13 Life Lessons from a Half Marathon

I recently did something way out of my comfort zone: I ran a half marathon. I spent weeks training, running miles and miles, preparing for this huge day. The day did not unfold ideally, but I learned a lot from the experience and hope any of you working on a fitness goal (whether or not it’s running-related), a business goal, or any goal can learn from my experience too. After all, it’s all about goals, progress, and pacing yourself.

shoes

  1. Ask for Advice: I spent a couple of hours in the days before my race browsing through Pinterest, asking in my running groups on Facebook, and chatting with a coworker who has run several half marathons to ask the very important question: What do I need to take with me for race day? The answers varied but they were all really helpful and helped me to prep a race day kit that had all of my needs covered. I could have made up my own kit and flown by the seat of my pants without too much hardship, but asking people who had been there before gave me different perspectives and things to consider that I wouldn’t have thought of on my own. For example: A long sleeve shirt or sweatshirt from a thrift store that you don’t mind never seeing again. Many people tossed their sweats along the path to be collected later (many race organizers donate the unclaimed items), but I stalwartly tied my sweatshirt around my body to hang onto it. A volunteer took it for me at the halfway point and said it would be in the finisher’s tent — but when I realized I had forgotten it as I got back into my car after the race, I couldn’t have made my legs go back out there if I’d wanted to. Goodbye, sweatshirt — and thank you, people who have done this before me.
  2. Nothing New on Race Day: This was said to me several times as I asked for advice. Should I wear compression socks for the race? Should I try an electrolyte drink I had never tried before? Should I do this, or that? The answer was always the same: Nothing new on race day. With this advice in mind, I picked an outfit made up of clothes that fit comfortably and that I knew I could run in. I packed snacks I knew I could eat on the run without upsetting my stomach. I ate a typical post-run lunch when I finished (spoilers: it was Chipotle). This advice relates to many aspects of life. Going for a job interview? Don’t wear brand new makeup you might be allergic to, or new shoes that pinch you in ways you didn’t anticipate. Getting ready to pitch your boss for a promotion or raise? Stick with your usual communication style vs. an approach that’s recommended in a one-off article you read about negotiating at work. Wedding day? Don’t skip breakfast if you usually eat it, or eat something if you normally skip. When it comes to a big day you’ve prepared for… stick with your routine. The time to try a different approach comes later, when it’s not all on the line.
  3. Find a Focus: I like to focus on a positive affirmation when I am doing something new, or difficult, or anxiety-inducing. For this race, my ongoing messages to myself included “I trained to finish” and “Unafraid of toil.” More on training to finish in the #4, but “Unafraid of toil” is derived from the description of Hufflepuff house in the Harry Potter universe. No matter what you’re up against, having a go-to positive message can help you remind yourself that the stress is temporary and you’ll get through it.
  4. Done is Better Than Perfect: When I repeated to myself, “I trained to finish,” it was a reminder that I had trained to be able to run 13.1 miles. I didn’t train to do it fast, I didn’t train to win, I trained to finish. And finish I did – dead last. I was dead last from almost the beginning of the race, and I didn’t mind a bit. I got applause when I crossed the finish line and it was just for me! It was awesome to complete a run longer than anything I had done before — and though I was exhausted, sore, and cold from the rain, I was also proud of myself. No matter what project you’re working on, remember that done is better than perfect. Perfectionism will paralyze you into not even trying, because why bother if you’re not going to get it right, or be the best? I weigh over 200 pounds, I run a 15 minute mile, and I just completed a half marathon — you can do that thing that’s scaring you.
  5. Get Your Head in the Game: I was really distracted during my half marathon, because I had just dropped my husband off at the airport the day before and he wouldn’t be there to see me finish like we had initially planned. It was a sudden change of plans due to illness in the family, and I felt not only worried but guilty for being out doing this half marathon for myself when I felt I should have been at home babysitting the phone for bad news and crying. I did end up crying, when I passed the ten mile mark, making this my official longest run even if I hadn’t finished. But my husband adamantly wanted me to complete the race and would have been upset on my behalf if I had decided to quit before I started. “You trained for this, you deserve to run it,” he told me. He believed in me enough for the both of us and got me through the moments when I was out of my head. Stay in your head!
  6. Make a (Flexible) Plan: When I set out to do a half marathon, my planning went something like this: I’m going to do a 10K. I found a 10K race in early October. Better look up a 10K training schedule since I’ve never run that much before. Should I do a half? I found a half at the end of October. Can I train for a half with this 10K in the middle? OH MY GOSH I CAN! And thus began my plan. Things did not go according to plan, as I totally nailed the first week of training, started skipping cross training in week two, and had given up both cross training and yoga days by the third week. So I ran a few times a week for several weeks leading up to my 10K, and then the subsequent three weeks leading up to the half marathon I was in rare form. I ran four or five days a week, including a long run on the weekends (eight miles two weeks before the race, and ten miles the week before). I made it happen even when training didn’t go perfectly — but having the built-in reality check of that 10K assured that I would have to show up and put in the effort on my way to the big goal. You can break down any goal into manageable baby steps and just go one day at a time until you achieve it. (A 90-day goal setting planner like BestSelfCo can help you break down big goals into weekly and daily targets – use this referral link to get $10 off any purchase until 12/15/17).
  7. Hold Yourself Accountable: An accountability plan is crucial to achieving your goal, whether it’s a race or a debt payoff or getting your degree. I actually kept my half marathon goal pretty quiet, telling only a few close friends rather than making a big announcement on my social media pages. I did announce my 10K plan so that my sudden uptick in weekly runs didn’t rouse any suspicions, but I kept the half quiet because publicly sharing your goals can actually hurt your chances of achieving them. So when you’re working on a big goal, loop a few close friends in to help motivate and keep you accountable to your plan (pick the friends that will actually hold you to your word, not help you make excuses), but try keeping the big announcement to yourself until it’s done. You can also hold yourself financially accountable (like I did when I spent money on my race registration or like someone who commits to applying to college might pay their application fee, or like somebody might sign up to attend a conference or book a vacation they keep putting off).
  8. Make Things Fun: Finding a way to put a little pep in your step is always better than the alternative! When running, I like to listen to music or run with a friend so we can chat. Since I had no friends ready and willing to run a chilly, rainy half marathon with me at dark o’clock in the morning, I loaded up a playlist with over three hours of music and set on my merry way. My phone died after mile 11. See #6 to make a flexible plan, and pack a backup battery and charger if you’re going to be running multiple apps on your phone. I used Charity Miles and Map My Run as well as Spotify. For non-running goals and plans, you could build in rewards (a new lipstick for each week you declutter one room of the house, a three day weekend vacation when you pay off a credit card, etc.) to keep things interesting and engaging. Because slogging along with nothing fun to do is, well, no fun.
  9. Hydrate: Just, all the time. Go get some water. Yes, right now.
  10. Find Your Power Groove: You might have a song that gets you super pumped up, a snack that gives you energy (try Delish Fish!), or a time of day when you work at your most efficient and effective. Whether you’re running a race, writing a book, or painting a bedroom, take note of when and how you do your best work. While you can’t guarantee conditions on race day, you can make the most of the things you can control and keep yourself in a positive forward-moving state of mind and body.
  11. Know When to Quit: While I didn’t end up quitting the race, at the back of the pack you tend to acquire a helpful cop or two driving by slowly to ask if you’re okay. “Yep, I’m good,” you will say — but for a moment you might just think about hopping in the car and considering 11 miles as good enough. There is a time and a place to quit running — if you are injured, if you are over-exhausted (especially in the heat), if you are violently ill. And there is a time and a place to quit on other projects too — if your goals change and the project no longer makes sense, if you leave one job to start another, if you decide that you don’t even like zucchini anyway so who cares if you stop weeding the garden this summer (true story). Know when it’s okay to quit and do it with confidence — but make sure you do it for a reason you won’t second guess forever.
  12. Get Professional Help: Between my 10K and my half marathon, I hired a running coach via Thumbtack, which is a great resource to find local professionals for basically anything. He ran and walked with me for a mile or two, observing my gait and pace, answering my questions, and giving me practical tips to improve my training for the half marathon. His most important advice that I wouldn’t have figured out on my own: run more frequently. Rather than running three times a week, he advised me to run upwards of five or six times a week in order to effectively improve my pace. And it worked — when I started to run more often during the week, my pace improved and my long runs didn’t seem as arduous. When it comes to planning for a goal, you can probably figure a lot of it out by yourself. Or you could spend a little money and get a professional to help you get back the hours you’d spend researching and planning on your own. See a therapist, hire a business coach, even hire a freelancer to help you handle day to day tasks for an online business or website. There’s always someone who can help make it easier.
  13. You’re Competing With Yourself: My first lap of the half, I was behind these two older women who were literally power walking the whole time. And I was behind them until about mile 5. Five miles of constant running from the start line and I start telling myself, “Really, you can’t outrun the power walkers?” But then when I did catch up to them, it was time for my first snack break and a quick recovery walk. I chatted with them and they said they were so proud of me and I was doing a great job, and they loved my hair and my headband, and I was gonna do great. I went from envy to appreciation in no time. They wished me luck as I finally pulled ahead and onward before they finished their lap (they did the two person relay but did it together instead of one runner at a time). The second lap, I was on the heels of a young woman in a bright yellow jacket. Yellow Girl, I called her. She had been just ahead of me the whole race. At one point I caught up to her and pulled ahead. “Hi!” I said to her, excited for a little human contact. “Hi,” she said back, with less enthusiasm than I mustered. She pulled ahead and I didn’t catch her again. She finished a couple minutes ahead of me and I completed my half marathon in 3 hours and 23 minutes, dead last. And 100% victorious. Because I wasn’t racing Yellow Girl or the power walking ladies. I was proving I could run 13.1 miles. Success. Now I have a time to beat, because I will definitely be doing another half marathon, and I will be even more prepared.
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On Trusting the Universe and Letting Go

About a month ago, a friend of mine on Facebook shared a link to a great deal on an arguably frivolous item that she really wanted. To be honest, this particular thing is on my want-it list too. I understand the desire for something just-because. I sneakily ordered it and shipped it to her.

When I got a delivery confirmation I subtly suggested she check her mail, and there was nothing there. I confirmed her address only to realize that I’d shipped the damn thing to her old address and she had moved.

I emailed the vendor and admitted my mistake, hoping they’d let me re-order it at the sale price. No dice. I resolved to order it again for her the next time they put it on sale and just let the whole thing go. I hoped that the new tenant of her apartment would actually like it and figured maybe that person needed a boost from a new piece of pretty.

Imagine my surprise when I checked my email this week, weeks later, saying that the vendor had received my order back to their warehouse. Just confirm the address and we’ll send it right back out, or we’ll issue you a refund.

I updated the address and away it went to its rightful destination after all.

When I had given up on the thing I thought was over, it ended up coming back and working out.

This is not the first time this has happened recently, either.

Also about a month ago (I was apparently feeling exceptionally charitable in August!) I did a good deed to the tune of $75 and within hours had a new resume client asking for my $75 special for a resume and cover letter. It was almost like the universe said “Hey, good job, here’s something nice for you too.”

I’d chalk that up to cosmic coincidence except that it happened again this month too. Another $75 good deed, another $75 resume gig.

What you put into the universe comes back to you. Giving is receiving, if we let it happen. 

Some more examples from my own life:

I had $200 in resume orders just this week. Last week, I sent my sister $200 to rent a car so she could attend our dad’s birthday party.

When my sister lived with me, she had loaned some money to a friend who later ghosted her and never paid her back. It was about $300. I advised her to just consider it a gift and tell the friend that it wasn’t worth straining or losing their friendship over the $300 loan. She let it go. Over the next weekend serving tables at her restaurant job, my sister brought home roughly $300 in tips – well over her average.

The best part of this is that I am always completely surprised when it happens. I’ve never gone into a good deed thinking “I wonder how this will come back around to benefit me!” But a while after any of this comes to fruition, I realize what has happened. It’s eerie and awesome.

Make Giving a Regular Part of Your Life

While an evangelical Christian Dave Ramsey baby-stepper would be tithing 10% of their income to the church, I prefer to designate roughly 10% of my income to just doing nice things for people.

Whether it’s donating to individuals fundraising on GoFundMe or social media, sending a friend some quick cash just to get themselves a treat, or putting in an order for somebody who ran out of cat litter two days to payday, knowing that I have that type of spending worked into my plan is a huge freedom and my favorite part of my monthly budget.

Even if you can’t give ten percent, I encourage everyone to plan a small kindness into their regular routine. It doesn’t have to cost a cent to put a smile on someone’s face. And that smile will come right back around!

 

 

6 Tips to Life Hack Personal Finances for Small Budgets

Hi readers! This guest post is brought to you by Jacob from Dollar Diligence. He’s put together a list of simple tips to improve your financial life. These tips apply to everyone, including people on a shoestring budget. So don’t expect tips about skipping your morning latte. These are real, actionable tips that can help you get ahead.

By Jacob, the voice over at @DollarDiligence.

Let’s face it, a lot of financial advice about saving is geared toward folks who actually have some money to save. Of course there are a ton of obvious financial life hacks such as opening new bank accounts just for saving that can work for most people. But what do you do when you just can’t find the extra money to put in there?

Here are 6 personal finance tips for people that have small budgets but are still trying to get ahead.

Know where your money goes. This is the biggest one. Before you can see where you can pinch pennies, you have to take a long hard look at your finances. If you have to sneak in a glass of wine first, go for it, but you really need to take an honest look.

If you’re not sure where to get started, there are budget tracking apps such as Personal Capital, or Good Budget, or Mint that automatically organize your purchases based on where the money was spent. If you want to go old school, save all your receipts for a month to see where you’re spending the most.

Use CASH not your debit card. Once you know where your money goes, you can start budgeting based on that. Say for instance your average money spent on groceries is about $50 a week. Rather than use your debit card when you go to the grocery store, pull out cash and spend that instead.

When you’re using cash, you actually spend less. For some reason, it feels so much more real when you hold those bills in your hand. Not only that, but you won’t slip in those extra snacks when all you have is the cash to spend.

Negotiate for better deals. Before you cancel all of those extra services, give the service providers a call and see if there are some better deals out there. I know every time I call my cable provider, I manage to get three free months of HBO!

Usually there is some kind of deal they can offer to basically keep you using their services. If the service is important to you, negotiating is a good option to get lower rates, even temporarily. While you’re on the phone with the service provider, you can inquire about the details of your plan. Sometimes you can find yourself paying for a service you don’t even need!

Reduce the cost of current debt. Regardless of if you’ve been paying your loans diligently or you’ve been deferring them because of monetary issues, you can look at refinancing credit cards and student loans. I believe in paying down debt as quick as possible.

Refinancing higher interest debt to lower interest rates can expedite your payoff timeline. Credit cards can be consolidated, but also if you have been regularly paying your credit cards, you can look at lowering the interest rates or the monthly payments. When it comes to student loans, all types can be consolidated and refinanced together.

When you refinance, you can adjust your term length, and if possible, pay down your student loans faster. But more importantly, a lower interest rate can equal significant savings for the average graduate who is leaving campus with about $28k in debt.

Set a modest and attainable savings goal. Finally it’s time for saving! At this point, you should have a little extra cash flow you freed up. This should start going into savings. When it comes to saving, you can do it two ways.

You can save as much as possible, keeping your budget tight but being able to save a lot more per month, or you can just save a little and just have extra money in your bank account.

Either method works, but if you’re a person that finds it difficult to hang on to money, you’re better off saving as much as you can from the front end. There are even savings goal calculators to help you figure it out!

Treat yourself sometimes! Keeping good finances is like eating healthy. You can eat healthy every day of the week, but sometimes you just need to have a cupcake. When you’re taking care of your finances, it’s absolutely okay to treat yourself sometimes!

Do something that makes the money spent definitely worthwhile, but keep it as an exclusive treat! A cupcake a day is not an acceptable diet plan, just like sneaking in extra purchases regularly isn’t good for your finances.

All of these tips can really help those with modest incomes take control and finally get some money socked away for a rainy day. You may have been putting personal finance off because it’s too depressing to contemplate how broke you are, but things like making a budget and putting away money can also give you a sense of control over your finances and your life.

About Jacob

Aside from his full-time job as a high school teacher, you can find Jacob blogging about personal finance, reading books about history, and figuring out which kind of puppy to get next. Follow him on Twitter to keep up with him!

How to Help in the Wake of Racial Violence

Hi, friends! It’s been a hell of a month. Between rumblings from North Korea, Twitter being full of fast-and-furious news updates, the aftermath of Charlottesville, and Steve Bannon getting Apprentice’d, there’s a lot to absorb. And to top it all off, hurricane Harvey is wreaking havoc on an enormous scale. Cities and communities in our country are being devastated by natural disasters and racial violence.

In response to Harvey, absolutely donate what you can. Focus on monetary donations instead of supplies at first, because the postal service doesn’t have boats and the highways aren’t exactly great right now. Check on your friends on the coast, and offer asylum if you are local-ish and on higher ground.

In the wake of Charlottesville, things might be a little more hazy when you’re overwhelmed by wanting to help but not sure where to start. If you’re white and hundreds of miles away like me, you may be asking yourself if there’s anything practical you can do. Because clicking the share button a couple dozen times a day never feels like enough, right?

Now, there’s all the usual stuff. Contact your representatives, at all levels of government, tell them what you think of the job they’re (not) doing. If there’s a march or a demonstration you can get to and you’re able to make it, get off your duff and show up. Share the petitions & donation pages & articles, focus on that signal boost, because it really does make a difference.

Safety pin on the collar? Pass.

Get your phone out and record what’s going on when the local PD are giving your Hispanic neighbor a hard time? Absolutely.

Wear your best interview attire to the counter-protest and park your lily-white self between that group of LGBTQ/black folks/Jewish folks/Muslims/etc? Go for it. Let the white supremacists try to sell *that* photo.

Can’t march, for whatever reason? No problem. Offer to babysit for people who want to go but can’t because they have kids. Offer to make or buy food/drinks for support personnel, especially medics.

Take a street-medic/first-responder course and be ready if you’re needed. Take a look at what you do for a living, and what you do in your off hours, and see how that can be used to lift up people with fewer advantages than you.

But what else? What about when you don’t have a dime to spare, and you’re already doing all that stuff? Or if you do have cash to burn, you’re doing all that stuff and donating, and still have that nagging sense that you could be doing more. (Hint: we can always be doing more.)

Let’s talk about redirecting money we already spend to businesses owned by the people you want to support. 

According to public data available on www.bls.gov (that’s the US Dept of Labor, Statistics division), black people as a demographic have the highest unemployment rate in the country at 7.4%, followed by Hispanic/Latino folx at 5.1%, and Asian populations at 4%. White people, by comparison, slot in at 3.8% unemployment overall. (Yes, those statistics break down further when you get into gender and education, but that’s another blog!) Are you following me here, readers? The unemployment rate among black people is consistently, over decades of recorded data, twice that experienced by white people.

Why do jobs matter when we’re talking about buying? Per www.thepresidentscouncil.com, black-owned businesses are the second largest employer of African-Americans after the government. Other minorities and marginalized groups follow similar trends. By redirecting our spending (the money we spend anyway on the things we already buy) to businesses owned by the people we’re trying to support, we help to create more stable employment opportunities, reducing joblessness and raising financial security in marginalized communities. The President’s Council site offers a mailing list wherein you can receive news about events & programs, and includes a monthly show-case listing of black-owned businesses. (Yes, they ask for your digits. Entering all zeroes works. Sign up! Go, do it now! No, seriously, faster than that!)

Check out the twitter campaign for #buyblack and the #buyblackchallenge. 

Especially right now, when there’s lots of seasonal shopping going on for school supplies, new clothes, fall & winter gear. When take-out might be happening more often because of after-school activities. When you might be getting hair & nails done for homecoming some other school-related function. Use this time to think about where you spend your money, and how you can redirect it to communities that fight oppression on a scale us white folks will never understand.

“But I do most of my shopping online”, you say? NO problem. Check out https://webuyblack.com/

According to their About page, “WeBuyBlack.com is an online marketplace for Black owned businesses to showcase and sell their products to a global community.” And it is a pretty stinkin’ impressive marketplace, folks. They have an incredible range of products, clothes, home décor, jewelry, books, toys, bath products, school supplies, cleaning products, even shelf-stable foodstuffs, and more.

The point of all of this? Get on Google and find opportunities to use your wallet where it will do the most good. Support minority-owned businesses anywhere and every time you can. And research those businesses, make sure they’re actually owned by the people you’re wanting to support, rather than white people hiring based on race to make it “look” right. (Gross, yeah? Gross.) Ordering lunch for that business meeting? See if there’s a local Mexican place with good reviews. Buying school clothes? Find out who owns the local mom&pop clothier’s. Or the office supply place, the car repair franchise where you get your oil changed, the bookstore, the grocery, the salon where you get your nails done.

And don’t get hung up on trying to shift all your spending to minority-owned businesses all at once. Pick one thing this month. Say, school supplies. Take that money you’d spend at Walmart and try to find a better place to put it. Then next month, add another thing, then another, you get the idea. 

Like it or not, we live in a capitalist society, and money talks. The Almighty Dollar can accomplish a lot, when it’s spent with intent. What’s your intent? Put some thought into where your money goes, and see if you can send it to places where it will help people. Click Share on all those articles and fundraisers and awareness links… and then do the research and vote with your wallet.

Twenty Five Pieces of Life Advice

Today is my sister’s 25th birthday. While I am beyond thrilled that she can now rent a car to come see me whenever she wants (assuming I help throw a few dollars at her for said rental), I’m also stunned that my little sister who was JUST yea-high and escaping her crib at night is a 25 year old who just got a new job and is a high school teacher who lives in a major metropolitan area. Like, what? She takes the subway places like it’s totally not terrifying. (I may have some anxiety around public transportation I should work on).

happy birthday

For this momentous occasion, I have put together a list of 25 pieces of advice for her and for all people, especially people in their mid twenties who don’t have their shit together. (The secret of adulthood is that you never really will have all the shit simultaneously together).

I had every intention of grouping like advice together into categories, but I make no promises or guarantees. Happy reading, and HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

  1. Eat More Whole Food Than You Drink Alcohol: Mimosas are not a fruit, so make sure you’re getting quality servings of fruits, veggies, whole grains, and other good stuff. Once I turned 21 it was very important to me to keep a few bottles of liquor in the house because I could. I bought this legally! With my IDENTIFICATION! Yes, whipped cream flavored vodka was the pinnacle of adulthood, or so I thought at the time.
  2. Hydrate: Drink some damn water. The going advice is “half your body weight in ounces” meaning a 200 lb person should drink 100 oz of water a day. Not a hard and fast rule, but a general guideline that serves me well.
  3. Don’t Sleep With People You’re Not Super Excited About: My wish for you is that every sexual encounter in your life is an enthusiastically positive one. Don’t sleep with somebody that’s into you if you’re not also into them back. But also, you can make your own decisions. This is just my two cents. Also, ask for the stuff you like – anybody who is offended by you knowing your own body probably doesn’t fall under the first part of this advice. Use protection. I know you know. But, you know.
  4. Have a Best Friend or Two: Having a handful or more of good friends is wonderful, but have one or two people you know you can count on no matter what. These are the shit-hits-the-fan friends who have your back. You might not always get along 100% of the time, but when you need them, they’re there.
  5. Your Best Friend May Change Over Time: People are in your life for a season. Sometimes it’s the rest of your life, sometimes it’s not. While losing a best friend in a falling out can leave a void in your life, stay grateful for the time you spent together and the positive things you learned, and stay hopeful for another excellent person to come be on your team. (PS. Your big sister is always on your team! Nowadays.)
  6. Be A Good Friend: You have to be on other people’s teams too. Own your shit when you’re in the wrong. Make sure there’s give and take from both parties, because just taking or just giving will not end well.
  7. Take Up Space: Whether it’s on public transportation with a stage-five leg-spreader or taking up emotional space in a relationship, you deserve to take up space. When I feel stressed or like someone might be upset with me, I tend to shrink myself down and become invisible. I don’t want to speak, I don’t want to be seen. I just want to be tiny and out of sight. This is no way to live your life. Ask for what you need and don’t feel bad about expecting people to treat you with respect.
  8. Stick To Your Guns: When you’re standing up for what you believe in, be true to your beliefs and stand your ground. Unless it’s in the comments section on a HuffPo article. I give you permission to just walk away from that trash fire.
  9. Check Your Privilege: This one sucks, because it’s hard to look inward and admit that we have biases and *gasp* privilege in life. Listen to the people who don’t have that privilege and trust them when they tell their story. Change the words you use, if your words are harmful or problematic. Call it out when you see other people use them too. Use your privilege to boost the signal.
  10. Go Somewhere Awesome: While world travel may not be in your immediate future, make it a goal to travel somewhere awesome once in a while. This could be a one-tank weekend trip to somewhere in your area, or it could be a trip to Tibet. I don’t know, man, you just gotta go see something new sometimes.
  11. Dump Toxic People: If someone in your life is sucking the joy right from your usually-joyful bones, notice that. If you always come away from hanging out with someone feeling drained and full of negative self-talk, consider spending less time with that person (or none at all). Peace out!
  12. See a Therapist: Seriously, everyone can benefit from therapy just to check in and make sure you’re handling life’s challenges in a healthy way. There are online therapists now that tout affordable rates, or you can check in with your local college to see if there’s a counseling program that has a sliding scale or free therapy from counselors in training.
  13. Set SMART Goals: Oh god, she’s talking about goals and motivation! Yeah, you need to set goals if you want to go anywhere. Even if that goal is “lose five pounds this summer” or “visit Iceland next year.” Make sure your goal is SMART – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Based. Saying “I want to lose weight” or “I want to travel” isn’t specific, measurable, or time-based, so you probably won’t achieve your wishy-washy goal very easily without a plan.
  14. Try Outside the Box Stuff: Practice meditation to see if it works for you. Practice positive affirmations, visualizations, gratitude, astral projection, interpretive dance – whatever sounds interesting that might help you focus on the important stuff. Try it out and see if anything puts a little cheese on your mental macaroni. (Weird metaphor, let’s just go with it).
  15. Invest in Yourself: At some point in your life, try paying someone to help you get your shit together. Like a life coach or a personal trainer, depending on what exactly you’re working on. (Or a RESUME WRITER! Did you know I do that? Email me! *finger guns*). Alternatively you can get some personal development books from the library. My favorite is You Are A Badass by Jen Sincero. Everyone should read that. It’s even better on Audible. You’re welcome.
  16. Do Something Creative: Whatever creativity means for you, do a little bit of that. You like to paint, or make found-word poetry by crossing out words in magazine advertisements, or do complex math problems? Rock on. Work your brain, especially in ways you don’t do in your main gig. For instance, I’m now working as a full-time writer. Writing for fun isn’t always my jam, since I’ve already been staring at a screen for 8+ hours a day. So I go running and occasionally paint! (Is running creative? Yes, if you’re brainstorming).
  17. Be Generous: Whether you donate hours or dollars, contribute to something that helps someone else. Bonus points if you also get to pet dogs while you do this.
  18. PET DOGS: Unless you are allergic or the dog’s owner is like “Please don’t” then find ways to pet dogs and other animals once in a while. It lowers stress. Dogs are so good for you. +1 Good Boy.
  19. Give Compliments: If you see somebody rocking great hair, jewelry, etc., it’s ok to say something! Note: This is generally cool for women to do, but mostly less cool for men to do. It’s not you, it’s the patriarchy. When we can stop worrying about being assaulted for not smiling or thanking you, then we can talk about the equality of giving a compliment. 
  20. Get Moving: Exercise is important, and I hope that you find a way to move your body that you can really enjoy and get into. Maybe it’s kickboxing, or running, or yoga. Whatever it is, I hope you feel strong and healthy every time you do it!
  21. Wear What You Want: You want to wear a bikini or crop top or skinny pants when the fashion magazines say you definitely should not be doing so? Wear the thing! Walk tall and proud. You look great.
  22. Trust Your Gut: Your intuition is a powerful thing. If everything seems like it’s logically fine, but you still have the heebie-jeebies about it, trust your gut. It’s almost always right. Or you need a Gas-X. But you’re probably right about the thing.
  23. Don’t Forgive & Forget if You Don’t Want to: Forgiveness is great if you want to grant it, but you actually don’t have to do anything. Some things are actually unforgivable, and I don’t just mean in Harry Potter. Don’t let people guilt you into maintaining a relationship with someone who you aren’t ready to forgive. (And you might never be ready, and that’s okay).
  24. Breathe: When everything feels like it’s going wrong, take a deep breath into your belly, then your chest, then empty your belly, then empty your chest. Repeat as needed. You got this.
  25. Write Love Letters: This doesn’t have to be romantic. It can be a thank-you note, a letter to a family member or friend to let them know you’re thinking of them, or a text to your boyfriend/girlfriend/personfriend to remind them how much they mean to you. It can even be a recommendation of a colleague on LinkedIn – anything that lets somebody know that you value them.

Bonus number 26. This Is Just Beginning: If you feel like your ovaries are crusting over and you’re going to die alone, please try not to roll your eyes when I tell you that there is still time to do things. You are only 25. Even though it has taken 100% of your life to get to 25, you will go so far and do so many things in your life. Twenty-five is nothing. The world awaits you. And you are a blessing, a miracle, and a treasure in my life. You are my number one hero because no matter what life does to knock you down, you get back up with a smile on your face and unconditional love in your heart. Everyone who knows you is better because of you. I hope you know this.

Happy birthday, my darling sister, my best friend, my former-mortal-enemy-turned-buddy. I am sorry about that time I didn’t get sour cream on your Chalupa.

A Choose-Your-Adventure 30 Day Self-Care Challenge

When I usually think of self-care, I think of weekend getaways (which I adore), mani-pedis (of which I have only had one in my entire life), and yoga classes (which are great, but spendy). But I also think of my evening baths “when I make the time” and my morning cup of coffee. Self-care doesn’t have to be big, and it doesn’t even have to cost much money.

I can more easily identify my ideal forms of self-care when I take the time to understand the choices I make that sabotage my efforts and goals. Like when I stay up much too late when I have to get up early, which in turn makes me skip exercise and reach for convenience foods or go out for lunch since I didn’t have time to pack – thus impacting my budget and my meal plan.

The opposite of this subconscious sabotage is having an evening routine to wind down (an epsom salt bath) with an early bedtime (by 9pm), thereby ensuring that I’m set up to do the things I do in the morning to care for myself.

Sometimes Self-Care Surprises You

I inadvertently upped my self-care game when an item I had been eyeing on Amazon was on sale for Prime Day a couple weeks ago. I bought a hammock for my front porch. The day it arrived, I set it up and spent over an hour in it with my laptop, working on a writing project. I used it every day for a week. Then I didn’t use it for a couple days and really missed it.

Relaxing in my hammock turned out to be what I needed to help me do lots of things, like:

  1. Reduce Distraction: When I am in the hammock, I have to go outside. So I’m not distracted by the TV or the cats getting into things or my phone ringing (when I choose to leave it inside). I do bring my laptop with me, which can be distracting, but not always, because it helps me…
  2. Write: I wrote every day for a week straight, partly in thanks to wanting to get outside into the hammock in the evenings. I always appreciate when my husband wants to spend time in the same room together, working on two different things, but the truth is that even just having him there can distract me, so it’s not always ideal if I’m on a deadline. The hammock allows me to get my work done (while relaxing and enjoying some alone time) so we can spend un-distracted quality time together at other times.
  3. Go Outside: It turns out it’s actually really nice to go outside and get some fresh air. I can even move the hammock around on the porch to get a little sunshine or stay in the shade. Our porch has some bushes in front so I have a pretty view of greenery, and I have a vague notion of getting a hanging basket or two to add some colorful flowers.

When I ordered the hammock, it wasn’t for self-care purposes. But it turned out to be just the self-care I needed. Sometimes I just go set it up for a few minutes to drink my morning coffee, which brings me to my next point.

Five-Minute Self-Care

The biggest challenge when prioritizing yourself is thinking that you don’t have the time. I understand. When self-care is driving to spend the afternoon with a friend, or take yourself to a movie, or go for an hour-long run, or take an evening bath, it seems like self-care takes up a lot of time. Time is something not everyone can spare in their busy schedule.

But what if self-care could take just five minutes?

What if self-care was five minutes you took in the afternoon to savor a square of high quality dark chocolate? It’s the ONLY thing you do for five minutes. That chocolate experience would be unlike the normal one of reaching for a candy bar and crushing it without even realizing it.

What if self-care was a five-minute guided breathing exercise that helps you center and prepare for your workday? Could you do it in your car in the parking lot before you go into the office?

What if self-care was a home-brewed cup of coffee in the morning, made before the rest of the family wakes up and starts needing you? Could you get up five minutes earlier to start this routine?

What if self-care was a yoga sun salutation in your pajamas before you make your bed? Just a quick check-in with your body to let it know you appreciate it and want to give it a good stretch to start the day.

Even people who don’t have time for self-care have five minutes. What could you do with yours?

#365DaysOfHammock

I’m committing to sit in my hammock for a minimum of five minutes per day, every day, for one year. And I’d like to invite you to join me.

Since not everyone has a hammock, the money for a hammock, or the space for a hammock, this is a choose-your-own-adventure self-care challenge. Commit to a five minute something that you can do for a whole year. It can be anything! It can be to read Harry Potter for five minutes a day, or to doodle or color for five minutes a day, or to meditate for five minutes a day.

But please, join me for five minutes. See what life looks like in a year when you give yourself five minutes.

I start my challenge tomorrow, because it turns out that July 22, in addition to being my sister’s birthday, is also National Hammock Day. You can start yours whenever you’re ready.

You can follow my hammock adventure on Instagram when you follow the #365DaysOfHammock tag. Look for me tomorrow!

What’s It Gonna Be?

Share your own five minute self-care challenge choice in the comments. I can’t wait to see what you come up with!

PS. Mailing List in the Works!

I realize many of you want to subscribe to an email list, which I keep meaning to finish setting up on MailChimp. My goal is to have that set up by the end of July to share with you so I can keep in touch outside the blog!

 

 

 

Food Doesn’t Make You Fat

Whilst I was eating a Lara Bar at my desk one summer afternoon, one colleague mentioned that Lara Bars have nine Weight Watchers points. Another agreed and said that they were a fattening food.

My first reaction was to think (and say out loud to this colleague), “I’m RIGHT here.” As in, “Are you calling me fat?” And then I started launching into an explanation of calorie-dense foods like dried fruit and nuts, why they’re good for certain reasons, and that in the context of a healthful diet and a regular exercise regimen, they’re perfectly fine. Blah blah, the moment had passed. I was slightly miffed, but not really surprised.

Food in our society is demonized and deified. We blame food for our unhappiness and we seek it when we need comfort. We use food to define if we are “good” or “bad” on a given day. Our society’s relationship with food has more than a few issues and a lot of baggage.

To someone with a budget of 30 Weight Watchers points per day, a 9-point snack that doesn’t even provide a meal’s worth of satiety would of course be considered a decadent indulgence, or even “fattening.” It makes sense to point the finger at a food product and accuse it of something.

There are no fattening foods.

As I was thinking about this exchange later in the afternoon, I realized that there really is no such thing as a fattening food. Food is energy for the body. Whether or not you need that energy is not the food’s problem. The food simply exists.

Food doesn’t put fat on your body. Behavior does.

If you eat a few Lara Bars in a day and don’t exercise at all, you are going to tend to overeat (because let’s be honest, they don’t fill you up for long). Unless your day looks like a pile of green leafies alongside your pile of Lara Bars, you’re probably over-consuming.

But if you consume calorie dense foods in moderation (the favorite word of dieters everywhere!) and in the context of a healthful and mindful lifestyle, you’re probably fine.

Being totally clear, I packed a Lara Bar in my lunch every day this week. They are a go-to afternoon snack, especially if I attend a yoga class after work. No way am I commuting home while hangry. I bought an 18-pack at Costco. I love Lara Bars. I also work out 6+ times per week and track my food in MyFitnessPal to make sure my calories stay within a healthy range for my activity level and basic metabolic needs.

The compound effect adds up.

One of my go-to easy reads for personal development and a quick reset for personal goals is Darren Hardy’s The Compound Effect It boils down to this idea: your day-to-day actions will add up over the course of your lifetime, even (or especially) small actions.

Let’s say you want to write a book. If you get up each morning and write a page, what will your book look like in a year? If you get up each morning and don’t write anything, what will your book look like in a year? Something as simple as writing one page (or one paragraph, or one sentence) will compound over the course of a year and lead to progress. Even small progress.

Likewise, let’s say you want to run a 5K race in three months. You can either get up in the morning and run (for a mile, around the block, whatever) or you can skip it and not train at all. Which version of you has the better 5K time? Which version of you will up the ante and work harder and smarter over time to reach the goal? The one that’s making any progress at all.

So on and so forth. You guys get this, I don’t need to deconstruct it any further. (But you should read the book, it’s a good read!)

“Fat” is not a bad word.

While we’re here, I want to briefly touch on the fact that fat is just an adjective. Or a noun. I describe myself as fat, and people around me have the instinct to say, “Aw, no! No, you’re not. Look how much weight you’ve lost!”

I know. I am making amazing changes for a healthier lifestyle. I run, I lift weights, I even eat vegetables. But I’m also fat, and that’s okay. It’s a descriptor. Have you seen my thighs? There is some jiggle happening. Because there’s fat on my body. Gasp! 

This is such a touchy subject, and something I hope to explore more in future posts. On the one hand, fat isn’t necessarily a bad word that’s demeaning or mean or hateful. Unless you use it that way. I can describe myself as fat with no baggage attached to it, but if someone said it to hurt me, the intention and impact would go far beyond word choice. Also, being totally honest, I still do have some baggage attached to my body. Lots of body shaming in my past – but I’m recovering splendidly. 

More to come.

The choice is yours.

Think about where you want to be in a year, and ask yourself what small behaviors you can choose that would put you on a course toward this more ideal version of yourself.

If you want to lose ten pounds, what can you do each day (or more often than not) to get there?

  • Walk around the block
  • Replace one serving of bread or pasta with a salad
  • Replace one soda per day with a glass of water

If you want to start a blog or website, what can you do each day (or more often than not) to get there?

  • Write for ten minutes each morning
  • Journal your ideas before bed
  • Write an encouraging email to a friend

If you want to meet the love of your life and get married, what can you do each day (or more often than not) to get there?

  • Say hello to someone on a dating website
  • Go out into the world and say hello to someone you meet
  • Attend regular meetups for singles in your area

Life is what you make it. Eat the fucking Lara Bar.