Unexpected and surprising

Despite my love of habit and routines, a few unexpected and surprising things have happened recently… reminding me that surprising changes aren’t always bad. There were two surprising things in my life the last month or so…

The first is that I’m canceling my gym membership. This may not be “big” to some people, but again, some context. I have had a gym membership pretty much constantly since 2001. That’s 20 years. Before that, I was a travel nurse so didn’t stay in one place long enough to justify a membership. But as soon as I settled in the DC area in 2001? Gym membership. And I’ve never looked back. Until now.

So what happened? I think it was the intersection of several different factors: (1) the pandemic. I was just so over people not paying attention to the mask-wearing and / or distancing rules. I was tired of the lack of consideration of others, and the stress of wondering if the “maskless moron” (yes, I took to calling them that) was going to be there. (2) I was tired of driving even a short distance to do something that I can do right where I live. And it was even less appealing when it was -20 and snowing. Why was I risking my life? (Well, that applies to the pandemic situation and the drive in less than ideal conditions…). And (3) I can’t run right now, and I don’t know if I ever will. I might (MIGHT) be able to walk/run but I have had such difficulties from an illness/injury almost 2 years ago that it probably won’t happen. I’ve been a regular runner since 2001, too. And surprisingly, I’m… mostly okay with this. Running had gotten so hard. It wasn’t fun anymore. It hurt. And I was running the risk of injury. All good reasons to switch to my now well-loved stationary bike, plus the elliptical in the apartment building when I want to do that.

The second surprise? Bonding with my dad over music. Again, some context. My dad has never claimed to be musical, mostly being told to “mouth the words” in kindergarten music class. Yes, seriously. I can’t even believe a teacher would say that, but apparently it happened, and it has made him believe for his entire life that he is “not musical”, and can’t sing. (He’s completely wrong, of course, but you try undoing 75+ years of believing something that strongly…) A few weeks ago, he started sending me links to YouTube music in his daily emails to me, connected either to the day of the week (e.g., Monday, Monday). He’s since branched out to music that he just finds and likes.

Well, imagine my surprise when one of the songs he linked “for something different” was one of my favorite groups that I’ve been listening to on repeat recently! I was floored. How did my dad and I both hit on Tide Lines (modern Scottish folk, if you were wondering) completely separately? And this led to the rather surprising realization that, despite what I have believed nearly my entire life, I am more like my dad than my mom, at least in terms of personality, life philosophy, etc. That’s a subject for another post, but for now, let me just say that I am loving this surprise and now, the fun of finding more music for my dad to explore.

They say people don’t change. I beg to differ. 🙂

Be Open to Change - SmartHustle.com

A week of Mondays

That’s what the last week has felt like.

A week of changes, frustrations, annoyances, lots of peopling, and just an overwhelming sense of, well, too much.

I knew that reentry into real life was going to be hard. I knew that there were a lot of changes coming. I think I just had my head in the sand, thinking that things would just continue as they were, that I could just keep moving forward the way I have the last 18+ months.

Whoops. Talk about a miscalculation. Now that the changes – both those I have initiated, and those that have been, well, thrust upon me – are sweeping in, I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed and a lot underprepared. And like I said, it’s my own fault, for not wanting to see that this was going to happen – that it was inevitable – and that the best thing I could do would be to prepare. I don’t think I did. At least not to the extent that I should have.

It’s not that I am not embracing some of the changes – believe me, it was good to spend even a few hours in the office yesterday, even if most of that was spent wrestling with the printer (argh, why?). I got to see 2 of my favorite people – a bit of serendipity. (Sidenote: I was going to write “unexpected serendipity” but, well, isn’t ALL serendipity unexpected? After all, that’s kind of the point…)

And it reminded me that even if I didn’t prepare myself well, even if the changes kind of snuck up on me, well, the only thing I can do now is respond to them as best I can. Maybe I am not ready to fully embrace them – give me some time, here! – but I can at least recognize them for what they are, realize that I am unable to change many of them, and just, well, remain calm.

One thing I have been doing the last, oh, month or so was inspired by Kae, over at Grateful Kae. As you may have gleaned from the name, she brings in something to be grateful for, each and every day. I’ve been doing the same. Sometimes, my gratitude is for something really simple (usually food, if I’m being honest!). Other times, though, it surprises me how much I am grateful for, despite what seemed like a really off day. It is a good reminder that there is some good in every day, and that it’s probably a bit better to focus on that, not the endless cycle of frustration.

That I’m even here at all…is astonishing. Because it could just as easily have not been the case.
I am humbled by that. I am humbled by the the absolute improbability that any of this is happening…

~Josh Radnor

Racing down the river…

No, not an actual river (although, honestly, that sounds kind of nice).

I can’t decide if it’s the river of time, or of life, although honestly, those are pretty similar when you stop and think about it. What I’m trying to get at is that I feel like I am hurtling through life right now, swept along by the urgency of getting all the things done before the semester starts.

It’s enough more challenging than usual this year, since I spent the last 2 weeks of July blissfully engaged in the online course I was taking. I disconnected from pretty much everything else that was going on, and just did the bare minimum to get by. And it was lovely.

But since I returned to real life, well, it’s been nonstop, and top speed.

I know this happens to everyone at different points in the year; it just so happens to be my turn. And I know this happens every year – so it shouldn’t surprise me, but it does. Every year. So why am I surprised? Why does it take me off guard – every year – even though I know that it is coming?

I’ve been stymied in my attempts to do my morning reading – currently in the middle of an Alan Lightman book for my AM reading (I try to pick something with a bit more depth than I read in the evenings). I’ve gotten back in the habit of jumping right into emails as soon as I open my computer. I’ve been sorely neglecting this blog, and my own attempts to help myself through these stressful periods of life.

So it’s time to reset. Just a bit. The semester will be on me soon enough. But you know what? The 20 minutes I take to read in the morning, the opportunity to come and share my thoughts here – those are too important to me to just throw them out because life is “busy”. Life is always going to be busy. It’s time to recalibrate things a bit and remember that yes, work is important, but so is life.

I think I’ve shared this one before, but it still rings true…

Be over DO Headline

One of the best things about the blogosphere – and, particularly, the blogs I choose to read – is that it reminds me that there is a whole wide world out there, and there are a lot of ways in being in the world that differ from my way of being in the world. I learn so much from those who just do things differently. So if you’re reading, I probably read your blog too. And I just wanted to say thanks for reminding me to look up, to look around, and to maybe consider that a slightly different approach will not only be better for me, but it won’t keep me from getting where I want and need to be.

Off to get this Monday started…

Values and Learning

An odd subject, perhaps, but one that’s been on my mind of late. I spent the last two glorious weeks immersed in learning about one of my favorite topics, focusing nearly exclusively on that. It was wonderful. It was mentally exhausting. But it was also exhilarating.

I wondered why I felt simultaneously tired and energized… but it wasn’t the kind of cognitive and sensory overload that typically comes at the end of a long day of meetings, or even the physical fatigue I feel after a long day out in nature. My brain was completely fried but in a good way. I felt like I was using brain cells that had been dormant for too long. Waking them up and getting them firing again wasn’t easy, but oh, it was rewarding. I was energized because, well, wow. So many new and interesting and exciting things to learn. This course does a wonderful job of presenting cutting-edge data and information. So when I attend I know that I am going to expand the boundaries of my knowledge, which to me is one of the best possible things I can experience.

I realized that what I get out of this course – and others that I have the good fortune to participate in – directly aligns with one of my main values. You know those lists of values you see floating around, typically just a collection of words focused on different things – like family, education, justice, equality, etc? One of my top values is the combination of learning / education / knowledge. Learning because it can be formal or informal, and it’s lifelong; education because it’s one approach to learning, and one to which everyone should have access; and knowledge, because to me that is the outcome of learning and education.

For me, that value means growing, stretching my mental muscles, learning new things and new ways of thinking about the world. There is so much we don’t know. Learning as much as possible about ourselves and the world we live in is, to me, a basic principle of being human. I try so hard to foster a love of learning in my students… and not just educate them because the curriculum dictates that I need to. Lifelong curiosity, learning, seeking knowledge? To me, that’s the best possible way to live, and I hope that I can get at least some of my students to agree with me.

This applies to my research, too. Research generates knowledge. How cool is that? It doesn’t take what is known and use it in some way. Instead, research lets you push the boundaries of what is known. Ask the questions that haven’t been answered yet, and try your best to find the answers. I always say that the best part of doing research is that you never manage to answer “the last question”. There is no end – only more questions brought up by the ones that you (at least temporarily) answered. The quest for knowledge, for understanding? It’s what gets me out of bed in the morning.

So, what can I learn today? Time to find out…

Great thinkers don’t boast about how much they know; they marvel at how little they understand… A mark of lifelong learners is recognizing they can learn something from everyone they meet.

~Adam Grant

(From his new book, Think Again, which I need to read…)