My husband, Bill, texted me this photo this morning, from Scotland.
He took this photo a couple of days ago, when he was showing me the ruins of the home of Robert the Bruce, AKA Turnberry Castle (I really suggest you click on this link as it’s a really interesting story). This structure was probably built in the 1200s. It’s covered in vegetation, and much of it destroyed, but it’s still there – 800 years later!
I have often marveled at, and envied, Bill because of what he does for a living: he manages the design and construction of some pretty impressive hotels and resorts. Sometimes I can’t help but think about the fact that the fruits of his labor are so tangible, and barring a natural disaster or something equally extreme, these structures will be around for a pretty long time. Much of my life the last 14 years, when I drill it down to how I spend my daily moments, do not lead to results as tangible and quantifiable as, say, building a 150-room room hotel. Every time I visit one of Bill’s completed projects, and recall how it looked before he worked his magic, along with his team and contractors, I am amazed at what can be accomplished when you have vision, cooperation, resources, and grit.
While in Scotland, we toured several castles and a cathedral.
Stirling Castle, built around 1100s
Edinburgh Castle, around 1100s
St. Andrew's Cathedral (built in 1158)
Whether it’s European castles, or Aztec pyramids, it’s truly amazing to think of what led to the construction, how it was carried out, how it withstood the elements and history, and the foresight of the people who championed their restoration and/or preservation. In today’s day and age, where everything is about instant gratification, with houses popping up in a week and snapchat being popular in part because, as my daughter pointed out, “texting and email take too long” – I find it refreshing and necessary to visit and learn about where we all came from and who lived before us and what they did. It certainly adds perspective and, I think, is a good reminder of how brief our time on this earth is.
While I was running this morning, I was thinking about all of this and it occurred to me that while we may not all build castles and hotels and houses and other buildings, we are all building something that is going to live beyond our time here. If we are parents, we are building a home – the important part of any house – and we are building adults that will carry out and build upon the foundations and roots we are nurturing. If we are working, whether as a teacher, a medical professional, a plumber, a retail clerk, really any profession – we are building a network. Whether our work is tangible and measurable or not, the lives we are touching every day, no matter how brief our interaction with that person, are part of something that we may not think of as as significant as a castle, but as far as we know, could make all the difference further down the line.
“My mother always told me that as you go through life, no matter what you do, or how you do it, you leave a little footprint, and that’s your legacy.” - Jan Brewer
On my flights to Scotland and back, I watched 3 very good movies: Still Alice (about a woman who is afflicted by early onset Alzheimer’s), American Sniper (about a legendary U.S. sniper who survived 4 tours in Iraq only to be killed, in the U.S., by a soldier he was trying to help with PTSD), and Wild (about a young woman who embarked on a 1,000 mile hike to face and conquer her inner demons). Movies are a powerful way to communicate a story and touch viewers by allowing them a glimpse into someone else’s reality. The people who made these films have built something very important as while watching them, we viewers gain insight into and thus build compassion for, life and struggles associated with Alzheimer’s, combat and PTSD, grief, addiction.
We may not consider ourselves legacy builders. Maybe we think of the meals we cook, the laundry we do, the transactions we complete, as being inconsequential and fleeting. Or maybe we are in a job where we feel overlooked, unappreciated, or our talents are underused. Maybe we are in a phase in our lives, such as adolescence, or young parenting, or injured, or ill, or elderly, where we feel as if we have lost our selves, our identity, our sense of control. The thing is, it might not feel like it right now, but every day we are building something. I went through a crappy time in my life as a parent of young kids, and I remember often thinking, “I got my Masters for THIS??!!” as I surveyed the disastrous kitchen, the screaming toddler, and the other kid I thought didn’t deserve such a useless mother who was riddled by grief over her mom’s premature death and was trying to keep it together in spite of zero local friends and a mostly absent husband. Meanwhile, Bill was building some spectacular hotels (and meeting people like Brad Pitt, George Clooney and Cindy Crawford). Now I look back on that and in hindsight see how the struggles during those years were not only impermanent, but also helped to build my compassion and gratitude. Plus, I got confirmation from Bill that Brad Pitt really IS that hot in person.
What do you want to build today? Long-term? We are all building something, in every Facebook status, the way we choose to spend our time, how we vacation, how we spend our money, what we read, what we eat, what we teach our children to prioritize. The most important part of any building is the foundation, the roots, and in life these roots are the values that are most important to us. So when thinking about what we want to build, what we would like people to remember us by long after we’re gone, let’s start with that. And remember that even the most luxurious resort had a lot of necessary menial drudgework and re-designing and conflict, but when we stick to our priorities, the final result can be amazing.
While running this morning, I got to thinking about the times that I have been dumped by friends. And about the times that I have come across as the dumper. I’m not talking about middle or high school, I’m talking about as an adult. Ever since my daughter was in 2nd grade and she started to experience the volatility of friendship, I have often mused about how complicated meaningful friendships can be, and it is a lifelong challenge. In other words, the drama doesn’t end with high school graduation.
Maybe it’s because I’m older and wiser, maybe it’s because I’ve been teaching loads of yoga and mindfulness, maybe it’s because I’ve had several decades of practicing the delicate art of Being a Good Friend While Protecting My Own Wellness. But at some point during today’s run, it dawned on me that when X Friend suddenly stopped returning my calls or communicating with me in any way, she was doing this because she had to protect herself and tend to her own life. She had made the decision that she could not be a supportive friend in that time of my life, for reasons that had more to do with her than with me. Our breakup was abrupt and I was shocked, but now, ten years later, I understand her wanting to distance herself and while I still wonder at the abruptness, I bear no grudges or animosity. She was simply doing what she had to do.
I often hear the saying, your true friends stick by you no matter what. Or, when you’re in trouble, you can tell who your real friends are because they’re the ones who stay at your side. And so on. The thing is, I don’t think this is entirely accurate, fair or helpful. Some people are on an endless loop of drama, poor choices, lack of self-awareness, and looking for attention. They may have, through no fault of their own, perhaps due to a crappy childhood or hang-ups inherited from their mom, developed a self-destructive self-view of being a perpetual victim. (Please note that I’m not talking about the normal ups-and-downs that come with life. Life is messy, for everyone). Whatever their story is, because we women are nurturers, compassionate, and we want to save the world and everyone in it, especially the people for whom nothing ever seems to go right – we may find ourselves in relationships that feel frustrating and draining. And then we go on Pinterest and see some quote about how to know a true friend (e.g. one who makes time for us, or who stands by you through thick and thin, etc) and then we have to make a choice: am I going to take a break from this friendship and protect my own and my family’s emotional and physical health, and schedule? And in so doing, feeling like the biggest, most selfish wench in the world? Should I take a selfie and post it on a Pinterest Friendship Fail board?
Unfortunately, and I’m really bummed about this, we cannot save the world. We cannot fix people. We often try to fix others because it sure beats trying to fix ourselves, but it never works. I have been in relationships where now, in retrospect, I realize that the give-and-take wasn’t equitable. Not that we should keep a balance sheet in friendships, but if what we value in our friendships, such as trust, validation, loyalty, fun, support, challenging us to be better – if we don’t feel that we are getting this, instead we are on some endless loop of providing this to the other person, but not getting much in return – then we have now shifted from Friend to Project Manager. And this doesn’t help anyone, unless we are a therapist or a coach and we formalize the relationship by transferring their calls to our receptionist, to make an appointment.
The other thing we need to ask ourselves, in some cases, is, What about this friend's situation or personality or whatever, is triggering me to not feel so good about myself afterwards? Sometimes, we need to take a break, for the sake of the friendship and our own brain health, when we are honest enough to acknowledge that our proximity to the situation isn't helping anyone.
When it comes to transitioning out of these friendships, or taking a sabbatical, I believe the best way to do it is the same way I recommend moving from a fast food diet and sedentary lifestyle to a more healthful one. Just as with cleaning up our food act, I don't recommend a drastic cleanse. It's too traumatic. I don’t recommend purging or staging our death and changing our phone numbers unless the person is a psycho, stalker, or abusive. When it comes to embracing a healthy lifestyle, I’m a big fan of adding in the good and positive, because then we naturally find less time or space for the harmful stuff. The same thing happens in relationships. If we start to spend more time with people who honor and inspire us, the negative starts to fall away.
That X Friend from 10 years ago? I honestly have zero ill feelings toward her. If she were to come back into my life, I would welcome her with open arms and if appropriate, thank her for caring enough about her own self, that she knew when she needed to move on. Not because I would be trying to get back into her good graces, but because I have enough compassion for myself that I recognize that in her way, she was teaching me some valuable lessons about friendship, boundaries and self-compassion.
My friends are a lifeline for me. There is something sacred, I think, about my friendships with other women, that is different from the relationships I have with my husband, kids, and other family members. A true friend is one of life’s greatest gifts, but in order to BE a true friend to someone, we need to start with treating ourselves with deep love and respect. Sometimes this means practicing deep, sometimes painful, self awareness, and if we find that interacting with someone depletes rather than energizes us, it may be time to turn that fixer away from others and do some work on ourselves. I know, good luck with that.
The kids are back to school, the afterschool activity frenzy has begun, and you are most likely either a) thrusting yourself into a workout program after a summer (or decade) of, well, no workout routine or 2) wondering how to fit in your Self-Care into a jam-packed schedule of work, chauffeuring kids, spending quality time with kids. Or maybe you are 3) already happily tending to your health with regular exercise (congrats!). Read this anyway.
I regularly get the question, “what type of exercise should I do?” The typical thought is that we should think about what our goals are – do we want to lose weight? Build muscle? Lower our cholesterol or blood sugar levels? And then, pick a workout type that allows us to get to that goal as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Most people I know are aware that I am an avid runner, I’ve been doing triathlons for 10 years, I teach Poga (my version of yoga + pilates), I play Ultimate Frisbee once a week (a high intensity team sport), and I love snowshoeing, snowboarding, surfing (if my clumsy attempts can pass for surfing), and most things outdoors and moving. So when I say, “most people should NOT run a marathon” or "I do not recommend you snowboard" etc. they are often surprised.
The thing is, just like with this whole obsession with cleansing programs, or what type of diet to follow, or what brand of clothing to wear, we tend to fall for the gimmicks and our emotions and ego and desire to “have what she has so I can feel as awesome as she looks” get the most of us and we go into this autopilot mindset and make costly choices because we didn’t stop to think about the big picture, the sustainability, or the simple question, “is this right for me?”
This is what we should be asking ourselves when it comes to exercise, and we should ask ourselves these questions periodically because our situations and priorities change over the years, and so must the way we move:
1. How old am I?
I will be the first to say that chronological age is only relevant to a certain extent, as I know plenty of people my age (mid-40s) who have a more youthful existence than most college-age kids.
There is no denying that no matter what the multi-billion dollar “wellness” industry wants you to believe, we get older (hopefully) and as we do, our body changes. If you’re a woman in your 40s or older, you know that it gets much harder to avoid the beer belly and the hip spread, but luckily, in our 40s our brain protects us because suddenly we don’t care so much what people think of us. But that’s not all. We also tend to have to work harder at avoiding injury, improving our ability to recover from exercise, and we need to be more mindful of our Achilles tendons, our hamstrings, our rotator cuffs… So, when we go on Pinterest and see these fabulous bodies hoisting hundreds of pounds overhead, or running 50 miles across the desert, it’s a good idea to also take into consideration that these models of commitment are mostly likely 1 or more decades younger than us (therefore more resilient, faster metabolism, and their body hasn’t lived through all of our decades of use/abuse). So, rather than hold their abs or backside as a desired goal, I recommend having a flash of self-compassion and saying,
I am thrilled for her/him and I also love my body as it is today, in its wisdom and resilience, and I will move in a way that honors who and how I am in this moment.
2. How stressed am I?
Exercise is a great way to blow off steam. The chemicals released in our brain during a satisfying workout lead to hours of feeling a sense of accomplishment, and when we exercise in a way that provides meaningful interaction with people we find invigorating, we may feel loved, connected, supported and supportive. And that’s really fantastic.
When the other 23 hours of our day are spent in a way that basically activates our fight-or-flight mechanism, which is the way most of us seem to consider a status quo, or normal, this is not a good situation for a person who is subjecting themselves to a grueling marathon, Ironman, Crossfit, or other “extreme” training schedule. Inflammation is caused by eating unhealthy stuff, which is one reason the Gluten Free industry is making a fortune, as more people become aware of this possible reason for their lack of wellbeing. But exercise also causes inflammation, and this is good because in dealing with the stress, your body gets stronger since it rebuilds and refortifies so it can deal with future demands. But the problem comes in when you’re under a lot of stress from work, or your relationships, or you’re not sleeping because of menopause or something going on in your life, and now you’re going to subject your body to something you perhaps haven’t been gradually building up to over the years, and that will only stress your body and mind even more. Before you sign up for a marathon or join in on whatever bandwagon all your friends are on, try to do an honest assessment of your stress levels. If you're on high alert mode, joining a meditation group will be much more helpful for your blood pressure, weight management efforts, etc., and eventually you may be at a point where it would make sense to tackle the physical challenge on your bucket list.
3. What is my personality?
This is less about, how focused am I, do I like people, do I tend to finish what I start. It’s more about, am I high energy or more of a go-with-the-flow coaster? Do I thrive on structure and freak out when I have to modify the plan, or am I able to be flexible and obey my body more than the book? Am I self-motivated and able to push through hurdles, or do I need a lot of accountability and a support crew to make me do what I don’t want to do? These are important questions because we can wake up one day determined to accomplish a certain race or sign up for the class everyone is doing, and buy all the gear and have the best intentions – but we can’t change our personality or our inner style.
So, when it comes to picking the right workout, I recommend being honest with ourselves about these sorts of questions and then deciding, or asking a trusted friend or coach (hey, I’ll help you!) about this. A helpful way to do this is to think back on other workout experiences, the ones you loved and the ones that didn’t work out, and from a personality perspective, what worked or didn’t work? For example, if you keep getting injured while training for something or doing a certain class, perhaps it’s because you are so focused on pleasing or beating others, or you don't like to break rules so you ABSOLUTELY MUST follow the training plan no matter what, and you don’t listen to your body. Or, if you often find yourself prioritizing nail appointments and grocery shopping before a certain class, maybe you’re unwilling to make your exercise a priority (your girly-girl domestic goddess personality is the queen) so you’re better off finding a crack-of-dawn class before the salons open.
The one exercise I say IS for EVERYONE is Yoga. Everyone should do yoga. People would be less injured, less miserable, less angry, just overall happier and healthier if they did yoga. But even then – it needs to be the right kind. But, that’s another blogpost.
Motivational coach, athlete, mom, entrepreneur. I love helping people mindfully reboot their health & joy.