Per aspera ad astra (Through hardships to the stars)

You can’t believe you got a flat tire on the way to your final interview for that killer job you are dying for. You can’t believe your ex just charged something on your joint account without telling you. You can’t believe the contractor just delayed the repairs on your house one more week. Hardships are going to come day in and day out, some worse than others. How you face them is critical to your well-being.

I remember the worst year of my life. I’ve been reflecting on it a lot since my dog and I were displaced by Hurricane Matthew seven months ago. The year was 1997 and I lived in Windsor, California. My son was 18 months old and my daughter was 4. I owned a restaurant that I was changing from a Sizzler franchise to a stand-alone restaurant called Coyote’s. I was attending the University of San Francisco (USF) at night for my Master’s in Human Resource and Organization Development. I owned a 3000-square foot house with an enormous mortgage. I asked my then-husband of thirteen years to help me carry the groceries from the car. He said, “No,” as he lay on the couch. It was there and then I decided I was leaving him. Needless to say, it was a tumultuous year. But I made it through.

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So why reflect on that you ask? Because I was so much better after surviving that year. I found out how strong I was and that I can survive anything. Here are my reflections on how to survive hardships and arrive safely in the stars:

 

  • Support.  Luckily, my parents lived a half block down the street so I had built-in childcare and a lot of financial support as I navigated the divorce. I also had a cohort of students at USF. A cohort is a group of people around the same age with similar interests. Our cohort was comprised of students in the same class for the entire coursework for our Master’s degrees. I can guarantee you, I would have dropped out of school if it wasn’t for that cohort and their support as I separated from my husband. My team at the restaurant were completely supportive as well. When you hit rough patches in your life, find some solid support.

 

  • Exercise.  I belonged to a gym at the time. I didn’t drop my membership, even though it was a financial hardship. I still needed to show up for class and exercise. It cleared my head. It helped me focus on something else besides the overwhelming situation that was my life at the time. Getting back into your body and out of your head is so important. I did not meditate back in 1997, but I do now and anything that gets me into my body and out of my head is so important. Be sure and exercise.

 

  • Faith. Practically everyone around me told me to sell my house. I mean everyone. But deep down inside I knew I could figure out how to hold onto it. I had faith in myself. I knew I was a strong, smart, hardworking woman and I could somehow swing that mortgage and make it through. I ended up renting out rooms in the house to some really great roommates whose rent helped me afford the house. I didn’t end up selling that house for another five years as it remained a constant home for my young children. I even sold it for a profit. Keep the faith. Believe in yourself.

 

  • Feel.  It’s so easy during difficult times to stuff your feelings. It’s easy to drink or medicate to dull the sensations. It’s so important to feel the sensations and feel your feelings. I know I grieved and cried a lot during the separation but I didn’t know to label the feelings. Now I do. So this is what “betrayal” feels like (pain in my stomach and heat on my neck). So this is what “abandonment” feels like (tears streaming down my face and a knot in my shoulders). As the famous unattributed quote says, “Sometimes you have to go through things and not around them.” Feel your way through.

 

  • Forgive.  It turned out that there were many sins my ex had committed that I was not aware of during our marriage. Initially, I was angry and hurt and most of all – resentful. It took me many years to forgive him. It wasn’t easy. But holding onto that resentment was causing me more harm than good. Searching for more ways of how he hurt me was only reopening the wounds and scarring them all over again. Finally forgiving him set me free. We are all trying to do the best we can. So was he. So was I. This is the most difficult part of getting past hardship. Remember to forgive.

 

  • Stand up.  I had many blows during that awful year including back taxes and other financial setbacks. Every time I had a blow, I got back up. I didn’t crawl into bed (or a bottle). I got back up to face the next day. My tenacity for getting back up helped me survive. Knowing that I had two small kids depending on me was a huge motivation as well. They are still my motivation to this day. Stand back up because there is someone out there who needs you.

 

In retrospect, that year taught me a lot about my own resilience and how much I adored and still adore my children. The resultant stars from that hardship are my own self-reliance and two beautiful, hardworking children who love and count on me. It doesn’t get much better than that. What are your stars?

Tenacity. My Son’s Secret to Success.

My son, Benson, just won a gold medal in a weightlifting competition. He wasn’t even a competitive weight lifter 12 months ago. I’m dumbfounded. How the heck did he do it? What about the 10,000 hours of practice that Malcolm Gladwell espoused in his book, Outliers? My son hasn’t been lifting anywhere close to 1,000 hours. So what gives? The only thing I can figure is that it’s his tenacity. He has that in spades. Tenacity.  My son's secret to success.

He has always been an athlete. He started playing soccer at the age of 4, then basketball in elementary school, followed by football, then wrestling and track to fill out his school year with sports. I have to say, he always showed up to win. No matter the odds. The cross town rival high school with kids twice the size of our team and a bench twice as deep, Benson always planned on winning. No matter, he would plan on winning the next game.

So what is the secret to being tenacious? Here is my take.

1. Humility. Tenacity becomes stubbornness with the loss of humility. As written by The Innovative Brain, “We all have experienced the stubborn person, and know from direct experience that stubbornness gradually causes a person, no matter their brilliance, to be marginalized.” I have to say that this is where my son really has developed in the last few years. I can remember lost soccer games when he was about 8 years old and he would be inconsolable. It was almost like he didn’t understand how If he did his best, the team could possibly lose. I don’t remember the tipping point but he has gained humility in recent years. Perhaps it’s maturity, or self-awareness, maybe a coach. Maintain humility.

2. Point B. Benson always knows where point B is. Whether it was qualifying for a state wrestling championships or a gold medal in the state championship track meet. Benson always goes big. You have to have aspirations for tenacity to show up. What’s the point of perseverance if your point B is getting to Friday at the end of the workweek? Benson has had so many audacious goals that if he told me he was going to go on a mission to Mars, I’d believe him. Be very clear about what your point B is and go after it.

3. Work. You can’t just wish things into happening. Tenacity involves a lot of work. Hard work. Rain or shine, my son has been lifting weights for the last 9 months, regardless of the sport. If it’s Wednesday, and therefore practice day, and we are in Key West on vacation, then he’s running sprints at 6 AM. I remember when we were looking at colleges, we would have to stop so that he could do his allotted training in a random college track. “Mommy, it’s Wednesday, I have to work out”. I think he knows every Crossfit location in lower Florida and eastern Carolina. He does the work without fail.

4. Risk. Benson embraces risk. I wasn’t there the first time he lifted 300 pounds over his head but if he wasn’t willing to risk having that barbell fall on his head, then he might as well stay home. Tenacity always involves pursuing something regardless of the risk. This can be dangerous of course. I remember him at the age of 2, running to the deep end of the pool and jumping in (with no one to catch him). When I arrived, I saw his big brown eyes looking up at me. He obviously survived but he’s always been willing to jump. Accept risk.

5. Support. Have a team to support you. Whether it’s a running club for a half marathon or a spouse willing to support you as you pursue nursing school. Tenacity is pointless without strong support. Benson has always managed to find a group or coach or friends for support. Sometimes I think he must cast a spell on those folks. He always has an entourage of supporters. This is lucky for me because, we always get video and photos of his accomplishments (even though we are a twelve hour drive away). He has a gift with people; find yours.

6. Angle. Benson always has an angle of how he’s going to get there. And he’s flexible about how to get there. He wanted his girlfriend to come to our house in North Carolina over winter break. Benson started coordinating and strategizing some 3 months in advance. Dates and modes of transportation and accommodations were moving and changing. But I knew once he said he wanted her to come, that he was going to make it happen. Tenacity is flexible and always has to have a strategy.

7. Inspiration. Benson is inspired by others and inspires others. I remember the Monday after my marathon, Benson tweeted “My inspiration for getting to my 8am today is my Mom’s WDW Marathon 2015. Bucket list item” He texted me right before the weightlifting competition started, “If you’re pulling for me, I can pull this weight”. I have to say that this year I am on a team to walk/run 2015 miles in 2015. I have to walk at least 3 miles a day to stay on track. When my alarm goes off at 5:30 AM, I know I need to get up and get going. My inspiration is my tenacious son. I know he’s showing up and doing the work. I need to as well. Find your inspiration.

8. Own it. As Benson has shared, “My lesson to anyone is play your own game. When wrestling, you can’t let your opponent dictate your game. You’ll end up on your back. I went two years without being pinned, and each of my opponents had to go 6 minutes with me if they really wanted to win. In the 400m, every step counts. Even the last 50m matter, especially when running against Benny. Looking back, I might have crossed 300m first only one time, but I always kept coming through the finish.”

9. Be yourself. Benson again, “That’s why I like the bar. There are a lot of ways to get the bar from the floor to overhead, and you have to craft a form that works best for you. It’s the best training partner too, because it never has a bad day! So showing up and sticking around is easy, because it’s always on my own time, and I play in a way that is uniquely me.” I can imagine that if I told Benson to be a weightlifter or a juggler or a race car driver, it wouldn’t matter. He would not have lifted a finger. It has to come from inside and not from anyone else. Tenacity is about living your own dream.

My son insisted I watch “Survive and Advance“, a documentary on Coach Jimmy Valvano‘s road to the NCAA National Championship. Jimmy V kept telling his dad that he wanted to go to the Final Four in the championship. His dad’s response was always, “My bags are packed”. If you are truly tenacious, you better pack your bags, because you are going somewhere. Are your bags packed?

Take Up the Gauntlet. 7 Strategies to Achieving Challenges.

I ran a marathon last week. This is a crazy notion for a 53 year old mother of two, non-athlete who would rather perfect a bread recipe than get up at 5 AM to run. What possessed me? Why in the world would I even take this up as a personal goal? I realize now, it’s because I am constantly trying to challenge myself. I want to push the envelope. Test my tenacity. Perhaps even surprise myself. I knew the minute I finished a half marathon last year that I was going to have to attempt the full Monty. As a running friend of mine says, “No one wants to run half of anything.” I needed to go the distance and I did! 7 Strategies to Achieving Challenges

Challenging yourself is great for your brain. You build new neuropathways and break out of the ruts of old habits. Whether it’s learning a new programming language, climbing a mountain or playing Rhapsody in Blue on a clarinet, they are all helping build your brain’s plasticity. In Dr. Norman Doidge’s book, The Brain That Changes Itself, there are many examples of how those who have lost brain function due to an accident or illness can rebuild the lost neuropathways. The only way to do that is to try new things. Dr. Doidge compares neuropathways to a slope with snow on it. You can go down any way you like but as you go down repeatedly, if you select the same path you start to build a rut. Good (exercising at 5 AM) or bad (a glass of wine at the end of the work day) either way you are building a path. Challenge yourself by picking a new path.

Here are some strategies to taking on a challenge:

1. Select. Decide which challenge you want to select. I felt like a marathon was the natural selection because I knew it would only get tougher the older I got. If I want to pick up my classical guitar at 60, there’s plenty of time for that. My knees and hips have a limited horizon in comparison to my fingers. My suggestion would be to pick something that is physically challenging if you are under 50 and something more mentally challenging if you are over 50. Either way, you need to decide but research that peak you want to summit, the river you want to raft or that certification you said you wanted ten years ago. Look at your options and make a selection.

2. Schedule. I have had my running scheduled out for the last seven months. I knew when I had to run 17 miles or 6 miles since May. Half if not 90% of the battle with a marathon is the preparation to run it. It’s a bad idea, especially at my age, to not train and show up to run 26.2 miles. In fact, it’s a recipe for disaster and injury. Same goes for learning a new programming language. Set aside 2 hours a week or 10 hours a week to work on learning the language. If you don’t need to spend several hours a week on your challenge, then it’s probably not enough of a challenge. Schedule time into your week to set yourself up for success.

3. Prepare. Prepare for adversity. There were days where I was supposed to run 10 plus miles and it was 30 degrees and raining out. I went to the gym. I started having bursitis in my hip about one month out from the race. I stopped walking my dog as I realized that her tugging on the leash was exasperating the injury in my hip. I was surrounded by folks who had the flu or had kids at home with the flu. I stuck to my office, didn’t shake hands and started using hand sanitizer like hand lotion. The most important thing in any race is to show up injury and illness free. Make sure you save your project or book to the cloud. Update your virus protection, get new strings for your guitar, and investigate the safest route to the summit. Prepare, prepare, prepare.

4. Bumps. There will be bumps in the road (or pot holes or trash bags or discarded cups). On the day of the race, it wasn’t supposed to rain until late in the afternoon, I was rained on for over two hours. I had left my plastic baggie to cover my phone in the hotel room (duh!). My phone survived but I had to let go. If I need a new phone, so what. It’s not like I could stop at a Walgreens to pick up a plastic baggie mid race. Lining up with 26,000 folks for the start of the race at 4:30 AM (yes…AM!), you are basically in the dark. There were discarded garbage bags, jackets, and the ground could be grassy or gravel or roadway. I needed to flow with the crowd and pay attention. Anticipate some bumps in your challenge. Be prepared to take an alternative path or reboot your computer or change a flat tire. Stuff happens. Just roll on past the bumps.

5. Support. Get some support. I had a ton of support for this race. Whether it was another marathon runner asking how my training run was over the weekend, my doctor (who has run 6 marathons) giving me race day advice, texts and messages from family and friends, or my daughter running alongside me at mile 13. We all need a little help from our friends. So if you don’t understand the software or how to string your guitar or which trail is the best to the summit, ask for help. Folks love to help and they really love cheering on an underdog. Get support.

6. Mindfulness. Anything as challenging as a marathon takes some mental fortitude and mindfulness. I abandoned the idea of listening to my own music as there were so many attractions along the run. Why try and zone out when I wanted to experience the “experience”. Whether it was my swollen Mickey Mouse hands, to the rain dripping the salty sweat onto my lips, to the slant of the exit ramps on my exhausted feet, to passing one more port a potty in hopes there would never be a line. I was there. So don’t multi task when you are figuring out that programming code. Don’t try and write the great American novel while watching Downton Abbey. Be present and mindful.

7. Serial. Be a serial challenge setter. I promised myself that I would have another challenge in mind by the end of the race. Many a marathoner warned me about the big letdown after the end of the race. I needed to answer the question of “what’s next”. Sure enough I decided to walk/run 2015 miles in 2015 with my childhood best friend. If you want to participate as well go to http://www.runtheedge.com/ if you would like to give it a shot as well. It’s always nice to know what the next challenge is. It keeps me focused and moving forward. Be a serial goal setter.

So what do you want to take on? How are you going to push the envelope? Don’t push off to “someday” that one thing you’ve always wanted to do. Set up that challenge and go after it.

Crossing the Finish Line. Goal Setting and, Most Importantly, Finishing.

I finally checked off a bucket list item on Saturday.  I finished my first half marathon.  Whew.  What a relief.  I must say it wasn’t easy but the sense of accomplishment is amazing.    I can remember when the goal first came out of my mouth.  I was working with an amazing Coach named Stephen Starkey.  We were working through a Brain Based Coaching process and I had to come up with three challenging goals to accomplish in 6 months.  I had initially figured I’d set my goal as running 10 miles.  Period.  Stop.  Mostly because I had run 10 miles before and I figured I could easily attain that goal.  Then Steve said, “Is that challenging enough?”  Whoa.  I knew  in my heart it wasn’t.  It was a softball goal.  So then I said “I want to run a half marathon”.  What?  Where in the world did that come from?  I wanted to grab the words with my hands and put them back in my mouth.  Did I mention I’m not a runner?  I’m a really slow jogger and, at that point, I was lucky to run …er jog two miles at a time.  It’s amazing how one coach and one question can prompt you to push yourself. Crossing the Finish Line.  Goal Setting and, Most Importantly, Finishing.

So it’s one thing to set the goal, it’s a whole other animal to actually finish; to cross the finish line.   How many New Year’s resolutions have you not accomplished?  Granted, there are folks out there with the stamina and chutzpa to just go run 13.1 miles without any training.  God bless them all.  But I’m over 50, not exactly svelte and it was going to take months of training to be able to survive the race and not leave it on a gurney.  This part was definitely accomplished with the steadfast help of another amazing Coach, Travis Marsh.  With his help, he kept me accountable to my goal and helped me plan out the action items to achieve it.  Having a coach made the difference.    

So what here are the steps to crossing the finish line:

1.  Challenging.  Go after something challenging.  Go for the uncharted territory.   If you are writing a blog, then write a book.  If you have your Associate’s degree, then get your Bachelor’s.  If you raised $500 for Cancer last year, raise $2,000 this year.  If you’ve run a 5K, then sign up for a 10k.  Push yourself.  It definitely helps to have a coach asking you, “Is that challenging enough?”  Go big or go home.

2. Google.   Google or research best practices.  This is invariably the first step for most of the clients I coach.   Find an article on how to write a book.  Research what school’s are the best for pottery making.  See where the best areas are to go reef diving.  Get a book on tango dancing.  Figure out which half marathon works best for you based on location and your personal commitments.  Invest in some research.

3. Plan.  Plan the steps to get there.  Within a few weeks of setting the goal, I had the strategies and some action steps already planned out.  Travis helped me break it up into manageable chunks.  I had my weekly long runs scheduled out all the way up to race day.  If you have a goal that does not require planning, then go back to step one and start over.  It’s not challenging enough.

4. Execute.  This is where you are going to have to show up.  I have run three times a week since I set the goal.  Rain.  Heat.  Humidity.  Darkness.  Plan on adversity.  As it turns out, the day of the race was overcast with drizzle, a temperature of 70 degrees and about 95% humidity.  Not ideal running conditions.  Although my mother figured I would call it off due to weather, I knew there was no way I was giving up on the goal.  I found a rain poncho and took a plastic baggie for my phone.  I had spent 5 months running and planning for this day.  Adversity or not, I was going to show up!   

5. Envision.  In the four days that lead up to the race, I was constantly trying to squelch my fear.  Fortunately, my son had sent me a YouTube link of Jimmy Valvano and the 1983 NC State Basketball team called “Survive and Advance”.  One of the most incredible things in the video, is that Jimmy V would have the team practice cutting down the nets (which is what happens for the winning basketball team after a championship game) every year.  Use an entire practice to cut down the nets.   First, of course, he had set the challenging goal of winning a national championship, and then, he made sure the team was envisioning success.  I started envisioning crossing the finish line, putting a 13.1 sticker on my car, and having the medal around my neck.  Envision success.

6. Support.  Make sure you have support.  Whether it’s someone to underwrite your education, drive you to the soccer tournament or proof read your manuscript.  I can assure you that if my husband had not been available to pick up a dozen Krispy Kreme’s  after a 14 mile run or been there at mile 12 of the race to help encourage me to the finish, I might still have finished but his support made it easier.  As well as the countless (I mean more than 100) people along the race route and in the race, who said “You’ve got this” or “Good job”, a high five or a thumbs up.  It carried me to the end.

7. Do it.   It’s going to take tenacity.  My son has spent three years planning and working towards running track for an NCAA Division 1 team.  He works out everyday.  He applied to the schools that fit his criteria.  He ultimately went to the school he had the best chance of making the team.  He contacted (pestered) the coach.  When he got to the University of Miami, he busted his hump at every practice.  He made the team.  His tenacity and work ethic paid off.  Just do it.

Now I’m in the enviable position of being unfettered.  I haven’t decided my next goal but I feel like anything is possible.  So get out there and cross that finish line.