insisted on fighting with me, if I had made her angry or if she just couldn’t stand the sight of me... okay, fine. Let’s do this.
If she needs to get it out of her system, I’ve been shoved, kicked, punched in the stomach, thrown on the ground, and hit in the eye, nose, and mouth. Lots of times! I don’t mind, not really. If she thinks she can lay a few strikes on me, all right.
It’s a serious offer. You wanna box me? Let’s do this!
Alternatively, I’d get her on the ground and pin her until she apologized and promised to quit being rude to people for no reason. She would remember the whole thing as me being the villain. Result: even more rude to more people, because it’s so unfair that she never gets her way. Bullies are like that.
In the normal world, there are two things that have made me tough (besides living past the age of forty). One, improv comedy. I’ll “yes and” anything with anyone at any time. Two, my midlife sports background of martial arts, endurance running, and adventure races. If you want to attack me with mud, insults, cold water, heckling, shoving, kicking, or strikes to the torso, well, it’s not my first rodeo.
How have I offended, milady?
I’m the kind of person who goes to the store and constantly gets stopped by random people who think I work there. It’s a family joke that every time we go on vacation, someone will ask me to take their picture. Customer service face. I’m nice and approachable, probably too much so. It’s unusual for me to have an unpleasant interaction with anyone, whether in person, on the phone, or through email.
Nobody who sees me in business casual is going to guess that I do Krav Maga, put it that way. That’s how it should be. Secret weapon.
There’s a threshold that you cross when you cast off conventional anxieties. In the mundane world, I’m unstoppable because I know myself to be a person of high agency. Kindness and patience will get you virtually everything you could ever want, and detached amusement will probably get you the rest.
A little bit of leadership training, a little bit of comedy, a little bit of stress inoculation, a little bit of physical conditioning. Unstoppable.
In the mat room, on the other hand, I’m weak and slow.
I put myself in that situation on purpose. I strive to always be the most clueless student in class. If I’m the smartest or best, then I’m in the wrong room. I need to be pushing myself, partly so I’ll learn, mostly so I’ll stay humble, and also because I get bored easily.
If you’re willing to feel completely awkward, embarrass yourself, and do things you find crushingly difficult, and you can get through the first few months, you’ll be well on your way to developing superpowers. The areas where you struggle are the areas where you can grow the most.
The first year I spent training in martial arts, my stated goal was to work on humility and self-discipline. Find out you can’t do a pushup or a sit-up, and the humility takes care of itself. Stay committed until you can do fifty and you’re on your way to the self-discipline. The most important thing I learned that year is that I’m not afraid to take a punch.
I also learned I was afraid to land a punch. I didn’t like hitting people, I didn’t like it at all.
This got to be a problem. My partners would sometimes complain that they needed me to be more forceful. They would shout and encourage me to kick harder, shove harder, strike harder. I talked it out with several other women, and they all told me the same thing. I needed to give as good as I got. As much as I wanted to learn to take a punch, to be unafraid in hand-to-hand combat, they needed the same from me. It wasn’t fair for me to have a double standard.
I wasn’t doing anyone any favors by being “too nice.”
My training partners want their money’s worth. They want the full value of every hour they spend training. That means, when they partner up with me, I need to show my fangs. I need to go past my little bubble of niceness, at least during that hour, and I need to be scary and mean.
I scare myself sometimes.
All I’m doing is exploring something new in a controlled environment. It’s a classroom. Everyone agrees that while we’re in the mat room, we’re trying to accomplish something very specific. It’s a thing with a certain amount of physical risk, and also eerie noises and unlovely facial expressions.
This is where we cross the threshold. This is where we pass back and forth between the ordinary world and the world of controlled violence. This is why it isn’t funny to make “jokes” about fighting: because there are those of us who are prepared to engage if necessary.
Also, don’t you know any real jokes? Funny ones?
In some ways, martial arts training has made me funnier than I was before. There’s something about the confidence that comes from trusting your body and knowing you are prepared for mayhem. Garden-variety insults and threats are comical. What, you think you’re going to wound me with words? What you just said, that’s supposed to make some kind of impact?
I’m having to learn how to throw a punch, not just take a punch. It means I have to learn how hard to hit. I have to learn to strike with appropriate force. Learning to throw a punch has shown me that it’s almost never necessary. Smile and carry on.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
This website uses marketing and tracking technologies. Opting out of this will opt you out of all cookies, except for those needed to run the website. Note that some products may not work as well without tracking cookies.Opt Out of Cookies