Tag Archives: balance

A moment to reflect…

I feel a bit guilty because I haven’t been posting much – I’ve been a crazy traveling wild woman lately. I have been all over the place – from taking photos of an event at the United Nations (disclaimer: I am not a photographer) to traveling all around the country for business meetings, to weekends filled with wedding celebrations, bachelorette parties, and barbeques… there has not been a dull moment! While I’ve been running around, I had some time to reflect a bit.

20 years

Last weekend, we were at a wedding and I chatted with a friend from elementary school – someone I’ve known for over 20 years (and lived next door to for 15 of those years). We traded stories about buying houses and moving away from our parents, being independent, and making sense of it all. When we talked about just how long we’ve known one another, I had trouble believing that was true.  

10 years

Yesterday, I hopped on a 6am train to DC and spent the day in meetings. Before jumping on my return train, I had dinner with one of my best friends from college. We spent our meal catching up with one another and talking about who got married, who’s getting married, who moved where, what we each want out of our careers, and more – a far cry from drinking flaming volcanoes at Fortune’s in Fredericksburg and finding the best parties. After we ate, we took a picture in front of Union Station and my first two thoughts were, “We’ve known each other for almost a decade and we look really grown up in this picture.”

Five years

It was just five short years ago this summer that I began working at my current company and during the interview, my soon-to-be boss asked me, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” It was the most difficult question I’ve ever had to answer – I was a 21-year old recent college grad trying to get through a job interview. I didn’t know what I was doing that afternoon, let alone five years down the road. Instead of blurting out the first response that came to my head (“Hopefully working here!”), I spoke from the heart and said, “I want to be happy. Wherever I am, whatever I am doing, I just want to feel fulfilled.”

Now

I could never have known five years ago (or even 10 or 20!) that the answer to my interviewer’s question could have been, “Happily married with a big furry dog, learning the ins-and-outs of home ownership, while spending time with family and friends, and always trying to figure out how to balance those things with a career that has ever-expanding responsibilities.”

That’s not half bad… I can only hope that luck and happiness grows exponentially in the next five years!

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Remember what is important to you…

A couple of weeks back, we got some bad news: an extended family member and family friend had both passed away (from unrelated causes). I’ve been feeling a mix of emotions – sadness in their passing, sympathy for my family and friends, and a sense of relief that they were no longer suffering. Then, on the complete opposite end of the spectrum, this past Monday I visited some dear friends in the maternity ward where they were celebrating the birth of their baby girl. There is nothing quite like juxtaposing birth and death, each celebrations of life in their own ways, to put everything else into perspective.

And there has been a lot of “everything else.” Work has been going really well, but then my boss and mentor announced that she was leaving the company to pursue a great opportunity elsewhere. While I know this is an awesome step for her, I am a bit nervous about what the impending changes might mean for, well, everyone. I’ve tried to approach this news with a renewed sense of what really matters, given the previous week’s events, plus the thoughts I’ve been giving to the TED talk about work/life balance. As I’ve said before, change is more than good, and I am trying to keep that in the front of my mind.

Aside from work, we have had a crazy schedule with lots of moving parts – and barbeques which unfortunately means that my diet has taken a major hit. It’s like everywhere I turn there are cookies, and I have been eating like crap. I’m not sure what happened to my self-control, but I am making every effort to rein it back in. The scale hasn’t moved, thankfully, but I know it will if I keep this up. More than the number on the scale, I haven’t been feeling my best and most energetic because I’m not eating well, which is almost worse than gaining weight.

With all that, I am taking this weekend as an opportunity to start over and tackle this summer with a vengeance. My renewed energy nicely coincides with a fitness challenge at work where our CEO charges us with meeting goals as a team regarding health, nutrition, and exercise. I certainly don’t want my team disappointed in me (and the competitive side of me wants to beat everyone else) so it’s win-win. I’m getting back on track with more intense workouts and have done some serious meal planning: on the docket to cook this weekend is a baked zucchini dish and healthy chicken parm.

With all the ups and downs of late, one constant has remained: a necklace I’ve found myself wearing a lot. One side has some straightforward advice: remember what is important to you; the other has a very simple tree of life. It seems to sum up all of the things about which I’ve been reflecting lately – life, birth, death, renewal, seasons, phases, priorities. It’s been a helpful reminder, especially when I know it’s hanging around my neck. I, for one, am looking forward to a great and healthy weekend.

 

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Charles Wheelan’s “10 Things Your Commencement Speaker Won’t Tell You”

I can honestly say that this is the first year in my entire life that I have not felt like I measured the year against a school calendar – May is here and it hadn’t crossed my mind once that students all over the world are wrapping up finals and getting ready to graduate. It wasn’t until I stumbled upon this Charles Wheelan article in the Wall Street Journal titled, “10 Things Your Commencement Speaker Won’t Tell You” that I realized it’s graduation season.

I am so grateful that Wheelan put this together because I felt cheated out of a good commencement speech back in 2007. I’m pretty sure our speaker, a relatively famous politician, put “college graduation speech” into Google and picked the first thing he found. None of his words resonated or stayed with me that day, but I know Wheelan’s will ring true for me for many years to come.  Two of my favorites are below, and it’s not surprising that they focus on balance. You can enjoy the full list by clicking here.

3. Don’t make the world worse. I know that I’m supposed to tell you to aspire to great things. But I’m going to lower the bar here: Just don’t use your prodigious talents to mess things up. Too many smart people are doing that already. And if you really want to cause social mayhem, it helps to have an Ivy League degree. You are smart and motivated and creative. Everyone will tell you that you can change the world. They are right, but remember that “changing the world” also can include things like skirting financial regulations and selling unhealthy foods to increasingly obese children. I am not asking you to cure cancer. I am just asking you not to spread it.

Yes, yes, yes! There is such a stress on finding a job even before you graduate from college and I don’t think that anyone ever told me, “Do what you believe in.” I heard plenty of advice like, “Do what you love!” but it’s unrealistic to expect that someone is going to pay me to travel the world for fun, go to the the beach, watch movies, and take naps every day. I know I’ll be a career-gal for a long while; the more time I spend working, the more I know that my job must line up with my morals and I am not afraid to sacrifice a higher salary for a more personally fulfilling job.

I’ll leave you with my absolute favorite – something I know I need to do a better job of keeping in mind since, as cliché as it sounds, time flies and life is short:

8. Don’t model your life after a circus animal. Performing animals do tricks because their trainers throw them peanuts or small fish for doing so. You should aspire to do better. You will be a friend, a parent, a coach, an employee—and so on. But only in your job will you be explicitly evaluated and rewarded for your performance. Don’t let your life decisions be distorted by the fact that your boss is the only one tossing you peanuts. If you leave a work task undone in order to meet a friend for dinner, then you are “shirking” your work. But it’s also true that if you cancel dinner to finish your work, then you are shirking your friendship. That’s just not how we usually think of it.

I hope you enjoy as much as I did – and on that note, good luck to the class of 2012!

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Lessons I’ve Learned from Training the Dog (so far)

It was only hours after we returned from our honeymoon that Cooper officially moved in with us – and it was quickly apparent that the honeymoon was over and we had a major new responsibility at home. Despite being a self-proclaimed “cat person,” I was feeling optimistic about training Cooper – I did, after all, read Dog Training for Dummies on the plane ride to and from St. Kitt’s. How hard could it be if there was a Dummies book about it?

Turns out, it was harder than I thought. About a week into “home schooling” Cooper, I put the book away and decided we needed help. Professional help. We signed up for a weekly training class with Ken Berenson who runs sessions at the Round Hill Community Center in Greenwich for both beginner and novice level dogs. On the first night of school, Ken used his miniature poodle named Bear to demonstrate what we’d be learning during our time in what I took to calling “first grade.” My jaw dropped to the ground as Bear listened and responded to everything Ken said – he stopped on a dime, he sat, he stood, he ran, he retrieved – it was magical. At the same time, I was practically sitting on top of Cooper, a gangly mess of legs, fur, and paws, to keep him in one place. Bear was prim, proper, and well-behaved. In other words, the complete opposite of Cooper. (I suppose that only helped to illustrate Ken’s points about the value of a well-trained dog.)

Over the next few weeks, I was pleasantly surprised that Cooper started to show improvement. On the last night of first grade, we walked in for the test. This was it – Cooper either graduated and moved on to 2nd grade, or he was held back. Not wanting to have spent the last six weeks of training in vain, I tried to reason with Coop and explained that failing was simply not an option. He must have understood me, because we moved through each section of the test rather successfully. I insisted that Cooper give me a high-five, one of his favorite only “tricks,” after he received each passing mark. Ken handed us Cooper’s certificate and I did what any proud dog parent would do: I mailed away to the American Kennel Club for Cooper’s “Puppy Good Citizen” medal. It was $10 well spent on the medal because I honestly believe Cooper enjoys wearing it:

It was a proud day for us.

To date we’re about halfway through the 2nd grade with Cooper, and while he’s still a little pretty crazy, he is a better listener and I no longer have to sit on him to get him to stay still.

All this time that we’ve spent training Cooper got me to thinking that we’re on parallel tracks, really. Cooper’s training wouldn’t be going well if we didn’t put in the effort – which is how I feel about the time I spend at the gym. The more disciplined and committed you are to training, whether at the gym or puppy school, the better the results. It’s helped me realize a few things like:

1. There will be good days, and there will be bad days.

Right after I took the picture of Cooper wearing his medal, we went to our regularly scheduled training class and Cooper was the “bad puppy” in school. I felt like he wasn’t listening and by the time we left, I was mentally and physically exhausted. I had to wonder – did the photo shoot with his new medal go right to his head? Did he think just because he got to wear it, that he could stop paying attention to me? But, after all, I have bad days, too.  Whether I’m preoccupied or just not giving it 110%, not every workout is fantastic. So I cut him some slack – we embraced the bad training session and moved on.

2. There will come a distraction that is too tempting to resist – but there are always consequences.

We installed an electric fence around the property, and Cooper quickly learned about what happens when he gets too close to it. Even knowing this, every once in a while the temptation on the other side is too strong and he hears a fateful warning beep before a little zap. That’s how I feel when I fall off the clean eating wagon. I am completely aware of what I’m doing and I know I’m going to feel bad about it later, but in the moment those [chocolatey deserts/greasy buffalo wings/cheesy nachos] look way too good to pass up. Luckily, those moments are less frequent for both of us. I am learning to train myself to think beyond the immediate satisfaction and have my own warning beep – instead of focusing on how good something tastes in the moment, I think ahead to how I’m going to feel afterwards, both mentally and physically, and it’s easier to say no. 

3. Rewards go a long way.

Cooper cooperates better when there is a reward at stake – usually it’s a tasty treat or his favorite toy. Rewards seem to work the same way for me, but I tend to reward myself with new Lululemon gear rather than food. The more I work out, the better reason I have to replace my sneakers, buy new (smaller!) workout pants or get a fun new workout top.

4. Proper equipment (and form) makes a big difference.

One of my favorite games to play with the Coop is a simple game of chase – I take off running and he chases me. If I get far enough ahead of him, I hide and wait for him to find me. Then we do it all over again.

We were playing the other night and while he was hot on my tail, I took off running, went to make a hard right up the stairs, and completely wiped out on the hardwood floor… because I was wearing socks. I collapsed into a heap, simultaneously crying and laughing, and Cooper came over and started piling his toys on top of me. It was a painful, yet hilarious, reminder not only is playing chase with a 70 pound dog inside the house a terrible idea, but I really should have been wearing sneakers.

To boot, it was bad form of me to try to outrun the dog who has more legs and a lower center of gravity. But, it’s a good reminder to always use good form and the proper equipment, especially at the gym.

5. It’s OK to rest.

Working like a dog.

Everyone needs a little break at some point – and all too often, I find myself pushing through a busy schedule to tick off to-do list items, stay up late to get things done, or cramming way too much into one day. Sometimes the best thing to do is take the lead from Cooper: kick back and take a nap!

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Striking a balance

I am determined to lead a better balanced life. I want it all (or at least, as much of it all as I can get): a successful marriage and (at some point soon) children, a satisfying career, a healthy & fit lifestyle, fantastic relationships with my family and friends, a full night’s sleep, and more… not in any particular order. I’ve been learning the hard way that as lovely as it sounds, your life won’t just “fall into place” without a lot of hard work. Over the last three years, I’ve been doing a lot of re-balancing. Let me tell you a bit about the road that led me to this point…

Three years ago, my days were chock full of things I didn’t find enormously enjoyable but they were a must: wake up, work all day, grad school all night, homework until my eyes crossed, squeeze in a few hours of sleep and… do it all again the next day. I also tried have some fun and socialize with my family, Chris (my then-boyfriend, now-husband), and friends. This schedule left little time for me to focus on taking care of myself; my regular workouts fell by the wayside and I ended up putting on a substantial amount of weight. It was completely my fault, and it shouldn’t have been a surprise since I had quietly been buying bigger clothes while promising myself I’d eat better soon and work out harder the next week.

Time passed and little by little, I started to find some balance – I finished grad school, switched positions at work to my field of choice, and moved in with Chris. Something was off though – I still wasn’t satisfied with my body and health. It appeared I wasn’t the only one who noticed I had put on some weight. The kickboxing instructor at my gym, Kim Pearson, suggested I take her “Body Blast” training class at 5:45am. I agreed, and after the initial shock of a very early wake-up call, I made it through the first class intact! It was hard, and I felt like throwing up, but I was determined to work through the discomfort and kept up with class. Further following Kim’s advice, I started following the Eat-Clean Diet and as I began to revamp my pantry and diet, I quickly learned that the key to my ultimate happiness was controlling how I felt physically and mentally. 

In the midst of my fitness makeover, in January 2011, Chris popped the question and we planned our dream wedding in only 9 months. Initially, the time frame stressed me out and I worried that wedding planning was going to distract me from my fitness goals, but I refocused my priorities and made it work while shedding the dreaded “grad school weight” and then some.

Today, exactly one year later, I am 40 pounds lighter than I was when we get got engaged. I married Chris in a beautiful ceremony and we had a fantastic reception that wouldn’t have been half as much fun if I had still been carrying around extra weight and feeling crappy about myself. We started married life off on the right foot and that pretty much brings us full circle in my story. I’ve emerged on the other side of the last few years a better balanced person with refocused priorities and a lifelong commitment to being healthy.

So stick with me and check in often as I share the things in life that challenge my balance in good ways and bad. In the posts that follow, I’ll be sharing trials, tribulations, and triumphs; recipes and workout woes; and various other ups and downs of my days spent looking for harmony among all these moving parts.

Coming up next… a new twist on buffalo wings, just in time for the Superbowl!

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