When I was a kid, adults always asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. I knew the answer was supposed to be a paying gig, so I shrugged my shoulders noncommittally and hoped they’d just move on. The truth was, I didn’t want to be anything when I grew up, at least nothing that qualified as a valid profession. After all, no one was going to pay me to make up dances in my living room at my own pace and only when I felt like it.
As far as I could see, being an adult sucked. They got up and went to work eight or nine hours a day, got only two weeks vacation and didn’t even get summers off. They were obligated to stay at their place of business until quitting time. They paid bills and did responsible things like washing dishes, mowing the lawn and paying for car insurance.Screw that, I thought as I spent long summer days roller skating up and down our steep neighborhood driveways with friends or sprawled across my bed with a book by myself.
I liked to make up stories. I wrote down the rambling thoughts in my head in the form of poetry or barely-legible prose. Not a practical career choice, that of a writer — may as well decide I’m going to be heavyweight champion of the world. NOTHING I liked to do was marketable.
I went to high school with a lot of high-achieving teenagers, and in college, my friends found their places. They were pre-med, pre-law, civil engineering. Being a writer didn’t fit in with my family culture nor my school cohort unless of course, I could make myself a noteworthy best-selling author. No pressure. So I spent most of my college years making out with boys and figuring out where I could get my hands on some beer. I graduated from college because that’s what was expected and because I was tired of people telling me what to do.
I didn’t know there were other roads to adulthood, and indeed, there weren’t as many options as our kids thankfully have today. There are young entrepreneurship programs now that have kids developing their own marketable products while still in high school, for example. That’s awesome, but here’s another thing to think about:
What if we widened the definition of “successful?” We heap praise on the ambitious, but is being content where you are such a bad thing? Is wanting “just enough” really worse than aiming for the stars? Why did I have it in my head anything less than “best-selling” was a failure? Why wasn’t “pretty good writer who ekes out a living” a viable option if it made me happy?
I’d like to see us continue to support the kids and young adults who have ideas and goals and want to run with them to the top, make all the money and/or change the world. But let’s also remember it takes more than wild idealism to make the world go around. Some of us don’t want to be millionaires or develop the next life-altering piece of technology. Some of us don’t want to be all-star athletes or biomedical engineers. Some of us just want to be allowed to do our art, share it with people, and be left alone.
I’m in one of those slug phases, where I can get distracted from work tasks by just about anything. Today, this led me to scrolling through my own Facebook page. I relived summer vacations with the kids, enjoyed my photos of hikes, re-read some articles I posted and loved them all over again. Several hours went by. I got sucked in.
As I scrolled, though, I thought wow, this person has a cool life! She hikes, she goes on great family vacations, she writes, she does fun things with friends and family, she has thoughtful sociopolitical opinions. Who the hell is this person?
I bet SHE doesn’t get sucked into Facebook for hours at a time. I bet SHE never yells at her kids or feels bored and unfulfilled. I bet SHE never spends a whole weekend on the couch binge-reading the entire Divergent series and ignoring everyone.
Oh, wait…she does. She has kids who are creative, active and funny….and also sometimes inconsiderate, out-of-control and irritating. She has a spouse who is warm, witty and introspective, who also is obsessed with a video game and doesn’t hear the kids when they’re talking to him. She is creative, kind and transparent and also, sometimes a slug that doesn’t accomplish anything she set out to do that day.
So folks, the lesson here: social media is just the cover photo of the very long, winding, complex novels we humans are. There are no bad guys, no good guys, just people, doing their best, being awesome sometimes and sometimes fucking things up. We all do it; cut yourself some slack. And don’t judge.
Ten thousand steps. That’s how many you’re “supposed” to get per day. But did you come across that article about bodybuilders who conserve their energy all day (take the elevator, drive the car to the mailbox) so they have plenty of fuel for their high-intensity workouts? Did you read that bit about high-intensity exercise being bad for your joints? Did you see the one about weight-bearing exercise being optimal for bone health? It’s a wonder we don’t all throw our hands up, go home to binge-watch Game of Thrones and eat ho-hos. (What are ho-hos, anyway? I’ve never had one, but they seem to be the ambassadors of junk food.)
According to one Guardian article, the ten thousand steps thing was originally an arbitrary figure used by a Japanese marketing campaign to promote the first wearable fitness device in the mid-sixties. The “research” was based on the fact that most Japanese citizens took 3,500 to 5,000 steps daily, so 10,000 seemed a good round number to shoot for.
Since then, there have been more robust studies about step count. Indeed, taking 10,000 steps versus 5,000 per day is correlated with a decreased risk of heart disease amongst other morbidities. But what about 6,000 steps? What about 8,000 or 12,000? Most studies to date only compare 5,000 versus 10,000. Maybe 6,000 steps would be enough to improve some people’s health. This is important because telling people who are basically sedentary they have to take 10,000 a day or die of heart failure trying is intimidating. Why try? ‘Might as well fire up Game of Thrones and order pizza. More realistic goals might be more successful.
Another thing these step studies don’t take into account is intensity. A running stride is generally longer than a walking stride and takes more energy per stride. This means 10,000 running steps takes more energy than 10,000 walking steps, but you didn’t need science to tell you that; your burning lungs give you all the info you need on that one. What if your steps are uphill versus on a flat surface? That takes more energy too. The 10,000 steps target is more about marketing gadgets than a useful application of hard science.
Speaking of hard science, a recent Scientific American article referenced a study of our early human ancestors which found they (and we) need exercise to stay healthy, unlike our ape predecessors. They estimated how far early hominins traveled in an average day, and guess what they came up with? At least 10,000 steps or approximately five miles per day. This is largely based on observations of modern, hunter-gatherer societies in Tanzania.
Modern innovation has allowed us humans to be lazier. And it’s in our nature to rest when we are able. It’s part of what got us this far — the ability to rest when we could and conserve energy for the next hunting or gathering session. Now that we aren’t motivated to work hard by the sheer need to survive, we sit around a lot more. Our bodies have evolved to need exercise, however, so in modern times, we are healthier when we make a concerted effort to get it. Ten thousand steps, however, which may be an admirable goal in some situations, is a gross oversimplification and overgeneralization of what our bodies need. In those hunter-gatherer groups in Tanzania, there are lessons for us beyond mileage and steps:
Beyond the copious amounts of exercise and whole-food diets, daily life for these cultures is full of fresh air, friendships and families. Egalitarianism is the rule, and economic inequality is low. We do not know exactly how these factors affect the health of hunter-gatherers, but we know their absence contributes to chronic stress in the developed world, which promotes…disease.(Pontzer, 2019).
It’s not useful to develop specific requirements (10,000 steps) and then apply them to every human on the planet. We are more variable as individuals than that, but we can make some generalizations that apply to most people. As a whole, we feel better when we move more, connect with friends and family in quality ways and go outside some. If counting steps helps you do those things and you don’t get obsessive like I do, go ahead and count. But remember, you don’t HAVE to. Your body, by and large, knows what it needs. If you listen to it, it will tell you when it’s time to get up from your desk and walk around. You’ve got a built-in step counter right there in your body. It’s free and won’t coerce you into the latest upgrade.
Pontzer, Herman. “Evolved to Exercise.”Scientific American January 2019: 23-29. Print.
Williams, PT. “Greater weight loss from running than walking during a 6.2-yr prospective follow-up.” US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health April 2013. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23190592.
I am officially hibernating. Except I’m pretty sure animals who hibernate don’t eat cookies and drink chardonnay. But in every other sense of the word…
very little activity? check
lots of naps and sleeping? check
snuggled up in the den? check
On Christmas day, I sat around with my parents, drank wine, talked, and watched old movies. Then we went to visit my in-laws, where we sat around, drank wine, and watched sports. Now I’m back at home, and I am sitting around, waiting for Jason to get home with the wine and whiling away the hours on my computer while the kids rot their brains with all-day video games. The TV is on, but I’m not watching it. I just can’t figure out how to turn it off with the remote not working.
I waffle between feeling like this is a nice little break and feeling guilty for acting like a slug. I also feel guilty for letting my kids rot their brains and eat whatever the hell they want. ‘Cuz that’s what parenthood is all about — worrying and feeling guilty.
I’m not sure this really qualifies as self-care. I have acid reflux from all the crappy crap I’ve been ingesting, and I’m pretty sure today’s irritability has something to do with very little physical activity. BUT…
Maybe the part of my brain that makes “good” decisions — the part that says “go for a run” and “clean up the laundry” and “eat some vegetables” — needs a break every so often. Maybe my superego is tired and needs to let my id run the show for just a little while. Id says things like “have another piece of pie” and “you are rockin’ it in the Words with Friends solo games!”
It’s possible I’m rationalizing my behavior; it’s possible I’m right. It’s also possible, though, that I’ve both enjoyed spending this extra time with my kids, and they are driving me a little nuts. I haven’t been alone in over a week. Maybe my superego is busy keeping me from shouting at people. Maybe the wine and the cookies and the sluggishness is how I cope with that. Or maybe it’s just the holidays.
I tend to beat myself up, periodically, for not being a better person.
I’ve been saying I’m going to write a book for…well, most of my life, and it has yet to happen, which is embarrassing. For a long time, it was just that I lacked the confidence in my abilities, and then I had little kids, which took up too much space in my brain for anything longer than 500 words. Oh, I have started a book plenty of times. I’m in the running for an award: “Most half-books on a hard drive ever.” I always get cold feet and quit, though.
Unfortunately for me (and for you) the “why” is a complex mess. I’m writing, creating story like crazy, then… I have a few days where the creativity is flagging. I feel like I should be doing something more productive or lucrative. Read “lucrative” as something that makes more definitive money, since that is the measure of success in a capitalist society such as ours. But money is a personal thing, too. Jason stresses about money, and I would like to relieve some of that mental burden he carries because I love him and we are partners.
Then, I write a book, self-publish it, no one buys it, and I lose money on the deal. Jason loses his job, we’re in danger of living in a cardboard box on the street and end up in a flophouse in Duluth. Jason hates me because it’s all my selfish fault for wanting to do what I love instead of making a living to support our family. You see how quickly I can get from publishing a book to homelessness?
So then I stop writing the book
and go back to my piddly freelance jobs that don’t make a ton of cash either but at least make it more quickly. And then I don’t want to sit in front of my computer writing a book (or anything else for that matter) in the evening because I’m tired, both body and brain, and I want to hang with my family or read or go to bed early.
All of these thoughts stemmed from my getting pissed off at advertising this morning
for taking up too much of my time and attention — popup ads in front of articles I’m trying to read, junk email, junk snail mail. I swear I recycled a whole tree after leaving the mailbox this morning.
The junk mail led me to all the other things that are distractions from writing a book. There are a lot of them. Some of them are forced on me like door-to-door solicitors and pop-up ads, and some are tempters like my phone games. Some are guilt inducers like volunteering at school.
tried to simplify my life. I go on an “unsubscribe” rampage, but I always get sucked back in. Now though, I think I’m ready. It still feels scary, but I can do it. I’m going to stop writing for other people, stop accepting the distractions, and focus on writing my stuff — my blog, my book — and have the confidence that, even if the book is a flop, we’ll figure something else out before we end up in an actual flophouse.
It’s time for me to belong to myself,
to belong everywhere and nowhere. (Thanks, Carrie Harper, Brené Brown and Maya Angelou for that idea.) Deepak, a friend of mine who took the leap to quit his existing, comfortable career to start a business about which he was passionate told me he knew, in order to be successful, he couldn’t have a “way back.” He cut the cord completely with his old company so he would HAVE to make the new business work. It was scary, but it’s working. That’s been rattling around in my head since he said it to me, so it must resonate with something inside me. Yep, I’m going for it.
You know how sometimes you feel like you are the Best Parent in the World? Yeah, today isn’t one of those days for me.
My oldest decided to try out for the select basketball team in our area. He’s always loved basketball, and he’s pretty good at it. But in the midst of soccer season, he neglected to even pick up a basketball prior to the tryout. I still thought he’d do okay, though.
The day of the tryout, he came to me practically in tears. He said he didn’t want to go; he wasn’t interested in playing basketball anymore. This turned into a long discussion, and we eventually ferreted out that he was worried he wouldn’t be able to perform. On the one hand, it’s good he has Jason and me as parents — Jason understands the psychology of sports, and I (sort of) understand the complexity of Jack’s anxiety. On the other hand, sometimes I feel like I upset him more by discussing all those emotions at one time, and Jason is sometimes at a real loss as to why Jack feels so intensely.
We talked him into going the tryout. And he didn’t do great. The kid I saw on the court was not the one I watched all last season in recreational league. This new kid was reserved, nervous and not giving his best effort. Normally, Jack is pretty competitive. He dives for loose balls and blocks bigger opponents without a second thought.
He didn’t make the team. Worse yet, most of his friends did. Despite his feeling ambivalent about playing for the season, he was crushed. He didn’t make excuses; he realized this was less about his talent and more about attitude and work ethic. My heart hurt for him.
I did my best to comfort him and reminded him to learn from this experience. There will be more tryouts to come. I told him failure is a part of life, and it’s how we grow. In my head, though….
I was berating myself for not signing him up for that basketball clinic earlier in the year. I was angry at myself for not making him eat before the tryout, even though he insisted he didn’t want to. I felt like I failed right along with him. He’s 10, right? I’m supposed to know these things.
When my cooler parenting head prevails, I know this experience was good for him — that it will only make him stronger and smarter in the future. It’s just that as his mom, I have the intense urge to shield him from pain. I finally understand why it made my mom so nervous whenever my sister or I tried out for anything.
We will move on. Odds are, when Jack gets home from school today, he will already be mostly over it. My oldest kiddo is sensitive and emotionally complex like me. He’s also tough, and I like to think he gets that at least partially from me as well.
Maybe it’s good I didn’t make him practice before or make him eat or whatever else I think I could have done to change the outcome. Maybe this lesson, this version of falling down, will teach him how to get back up again. Hey, maybe I learned something too.
Several months ago, my friend Jasmine said, “Hey, let’s put together a Ragnar team!” I’d had a couple of glasses of wine, so I said, “Yeah, that’s a great idea! What’s Ragnar again?”
Ragnar is a 24-hour trail relay race. Eight team members take turns running three different loops at three, five and seven-and-a-half miles. I’d maybe run five miles once when I committed to this, so I was way out of my comfort zone. And as our team came together — a formidable group of marathon runners and Crossfit champions, I began to worry about holding up my end of the bargain. We each had to submit our “10K road pace,” and since I’d never run a 10K, I guessed. I was quite obviously the weakest link, which made me uncomfortable.
I’ve been pretty good at almost everything I’ve ever done. Yes, I’m a coordinated, talented person, but what I realized as a part of this all-star team was that I gravitate towards things at which I can excel reasonably easily — activities where I can be in the upper echelon of ability. Being more introspective than I was in my younger years, I decided that being the weakest link was good for me in a “get comfortable being uncomfortable” kind of way. I did repeatedly make sure no one was intent on winning this thing. My goal was to complete my loops without hurting myself, especially considering two of my loops would be run in the dark.
We drove out on a Friday towards our destination, ironically named “Comfort, Texas.” It was pouring down rain, and we were all worried about spending 24 miserable hours wet and cold, sloshing through the mud. I was nervous but excited. It was an adventure.
As we got settled in our camp with a ridiculous cache of gear and supplies for one short day, I chatted and got to know some of the team members I hadn’t met yet. I began to feel reassured, as everyone seemed concerned about getting through the course sans injury, and no one was obsessing over their times.
My first loop was five miles. I was so jazzed, I made my typical, rookie mistake of starting off too fast. Then, half a mile in, that adrenaline abruptly ran out, and I was all, “Oh shit, I can’t do this!” But then I slowed down and hit my stride about a mile or so in, and it wasn’t so bad. The Hill Country views were gorgeous.
Back at camp, the rain was holding off and we were all grateful. Between legs, we sat, ate, drank coffee, told stories, stretched, laughed and slept as best we could. We also poured over Jasmine’s sophisticated spreadsheet which predicted our times remarkably accurately. I napped before my second leg, which started around 9:30pm. It was just three miles of smooth trail, so even though it was dark, it felt like a cakewalk.
Flash forward to 4:30am. I’m outside the ready tent, waiting for Laura to return. I am sleep deprived and standing in duct-taped rain boots in eight inches of squelchy mud, watching the screen that will alert me when Laura is a quarter mile out. People are sitting around a bonfire making s’mores to my right. Wonder Woman is playing on a big screen. I can’t hear the dialogue, but I keep drifting from the alert monitor over to the movie, where I get transfixed by Gal Gadot for a while before I remember I’m supposed to be watching for Laura. Runners keep returning, yelling for their next teammate: “Drew! Where’s Drew! Has anyone seen Drew?” (My guess is that Drew is fast asleep in his tent.)
Laura rolls in from the 5-mile loop at 5:25am, and I take off for my last and longest run — 7.5 miles, in the dark, on little sleep, after having already run farther in the past 16 hours than I usually do in a week. I got my mind right. I intentionally started off slow, and I told myself to just make it to the one-mile marker. When I saw that one, it was time to shoot for mile 2 and so on.
I was tired. I tripped a few times and almost fell. I walked a lot because of fatigue and fear of stumbling over rocks and tree roots. The depth of the trail terrain was washed out in the glow of my headlamp. I felt cautious and also peaceful out there in the quiet night.
Mile 5, over halfway there.
Mile 6.5, one mile to go.
Mile 7, almost to the quarter-mile gate.
As I ran the final stretch around 7am, there were no people cheering at the finish, as there were earlier in the light of day, but I honestly did not care. As I approached the ready tent, suddenly it hit me. I did it. I wasn’t sure I could, but I did. And tears welled up behind my eyes. I tamped them back down, though, because it seemed embarrassing to cry over seven miles, amongst people who regularly run 26.
We finished up about 24 hours after we started. We were delirious and relieved. We broke down camp, hauling our gargantuan amount of gear up the hill to the parking lot in an ox cart, pulled not by oxen but our own, achy selves. On the way home, when it started to rain for the first time since we drove in, we stopped for food. I have never seen eight adults devour Whataburger so fast.
It was exhausting, and I questioned my sanity at times, but it was also really fun. The bonding you do with people in a situation like that speeds the friendship process. It’s hard to put on airs when you haven’t showered in 10 miles and are so tired you barely remember your own name.
I noticed something else, too. The day after we got back, a Sunday, I was in a calmer, better mood than I’d been in a while. Perhaps it was hangover endorphins or maybe a much-needed break from the daily routine, but even a day later, all the stuff that had been worrying me — politics, the kids’ education, my career path — didn’t seem like such a big deal. Someone find me a new race before this wears off.
P.S. This part is probably only interesting if you ran the race:
Thanks to our captain, Jasmine, who got our team together and organized us right down to the minute. Thanks to Tammy and Josh for bringing the bulk of our gear and getting there first to get a good camp spot. Thanks to their daughter, Lucy, for being a good sport and shoveling mud from the walkways. Thanks to Laura for suggesting we stay up and shotgun beers all night (and then thanks to her for not actually doing it.) Thanks to the bad-ass Elizabeth for being a perfect tent mate. It’s not often you meet someone who knows all the requisite tent etiquette. Thanks to Christy for driving us and doing the very last leg of our race. Thanks to Tad for doggedly doing most of the packing up and hauling back to the parking lot. We made a good team, y’all.