The Blog

What matters to you?
January 14, 2019

They say looks don’t matter, but what if they matter…to you? I say go ahead and make peace with that. Make peace with being attracted to people who look a certain way. Make peace with feeling better about yourself when you look a certain way.

Otherwise? You’ll be hunched over, metaphorically speaking, from the weight of the shame.

Not a good look!

140707 5In an elementary school art class in a small town in northwestern Minnesota, the children are on the floor under their desks. They’re painting their little-kid masterpieces on paper that’s been taped to the underside of those desks, each child a Michelangelo in the making.

What a picture, huh?

It’s been years, and I doubt I’m the only one whose heart does a little dance when she sees that art teacher around town. We showered Katie’s teachers with appreciation when she was in school and for many years after that. I’m sure this gentleman knows what we think of him. What he might not know is how fondly we’ll always think of him.

Recently I got an eMail from a listener in Holland, Michigan. She was asking about an interview I did with Dr. Darcia Narvaez, psychology professor at the University of Notre Dame, almost two years ago. Darcia talked at great length about the importance of not letting your baby “cry it out.” The listener wanted a copy of the interview to give to a new mom.

I don’t mind telling you I live for things like this. But the most interesting thing, to me, was what I was doing the day before I heard from that listener -- wondering, as I bet you sometimes do, if your work really matters.

Maybe it does!

“Don’t get your hopes up.”

Have you ever made that suggestion? I forgive you, not that you asked. It would be difficult to find more good intentions in one statement. But you can crush someone’s spirit with it if you level it too often or with too much enthusiasm.

Why shouldn’t someone get her hopes up? Because you did, and were disappointed? Do yourself and the dreamer a favor. Give yourself another chance. Don’t be the weatherman whose reflections in a newspaper column about turning forty included this little gem: “What I have right now is essentially my lot in life.” He talked about what he hasn’t done and added, “What bothers me is that I likely never will. I know myself too well.”

Isn’t that sad? I mean, forty is a baby -- but that’s beside the point. “What age did you give up on your dreams?” is an awful question to be able to answer. Don’t do that to your children. Nothing puts a drag on a child’s spirit, as they say, as the unlived life of her parents. And in doing right by your children you’ll do even better by yourself. Because, really. Who wants to leave this earth, as Gregg Levoy puts it, kicking and screaming and begging for more time?

A few years ago I got a most unusual and delightful gift from Katie, a book filled with what she loves about me. What strikes me is how specific she was. Dozens of pages detailing what, exactly, she loves. Can you imagine? Try it. Follow “I love you” with “because” and then a few dozen reasons. The person on the receiving end will never be the same.

I memorized that book, and I still read it back to myself (in my head) every day. On our way back home from a hard run, just before I fall asleep, whenever. It’s changed how I feel about myself.

That’s one way I use the journal. It’s a place to stash the nice things people have said about me over the years -- in the hope, I often joke, I’ll someday believe them. But seriously. Every now and then I’ll read a few passages and renew my determination to live up to those sweet report cards.

How do you spend your free time?

As a young girl, Oprah Winfrey wrote a book report. It was a dandy, and she turned it in early. Her teacher made a big fuss over it. Oprah was in heaven. For a minute or two. Then the other kids in her class started saying things like, “Who does she think she is?” And for the next thirty years, if memory serves, Oprah felt the need to apologize for her accomplishments.

Thirty years.

It reminded me of eight-year-old Katie trying to process the venom after she’d won a spelling bee. “I don’t go around saying I’m smart,” she told me. “Other kids do. I just do my best. But kids tease me about winning ‘the stupid spelling bee.’” Pause. “They tell me I’d better not think I’m ‘all that.’”

It starts early, the hating, and it never stops.

I’ll probably always remember a (former) hairstylist weighing in on my loss of twenty pounds. She told me not to get rid of the clothes I was wearing before. She was sure what goes down must come back up. The exuberance with which she predicted my inevitable failure to maintain a healthy weight almost made me want to pick up a dozen Krispy Kremes on the way home and eat them in the car.

I once attended a career planning workshop with a gentleman who told me the most difficult thing about making changes are the friends you lose. With friends like these? Well, you know.

Next up, one antidote.

What calms you down?
January 5, 2019

Detroit LakesA guy I used to know was in a high-powered job at a big company and was tasked -- from the outside looking in, at least -- with tearing down a few mountain ranges and putting them back together in a configuration more pleasing to upper management. It was quite the assignment. He had a lot of work to do, and not a lot of time to do it in.

I remember having pizza with him one night. He was eating so fast it was as if he was in a contest.

What strikes me the most about this gentleman was how often he’d get home from work, change into his running clothes right away, and come back ten miles later.

Wait a second. Wasn’t that more stress? Well, yes. At first! And then it was less. So much less.

I couldn’t get over that.

It was about that time I wanted to lose ten pounds for a high school reunion. It didn’t take much running to take care of them. I was hooked. And I soon learned running did more for my mood than my looks. To the extent anything has worked since, I attribute it to three words: running is magic.

I would eventually add three more words: sugar is crack.

And one more word for good measure: sleep.

Did I miss anything?

I had so much fun in college. Not for the classes or the freedom or anything like that. It was for the opportunity to join my boyfriend and his parents at their kitchen table and swap stories. Mostly we listened to Steve. He could riff on a piece of cardboard for twenty minutes and make you wonder if you’ve been more entertained in your life. You stopped short of begging for more because you didn’t know if your stomach would survive it.

So, yes. I learned a lot in college. I learned you can put a day (and a life!) in the win column if you come away with a good story. Most importantly, I learned that’s up to me.

I gave up coffee about a year ago. It was ten months before I felt like myself again. Ten months. It took more time to make peace with that than it did to make a baby!

Someone told me once that in general, people just give up way too soon. I believe it now.