Tuesday, January 21, 2014

When You've Conquered Your Fears, Go Higher

I am training for my first triathlon and trying not to flip out and completely lose it. It probably would have been smarter for me to explore a thousand different challenges that don't send me into the level of panic I feel with my first triathlon less than five months away. I could have, for example, mustered up the courage to audition for the role as the second black female cast member on 'Saturday Night Live' (but I'm not funny), or tried to be a swimsuit model (insert your own joke here). But no, I decided to tackle one of the most daunting things I could think of. Silly me.

For some, training for a tri is a piece of cake. You swim. You bike. You run. How hard could it be, right? And yet, all I can think of when I'm in the water attempting to do a 4 x 100 meter tempo swim is, What in the hell have I gotten myself into? Why in the world would I put myself through this? I pull my goggles over my eyes and sulk a little when no one is watching. Then I finish my pathetic little swim session and out of breath, I hoist myself out of the pool and march into the women's locker room. I pull off my swimsuit, throw my head back and laugh out loud. It doesn't matter that I'm standing naked in a puddle of chlorinated water while a group of cute, little Asian ladies give me the side eye. Doesn't matter at all. I laugh because I think of every little thing I've ever tried to accomplish, from the mundane to the sublime. I laugh at how farfetched some of my challenges have been. And I tell myself to be proud because I've completed them all. Running a marathon. Check. Done eleven of those bad boys. Writing a book. Check. Working on another one now. Living abroad and learning enough Italian, Spanish and Japanese to survive. Check. Well, that was often a comedy of errors trying to manage life in a foreign land with two little kids in tow. But that's another story for another time.

Essentially, my life has been filled with setting my sights on lofty goals and stepping so far outside of my comfort zone that when I turn around, I can no longer see it in the distance. This gives me an edge, keeps me hungry and let's me know I can do anything. It may not be pretty but you can believe that I'll get it done. I will admit, however, that I am scared shitless at the idea of competing in a triathlon.

Six reasons why I'm doing it anyway:

1) When you've conquered a fear, you should celebrate that accomplishment, then go higher. Getting stuck is for Suckas! 

We are all allowed to pause and bask in the glow of our achievements. That's fair. But staying there forever? Nope. That's a losing proposition. Once you know can do something pretty cool like starting a successful business, learning a language, earning a pilot's license or passing the Series 7, it's time to build upon all that awesomeness and take it higher. This is how I feel about my love for semi-competitive/weekend warrior sports like running. Been there, done that. Now after all these years of running, it's time to elevate because I know I can.

2) Trying something new and pushing myself is mandatory. 

Running is my first love. God willing I will run until I'm a little old lady. I've been a runner pretty much all my life. I ran from, and sometimes chased after, the boys on the schoolyard when I was a little girl with my braids flying in the wind behind me. I joined a track team in the fifth grade and I also ran track competitively the first two years of high school in Hawaii in the 80s. Sure I took time off from running as a college student because I had much more important things to do like going to parties... keg parties, parties at the Illini Union, parties at the Kappa House, parties at the Alpha House, you name it, me and my crew were there. Oh, and then there was that little thing called going to class and earning my degree. These life events were much more important than running (especially the partying) and if you don't see it that way, then you're being really short-sighted right now. Shame on you.
Me running my first half-marathon in Sept. 2003

Fast forward to bona fide adulthood. I started taking running seriously in my late 20s when I lived in Japan. I ran with a good friend, Laurie, who had finished three marathons. I was inspired but frustrated because at the time I couldn't run comfortably for more than three miles. I could not imagine running 26.2 miles but I told Laurie I wanted to give it a shot and train for a marathon. She wrote out a training plan for me and I didn't get started right away but once I made up my mind, I followed her plan. In 2003, I completed the first of ten half-marathons and what would become the first of eleven full marathons (and counting), and I haven't looked back. Now it's time to step my game up, work new muscle groups and achieve something new.

3) Learning is invigorating. 

I am learning breathing techniques, what I should prepare for in an open water swim and how to correct some of my egregious mistakes in the pool. This entire process of learning to swim the right way is humbling but also invigorating. Each time I reach a new milestone like running strong after an exhausting swim (I had never done that before) or getting through a kick ass spin class, I'm on top of the world. I have discovered that when I feel good about something I accomplish simply because I want to and not because I have to, it spills over into other areas including my work and how I deal with my family. It gives me confidence and makes me feel open to endless possibilities for other good things to happen in my life.

4) Getting and keeping this body right is a priority. 

I'm happy with who I am and have settled comfortably into being perfectly imperfect. That said, I'm hoping to see these thighs slim down and these abs tighten up a little more throughout my triathlon training. Ah, my never ending quest to be body beautiful, at least in my own eyes.

5) My triathlete friends are buying me a new car when I finish the race. Lucky me.

Some of my awesome triathlete friends.
Left to right: Nellie, Valerie, Sharon and Frances
Okay, this isn't true at all but maybe if my friends read this, they'll get the hint and have a fabulous new car adorned with a huge red bow waiting for me when I cross the finish line! In truth, my very close running friends, many of whom are longtime triathletes and some of the most accomplished women I know, are traveling to my town to do the tri with me. I am blessed beyond words to have strong, athletic, women friends who support one another. I have known for some time that they will always be by my side encouraging me to overcome my fears and I try to do the same for them. They are true gifts to me. Frances, Freda, Celeste, Valerie, Nellie, Noni, Sharon, Bernadette, Carmen, Dayi, Susan, Jackie, and Valarie, I love each of you. And a special shout out to my cousin, Todd, who completed his first tri last summer. He's a bad ass and I love him to death. Todd is holding my hand through this process, giving me great advice and cheering me on.

6) I am worth investing in me. 

My mental and physical health are huge investments and I plan to honor myself, conquer my fears and go higher for as long as I possibly can because I'm worth it. And you are worth investing in yourself too. What fear will you conquer this year? How will you go higher? I'd love to know.

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Thursday, January 16, 2014

Life is Not a Zero-Sum Game

I've been following New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's "Bridgegate" fallout since the story broke over a week ago. I find it fascinating that Christie is catching so much heat for something he allegedly had no knowledge of. And now, according to Business Insider, his administration has hired a dynamite legal team to investigate the Fort Lee, NJ lane closures as he faces state and federal inquiries.

Here's the thing: Like many other Americans, I don't believe for a second that Christie, a rising star in the Republican party, would allow his Deputy Chief of Staff --- or any of his minions --- to wield that kind of power without his consent or approval. Though charismatic and likable, he is too controlling to allow something like this to happen. Too hungry for power. Too determined to win. So I'm calling bullshit on this disavowal of knowledge Christie is trying to sell the American public. I think his thinly-veiled control issues are finally catching up with him. 

I liken Christie to so many others for whom life and power consist of a series of zero-sum games. In order to win, someone else must lose. And for someone else to win, they must lose. What exactly are they winning when their currency of choice consists of lies, denial and corruption? 

Huh, Bernie Madoff? Please speak into the mic, we can't hear you. 
What were you saying, former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich? 

This kind of dirty politics and bad behavior eventually catches up with said offenders. I see it all the time. Politicians, fund managers, CEOs, Hollywood elite and everyday people lie and deceive, free-falling into the zero-sum game. They ultimately unravel when they don't get their way because they are consumed with the idea of winning. 

But winning what? Against whom? 

You've seen them too. They kick, scream and often have very public meltdowns. They slowly implode.

Enter Kanye West. 

While West is no politician, he is certainly a talented artist who has overdosed on his own power. His public rants, self-declared genius status and physical attacks on the always ridiculous paparazzi (who are not without fault) demonstrate his psychosis. West, too, is caught up in this zero-sum game of winning at all costs. He cries that as an artist, his intentions and business acumen are misunderstood.

I appreciate West's hunger. I applaud his drive because we all need some of this to succeed in our own lives. But he exhausts me. I get so tired of seeing him posture and pretend in front of anyone with a camera and a mic. Stop it, Kanye. Stop believing you're the only one who can ascend to greatness. Stop playing the victim. Stop being fixated on winning for winning's sake. Stop buying into the idea that in order to win, you have to take others down. 

Of course we can't all be politicians, musicians or public figures and thankfully, not everyone wants to be. But we can all win at something. I wake up every day thinking about how I should approach a subject I'm writing about, how I should develop pitch angles for my clients, or how I can overcome my own fears and inadequacies to face an upcoming triathlon I'm participating in. Every day I try to be deliberate in my thinking. I try to slow myself down long enough to plot and strategize about how to win in my own life, not how to covertly plot against someone who doesn't support me. I honestly don't have the time to think about other peoples' agendas. Screw the editor who doesn't respond to my pitches (that are all fabulous, by the way!) For every editor who doesn't like my ideas or my writing style, there are others who respect me, see my value and appreciate my voice. I tell myself that I must keep climbing to be the best possible writer and entrepreneur I can be. 

For me, life is absolutely not a zero-sum game. And like most people I know, I am in it to win. But someone else doesn't have to lose in order for that to happen. We can all win.