On Competing Against Yourself: A Runner’s Confession

If you’d rather watch this content on YouTube:

The subtitle of this article is: Don’t worry about the fast girls.

There’s a story behind that and a broader application to non-runners, both of which I’ll share below.

As a runner out there for my fitness, I must constantly remind myself that my main competition is not the other runners on the trail. It’s me.

I’m competing against:

… the time from my last run.
… my temptation to skip that workout for various reasons- some legit, some not.
… getting complacent because I’ve already worked out x times this week.

Don’t worry about the fast girls

I’ve been running for fitness off and on since high school. During the “off” times, I hesitate to describe myself as a runner, because, imposter syndrome. But I’ll claim it — I’m a runner.

In my mid-20s I got into road races because I realized that training for a race was the surest way to keep me strapping on those running shoes consistently. In those days, I didn’t need to do it to lose weight because I was already reasonably fit and had that excellent young adult metabolism that I didn’t yet know was a short-term gift.

Fast forward a few years, a few “off” times and a few dozen pounds, and I was back at it. This time I ate regular servings of humble pie as I realized that pace and endurance that came so much easier before were now a challenge to chase down.

But what about the fast girls you mentioned?

At the time of this writing, I once again find myself building my cardio base back up after a few years of focusing on strength training and letting my running habit lapse. I don’t regret my decision, but now I am facing the implications as I train to complete a 10k trail run this fall.

Humble pie is back on the menu as I hit the running path and clock times that are waaay slower than during my last bout of consistency. But I’ve played this game enough to realize that “use it or lose it” is a thing. I have to earn back that endurance.

Enter: the fast girls

The other day, as I felt proud of myself for putting in an extra half mile over my previous run, a young lady with her dog cruised by me at an incredible rate.

She looked familiar. Yes, I recognized her from when she used to blow past me a few years ago when I was in the same situation I am now. (When you run the same route at the same time of day, you often see the same faces and get familiar with them, which is fun.)

As an aside, she’s likely been running that same trail during these years I was absent, which would explain her impressive pace.

My first reaction was bummed out that she left me in her dust.

As an aside: One of the things I do when that happens is to try to keep up a pace that at least lets me keep the fast girl in sight, instead of pulling so far ahead on the winding path that she vanishes.

In this case, I was not able to keep her in sight. Again, I had to remind myself that I am in rebuilding mode. She, apparently, isn’t.

Don’t worry about the fast girls.

All I need to do is keep showing up. The endurance will build. The improved pace will come after that.

A broader application

The “fast girls,” in this case, are the object against whom I compare myself. But the “fast girls” can be a general type applied to most situations.

Starting a business?
The “fast girls” might be those entrepreneurs already making good money that seem to be living the dream.

Working on eliminating a bad habit?
They might show up as the Instagram gurus showing you the fabulous life they’ve built after “effortlessly” slaying what you’re struggling to do.

Struggling day to day for other reasons?
They might be those folks who curate a perfect social media feed, leading everyone to believe their lives are perfect.

For whatever scenario you find yourself in, don’t worry about the “fast girls.”

Maybe they’ve chosen to overshare their successes and edit out the parts where they were broke, desperate, enslaved to a bad habit, or those pictures without the edits and filter where you see the messy background and they have no makeup.

As I feast on humble pie while girls who have been doing the work consistently breeze past me, I strengthen my resolve to keep getting out there. I hope you will, too, regardless of what you might be training for.

Because after all, I am only competing against myself.

Drop a comment below to share what you’re working towards. I’d love to hear. Thank you for reading!

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A Tribute to My Dad For His 80th Birthday

July 19, 2022, marked my dad, Doug Hamilton’s 80th birthday. Such a momentous occasion calls for a tribute!

My dad (my brother Garth and I call him Bo, and that is how I will refer to him henceforth) is an incredible man. But don’t take my word for it. Ask anyone who knows him well, and they will be easily able to expound on his many outstanding qualities.

For this post, I’ll share some memories intermixed with whatever the opposite of a roast is.

Teaching me to ride a bike, cheering me on at my first triathlon, skiing, and my wedding day!

Looking back

It was sometime in my early adulthood that I had an epiphany.

When people say, “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” meaning, kids often end up being like their parents, I realized that if that were true of me, that would be an accolade, not a point of shame.

To end up like my parents would be something I would be proud of! That was a profound realization for me.

But as it concerns a tribute to Bo, I’ll share my perspective on what are some cherished memories.

The formative years really were!

A theme that always jumps to the top of mind when reflecting on being raised by Bo and my mom is his consistent, deliberate efforts to provide Garth and me with various enriching experiences to help shape us into well-rounded adults. The main categories I’ll describe are recreation and travel.

Recreation

Being active and enjoying the outdoors were deeply engrained into our upbringing. From being hauled around in child carrier backpacks on hikes when I was a baby, to being taken out hiking not long after I started walking, Bo was very strategic in passing along his love of the trails.

One of my earliest hiking memories is Bo packing sandwiches and candy bars for a hike up Hamilton Mountain when I was just a little tike. Knowing that treats could bribe his sugar-loving daughter, he patiently urged me on when I got tired and crabby, providing the future reward of peeling open that candy bar when we got to our lunch break.

It worked. 🙂

Dozens, if not hundreds, of hikes while under my parents’ roof translated into Garth and me being hiking freaks as adults. (Garth even more so, but that is another story.)

Same with bike riding. Being gifted a bike at an early age, and encouraged to ride it, turned me into an enthusiastic grown-up recreational biker.

Let’s talk about waterskiing. (I could talk about it all day, but I’ll be brief.) Waterski vacations/lake days filled our summers with skiing, tubing, wakeboarding, and swimming galore. I was like a little fish that felt most at home splashing around Lake Merwin, Yale, or Banks Lake for our annual weeklong trip. Those are some fond memories I’ll always hold dear.

Snow skiing too, oh my! Another regular for us that I enjoy to this day.

Travel

My folks had a motorhome for most of my childhood, which was our home base while waterskiing at Banks Lake, and the vehicle by which we’d frequently go “camping” at state parks, spending quality time together and making memories as a family.

Travel and recreation go hand-in-hand, and Bo would usually go to the trouble of bringing our bicycles along on RV trips, and would initiate rides around wherever we were staying. My adolescent self made countless loops up and down the trails and loops of Fort Stevens State Park.

Specific memories 

On our motorhome trips, Bo would often awaken Garth and me earlier than we would normally rise so we could go on walks around the campground while Vive (my mom) was getting her beauty sleep. The extra special element is that he’d make us a cup of hot chocolate to go in our designated plastic mugs (we each had a different color) so we’d have something to sip while we walked and talked and he drank his coffee.

Bo showed a tremendous amount of patience in teaching us the recreational hobbies we came to cherish:

  • During waterski days, he’d pull the boat around for another attempt as often as we wanted when we failed to rise above the water after calling, “Hit it!” He usually had helpful, unsolicited feedback on what we were doing wrong.Similarly, he encouraged me to take as many runs as I could when it was my turn in the water. Only when my arms or legs gave out, and I was ready to surrender the rope to the next person, would I be encouraged to get back into the boat. (I never wanted to get back in; I wanted to swim indefinitely!)
  • When hitting the slopes in the winter, he endured my childish temper tantrums when I wasn’t learning the mechanics of skiing fast enough to suit me, calmed me during my freakouts when I thought I couldn’t navigate the steepness of the hill, and carried my gear back to the car when I was tired and cranky.

In retrospect, it occurred to me that Bo (and Vive) spared no expense to give us a childhood full of abundance and adventure.

As an adult, I now see how expensive and how much work goes into each one of the hobbies Bo made sure we practiced regularly. Yet he willingly chose to pour out the labor and cost necessary for us to have those experiences. For that, I am eternally grateful.

Continuing into adulthood

Bo walking me down the aisle

Bo and I have remained close over the years, and much of the credit for that goes to him for being extremely proactive about scheduling get-togethers and calling for impromptu coffee dates when he is on my side of town.

Transitioning into adulthood, I’ve had the pleasure of leaning on Bo for wisdom as I navigate challenging situations with relationships, co-workers, terrible bosses and self-doubt that threatened to crush my spirit many times.

With a successful career in management and administration, Bo always has abundant, helpful words of wisdom to share that helped me climb out of some situations I couldn’t see a way out of.

From movie nights to dinners out and holidays, it has been an absolute pleasure to be able to do life with my fantastic daddio. I cherish the time we get to spend together and hope there are many more years to come!

 

 

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On Rebounding from Failure (Or less than stellar progress)

It’s an experience that plagues all of us from time to time: failure. Although failure is a harsh term, which is why I added (or less than stellar progress) to the title.

As I’ve reflected on this year, I could easily use either term to describe how I think things have gone. Since I’m an optimist who prefers to look at things in a positive light, “less than stellar progress” feels more fitting.

What I plan to do in this post is briefly share about how my year has gone, the actions I am taking to change course, and provide some encouragement for you if you are wading through a state of disappointment on your current progress.

2022 has been weird. It came at us fast, starting with minor but prolonged illness. That threw things off course from the get-go.

As we recovered (“we” being my husband Mike and me), I found myself in a perpetual catch-up mode, from which it seems I am still recovering.

An aside: I have a deep desire to live a structured, well-planned and organized life to maximize my productivity for my well-being and the glory of God. I’ve written about my aspirations on that front here and here.

A business coach I was working with last year shared with me a principle that I found extremely insightful:

Make plans for the ordinary things in your schedule that you can control. But know that there will be abnormalities, and make room for those also.

What did I find insightful about that?

  • It acknowledged that there are limits to what we can control – a good reminder (“the best-laid plans…”)
  • To experience a deviation from what we plan is normal, and should be expected
  • Make room for exceptions and don’t beat yourself up when they throw you off track

If you have a plan in place, you have something to go back to once the disruption has sorted itself out.

How the year has gone

I won’t belabor all the details of how I perceive my plans getting derailed and my progress stalled. I will say that feeling behind from the outset of the year, and the year speeding by as they tend to do, has me bewildered that it is now June (at the time of this writing), and my best-laid plans have gathered some dust.

I expected that my new business model would be further along.

I thought surely I’d have gotten more consistent with my workouts. (It’s been hit and miss.)

I had hoped to have a bigger dent in the pile of books “to be read.”

What to do about it?

There are a few things I could do – and you also if you are lagging on your goals:

  • Allow the feeling of defeat to weigh me down – like a weighted blanket or soaking wet towel on my shoulders (saying things like, “well, the year is already half gone, so I might as well wait until January and start fresh with new year’s resolutions.”)
    No. That is not how I will react. I hope you won’t, either.
  • Acknowledge the abnormality/lack of progress for what it is.
    Think about what caused it. Journal to make sure I’ve fully processed it.
    Then:
  • Make a plan for getting back on track.
    How that looks is different for everyone. For me, it means re-committing to some of the things I’ve let slide:

    • Regular workouts in the morning before work
    • Taking 30-60 minutes at the start of each weekday for progress toward one of my many organizational and learning projects
    • There are so many more, but I’m learning to focus on 1-2 at a time, and not try to tackle everything all at once

A positive spin

Because of my recessive “woe is me” gene, it feels compulsory to add some positive notes to even what seems like a negative topic.

If you’re feeling burdened by the state of your goals, here are two things you can think about:

  • The last two and a half years have been the most bizarre, disruptive and disturbing of my lifetime. Maybe yours too, depending on your age. You’ve made it through. You’re still alive and kicking. That alone is worth giving yourself some grace. Maybe, just maybe, it’s OK to have stunted progress in the midst of a pandemic, massive recession, wars and record inflation.
  • Something I try to do is to focus on what *has* gone well, or what I *have* accomplished. Maybe even just a good habit or three that you’ve been able to maintain in the midst of chaotic uncertainty.

    – Still working out consistently? Fantastic job!
    – Flossing regularly? Go you!
    – Chipping away at some continuing education or chapters on a book?
    – Learning a new skill?
    – Keeping the house clean-ish even when you don’t feel like it?
    – Looking outside yourself to serve and encourage others?

    Celebrating the small wins is a key to keeping motivated to keep pursuing the bigger ones. At least I think so. Would you agree?

In conclusion, I hope that you are able to gather at least some encouragement from reading this. We’re navigating some frontiers that few are equipped for or experienced in.

I have a feeling I might not be alone in feeling perpetually behind on EVERYTHING. If you feel that way too, know that you are not alone. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

I’ll close with this quote (ahem, paraphrase):

When you’re not sure what to do, keep it simple. Just do the next right thing. Then the next. Then the next.

 

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Top secret trick for introverts

Top secret trick 
for introverts
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Tactical vs. Strategic: Getting Clear on How to Achieve Goals

Do you know what I mean when I say, “tactical vs. strategic” as a method for getting clear on achieving goals?

So we can start with the appropriate mindset, I’ll provide definitions of both:

Tactical:

: of or relating to tactics: such as

(1): of or relating to small-scale actions serving a larger purpose

(2): made or carried out with only a limited or immediate end in view

b: adroit in planning or maneuvering to accomplish a purpose

Strategic:

: necessary to or important in the initiation, conduct, or completion of a strategic plan

The way I like to think of it is this:

Strategic action is planning and executing the big picture of a goal or objective.

Tactical action is the carrying out of smaller steps that are necessary in the service of the strategic goal.

What I’ll do in this post is, as briefly as possible, layout:

  1. Some examples of strategic vs tactical action
  2. Why it is important to understand the difference
  3. Some takeaways for execution

My motive for writing this is because I find this to be such a critical concept to understand, and one that stands in the way of achieving bigger goals if it is not understood and practiced.

A confession: I love tactical action. I’m addicted to it. It feels so good to make a list of to-dos and start chipping away at it. But I’ve realized that tactical, in the absence of strategic, can often result in lots of small picture stuff getting done, but no movement on larger goals.

I aim to always be optimizing the way I do things, so getting a clearer focus on tactical vs. strategic strikes me as quite important.

What are some examples of tactical vs. strategic actions or goals?

A strategic goal would be something like losing 30 pounds, gaining 10 pounds of muscle, lowering my cholesterol by 50 points, reading 10 books this year, get a new career.

In other words, bigger things that require careful planning to accomplish.

It’s very likely that you’ve heard of “SMART goals.” That is a key to strategic planning; I won’t belabor that here other than to say that goals should be specific.

“Improve my running pace by 2-minutes per mile” beats “get faster at running” or “get in better shape” all day long.

Some tactical actions to support a strategic goal of losing 30 pounds would be:

  • Logging food intake: what types, the calories, macros
  • Reducing consumption of problem areas (too many calories, too much sugar, etc.) by a specific amount. E.g. Reducing intake by 500 calories per day.
  • Keeping an exercise journal
  • Weighing or measuring yourself weekly

To accomplish a strategy, it has to be broken down into tactical action. But where it gets tricky is determining which is which, and figuring out the right way to balance them.

This leads to the next point:

Why is it important to understand the difference between tactics and strategy?

I’ve wasted a lot of time over the years spinning my wheels with tactics (small actions) without clarity on the bigger picture, or strategy. In some cases, I’m ashamed to admit, I didn’t even have a strategy. I was just being busy doing things because it seemed like the right thing to do.

Without devolving too much into sounding like a motivational speaker, I’ve come to realize that strategy is more aligned with your “why” – the reason you do what you do. Furthermore, it is about your vision of who you are, who you wish to become, and what you want to accomplish.

A personal example

To turn the mirror towards me for a moment, I’ll share with you how this is playing out in my life as a business owner.

I wrote in my 2021 Year in Review post about my successes and areas for improvement in 2021.

I’ve realized that the following things all collided to contribute to my less-than-stellar performance:

  • Being blessed to have a growing client list that kept me hopping most of the year
  • My love for tactics over strategic planning, which led to:
  • Not using my time as well as I wanted
  • A lack of systems to keep me honest in how I used my time

So, what am I doing to address those things?

For one, I’m keeping it real by writing publicly about it. (Grimaces.) But otherwise, I am implementing the following:

  • I hired a business coach in the summer of 2021 that I meet with monthly to help me sort through my business challenges. (Update since this post was originally drafted: my coach took a different gig recently, so I am navigating my strategy and system-building solo at the moment.)
  • I plan to schedule regular periods of review regarding how I think things are going. Not just an end-of-year analysis, but at least twice-yearly, if not quarterly.
  • On a tactical level, I recreated my daily time planning grid to make it more accommodating to my style (I was previously using something I found online).
    • I added a spot at the end of each day to write “how did it go today?” and “what to change?” so I can provide analysis on even a daily level.
  • I am re-reading a book I read and reviewed called “Do More Better” by Tim Challies. This book was foundational in shaping my approach to productivity several years ago. I figured it was time to revisit it.

These things and likely more will be added to the mix to help me operate from a greater sense of purpose and with sharper focus and action towards my goals.

By God’s grace, I’ve come a long way over the years in increasing the order with which I live my life. But there is always room for improvement. Always. As I pursue life with the mindset of Colossians 3:17, 23, I recognize the higher purpose for everything I do, whether tactical or strategic.

Some takeaways on implementing tactical vs strategic goals

If I can distill down the top things I’ve learned, it would be:

  1. Get clear on your mission in each area of your life. Again, for Christians, I highly recommend Tim Challies’ “Do More Better.” It would help all people with organization, but its unique focus on Christian productivity sets it apart from other books of its kind. James Clear’s “Atomic Habits” is another outstanding book that will help in building better habits. Once you know your mission, you can honestly evaluate where you are and where you want to be.
  2. Write out your strategic goals (longer-term, more involved)
  3. Write out as many subordinate tactical action items as you need to under each item in #2 that will help clarify the task at hand
  4. Choose one or two things to implement to start. It’s easy to get overwhelmed if you try to tackle everything at once. I know from repeat experience. Once you are established in chipping away at those few things, then add something else if you think you can sustain it.
  5. Schedule periodic reviews of both lists. Honestly evaluate your progress and correct course when needed. I’ve found that skipping this piece usually leads to any progress eventually getting derailed.

I hope you’ve found something helpful from this post. I’m curious what your thoughts are on this subject and what you struggle with. You’re not alone, whatever it is!

Thank you for reading this – I appreciate you!

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2021 Year in Review

My idea for a “2021 Year in Review” was born from reading James Clear’s Atomic Habits. It is a practice he does and recommends in that book.

I decided to transform my hand-written year in review notes to a blog post for a few reasons:

  1. It raises the stakes if I publish my thoughts for anyone on the internet to find – even if it will likely only be read by the tens of readers of this blog. 😉
  2. The subject of blogging turns out to be part of my year in review, so it seemed relevant.
  3. Writing a blog post forces me to think more carefully about the subject matter. As I write and edit my thoughts, it often inspires greater clarity about what actions should be taken as a result of my analysis.

I’m breaking this review into three sections:

  1. What went well
  2. What didn’t go so well
  3. What I am working towards

Disclaimer: I’ve found that as I’ve become immersed in owning a business, that business matters have a tendency to overshadow personal when it comes to goal setting and priorities. So you may find that a lot of this is about my business, however, I tend to think that business and personal become impossibly inseparable as an entrepreneur. So there will be elements of both.

Without further ado, my 2021 year in review!

What went well

  1. My business grew tremendously in terms of regular monthly clients and one-time projects.
  2. I started work for a “dream client.” Or in the entrepreneurial space, what we call “ideal client.” I can tell you more about that if you’re interested.
  3. Per #2, this client initially was extremely intimidating to me. But we quickly developed a relationship of mutual respect and appreciation, and affection to boot. I can only speak for myself, but this client is someone I really like personally, which makes it all the more enjoyable to do work for her.
  4. I learned a lot about various elements of my craft(s) through trial and error on behalf of clients and myself.
  5. I was persistent in my efforts to improve the way I use my time. It is a continual work in progress, about which I could write an entire book.
  6. My workload got full enough that I felt comfortable outsourcing some of it to an independent contractor who was looking to get a start in the social media marketing space.
  7. I got my website “done” – a project hanging over my head for over a year. I say “done” because I’ve realized it will never be done. There are way more things I want to do to it than the time available. Even now, I am not happy with it. But I finally paid someone to do a few things I just couldn’t seem to get to. It’s “done” enough that I published it rather than hiding behind the “under construction” page that was up for close to a year.
  8. I exceeded my revenue goals by 60%! That is pretty amazing. To be sure, my revenue goals were pretty modest. So the exceeded figure is still humble, but the principle is worth celebrating!
  9. I quit my side job four months earlier than expected! The end of 2021 was my goal for leaving my 15-hour per week job helping a friend in his office. I was able to quit at the end of August, thanks to #1.
  10. I worked out fairly consistently throughout the year.

What didn’t go so well

  1. I was not as disciplined as I hoped in getting up by 6 a.m. every day. I was on some days, others not so much. A lot more could be said about that, but I’ll save that for another time.
  2. As a result of #1 meant I didn’t get nearly the amount of blogging that I planned.
  3. As the opposition to #5 above, I was disappointed in how frequently I did not honor the time-blocking plan I had set for the day. Related to that, keeping less than consistent records of how I actually used my time. “Planned vs. actual.” More on that in the future.
  4. There are a variety of internal business goals I did not get to, which relate closely to 1 and 3. That could be five subpoints, but I’ll spare you the details.

What I am working towards

  1. Building better systems that will address the time management imperfections I described above. I’ve got some ideas I’ll be working on forthwith.
  2. Structuring my time so that I can produce more content in 2021 and beyond. Blogs, videos and an email newsletter are all forthcoming goals.
  3. Figuring out the best way to scale my business. I never thought I’d see the day come that I might be at capacity with client work, but it is closer than I imagined. There are a number of ways I might scale, such as bringing on another independent contractor or two or shifting my business model. I’ll be working more with my business coach this year to tackle that.
  4. Improving how I consume content – amount and frequency. This includes reading books – both for business and personal growth, watching/listening to online courses I’ve purchased, podcasts, etc. I always have an enormous amount of material I am trying to get through, but I don’t take enough time to chip away at it.When I worked my side job it was easier for me to listen to podcasts. Working solely on my own business these days, I find that I need to work in quiet to be able to concentrate. Thus, creative solutions like listening to audio while working out are going to be a thing going forward.

Observations and conclusion

It is worth noting that the “things that went well” list is more than twice as long as the “not as well” list. That is something for which I am very pleased and grateful.

I tried really hard not to ramble too much on each of the points because there is so much more to say for each of them.

I’ll close with a few realizations I’ve had of late that I’ll couple with some unsolicited advice. 🙂

  1. Expecting perfection is a waste of time and energy. I’ve forfeited a lot of both in its pursuit. Just keep working towards your goals, observing what works and what doesn’t, and improving as you go.
  2. Being consistent is a bigger victory than you might realize. Even if you don’t have a huge landmark accomplishment to showcase, showing up every day and doing the work is what yields results over time.
  3. If you are on task more than not, persistently working towards your goals, living by your principles and treating people well, you’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish.

I hope you’ll find encouragement to keep working towards that which you see as the next advancement towards a more optimized life. Remember, it’s just about making continuous improvements. Here’s to new opportunities in 2022!

Thank you for reading! I truly appreciate you taking the time to read what I have written.

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Halloween costumes 2021

The missing milk carton kid & Clowntrooper

Halloween 2021
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Cut Through Fear-Based Inaction: A Practical Idea on How

Let’s talk about how to cut through fear-based inaction. By that I mean, stalling on something you know you need to do, because you are afraid to do it.

Have you ever neglected to take an action or make a decision based on a fear you had about what would happen if you did? Guessing you have. It seems like a natural part of the human experience.

I have. I do it too often. But over time, and with experience, I’ve learned a bit about how to cut through fear-based inaction.

  • We don’t speak up in a meeting because we think what we have to say isn’t insightful enough.
  • We don’t stand up to that person who takes advantage of us because we fear how they will react.
  • We skip going for a run because we are afraid it won’t be perfect. (As an aside, have we defined what “perfect” means? Elusive fears based on elusive definitions are illegitimate. But I am getting ahead of myself.)

The scenarios are endless. The problem is often the same: choosing, either actively or passively, to not take action because the unknown consequence is too scary.

Fortunately, I’ve had moments of clarity that allow me to punch holes in that counterproductive mindset. I want to share a story with you about an important turning point that began to teach me what I’ve learned about cutting through fear-based inaction.

Some scenarios

I’m sure we could all fill in numerous examples of times we’ve let fear keep us from taking the action we wanted to take.

… Agreeing to work a weekend because you’re afraid you’ll get fired if you say no (a story on that below)

… Failing to speak up when you see a friend making poor choices that may harm them down the road

… Getting into a relationship with someone that doesn’t meet your standards, for fear that you won’t find anyone else

… Having an unshakeable feeling that you’ll fail at a goal you have in mind, so you don’t even try

What is yours?

A question to ask

I’ve come to realize that it is often the fear of the unknown that keeps us cowering in inaction. Our current circumstance, as undesirable as it might be, is still a known commodity. There is comfort in knowing what happens next. We talk ourselves into believing that knowing is better than having something unknown blow up in our faces.

An exercise that is helpful is to ask the question, “What if?” – then answer it.

What if I have that difficult conversation? What will happen?

Then you can outline the possible outcomes — starting with the most feared (which is often blown out of proportion), and listing the potential varieties.

If I tell my friend that I don’t appreciate _______ behavior, maybe she will:

1) Scream at me, stomp away, and never talk to me again. (How likely is that?)

2) Get defensive, maybe hurl an insult back at me in retaliation for her hurt pride.

3) Remain silent. Awkward silence for a long time.

4) Get upset initially, then come back around and realize that it’s not a big deal. Maybe, she’ll realize that you provided some helpful information. Who knows? Perhaps she’ll eventually thank you for it!

If you take the time to outline the potential reactions, the next step is to think about how you’d react to each, and what the ultimate outcome might be. That way, you are prepared for each.

You might find, upon taking the time to do that exercise, that #1 is highly unlikely (if it’s likely, congratulations — you’ve saved yourself the trouble of a toxic, unstable friend), and #2-4 are only mildly uncomfortable for a short amount of time.

Then, the awkwardness is passed, and you’ve scored two victories:

  • You’ve let your friend know how you feel — which could improve your relationship
  • You’ve triumphed over the fear monster

Progress, not perfection – cut fear-based inaction a little bit at a time

If you’re not in the habit of showing your fear that YOU are in charge, not it, then taking action against it is going to be intimidating at first. That is OK. We all have to start somewhere.

I can recall a time when I had, in my fear and timidity, agreed to work on a weekend as a result of the manipulative bullying tactic of my supervisor at the time. Later that afternoon, I was having a lunch break with a friend and recounting the situation and my bitterness about it. This was hardly the first time I’d been strong-armed into a working weekend.

I remembered that I had other plans and commitments for the weekend, and that I didn’t actually have the time to do the work project also. So I had to choose which one to back out on. I knew I needed to choose my first commitment, and stand up to my boss.

My friend helped talk me through what to say, and we practiced role playing. I still remember almost hyperventilating as I imagined how the conversation would go with my boss. I’ll never forget her saying to me, “You can do it. It’ll be OK.” I clung to those words with all my might.

So what happened next??

As I returned to the office, with shaky hands, I approached my boss.

“Hey, I know I said I could work this weekend, but I remembered I have some other things I have committed to already ….. (looking down, shaky voice) so …. I’m sorry, but I can’t after all.”

Resume eye contact. Disapproving glare from the boss. Awkward silence. Then he made some kind of remark about how I was putting the company’s revenue in jeopardy, and walked off.

That’s it. No instant firing, no yelling tirade. Just one last attempt at manipulation. He knew he couldn’t make me work the weekend, so there was nothing he could do if he decided not to fire me.

It took a few minutes for my shakiness to settle down.

But what replaced it was a sense of satisfaction and glee that I could not have imagined if I’d neglected to stand up for myself.

That was progress. Which lead to improvement.

Taking that first step was the most difficult. Once I saw that the outcome for being assertive was far more desirable than cowering in the status quo out of fear, guess what?

I became assertive more often. I pushed back when unrealistic demands were made of me. Not in defiance, but specific counters with more realistic standards communicated and requested. Here is an example.

“OK, boss – you want this project done by the end of the day? It’s going to take me at least three hours to get it done. It’s 3 p.m. right now, and you also wanted ___ to get done. I have to leave by 6 p.m., so which should I finish today?” (In the absence of that type of conversation, it was assumed by default that everything would be done that day.)

That is my story. It began a journey of discovery in facing my fears. I don’t say that I’ve got it all figured out now, but I’ve come a long way from the terrified, overworked salaried employee from the past.

I would love to hear your story of what you’ve accomplished, or what you hope to accomplish on that front.

Summary & Conclusion

If you take just one thing away from this article, I hope it is that cutting through fear-based inaction begins with acknowledging the fear of the unknown. Sometimes when we are frozen and unable to move forward, we neglect to analyze the fear and say it out loud. Or write it down, or whatever your process is.

Acknowledging it is the first step to stripping it of its power over you.

In the case I mentioned above, my unknown fear was how my boss would react when I told him no. I was letting my fear of the inevitable conflict and unpleasantness force me into a situation that was even less pleasant.

But that was a nugget of wisdom that I only gained in hindsight. After I took the action I dreaded.

Maybe you’ve been putting off starting a weight loss program, or giving up alcohol or breaking up with someone. Identify that fear, and call it out. Are you afraid it will be difficult? The bad news is, it probably will be. The good news is, the victory you have yet to witness on the other side of taking action will be worth it. All things worth doing or having take effort.

The steps, as I see them, are:

  1. Acknowledging your fear
  2. Defining it (what specifically am I afraid of?)
  3. Thinking through the possibilities that may happen
  4. Deciding how you will handle each of the potential outcomes
  5. Taking action

As a good friend of mine often says, “There ain’t nothing to it, but to do it.”

Thank you for reading this post! As always, I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. Have a fantastic day!

Posted in Advice, Lifehacks, Productivity, Professional Development, Self-Improvement | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Pros and Cons of Social Media

The pros and cons of social media, examined.

The rise of social media in the last 15 years has been both a wonderful and a terrible thing. As someone who has used it from the early days, as a marketer and consumer, I’ve often pondered the pros and cons of social media. It surely has many of both.

The aim of this article is to simply take an honest look at a few of the pros vs. cons of social media. It is not an exhaustive list, but a decent start.

Let’s begin with the positive.

Pros of social media

1. Allows us to keep in touch with friends and family

This, to me, is the most foundational benefit of using social media. Do you remember when you first signed up for Facebook? If your experience was anything like mine, you initially found a few friends. Then the “people you may know” kept things interesting, and you began friend requesting all sorts of people from your past. Some of whom you haven’t spoken to in years.

Before you knew it, you were interacting with your best friend from fifth grade, your college professors, the people you didn’t really talk to in high school, all your long lost buddies from all walks of life. It was awesome. People who you never thought to grab their phone number or email address were suddenly available via private message. AND, you got to see what they were eating for dinner, and where they went on vacation. Sweet! (A tad bit of sarcasm there.)

2. Provides a platform for sharing our content

Whether you use social media strictly for personal communication, or business, or some of both, it provides a gateway for sharing our thoughts and other content to essentially anyone in the world. This has been a staple of our lives for so many years that it is easy to forget how radical of a concept that was even 20 years ago.

In such a short, microscopic span of history, the way we communicate has changed so dramatically that someone who died in the mid-20th century would not even recognize life as we know it.

The fact that I can write an article on this website, click a button to publish it, and have it be read by people all over the world is astonishing. Though that speaks specifically to the world wide web, it is closely related to social media. The same is true for publishing content on social media — it has the potential of worldwide reach.

The implications of that are profound.

3. Gives us an outlet to share our perspective (I see you, fellow introverts)

In a busy, loud world – both online and in person – those who produce the most words typically get heard more. Sometimes by sheer volume, apart from substance. Social media puts everyone on equal digital footing in terms of space to speak their mind. (Big tech censorship aside.)

Introverts, whose thought processes moves a little slower by design, often get left behind in real-time conversations because it takes us longer to process our thoughts to the point of sharing them. I’ve written about this before. With social media, we have the sheer joy of taking our time to compose our thoughts, and presenting them without the fear of getting interrupted, which happens so frequently with in person conversations.

Plus, we get to interact with comments in our own time, which in my experience leads to richer, more thought-out interaction. I’ve found that I sometimes find myself getting more energized from having conversations with someone on social media than in real life.

In fact, I often come up with what I think is my best material when I am alone with my thoughts. Introvert issues, I guess.

4. Provides a sense of community

Piggy-backing on the previous points, social media provides a wealth of opportunity to connect with known communities of family, friends, and business associates and to find new, useful communities.

Groups on Facebook and LinkedIn, for example, allow people to connect with others who share the same hobbies, goals, or professions. I’ve benefited immensely from asking questions and dialoging with other copywriters and social media marketing professionals in industry groups.

Then there are group private message strings, having friends pile on comments to something silly you post that increases the hilarity, and being able to carry on a private conversation with someone in direct messaging.

5. Provides jobs in the digital economy

How nicely number four dovetails into number five! As one who has used social media for marketing purposes since the early days, the fact that it creates a whole new segment of jobs is a fact that is near to my heart, and my wallet. If you’d have come from the year 2021 to visit me in high school in the 1990s and tell me one day I’d be a “social media manager,” I can only imagine what sort of blank stare I’d shoot back at you.

That is really something, for an industry that didn’t exist 20 years ago.

6. Gives us access to celebrities

Last and rightfully least in this brief survey of the pros of social media: access to celebrities. When I was a teen, the only hope for contacting celebrities was to write a letter to the address provided in one of the teeny-bop magazines of the day. It undoubtedly went to the office of their agent or manager, into a black hole never to be seen again.

I’m kind of ashamed at how many letters I wrote to celebrities as a silly adolescent fan girl. How many letters got a response? Zero.

Fast forward a few decades, and I can tweet at, or Instagram message ANYONE. The odds of getting a response there are slightly higher these days, because most public figures realize they need to interact with their followers at least some. Though the chances are small, at least they are not zero.

Not that I necessarily think it is a good use of time to try to get responses from celebrities, but the point is, the option is available.

Cons of social media

Just as there are many benefits to using social media, the downsides mount up significantly also. Here are just a handful.

1. Encourages more rudeness than in person

There is something about human nature that shows its dark side when we have a means of communicating with a person or group of people apart from the impact we have in face-to-face discussion. For some reason it emboldens us to say things that we might not have the courage to say in person.

This can be good at times; in the case of sharing our vulnerabilities or giving someone a hard truth for their benefit with which we are uncomfortable. I fear that more often than not, the negative outweighs that.

It only takes a short look at comments on a YouTube video, a political news piece, or a tweet by a public figure to see vulgar filth that would make a foul-mouthed criminal blush. You know what I am talking about if you spend much time online.

Giving people a platform to spew out the vile hate and anger in their hearts towards people they disagree with can do a lot of damage. Especially when the online persona is masked by a pseudonym. Anonymity + a sinful heart can yield some pretty damning material.

2. Increases jealousy and FOMO (fear of missing out)

I’m grateful that social media come along when I was already in my 20s. My heart hurts for young, impressionable children and teens that are already prone to jealousy because social media amplifies it when people post photos of everything they do, eat, drink and with whom they do it. (At least before coronavirus turned the world upside down.)

Being thirteen at one point, years ago, I can still imagine how painful it would be to see what you thought were your best friends, out getting coffee or hanging out with other kids, made apparent by posted group selfies, without so much as a text to invite you to hang out.

“WHY WASN’T I INVITED?? DO THEY NOT LIKE ME ANYMORE? WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME? And a bunch of other punishing emotions that teenagers’ brains are not yet developed enough to recognize, let alone sort out. It has got to hurt.

It takes years, even decades, before you start to realize that most things that most people do or don’t do have nothing to do with you at all, and in fact, you never even crossed their mind while doing it, so there is no point in getting offended over it.

But tell that to an inconsolable teenager who just saw his or her friends hanging with other people on Instagram or TikTok.

3. It is addictive

You might doubt that social media is addictive. Or maybe, you know full well that it is, if you take the time to honestly evaluate how long you spend on social apps, and how many times you open them throughout the day. (For Android users, go to settings -> Digital wellbeing) for an appalling reveal of your stats.

It has been reported that platforms like Facebook are actually designed to be addictive. That’s right – they use psychology and our frail egos and humanity against us to get us to spend more time on their platforms. For the purpose of serving more ads.

4. Leads to oversharing

Don’t shoot the messenger here, but how often do we post things on social media that are basically worthless information? Mundane activities throughout our day that 20 years ago would not have been thought of as relevant, interesting, or worth sharing with the world.

But fast forward to the 2010s, and our coffee, selfies, our meals, our trips to the grocery store — they are all normal fodder for sharing. Why? I do it too, so don’t think of this as some sort of judgment; rather a simple stating of the way things are.

You could make a case that there is nothing wrong with that, and you’d be correct in many ways. However, there is a darker side to it. Which leads me to my next con of social media.

5. Massive personal data going to tech companies

The thing that we don’t always think about when sharing every detail of our lives on social media is where that information is going, how it will be used, and who all will ultimately have access to it.

In the earlier days of social media, it was easy enough to brush off those types of concerns with, “Well, they are just using it so they can serve me ads that are more relevant to my interests and lifestyle. No big deal.” Yes, that is true. But there is so much more to think about these days.

It is one thing to get highly customized ads. It is quite another when you begin to realize just how much information these tech companies possess about you.

I recently downloaded my Facebook and Twitter data; wow. On file is literally every action you’ve ever taken on each site: your posts, comments on others, likes/reactions, every link you’ve clicked, every video you’ve watched, you name it. No click goes unrecorded. That is unnerving.

But wait, there’s more

Then there is the matter that they can and do also actively mine your data in a way that you can’t control: through your contacts. Perhaps you’ve noticed a prompt to “see who you know” on Facebook or Twitter — by uploading your phone or computer contacts to the app or website. When someone does that, if they have your number or email saved in their phone, for example, Facebook now has a record that you are in contact with them. Now they have additional information about you that YOU DID NOT PROVIDE OR GIVE PERMISSION TO ACCESS.

And that is just one transaction. Multiply that times millions of people that upload their contacts to social media sites, and suddenly they have heaps of information that is actively working against your privacy. This article shares more about that, as well as some other chilling privacy implications.

5. Encourages vanity

I’m not sure much needs to be said to expound on this point beyond “selfie culture.” If we are constantly posturing and posing for pictures of ourselves (angle up to hide that double chin!), it naturally follows that we will quite literally be “full of ourselves.” What opportunities for connection with another human are we missing out on as we scroll through our 15 selfie takes for the best one to post on Instagram? (I’m looking in the mirror on this one, too.)

On a related note: Are kids becoming narcissists? If you think about it, Generation Z and below; kids that have only lived in the smartphone/social media era have grown up presumably with the assumption that:

a) having your face in your phone most of the day is normal behavior (it is now, but should it be?)

b) they are the center of the universe, as their earliest memories involve being chased around with a smartphone video camera by their parents, to capture every little thing they say and do. Often too much of which gets shared on social media.

I think we can make a case that that kind of media-centered obsession at the very least impacts their development in a way that is drastically different from preceding generations.

6. Gives kids a platform before they are ready for it

Similarly to points alluded to above, the power and consequences that social media wields are arguably much larger and wider-reaching than a partially-developed teen brain can comprehend. Therefore, I shudder a little bit at the thought of impulsive children and teens sharing all manner of private, inappropriate and unfiltered information online without realizing that, as Brad Paisley sang, “THE INTERNET IS FOREVER.”

To be fair, many grown men and women also post content that they ought not to. But at least they don’t have a partially developed brain to blame for it.

7. Wastes time

This one stings for many of us. Because of the addictive nature (#3) of social media, and the fact that it allows us to stay connected with so many people, many of us find ourselves spending waaay more time on social media than we intend.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve derailed productivity in a morning, or an evening, because I got lost in a “Twitter vortex” or some other rats nest of barely useful activity on social media. Not that it is all useless, but many times it is.

I don’t think it is necessary to expound on this point too much, because it is so obvious that this is a major problem with social media use for so many of us.

When I think about all those lost hours in terms of how many more chapters I could have read, articles I could have written, or precious communication with family and close friends I could have initiated instead, the problem becomes more sobering.

 Takeaways & Conclusion

I don’t mean to be too pessimistic, though I fear have been. Rather, my goal with this article is to simply bring to your attention a fuller picture of social media consumption and its consequences — if nothing else to aid you in making informed choices for yourself and your children.

I am glad for the many benefits, or pros, of social media. It has enriched my life in myriad ways. On the other hand, I am wary of the cons and eager to share those with others. Ultimately we all must honestly evaluate our social media use, our goals and intentions for it, and make an informed decision about how to move forward.

Out of curiosity I would love to hear if you have any pros or cons of social media you would add to the list that I have overlooked. Let me know your thoughts!

 

Posted in Advice, Blogging, Entertainment, Opinion, Self-Improvement, Social Media | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

What Does it Mean to “Surrender All” to Christ?

Those of us who grew up in evangelical Christian churches in the United States are likely to have sung songs about “surrendering” all to God or to Jesus Christ. With much gusto, or hesitation, we’d sing out,

“I surrender allllll
I surrender allllll
All to Thee my blessed Savior
I surrender all”

Though I’d sing it, the lyrics gave me pause. And maybe a little bit of confusion. My confusion was mainly centered around the question,

What does it mean to “surrender all” to Christ?

That is some serious language. Let’s look at the definition of surrender.

sur•ren•der sə-rĕn′dər

To relinquish possession or control of (something) to another
because of demand or compulsion: synonym: relinquish.

To give up in favor of another, especially voluntarily.

To give up or abandon.

How does one go about surrendering to Christ? As a young woman who was eager to grow in my faith and devotion to the triune God, I wanted to know, but it seemed scary and uncertain.

I wasn’t sure I would be willing to do it once I figured out what it meant.

Does it mean that I shun all forms of worldly entertainment of spend all my spare time reading the Bible and praying?

Are there any Scripture passages that illuminate that idea (that was something I only thought of much later, as in, while writing this post)?

While I wanted the answer to float down like a feather from the sky and land on my lap, it did not. Like many good nuggets of wisdom that are hard-earned after years and decades of experience and contemplation, I began to come to a realization slowly, over time.

So, really, what does it mean to “surrender all” to Christ?

What I have come to understand over time is that giving one’s all to God, or surrendering, is not necessarily an act of the will or a mental exercise that we can work through concisely.

“OK, it’s the surrender checklist! Have I done X, Y, Z, and Q today? Great! I’m done for now.”

Rather, as I have continued to walk with God and He has guided me in sanctification by His grace, the concept has become progressively clearer. But it’s taken His work in me to keep me living for Him, over time, that has made the difference.

As I read and meditate on Scripture, He reveals new truths to me and helps me apply previous ones in a fresh way.

While grappling with applying the Bible’s commands to my relationships, things become clearer over time.

What does surrender look like?

By way of illustrating that, I’ll share a few verses that have provided some “AHA!” moments for me and offer a few comments along the way.

 “for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” – Philippians 2:13

This verse served up some humble pie, forcing me to acknowledge that it is ALL God that does the work in me, causing me to desire to live for Him. It is not me at all. Similarly, what I call the sanctification verse:

“For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”
– Philippians 1:6

That has reassured me over the years that God is always working on me. It is a lifelong process.

As an aside, He has revealed to me that He is also working in other believers’ lives. I can think of too many times I have acted selfishly, or with pride, in a way that dishonored Christ. Yet He is still working out His purposes in me. So I can trust that He is doing the same for other believers. That helps me show them grace when I see unbiblical attitudes and actions.

A few more examples

The Christian life as a hidden treasure:

“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”

– Matthew 7:44

The Christian life as a costly pearl:

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls,and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.

– Matthew 7:45-46

After reading these verses dozens of times in my life, I can remember one particular time the Spirit revealed to me afresh: living for God is the highest priority in life. It is worth pursuing more than any earthly thing. The wise will gladly give all they have to seek it.

Having that realization was a big moment for me. Huge, in fact. It was a keystone in the progressive revelation of what it means to surrender my life to God.

My youthful ruminations about having to “give up” things that I love to live for God turned out to be an incomplete understanding of the process.

Instead, I learned that, as He worked in my heart, He would give me a greater desire for things and attitudes that are pleasing to Him. Conversely, the things that detract from my Christian maturity would over time become less appealing as I honed in on “the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8).

I finally got the message

Recently as I’ve begun to internalize this more, I can’t help but smile. I think back on that confused, well-intentioned younger version of myself, and I thank God that He revealed more of His truth to me, in His ways and timing.

I remain in awe of His faithfulness and work in my life – keeping me on the straight and narrow path. That is not to say that I think I have it all figured out. Far from it.

What I have seen come to fruition is an unfolding of God’s plan and purpose in my life. In many ways, it is far different from what I anticipated. But His plans and timing are always better; this I have learned to be true, over and over again.

Encouragement and conclusion

If you are a Christian, seeking to live for and learn more about the triune God of the Bible, be encouraged. He is working out His plan in your life.

There are always more questions than answers. Fear and doubt can creep in without an invitation and linger in your heart and mind. But the God who created you, holds your life, as well as all things, in His hand (Colossians 1:16). Keep on seeking Him, reading His word, and praying. As with most things of value, life with Christ is a marathon, not a sprint.

I’d be curious to hear what you thought of this post, or about your experience on the topic of “surrendering” to God, and sanctification and/or the Christian life.

Thank you for reading!

 

Posted in Bible / Christian Living, Biblical insights, Discipleship | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments