To be or… To BE? The Power of Labels

Studying foreign languages has been one of my more fruitful pursuits. Unlike many Americans my age, I was exposed to formal instruction in Spanish in the third grade through a pilot academic program. If I’m honest, I didn’t love it at the time. I kept thinking, “I’ll never use this.” Since that time I’ve formally and self-studied Spanish and French on and off for 30+ years. Studies have found that knowing more than one language offers a host of benefits, including improved decision-making and resistance to Alzheimer’s and dementia. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still a novice with both languages. But I dutifully practice a little each day. Recently, I found this fascinating and eloquent summary comparing the two “be” verbs in Spanish. Yep, two. It turns out you can be something and you can BE something.

Ser versus Estar

The following is an article excerpt from Duolingo. I truncated it to illustrate my point, but I would encourage anyone interested in practicing a foreign language to check out Duolingo. It’s a fantastic, free tool that has an excellent online community.

One of the hardest things to learn about Spanish is the distinction between the verbs “ser” and “estar,” since in English they both mean “to be.”

“Ser” refers to what something is, while estar refers more to what something does. For example, “estoy enfermo” would mean “I am being sick” or “I am currently sick.” On the other hand “soy enfermo” translates to something closer to “I am a sick person” or “I am sickly.” Below are more examples:

Estar
                                                                        Ser

Estoy feliz = I am currently happy                        Soy feliz = I am happy by nature

Estoy cansada = I am currently tired                   Soy cansada = I am a tired person

Él está callado = He is being quiet                        Él es callado = He is introverted

You can think of “ser” as being equivalent to “equals.” Alternatively, you can think of “estar” as refering to a temporary condition, while “ser” frequently refers to a permanent condition. 

I love that there is a differentiation between the current state and the permanent condition. Like most languages, English only has one be verb. “I am happy,” could mean “I’m a happy person” or “I’m happy at the moment.” Spanish is so much more efficient in the distinction. But the real reason I’m excited about this distinction is because it makes me think about the words we use to describe our feelings and ourselves.

The Impact of Labels

Recognition and naming a feeling or behavior is a great way to begin the problem-solving process to overcome it. The practice is rooted in Buddhist traditions and has been proven effective in psychological studies. However, as in the Spanish separation of estar and ser, there must be a key differentiation between giving something a current state name and allowing it to slip into a permanent label. For instance, saying that we are “anxious about public speaking” can go from an acknowledgement of an emotional reaction to a labeled pattern of, “I am always anxious about public speaking.” The labeled pattern can then become quite limiting. “Oh no, I don’t speak in public; I’m far too anxious.”

I routinely fell into this labeling trap in my early adulthood. I’ll avoid the labeling details here, but I had much more fixed political views at 21 than I do at 43. I used to think silly thoughts like, “I can’t eat that or drive that car or shop in that store because I’m a [insert label].” As I have aged, I am happy to say that I have repeatedly challenged my labels. I’ll take running as a fairly innocuous example. I used to carry the moniker, “I am not a runner.” I would joke that I only ran if being chased or if I was being punished in sports (Coach: Take a lap, Gregory.). I eventually challenged the label that I was “not a runner.” In my early 30’s, I got back into recreational soccer. I started running to become more competitive in my league. A funny thing happened. I began to recognize running as a meditative and restorative force in addition to a pretty good way to build some midfield running capacity. Slowly, I dropped the label “I am not a runner” and started to accept that just maybe I am.

Interestingly, I have found that I can take it too far. I will readily admit that I’m a self-improvement junkie. Is that a label, Gregory? Take a lap! As I take in new information and accept new interests into my life, these new labels can also become burdensome. Over time, I started to describe myself as a runner. Last year, “I am a runner” became “I’m a marathon runner.” That meant that I upped my weekly running totals to 6 days and as many as 60 miles. I began to transfer my current state into a label. It gave way to things like, “I can’t go out to dinner because I’d miss my training run; and I can’t do that because I’m a marathon runner!” Granted, some of this was driven by necessity. I had specific marathons that I had signed up for and I’m not the kind of athlete that I can just show up and knock out 26 miles. But I think the message comes through. Labels can be limiting on both fronts. Labels can inhibit our development and they can box us into requirements.

As I grow, I’m trying to embrace estar in lieu of ser. I want to think about who I am currently without falling prey to the permanence of a label. Clearly, there are things that are woven into the fabric of my being. I stand for justice, equality, liberty, motherhood, and apple pie. And FC Barcelona… but I digress. Take a lap! As I’m getting older, I have fewer free moments and I don’t have time to paint myself into corners. I need to evaluate my labels from time to time and discard what isn’t serving me.

As I close, I’ll leave you with a couple of questions.

What are your labels? 

Are they limiting your progress or promoting a happier, healthier life? 

Is it possible to transition those limiting labels into current state assessments that have room for change?

150 Miles, 10 Runners, 24 Hours

This past weekend, I captained a team of 10 runners that ran 150 miles in just over 24 hours. When I tell people that, they usually say, “I don’t know how you do it.” But when you break it down, its actually not very tough. Each runner covers on average 15 miles, which is really nothing compared to a marathon. The toughest thing is finding a way to rest as you cycle in and out of a van and in and out of a camp site or hotel room. However, taking 24 hours out of my life and focusing on one goal instead of balancing work deadlines and automotive repairs and upcoming graduation ceremonies, etc. offered me a chance to pick up a couple of life lessons.

Lesson 1: Let go

Coming into this run, my training wasn’t perfect. Far from it. I didn’t get to the speed work I intended to accomplish. I also didn’t do the hill work that I knew I would need to charge up and down the Appalachian foothills of Ross County Ohio. Part of the reason for my training misses were injury related. I busted my foot playing soccer three weeks before the race. My own fault. Another part was illness, I came down with some mystery bug for about 48 hours that had me all out of whack 2 weeks before the race. The other part was just life – too many irons in the fire.

My team also wasn’t much for being a team. Out of 10 runners, I had six replacements; 4 in the four weeks running up to the race. I offered up team training runs and the occasional team outing. No one replied. My Van 2 driver offered up a plan to travel together to the race location. Everyone drove separately without responding. Without any sense of team or camaraderie, I wondered how we would handle the stresses of working together for 24 hours.

Here’s the funny thing: None of it mattered. I wound up turning in great times for my segments, so my busted training plan had little effect. Where I could find flat ground, I was running 2 minutes per mile faster than I had in months and my hill work was respectable. My team also came together on race day like a well oiled machine. People knew where they were going and got there on time. We didn’t have a wasted moment during race leg hand-offs, no one forgot any critical pieces of equipment, and we cheered each other on like we were one happy family. As our last runner crossed the finish line and we all cheered him on, I paused for a moment. All my concerns were for nothing. Sometimes the best thing to do is let go and let the chips fall where they may.

Lesson 2: Leadership is a journey

I’ve been a manager in my professional life on and off for 20 years. I’ve taken training galore and read all the right books. Leadership is practically a formula, right? Nope.

I came into this race with the baggage that I wasn’t as fit as last year with the knowledge that I had signed up to take on the toughest run of the race. I wound up letting that baggage through in some of my communications. I mentioned to one new runner that I “laid the hammer down” and was putting in some quick miles on one of my early runs in spite of my lack of training. I watched him glaze over and think about something else – probably how I sounded like a self-important peacock. I wasn’t inspiring him. I was stroking my own ego to feel better about my performance; and he wasn’t impressed. I had this malarky story in my head that to be captain, I had to demonstrate that I was among the best on the team. I later realized that this was my insecurities talking, which shines through for others to see like a broken bone in an X-ray machine.

I have this iceberg belief that if a leader isn’t where he or she needs to be (preparation, experience, whatever), that leader cannot possibly ask for more out of others. I call it an iceberg because it isn’t something that I outwardly communicate, but its there lurking under the surface and it can certainly sink my ship. This comes from my blue collar, Appalachian, Protestant, ultra-egalitarian, roots. If you’re going to tell me what to do, you damn-well better be standing on higher ground than me. So I hold myself to that standard. The reality is this: Life gets in the way for everyone. At no time in life is anything ever perfect – including for the person selected, volunteered, or otherwise promoted to leadership. But that can’t stop someone in a leadership position from asking of their team what they need. The leader’s role is to lead; to get the most out of the team, regardless of other limitations. Although I didn’t feel comfortable about it, I delivered some less than perfect news to the team late into the event and asked them to deal with it. They did it without question and it worked out nicely.

So, I lived and I learned, and that’s the good news. To quote the Dalai Lama, “If you lose, don’t lose the lesson.

The satisfaction of accomplishment

At the end of the run, the whole team was there cheering on our last runner. The sense of accomplishment started to sink in for all of us. It was a bit rainy and the after party wasn’t as upbeat as the year before, but none of that mattered. As we stood around and shared stories and traded pictures that we took over the course of the run, our achievement took shape. We just ran 150 miles in 24 hours! All of us were operating on too little sleep. None of us trained as much as we wanted. Yet here we are. 150 miles later, injury free and smiling at our accomplishment. The fact that our team fees helped benefit drug prevention programs in the epicenter of the American opioid crisis certainly helped our feeling of purpose. In addition, I picked up a couple of lessons along the way. All in all, it was a good weekend.

If you’re interested in taking part in this run next year, please visit The Buck Fifty. Its a great cause and a great time. And like me, you might just learn something about yourself along the way.

Looking back on 42

42. That is the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything. At least according to Deep Thought, the supercomputer in Douglas Adams’ seminal work, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, it is. Those who have read The Hitchhiker’s Guide… will already be snickering with this reminder. Those who have not, should. Having recently completed my 42nd trip around the sun on this tiny blue planet, I’ve decided to have a look back on my Ultimate Year.

  • It was my first full year without my Dad. He died in 2016, and looking back, his death has had a huge impact on me. Most notably, the circumstances of his death had a profound influence on my mindfulness practice.
  • A year of seniors. My son is now a senior in college, my daughter a senior in high school. My, how time flies.
  • I ran my first marathon. And my second, and my third, and my fourth. I can be obsessive.
  • My first full year of eating a plant-based diet. Inspired by Scott Jurek and Rich Roll, I’ve got better health numbers now than I did in most of my 20’s and all of my 30’s.
  • It was a good year for my career too. I want to keep my career separate from this blog, but it was a good year following a promotion to a leadership position. I have a fantastic team full of amazing individuals. I wouldn’t trade a single one.
  • My mindfulness practice tipped – in a good way. I read several insightful books this past year, but two of the best were The Power of Now by Eckart Tolle and Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse. Gaining insights and simply fumbling my way through it, I have taken control of my emotions and want for almost nothing. I would by no means call myself enlightened, but it is a fascinating state of being.
  • I supportted my wife as she pursues her passion: a Master’s of Psychology from Harvard University.
  • I fell in love with trail running. Previously, I had only pounded the pavement. In my 42nd year, I ran several trail races locally and, perhaps most life-altering, I got the chance to run the petit balcon in the French Alps near Chamonix. This is where I took the lead picture of this post.
  • I was able to go whale watching. Surprisingly, this was the highlight of our trip to the Massachusetts beach house in Marshfield. I expected to like seeing whales. I didn’t expect to be mystified.
  • We finally took the trip to Montserrat. After years of traveling to Barcelona and always thinking about it, we finally took the day trip to Montserrat. The monastery houses the Black Madonna and my Mom was speechless. The views from the mountain are stunning.

As I wrap up this short post, I find myself in a state of complete gratitude. My wife and I both hail from small towns (I’m not even sure “town” is the right word for these places) in the Appalachian Ohio Valley, home of economic backwaters and the opioid crisis. Sometimes we look at each other and just shake our heads in awe of what the Universe has provided. The views at 42 were pretty grand.

The view from the Marshfield, MA beach house:

Whale Watching on Cape Cod

James and me (right) in Chamonix before heading up into the Alps

My homemade veggie paella

Looking down from Montserrat

Running Routine: Using a Scorecard to Get Back on Track

My dog is a very good dog. He’s loving, smart, obedient, careful with his 60 lbs size, and almost never makes a mistake. Today, he went out for his morning routine and found something new in the yard that was extremely smellyand then he rolled in it. The last time he did this a couple of years ago, it was a young bird that had fallen out of the nest and died. Now that he’s done this, I need to try to find the offending matter, remove it from the yard and then give him a bath so he doesn’t spread the stinky, mystery “juice” all around the house. This event now takes up the time that I had allotted to fix a healthy meal and then head out in my running gear for an already tight schedule. Oh Rusty, what have you gotten into?

Rusty post-bath
Rusty post-bath

The last several weeks have been a lot like this; our car was rear-ended by a person who has a complicated insurance situation, my wife had to have an unplanned surgery, add in a choir concert, a birthday, an awards ceremony, friends dropping in from out of town, and so on. In addition to disrupting my running schedule, I’ve also been eating “fast food,” opting for veggie burgers and fries instead of well balanced, whole food meals. My pants are tight, I’m grumpy, and I am out of my running routine. In less than 30 days, I need to run three legs of a 150 mile, 24 hour race. I’m the captain of the team so there’s no backing out. I’m not that far out of shape, and I can get there. But I honestly need some mechanism to help me get and stay on the path.

Self-Licensing

Why would a person who ran four marathons last year need a mechanism to get back on track? Moral Self-Licensing. Daniel Effron and his colleagues define this concept as follows: “past good deeds can liberate individuals to engage in behaviors that are immoral, unethical, or otherwise problematic, behaviors that they would otherwise avoid for fear of feeling or appearing immoral.” Of course, my issues are not so much moral or ethical in nature, but they certainly are problematic.

There’s a sort of mental accounting going on here. For example, we got rear-ended through no fault of ours. The guy who hit us gave us a bogus insurance card. Without getting into too many details, he has a pseudo-company car and is insured by someone else. So we’re taking extra time to track it all down so we can get our car fixed without legal escalations. We’re doing all the right things, being professional, jumping through the various hoops, but it is taxing. So in effect, I’ve been giving myself “credit” for doing the right thing in these other areas and then opting for a glass of wine instead of heading out into the cold for a training run. I recognized this Self-Licensing behavior a few days ago and realized that I needed to make a change.

Developing the Scorecard

If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it. – Peter Drucker

I have used this principle countless times in business and in my personal life. In this case I knew that, at a minimum, I needed to get on track with my running. But there’s a balance here too. Run too much at the expense of other things and the wheels fall off. The obvious companion to running is my diet; I’ve got to cut back on the processed foods. I have also learned that I need to spend at least a little time on mediation as well as some creative outlet to help me feel balanced. So I developed a quick scorecard using Apple’s Numbers application that I can access from almost any device.

Designing the metrics takes a little thought too. I have done scorecards in the past where I simply assigned myself a 5 point rating, where 5 = “well done” and 1 = “ugh”. DANGER: Self-Licensing can come into play here too. For instance, I might assess my day thinking about all the toil and trouble I had and then give myself a bonus point because, really how much salt can be in that veggie burger and fries, anyway? Answer: A LOT, so I need to count it correctly. So I got specific. On first glance, the categories below might seem tedious. Well… I AM a Process Engineer, so I’ve timed it. It takes me no more than 5 minutes to complete the scorecard daily. Here are my scorecard categories I’m using for the 30 days’ preparation going into my team running event:

  • Diet: I eat a plant-based diet, so I’m simply breaking food into two categories: either came directly from a plant (raw spinach) or it was factory processed prior to me eating it (burrito shell). (e.g. 11 whole plant foods out of 20 total foods on the day = 55%)
  • Exercise: Expressed as a percentage of 60 minutes of activity that raises my heart rate (e.g. 30 min = 30/60 = 50%)
  • Meditation: Expressed as a percentage of 10 minutes of meditation (e.g. 7 min = 7/10 = 70%)
  • Gratitude: Expressed as a percentage of writing down 3 things that I’m grateful for (e.g. 2 items = 2/3 = 67%)
  • Creativity: Expressed as a percentage of 20 minutes of creativity: writing, photography, drawing, painting
  • The Feels: 5 point Likert scale where 5 is Amaze-balls, 3 is Meh, and 1 is the inside of a used Trash bag. I’ll use this to track how I’m feeling over each of the 30 days.
  • Notes: Very brief (10 words or less) observations or things I might want to work on tomorrow.

So… How’s it going?

Date Diet Exercise Meditation Gratitude Creativity The Feels Notes

Mar 14

55%

101%

170%

100%

200%

4

I felt great getting started with this!

Mar 15

50%

150%

120%

0%

0%

3

I had a good workout but feeling meh

Mar 16

42%

75%

150%

100%

0%

4

Too much processed food; but date night!

Mar 17

50%

113%

0%

100%

200%

4

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

I have run 4 days in a row and I’m feeling quite good about it! I can tell that I’m already bridging some of my fitness gaps while maintaining a good balance with the rest of my healthy habits. Even though I’m only holding myself accountable through a digital scorecard, it has completely given me the motivation I needed. I don’t like entering zeroes.

How about the other stuff?

We’re chipping away at it all. My wife has turned the corner from her surgery and is back on her feet. I took my lunch hour on Friday and made several important calls. I have also observed that now that I’m getting back into a fitness routine, my mood is lifting and so sitting down to figure out “life’s current challenges,” is actually getting easier.

What I Learned From a Year of Going Vegan*

Before getting started, I want to explain the asterisk on the word “Vegan” in the title. In conversation, I normally avoid calling myself or my diet vegan because A.) of the politics associated with the word and B.) I’m not 100% perfect in eating absolutely zero food products derived from animals. With regards to the politics, I’m no extremist and I want to avoid being seen as one. With regards to my vegan imperfections, I’m respectful of the people around me. My wife likes to go on date nights (I’m lucky) and if my meat-free menu selection was cooked with butter or if the wait staff forgot to leave the goat cheese off of my salad, I eat it without tipping over any tables in a fit of rage. Having said that, I estimate that more than 95% of the food I eat is completely plant-based. Not bad for a guy living in a mid-sized city in the Midwest.

How I got here

In short, this started as an experiment. I like to run, and like many runner-types in America, I read Christopher McDougall’s super-entertaining Born to Run. In it, I learned about Scott Jurek and later found out that he had his own book titled Eat and Run. After reading Jurek’s inspiring book, I decided to give the plant-based diet a whirl. Over the years, I’ve tried various diets to see what worked for me and what didn’t. And when I say “tried,” I mean “followed at ~95% rigidity for 3-6 months.” My wife indulges me by figuratively patting me on the head with a reassuring “OK baby.” Again, I’m lucky. So… I started with week one in October 2016. After digging into the topic for a bit, I also discovered Rich Roll, whose excellent podcast and other offerings have kept me going. But that is a tale for another day.

Lesson 1: I rarely missed meat

As I mentioned above, I live in the meat-and-potatoes Midwest of the United States. I was raised on meat and potatoes as was essentially everyone around me. So the first question I get usually when discussing my shift to a plant-based diet is, “How can you live without meat?” In my youth, I was a full-fledged carnivore, so I thoroughly understand this question. I used to muse that if one day because of poor health I had to go without meat, I’d drive off a cliff. I wasn’t serious of course, but I will readily admit that there is a satisfaction that comes with chewing on the texture of meat and the fullness that comes from a hearty meal that includes beef or chicken or salmon or… So, you’re getting the picture, I’m not really a good *Vegan* with a capital V. Now for the interesting part, I have rarely missed meat since making the switch.

Maybe I had enough meat in my 40+ carnivorous years preceding. But once I made the switch, there are very few times that I can remember where I really wanted meat. It was more than a year ago the last time I got the urge of the carnivore. It was a cold January day and my body fat was in the single digits from the plant-based diet and lots of running. I distinctly remember walking out of the grocery store and getting blasted by a cold wind out of the North. I was probably hangry because it was just past lunchtime and I hadn’t eaten yet. Immediately following the arctic blast, I remember angrily thinking, “The only thing that is going to solve this is an entire pot of beef stew.” I did not have the pot of beef stew. I have since found plenty of vegetable stew and other recipes that provide the necessary heartiness to overcome the polar vortexes that we experience in Ohio. While individual tastes and preferences abound, I find that cauliflower in buffalo sauce makes great taco filler, Jackfruit in a barbecue sauce replaces pulled pork or chicken, and adding a few cashews or oyster mushrooms to a breakfast burrito filled with onions and peppers gives me the hearty textures that I want in my food.

Lesson 2: It is difficult to be a foodie in a mid-sized Midwestern city

Quite simply, there aren’t a lot of vegan restaurants or places with distinctly vegan options on the menu in Columbus, Ohio. I have found a couple of places that offer tasty options, but they’re generally a bit young and hip for my tastes. I like to sit down with my wife to catch up on the busy week and we find that we can’t do that very well over the din of Indy music, clinking beer glasses, and blaring TVs. So instead of being a “foodie,” which I’m defining here as one who keeps up with the latest food offerings at many trendy restaurants, I’ve turned into a cook. Recipes abound on the internet, and I got off to a great start by watching a few YouTubers, The Happy Pear being my favorite. I prepare the vast majority of our meals at home and the spill over benefit that I’ve learned is that it makes me happy. I know it sounds a bit woo woo, but I have a real connection with the food that I’m now eating. There is something very uplifting about tucking into a meal that I’ve just prepared.

Lesson 3: I have had no problem with endurance sports

As mentioned previously, I’m both a runner and fond of trying new things, diets included. I had previously tried the Paleo diet. I found it both tasty and effective as a weight-loss tool. Admittedly, I’ve never been a big guy, but I tend to carry 10-15 lbs of extra weight in spite of a fairly active lifestyle. I like to blame my 45-50 hour a week desk job and the occasional adult beverage. I lost all of the extra pooch around my mid-section with the Paleo diet, but I ran into a couple of other problems: 1.) I found that I had trouble sleeping and 2.) I couldn’t run more than 4 miles without my legs locking up. My muscles would just give out. Not really cramping, just more like them saying “Nope, we’re done” and then going out on strike. Since going plant-based, I again lost my mid-section pooch but had no trouble training for, and running four marathons over the course of one year.

I do want to say that in the very beginning of my plant-based adventure I was eating very little carbs and fats. While I could still run and run (~60 miles per week) with my super-trim phsysique, I had a short bout with insomnia and a tired libido. After about a week, I figured out that all I had to do was eat more legumes, nuts, and avocados, which brought back just a little body fat (still in the single digits) and a happy bedroom. In fact, after a year of eating a plant-based diet, my most recent health screening resulted in the best numbers I’ve turned in since I was in my 20s.

Lesson 4: My body’s response to fruit changed significantly for the better

This one is fascinating to me. I don’t know the science behind it, but at this point I don’t care. In years past when I was not at all careful with my diet, I had an interesting sugar spike response to say, eating an apple. It was so noticeable that over time I eventually steered clear of many fruits to avoid the rush and crash. After the first 2-3 months of eating a plant-based diet, I started to notice a significant difference. I can now eat an apple or an orange with absolutely no jitters or crash. These days, I carry two or three pieces of fruit with me per day and I eat them as snacks instead of chips or even nuts. I feel a moderate boost of energy with no side effects. So, I’m sure someone can tell me the science behind it, but I’m now looking at fruit much more favorably these days and I quite enjoy it.

Lesson 5: B12 makes me happy

It’s fairly well documented that people who eat a plant-based diet can become vitamin B12 deficient. Meat eaters get B12 from meat and – while I’m not expert on this – our purified water sources generally prevent us non-meat eaters from getting B12 from “nature.” So, people who eat a plant-based diet essentially need to supplement. Here’s the cool thing: taking a B12 supplement once a week is like a blast of sunshine, a cool breeze, and a group of non-allergenic puppies excitedly running around your feet – all at once. Seriously, this stuff is like happy pills. As with all good things, too much can be problematic. We don’t need a lot of B12 to prevent deficiency (think, teeny-tiny micrograms) so B12 is not your caffeine replacement. This is especially true since recent studies have linked high doses of B12 with increased risks of lung cancer – notably in men who currently or have smoked in the past.

Let’s wrap this thing up in a grape leaf

In conclusion, I’m an imperfect vegan and happily so. My plant-based diet has fueled me through 4 marathons in one year and has provided me with clean-burning inexpensive food that gets me through my work days behind the desk. I have found it easy to maintain a healthy weight even when I take a break from running. What started as the latest in a long line of dietary experiments has turned into a rewarding and highly maintainable lifestyle. 


Troy works and lives in Columbus, Ohio with his better half and their blended family of 6. He runs, reads, writes, cooks, travels, plays soccer, and has a fledgling mindfulness practice when he gets the chance. The picture featured is Troy’s not-so-world-famous homemade veggie paella.

From Humbug to Hooray in Less than 30 Minutes

It has been a tough week. I have felt “off” for most of the week with interrupted sleep, too many personal tasks, not enough working out, and insufficient fresh fruits and veggies. By this morning, I was a grump. I was doing my best to hide it, but I was not a happy camper. 

At work, I’m a manager and I was heading into my team’s Friday morning huddle. “Huddles” are where we get together as a group and bring everyone up to speed on our individual work. I lead the conversation, which helps set the tone for the day. We had a rotational analyst whose last day was today so we had a few extra people around the table to wish him well in his next adventure. We also have a tradition on Fridays. The idea is to have a discussion prompt that as we give our updates, each person answers. These tend to be icebreaker style questions to get people talking for the purpose of team-building. Something like, “If you could pick any single superpower other than immortality or endless wealth, what would it be?” Did I mention that I was grumpy? I was in no mood to even participate in this conversation let alone lead it. That’s when an interesting thing happened.

I admitted that I didn’t have a prompt for today’s discussion and asked the team to generate one. After a couple of miscues, we settled on, “How have you changed in the past 5 years?” I asked someone at the far end of the line away from me to go first. I had hoped that we’d run out of time before getting to me. As we worked our way around the table, people told stories of graduating college and finding new friends, of watching kids grow up and needing to adjust parenting style, of seeing parents grow old and feeble, and of harrowing tales of having a child recover from a tumor. Some people got married, some people were once rock stars, some had children of their own, and some went on amazing trips to volunteer abroad. As I scanned the room, I was floored by the smiles on people faces. One young lady exclaimed, “We’re a bunch of badasses!” We laughed out loud. 

In the end, there was just enough time for me. With my mood lifting, I explained that I had gotten married a second time (very happily), I changed industries and no longer had to travel to marginally secure Mexican border towns, I had a child start college and another start high school while I maintained great relationships with both, and that I ran my first marathon and then kept on going for 3 more on the year (which prompted good natured calls of Forrest Gump). We all filed out of that meeting room with smiles on our faces. Two of the guests from other work teams said that they were going to use the Friday discussion prompts for their teams. Before I got back to my desk, a co-worker looked at me in earnest and said, “Really good meeting, thanks.”

The truth is that today, it wasn’t really my meeting at all. If given the choice, I wouldn’t have held it. I didn’t come up with the discussion prompt and I talked very little until the last 2 minutes. Prior to the meeting, I had tried to break through my grumpiness a couple of times with short meditations, listening to music, and even going for a brisk walk. Nothing helped. I had resolved to quietly grumble my way through my day and then sweat it out this weekend on a long run. Instead, I got support without asking for it. I was lifted by others’ stories of accomplishment and gratitude, which helped me practice my own. The mood carried me through a very productive day and into the evening.

I’m still a novice in my mindfulness practice. But I’m learning. I tend to be problem-solver and most of the time I can work things out for myself. Today, I learned first-hand about the power of having a support group – even when the group was none-the-wiser that they are supporting you. Sometimes, I just gotta get out of my own way.

A New Beginning

I originally started Quixote Goes as a travel blog. It was going to be a space where I wrote about planning, experiencing, and reflecting on travel. But shortly after I started it, my Dad got sick and went into the hospital for intensive care. After a 5-week battle with illness, he passed away. It wasn’t a total shock. His health hadn’t been the greatest over the past years. However, losing your father will cause you to reevaluate what’s important. At that time, keeping up a travel blog wasn’t near the top of the list.
More than a year has passed and I’ve been getting the motivation to write again. However, I’ve decided to expand the focus of Quixote Goes beyond travel. Since my Dad’s passing, I’ve become a different person. I still love to travel, but there’s more. In 2017, I ran the marathon that I contemplated in 2016 and then some. I also switched to a whole foods, plant-based diet. In addition, I began actively pursuing a mindfulness practice. As a result of these endeavors, I’ll open the topic list of this blog accordingly.

 

Over the past several weeks, I reflected on the name Quixote Goes. Does it still fit with this expanded subject matter list? Does the subject matter list even go together? How many Ohio-based, 40-something, office-working, imperfectly vegan, marathon running, fledgling zen buddhists who like to travel are there in the world, anyway? In the end, I decided to simply go with it. And like my beloved character Don Quixote, I’ll just have to see where the adventure goes.