Adjusted Reality

“Reality can be beaten with enough imagination.” – Mark Twain

Month: March 2019

Talking the talk and walking the walk.

Recaps haven’t felt like the right things to write lately, so I haven’t been doing them.  2019 is the year of different, I suppose.

New leggings, new decade, who dis?

I feel so… engaged with everything in life right now.  I’m drowning a little, failing a little bit at everything, but I don’t mind in the slightest.   Ok, I mind, but it’s EXCITING!  Forty, and the months slightly before and the days after have felt very new.  It’s like turning the page into a new decade has come with some fresh perspective and renewed vigor that had been lacking lately.

There’s this curtain of fear that had been hanging heavy over my head, that feels like it’s been lifted.  I mean, shit, I’m still afraid of things.  However, because we are what we repeatedly do, it’s getting easier to analyze what I’m feeling and move on.  Yes, I’m afraid of a thing.  Yes, it’s either for a stupid or actually good reason.  Yes, it’s still something I want to do, even if I’m feeling that friction.  Yes, I’m going to effing do it anyway.  And I do.

Early this year I was offered an opportunity to talk at the big SXSW gaming convention on a panel about Building and Maintaining Online Communities.  I pushed away all the haters in my head telling me how scary that would be and how maybe someone else would be better to represent our company and instead jumped at the chance.  It’s easy to do that when it’s two months away.  As the date approached and I started writing notes and meeting with other folks to help solidify what I wanted to say, it started to become real.  And real is scary.

I told anyone that asked that I knew words would come out, but it was up for debate whether it would be the right amount of them and the right ones.  To that end, I wrote many pages of notes, figured out what I really really wanted to express, and practiced by actually talking about these things out loud, which I’ve found helps me when I have to give big talks in front of people.   Three days before the conference, our moderator had reswizzled the questions and I spent time studying and rewriting my notes.  I showed up to the conference with 5 pages of highlighted points of discussion.

When I got to the venue, it was not a table with chairs on a stage as I expected.  It was a collection of oversized chairs, raised, on a stage.  I had nowhere to place my notebook and I couldn’t rely on the crutch of reading from my notes.  I started to freak out.  A lot.

Riding a wicked post-panel high.  Exhaustion followed.  It took more out of me than I expected.

But, eventually, I settled into a mindset of que sera sera.  I just had to prepare differently.  I translated my five pages of notes into a one page crib sheet I could glance at from a side table, and I also spent an hour before the talk reviewing what I wanted to say queueing off THAT sheet instead of my “script”.

The panel started, and for the hour, I felt in the zone.  Competent.  Comfortable even.  The haters in my head were banished from the room, and I was charismatic, and smart, and even occasionally funny when the moment warranted it.  There are so few times in life where you get the opportunity to walk away from something so very important and feel like you just EFFING NAILED IT, and on March 15th, I got that opportunity.

I’m attempting to bring psychology principles back to the forefront of my life again, and it made me think of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  So very rarely do we get to feel the top of the pyramid, self-actualization, realizing one’s full potential.   And to be honest, I’ve not gone back to watch the talk (though YOU CAN if you want) because I have such a rosy glow from it.  However, I’m really proud how I took a situation that caused me a little strife and overcame it, and actually found a new “gear” in my public speaking capacity.  If I really find my center, I can actually present without notes, or at least, many of them.  I don’t need lines, I can actually improv if it’s a subject I’m knowledgeable and passionate about.

Pic unrelated, but proof that I still actually wear stuff that’s not skirts and boots these days.

If we’re delving further into things that go bump in the night in my brain, asking for help is a big huge scary monster for me.  While I enjoy helping other people, for some reason, when I think about asking, my brain lambasts me with doubt.  “Why would anyone help you?  What can you give them?  Nothing?  Then why would anyone waste their time?”  With my theme this year of feeling the fear and doing it anyway, I’ve reached out no less than three times in the last month, expressing vulnerability (so terrifying) and asking for help.

Oddly enough, because humans are inherently social beings that want to be connected to other people and asking for help is indirectly expressing “I recognize you are COMPETENT at this and I want to be like you”, three out of three times so far have been incredibly positive interactions.  This is news to no one but me.

While I don’t feel like my exploration into confidence and courage have ended because, damn, I can’t imagine that’s not a life long pursuit, my focus has translated into COMPETENCY.  I talked about how I’ve either subconsciously or consciously played down my abilities most of my life.  I’ve decided that playing small is not a service for me or for the world, so I’ve attempted to reverse the self-deference which is my natural habit, and be who I truly can be.  That sounds so trite and weird, but it’s been a big thing for me lately.

I’m delving into things I am not experienced at with work and when I make mistakes, instead of feeling a HUGE shame response and disengage, I’m just asking how I should do better next time and working harder.

I’m using the big words again.  I’m sounding like someone who knows their shit instead of doubting myself.  I’m asserting myself in the areas in which I know I’m experienced instead of shrinking down.

I’m setting out at paces on the swim, bike, and run that scare me, and I’m finding that if I get out of my own head, I can back them up without fizzling.

This was a good day where I went faster than I ever have before.

I wrote this down in a scratchpad late last year – “Think of all the things I could do if I didn’t let fear stop me.  If I just hit each roadblock, and instead of stopping and pouting because it was a little hard, intimidating, or scary, just strategized about how to get around them and to the next checkpoint.  Think of where I could be then!”.  I feel like I’m making strides to actually live this in reality.  I’m not only talking the talk, I’m starting to walk the walk.

My life right now is incredi-busy and kinda stressful and overfull and brimming with challenges.  And I am loving every minute of it.

A crack to let the light in – Austin Indoor Tri

I feel like I say this every week lately, but it was a heckuva week.

The day before, I wasn’t sure if the cracks were letting the light in or just breaking me.  But you have to toe the line to find out…

A thing I’ve pondered on lately is that when you really and truly want to change, when you really want to transform into something different, life tends to present you the opportunities to do so.  Over the last few months I’ve been really delving into my creative side, developing my leadership skills, and then this week, I got pulled right by the nose into some left brain analytics and logic and pattern recognition work.  I still maintain that it’s EXCITING and I feel STRETCHED vs STRETCHED THIN, so it’s all good.

However, it’s not optimal when you wake up at 1:30am on race day contemplating the future of your project and how it relates to the four quadrants and applying that analogy to triathlon and triathletes as well.   I watched the clock tick over from 1:59 to 3:00 am (daylight savings… wheee?) and after a while just gave up and read my book until my alarm went off at 4:30am.  Great night of pre-race sleep, check! (as Borat says… NOOOOTTTTTT!)

Always looking for silver linings, being awake already made it easier to do all the pre-race things and I got in a foam roll, boots, and a spin before we had to leave, besides all the other normal things I put in my body (caff beans, two earl grey teas – hot, everything bagel + cream cheese).  We arrived with plenty of time, we got the lay of the land, and holy crap, we then had 3 minutes to get situated before the race start.  Scramble!!!

First jaunt in my new #teambss kit.  I’m a fan!

Swim:

As I started the swim, my goggles completely flooded. I had to doggie paddle to the end of the lane and stop to clear them. Then the same thing happened as I submerged again. SIGH. I took the time at 50 yards in to remove them entirely from my head, fix and adjust things, and yank them tight. I had some droplets bouncing around but they were holding so finally my swim began in earnest!

I resisted the urge to start sprinting and instead held the same uncomfortably comfortable pace I had planned and noticed I was gaining time on the clock each lap from my expectations.  Later I discovered the pool was 25 YARDS not METERS, so that was expected, but it did the job to buoy my confidence that this wasn’t going to be a complete shitshow after all.  I ended at the far end of the pool at 21 lengths (525 yards) in just under 10 minutes, which wasn’t horrible, considering the goggle drama.

Bike:

I’ve done this a few times now so I was able to transition quickly and was set up and ready to go in the spin room well before it was time to start.  Once we got going, one of the volunteers told me that we were supposed to stick on a specific resistance – which for me is the equivalent of pedaling slightly downhill.  Okay, not my favorite, but if that’s how the rules go, I’ll work with that… thirty minutes of extremely high cadence drills coming up!

Felt weird, man.  Spinning at 110-120 cadence for that long taxes your system in completely different ways than I normally ride.  My power was suuuuuuuper low (120-130W), and my legs got sore in places they don’t typically, and I wasn’t breathing very hard but my heart rate was up there around 165 bpm average.  To pass the time, I calculated the most efficient way to finish – each tenth of a mile was taking me about 20 seconds, so I did some really fast spinning to line that up with the moment when the minute ticked over to x:00, and then held my pace.  Sure enough, I went from 8.8 to 8.9 right as the clock struck 30.  Pacing win!

Pressure makes diamonds…

Run:

This was probably the thing that mattered most to me.  I’ve really been working on my running, both physically with good form, turnover, and speed, as well as mentally with not being effing intimidated by a pace on my watch or moments where the effort starts to feel slightly beyond me, because, oftentimes, it recenters within my capabilities if I simply let time pass.  While I was worried that doing other difficult stuff all week month might have worn down my will here, I found it was actually the opposite.  We are what we repeatedly do.

I started at the same 7.0 (8:34/mile) pace I did last time, and oddly enough… it felt good.  Not easy, but not outside of the realm of my capacity.  Someone at work recently called me tough as nails and that permeated my mind during the run.  Tough as effing nails.  No surrender.  Don’t back down this time.  There was a moment where I started to falter my mind pleaded with me to decrease the pace a little, but I talked myself out of it and when I got to the second half of the run, I thought, Okay, you made it this far, time to crank it.

I’m sure I looked like a crazy person mouthing the words to whatever was on my music at that time and flashing myself the horns when I made the choice every so often to INCREASE the pace instead of backing down, but I’ve gotten over that.  Triathletes, we’re all a little mad here, we all look a stupid in wet spandex, why not go full straight jacket, right?  With five minutes to go, I found a wall when I ventured into 7 minute mile territory, and had to halt my progression a little, but I kept on turning over those legs, trying not to hurl.  I found something extra with about 90 seconds to go and willed the time to pass before I had to surrender.  And it did.  And I didn’t.

As I reached 20 minutes, my treadmill ticked over to 2.39 (8:22/mile).  This is ludicrous speed for me – well below my 5k PR pace from 10 years ago.  I thought 2.33 (8:35/mile) was insurmountable in January.  I beat that by 13 seconds per mile today and if I’m being honest, I wasn’t dry heaving at the end so I probably could have found just a little more in me somewhere if I looked hard enough.

Matchy matchy…. this one also had a pretty superb race himself…

After cheering on the other waves, we had a little informal awards ceremony.  I tied for first on the swim, was first on the bike by almost half a mile, and came in fourth on the run.  They didn’t say anything about overall placement, but it’s very likely, unless someone tied me on the swim, came in second on the bike, and then got first or maybe second on the run, with the points schedule Lifetime Tri uses, that I came in first overall.  I definitely at least podiumed.  Third race of the year, a swing and a hit!

Let’s be fair, this is a triathlon aimed at beginners, so I’m not expecting that I’m going to be finding the top step overall when I start racing larger races outside, but maybe it’s not THAT far away at the sprint distance.  My swim is pretty solid, I can tear it up on the bike, and maybe, just maybe, with some continued progress, this is the year I can hold my own on the run or maybe even make up some ground – aka run those beetches down.

Or software… the medals were rubber!  It was neat!

The way I get there is continued (and maybe a little less half-arsed as of late, if I’m being honest) attention to body composition, and lest I sound like a broken record, confidence in my growing capabilities, courage to stick it out when it gets tough (as nails), and the vulnerability to lay it all out there even when I’m not sure I can hold the line. Because my racing so far in 2019 has shown me that I CAN.

On the Precipice of Forty.

Warning: I’m about to get at least three different kinds of nerdy here.  

This is (almost) 40.

When I was a kid, I was smart.  Like, crazy smart.  When I entered kindergarden, my elementary school wanted to skip me immediately to the first grade for the first half of the year and then straight to fourth for the rest at five years old.  I declined, because I thought it was much more fun to play with my new friends and that sounded scary.  When I was actually in fourth grade years later, I turned in all my math homework for the year within the first month, so they sat me at a side table during math with a book of fairly advanced logic problems.  

I’m convinced the only thing that saved me from getting swirlies was the fact that I also was fairly athletic, rather buff for a kid my age due to sports.  However, I didn’t make a whole lot of close friends in elementary school, I’m fairly convinced the ones I had were probably due to mothers conspiring behind the scenes saying, “Yes, you HAVE to invite her, be nice.”  Between fifth and sixth grade, in the transition from elementary to middle school, it hit me that I had the opportunity to reinvent myself, and NOT be the girl sitting out of math because she was better at it than everyone in the room.

Sure, I still did all the honors things, and got what felt like “safe” grades, mostly A’s with a peppering of Bs, I didn’t start smoking under the bleachers during P.E. or anything, but I learned where the limits lie to be tolerated by your peers.  You can be good, you can be great, but to pursue true excellence in something, that makes you a target.  I pushed the line by showing up to my sixth grade book report with Gone With The Wind (having really and truly read the whole thing in a few nights), but then I got a C in home ec, so it all balanced out.

Slowly, it became less of a strategy and just a part of me.  

Just a few months before my brain got the best of me and I quit gymnastics…

The great thing about not pursuing excellence is that it makes life really quite comfortable.  For what it was worth, I always felt like sport was a much more accepted way to pursue excellence, but the habit was already engrained.  I never pushed myself to any sort of edge of glory, and if I got close, I tended to either self-sabotage or quit.  I easily qualified for just about every honors thing that crossed my path.  I got into every college I applied to with scholarships.  My first semester was a bit of a challenge, but it just necessitated learning the rules to a slightly new game, and I was back in business on easy street before long.  I got straight As my senior year while doing a ridiculous amount of partying and on a ridiculously small amount of sleep.  

I participated in so much self-sabotage, and it wasn’t even enough to bring me down.  I left college exhausted and fat from how I treated myself, but still Cum Laude with Honors.

Finally, I thought.  It’s time to be an adult.   No more playing around, this is for my livelihood.  However, I found the real world similar to my classroom experiences.  Being a competent employee was good.  Being an exemplary employee, as a peon, was sort of frowned upon and didn’t really garner a lot of favor with the team or even managers.  Instead of getting praised for breaking video games in really weird ways, at times I was told, “the dev team says STOP IT”.  I turned in a 150 page binder applying for a design job.  I didn’t even get an interview – though they did steal at least three things from it.

I have had some brief periods of laying myself out on the line over the years – my last two years of gymnastics, my first actual design job once I finally got the interview, losing 115 lbs, and I’m starting to see the beginning of a similar renaissance right now in a myriad of arenas.  I look back on all these times fondly – not because I want to work 100 hours right now or fight my body for a few years to let go of half od it’s precious resources, but because it felt amazing in those moments to just give it my all.

One of the moments where it actually clicked…

I’m sure that everyone in the world would have considered me an athlete before I considered myself one.  When I first started racing, it was all new and fun, but then I spent so much time with so little belief in myself when it got a little difficult to produce results.  I put a lot of limits on myself, at least subconsciously, because I didn’t find myself perfect yet.  I let my head get the best of me – a lot – and so many times backed down in competition and felt terrible about myself.  

After finding the place which Calm the F*ck Down calls “the fed up athlete”, I found I needed to do some of the hardest work yet.  No, not the swimming, biking, and running.  I’ve never found it difficult to pile on the miles because it feels worthwhile, (pseudo) confidence building, and frankly, numbing.  The most difficult things were to step back and acknowledge that I needed to work on my mental game, my body composition, and addressing form imbalances.  None of these feel sexy at all.  None of the processes were anything beyond frustrating, messy, and felt highly unintuitive, especially because some were at the COST of swimbikerun.  With already flagging confidence and performance, it feels like sport suicide to decide to dial back the hours.

But dial them back I did.  I lifted when I wanted to run.  I stretched and did pre-hab when I wanted to be biking for hours instead.  I took days off and studied sports (and regular) psychology books.  I refrained from numbing out and built a race persona.   I kept my calories lower instead of making excuses about my body composition.  And y’know what?  After a while, it started paying divedends.

The last year has been night and day.  I envisioned winning my age group in my first triathlon of 2018, and then HOLY SHIT I did it.  I dared to dream a little, and then I dreamed A LOT.  Not all of them came true, but I had the most wonderful season because I let myself believe, sometimes just for a moment, that I was worthy.

My bardic muse…

There is a HUGE culture of playing tabletop roleplaying games at work.  For so long, I resisted.  I told myself it was because I wanted my husband to have something that was HIS hobby, but as I’ve unpacked a lot of emotions and insecurities lately, I’m pretty sure it was also the fact that I thought I’d be terrible. I got coerced into a session and I fell in love with it, even though, YEP! I was indeed pretty much shite.  For quite a long time. I picked safe choices of classes that I knew and found my little niche, allowing others to really drive the games while I just piped in to contribute a little and then let everyone else run the show.

Here’s where I probably lose anyone here for triathlon insights, but I press forward.

I’ve been playing these types of games for almost two decades now (just online previously), and I’ve gravitated towards one specific character type: the caster.  One who’s weaker in body, but strong in mind, who hangs back at the edge of the battle and slings spells, hoping not to attract too much attention.  However, I’ve always pumped up the Constitution/Stamina statistic, which provides a little extra armor if I DO indeed attract that attention I seek to avoid.  This is usually at the cost of being truly excellent at the slinging of spells but it feels like a worthwhile tradeoff for extra protection.

This is incredibly telling of my own personality.  Unless I push myself, I tend to hang back in life and not really go for things.  I would rather play defense to hedge my bets rather than, yet again, pursue true excellence.  I’d rather be moderately good at some things rather than really good at something, even though I’d be better served pursuing where my talents lie.  If I start getting too good at something, it scares me.  I’ve always found myself pacified by being decent at a lot of things, because being decent at something feels much better than sucking at something (and to be truly good at something, you have to accept that you’re going to suck at a lot of other things as we only have a finite lifetime).  

This last campaign, I picked something different that stretched my legs a little because it sounded fun.  I didn’t realize the psychological implications at the time of becoming a bard.  From the start, I felt awkward playing this character, and then after a while, I was called on to be the face and the leader of the party in matters of diplomacy and persuasion.  For someone who tends to hang back and say “whatever y’all want to do is good with me”, this has been terrifying and uncomfortable.  I tried to just show up and wing it halfheartedly but it doesn’t work for me.  I just pissed myself off with my incompetence and stopped having fun.

Thinking about the backstory of all my characters, they have something in common: they’re hiding a big secret, they’re running or hiding from something, and they have a BIG PROBLEM being who they really are.  Again, if this isn’t telling, I don’t know what is.

In my thirties, I spent the decade being the person who I wanted to become, at least on the surface.

I wanted to become an athlete.  I may not have exactly known that at thirty, but I knew I wanted some sort of motivation to keep myself fit and also, I had this ridiculous competitive drive that’s been with me my whole life that was being utterly unindulged.  Enter racing.  It. was. awesome.  And humbling.  And SO SO SO HARD.  But it was exactly what I needed to scratch the itch which evaded me in my twenties.  Over the course of the decade, I finally got to the point where I could call myself an athlete without an asterisk.  Or a sheepish grin.  I stand at almost fourty as an athlete and no one can tell me otherwise.

I wanted to learn how to be a strong leader.   If I was to really and truly pursue what I do as a lifetime career, I wanted to learn how to lead and inspire a team towards greatness.  At thirty, my hands shook and my voice faltered when I had to lead a meeting even though they called me Producer.  That instinct to hang back and keep my voice down doesn’t do anyone in this role service, so I had to continue to push myself to be confident, strong, have the tough conversations, and stand up for both the folks that work for me and the ones I work for.  I had to learn that my instincts are to be trusted.  That I should have faith in my ideas while also being open to the fact that I can absolutely be wrong and admitting such was not weakness but indeed strength.  It’s my job to nurture the best ideas into the light, no matter where they come from.   While I’ll never stop learning day by day how to do all this better, at almost forty, I feel worthy to stand and lead my team and represent my company and products with confidence.

I wanted to be outdoorsy.  I used to joke that I was the embodiment of the meme, y’know, the one that says “I’m outdoorsy, as in, I like drinking on patios”.  I learned to love and revel in the elements.  I will still complain incessantly about mosquitos, but it doesn’t stop me.  I’ve learned to embrace the sweat and the exhaustion of our brutal summers.  I’ve found a cheeky smile in the chill of a run in the coldest weather Austin has to offer.  I’ve found beauty in the scenery of the barren trees and the scorching noonday sun as well as the temperate falls and the overly beautiful spring days filled with wildflowers.  I find peace and joy both in the woods and underneath the waves, in ways that I can’t describe to someone that remains indoors.  I find utter quiet and stillness in nature at almost forty and I can’t imagine a life without now.

I wanted to stop being so one-dimensional.  I had already made strides into two-dimensional-ness by thirty with both work and also sport.   Honestly, who could fault me for having a job and also a hobby?  However, it became pretty apparent halfway through this decade that it wasn’t enough for me.  Once we had a shakeup at work, it rocked my world.  I wanted to make sure I had a plan, one which at this particular moment, I have no immediate timeline to enact, but it makes me much more confident that at almost forty, I have about seventeen different business plans, some with the proper certifications and all with much more knowledge than I had in my early thirties.

I sorely missed my creativity.  Even when I had the opportunity finally to delve into it more at work, I realized that also wasn’t enough.  Many of my previous hobbies I stopped in my twenties and early thirties because I was scared of not being good enough with them.  I’ve had to work to bust through those barriers one by one but I can now say that I’ve picked back up with most of the creative pursuits that meant a lot to me as my younger self: writing (actually putting words together I care about, sometimes deeply), painting, photography, singing and music, and I’ve dabbled in making movies as well.  I have to keep catching myself saying, “ugh, I’m almost forty and I’m still not good at this, why am I still trying” but still I persist.  I have to remind myself that the joy is in the process, and as Jake the Dog says, “Sucking at something is the first step to being sorta good at something.”

So, forty.  I’ve been trying it on for size for the last few months.  I’m not thirty-nine again or thirty-nine and three hundred and some days, I’ve been forty for a while in my mind and I actually quite like it.  

Forties are the decade where I let the unbridled confidence shine.   I’m sick of playing small and masking my intelligence and capabilities.  I don’t give a flying fuck anymore of my perception of how it makes anyone else feel.  I want to use the big words and the strong thoughts and the swelling emotions in the way that makes me the best human I can be and make the poetry and magic.   I’m ready to tell the haters to take a backseat to the cheerleaders and just GO FOR IT, whatever IT may mean at the time.

Forties are the decade where I will fire walk confidently into external criticism.  I’m tired of not pursuing opportunities or paths that can improve me as a person because the haters in my head deem me not worthy to even begin to tread the path.  If something excites me, and threatens to develop me as a person, I’ll let someone else tell me I’m not worthy instead of having that come from the dark recesses of my own brain. I’ll be open to trying and failing and getting back up and going for it again and again if it’s something I really want, instead of convincing myself I don’t actually want it simply because it’s safe and nice and easy to not try hard.

Forties are the decade I will lay it all on the line on the race course.  I will not show up to a start line indifferent and apathetic, I will shed all my defenses and pursue each opportunity as a true offensive exercise, and I will experience each battle to my fullest.  If circumstances lead me to less than excellent performances, I won’t let it shake my confidence.  Forty is not the time anymore for running scared anymore, hoping either someone else, or mostly my own head won’t catch me, it’s the decade for running those bitches down until I literally give out or find the finish line, victorious either way because I gave everything.

Forty is the year I become the person who my inner bard wants me to be.  I wish to build on my confidence and courage, discover what it means to live with vulnerability and uncover what it means to really be who am I am and what I am meant to become in the next decade.  

Deep thoughts now cease.  Time to drink some whiskey and eat some tacos to celebrate the changing of the decades!

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