Ready to become a stronger human?

We may be different in what we experience, what we believe, where we come from, and how we think. Still, there’s one thing that is the same for all of us: success and failure are multiplied by whatever we feed it. Just to be clear, good habits are an ally, bad habits are an enemy.

We’re a society obsessed with achievement. This is especially true in the gym. I’ve never walked into a gym and heard someone say, “You should do something easy today.” I’m asked questions, like, what’s your max? Or, what’s your PR? No one asks how my training is going, and no one celebrates if I go up one pound. Instead, I’m cheered on to try for two more plates.

Here’s the problem, though. When we focus on immediate achievement, we sidestep slower, consistent progress. Success is rooted in our culture so much so that progress is often ignored. (Of course, focusing on slower growth would lead to more exceptional performance, but it’s easy to dismiss this when all we want to do is set a new PR today.)

I’m determined to embrace this principle, and I’m getting better at it. Quarantine + gym-closures are helping. (It’s kind of hard to PR in your living room with a resistance band). The beautiful thing is, the body has a fantastic ability to adapt. Nowadays, I’m training for slow progress rather than immediate achievement.

Enter, kettlebell training

Pop Quiz: If you want to get in shape and become stronger, and if you’re going to reach your full potential, what is most important?

Answer: not missing workouts.

Kettlebells offer a kind of training that uses progressive moves that targets almost every slant of fitness—endurance, strength, balance, agility. This modest lump of iron will get your heart rate up and make you stronger for the long haul. With kettlebells, it’s never about putting up a big number, and it has very little to do with goals. It has everything to do with learning how to contend with a constantly changing center of gravity. Focus and honor the process. Accomplishments will happen.

Keep your squats low and your standards high

You can’t always go hard with kettlebells, and you can’t outwork them. They teach you; You don’t teach them.

It’s been a hard lesson for me, but I’ve learned that my program doesn’t always have to be about strength. And based on my experience, stability should be a pre-requisite to strength. You can’t press a kettlebell if your hips are not stable, and you can’t squat properly if your knees or ankles are not stable, either.

These days, I’m focusing on the simple yet challenging: dynamic, controlled, Iso moves. I’m pairing them together in a pretty spicy collection (and I have battle scars to prove it) with a full-body power movement. 

An example of a full-body power movement is the double kettlebell clean and squat:

  • Explosive start for the posterior chain (the string of muscles that propel you forward)
  • Strong front rack hold for mid-back, lats, and core (gotta build a strong back to force them to talk in front of you)
  • Controlled descent into an explosive squat for strong legs (strong legs provide stability like I was talking about earlier)

Let’s keep movin’ savages

So what’s the point, you ask? The point is, continuous improvement will add up to something significant one day. Feeding our lives with good habits, making slightly better decisions daily, not rushing the process, and expanding our abilities by altering the variables will set us up to move well in life. It’ll make us stronger humans. Plus, kettlebell flows are beautiful. Hard to perform, but beautiful. 

I have a meeting with my boss’s boss

Depending on when you read this, it might be tomorrow, or it might be today – or it might have already gone down.

For the past several weeks, a dialogue about racism in our society has been brought to the forefront in our nation, states, cities, neighborhoods and workplaces. For me, this dialogue had only extended to informal conversations with my friends and family. But now it has taken formal precedence among my colleagues. They’ve labeled it, “Continuing the Conversation: Racism, Diversity and Inclusion.”

My company has three divisions: newsroom, editorial and sales. The team I work with falls under sales, but only narrowly. Several months ago, leaders within the overarching division of sales started holding town hall-style meetings to talk about racism and inclusion. Attendance in these meetings was optional. The intention was “a safe space for colleagues to share their experiences.” I think they had two sessions, total. I haven’t seen any invites in quite a while. My immediate team, a much smaller troop, has picked up the slack. You might call us an active group of movers and shakers!

Our meetings, too, are optional, and up until last week, I opted to NOT attend. I only participated in this last one because I needed to know (for myself) how close or how far apart I am from my colleagues. I’m surprised to admit this meeting was one of the most notable meetings I’ve attended in the last decade. And here’s why…

Our fearless leader (aka, Chris) kicked off the meeting reminding everyone the purpose of this conversation: to discuss strategies and actions we can and will take as a team, and provide an open forum for continued dialogue surrounding racism, diversity and inclusion. A vast portion of the hour centered around the group complaining about “the company” and its lack of action to change.

Honestly, I was a bit lost.

What “changes” do they want the company to make? Are these changes surrounding the operations of the business? Our interactions with each other as a team? Or regarding the work we produce? I don’t know; maybe this was flushed out during the meetings I opted not to attend. The conversation continued with people agreeing, “We have to be change agents” and that we need to “be our authentic selves.” Man, how I hate buzz words.

Either way, the conversation evolved, and Chris said something that sparked one of those beloved “Aha!” moments. He said (and I quote): “Before we can answer the question ‘what action will we take,’ we need to define our ethos.”

Ethos.

Noun, the characteristic spirit of a culture, era, or community as manifested in its beliefs and aspirations.

Chris is right. We can’t decide how we will change or what needs to change until we first define what we stand for.

While I don’t think I really needed to attend the meeting for that revelation, I could have waited for the summary email, complete with slide deck. What I did appreciate is that Chris (unknowingly) was making me think about my personal ethos.

Personal ethos.

Personal ethos is your own framework for making moral choices. Knowing where you stand on morality and why you stand there.

In my opinion, this is an essential first step before anyone can consider becoming an agent of change. Being aware of your personal ethos is more than just a matter of being honest with yourself. It’s about setting boundaries, setting your bar, setting your priorities, and knowing how far you will go to protect and defend and stand on the line. And these days, there is plenty on the line.

And something else.

I’m expected to be my authentic self – after all, it’s encouraged – but what if I don’t see eye-to-eye on an article I’m publishing for a client? I doubt I can just say, Nah, I’m taking a pass on this one. (Oh, hello, revenue.) Up until now, I assumed I didn’t have to agree with what we publish. But now it begs the question, am I being true to myself if I publish something I don’t agree with. There’s a real-world fact: I have bills to pay. How do I reconcile this?

In the day-to-day, I always treated the client as the most important person. I think I’ve been wrong. It should be the reader. (I don’t know what value this epiphany has, but I thought it was worth mentioning.)

But then again, I work in branded content (which is, essentially, advertising). I don’t work in news or editorial. Can you imagine if I told my boss I don’t want to publish this client’s pro-mask article because I’m anti-mask? What in the world??

So, what does it all matter? If I want to get paid, I’m going to publish the article.

It’s my personal ideology that matters; the boundaries and priorities I set for myself. Am I OK with publishing an article I don’t agree with? Or am I not? Can – or should – a small marketing team be defining the company code?

I’m all over the board on this one. And this is what my meeting with my boss’s boss will be about.

Or I’ll just give him a high-five and say, “thanks for a great meeting.” I haven’t decided.

The Trump rally article of my dreams (which this is not)

My initial reaction: I’m at a rally filled with Millennials who seem to have their heads straight.

I have to be honest, I was surprised to see so many young people today. They are quite informed about issues, too—at least the issues that matter to them. They are open-minded and deeply devout. I found strange, though, that they seem to have views that, in my opinion, cross party lines—for instance, their position on immigration. I spoke with one person who said he was in favor of letting in immigrants because of his experience when he went on his mission. Yet he is indeed supporting President Trump – the guy that’s building the wall.

According to another attendee: most people here don’t love labels.

This got me thinking about a podcast I listened to just recently.

Labels.

Disclaimer: This is strictly my opinion. Since at least the 70s and onward, identity politics has been a mode of categorizing new social groups. Whites and blacks, Latinos and Asians, men and women, Christians, Jews, and Muslims, straight people and gay people, liberals and conservatives. And the Left has used these lines of social difference as ways to gain empowerment. More us vs. them.

They’ve done it systematically, and they divvy up the electorate this way. For instance, it’s widely believed that “black voters vote Democrat.” Another example: when my friends found out that I did not vote for Hillary Clinton in 2016, they were shocked (and maybe offended). After all, I’m female, so automatically, I was assumed to vote for her.

I am starting to think conservatives believe the same thing; you can divvy up the electorate using the tactic of identity politics. I never really thought about this before. In a way, this event is evidence. “The Latter-Day Saints for Trump Launch.” One group… one identity… (plus me)… it’s an “us” event.

(Still, my opinion here) The minute you do this… the minute you divvy up the electorate and take on the thinking, “well, if I get that identity group to flip,” you just made some secondary feature people’s primary identity—and that makes you no better than the Left. You create division, disunion, and you continue to push segmentation.

I think conservatives can win by uniting people and giving them a vision of the collective good. That’s what Trump did in 2016. He said, ‘we all bleed the same blood of patriots’ – not, ‘black people should vote for me.’ He said, ‘consider yourselves American.’

That’s the uniting message that is going to bring people together. The key here is not a “Latter Day Saints for Trump” sign. The key is the American flag. This is the most compelling symbol one can carry and the most meaningful identity that we share.

I made it a week

Or, instead, I made it only a week.

This might be a new record for me.

I’m sure there’s that rare person out there that, when it comes to blogging, exactly knows what their focus is from the get-go, but for the rest, it’s a tough thing to figure out. Guess which camp I’m in.

I’ve thrown around the idea of blogging for many years, and I even started a handful of them, publishing on some freebie sites. But I never genuinely committed because I could never settle on what I wanted to blog about. I have a few passions that I can speak about intimately—again, they are only passions. Honestly, I’m not an expert, so the best I could do is opine on the subjects. And isn’t that a disservice to readers? I mean, it’s insensitive to waste readers’ time with opinion when the opinion is not by an industry expert, no?

Marketing.

Marketing is a subject I could speak on in-depth. It was once a passion. It’s still my job, and I must say, I am a funnel of marketing wisdom (trying to make a pun) – with considerable experience. I’ve worked in nonprofit, for-profit, agency, direct-response, and, currently, global mass media. My career began in traditional print marketing – think newspaper, TV, radio, billboards, direct mail, yellow pages. Over time, I transitioned into media planning and buying. This era of marketing was, for sure, my favorite. I negotiated ad space on TV and radio for more than 300 markets across the country. Best job ever. From media, I made my way into digital, outbound, inbound, SEM, web, email, paid, social, and I dabbled in guerilla marketing, too.

Reading books, watching brands – big and small, local and national – I connected with influencers in the industry. I was bent on learning as many disciplines as possible. And as you can see, I did. Today, I work in the branded content studio for USA Today. I consider this position, and this team, the pinnacle of my career.

Fitness.

Fitness is another favorite subject. My obsession with fitness started with horses. My family moved from a tiny city in New England to a large town in the desert in Arizona. Naturally, we bought horses. I mean, our neighbors had them, so why not. When in Rome. We didn’t know what we were doing, and the minute people met us, they knew it. If they didn’t, they figured it out as soon as they saw us pull up with a bail of hay in the trunk of our Montero Sport. But, anyway, it wasn’t all bust. I learned to rope and barrel race. I wasn’t good at either, but it turned me on to the rush of adrenaline.

From horses, I moved indoors and got my black belt in karate. After that, I went back outside and started running. I ran three ‘half-marathons,’ a handful of mud runs, and a sprint tri. I learned to rock climb, rappel and even tried bouldering once. Next up was boxing. Boxing has stuck. I try things – and I mean, I go all out – but eventually, I move on. Boxing’s been a keeper, though. And weight training. Weight training has been another form of exercise that I’ve never been able to give up. At one point, I was training for the stage. Training for competition body is next level. Had it not been for my anxiety over the rhinestone bikini, I might have taken the stage.

Back to the blog.

This takes me back to my original dilemma: what do I write about? If I narrow in on a niche, like marketing, I’ll be writing articles like:

  • Branding your business on a budget
  • The keys to effective off-site search engine optimization
  • If you read one article on brand equity, read this one
  • Why creativity rules in a data-driven marketing era

If I write about fitness, you can expect:

  • Large-loop resistance bands are the new black
  • Why muscle hypertrophy is more tempting than a Cinnabon
  • A sneak peek into my supplement stack
  • Light your core on fire with unilateral movements

No one comes to me for advice on these topics. Building an audience will be tough.

What body of work do I want to have in five years? What type of posts do I want to be known for? Maybe I should practice a few examples of posts before I commit to the future of A Similar Story.

Spoiler alert: My next post just might be, “6 Ways blog purposes are completely overrated.”

What do you do when your ambition exceeds your patience? Lay on the floor?

I am an impatient person. I want to continually grow and be successful in everything I do – and everything I do I want to love doing. But when I hit a wall, and I’m outside my comfort zone, I drag my feet, procrastinate, avoid, and practically run and hide. Not practically, I do. And I abandon the whole idea of ‘doing what I love,’ and instead continue doing ‘what I know.’

Here’s what I’ve abandoned: 

  • Converting an old, rusty van into a cozy, off-grid home (sunsets and unadulterated freedom, included)
  • Joining the Peace Corps and saving the rain forest
  • Experiencing a front-row view as a photojournalist of events that would unquestionably reinvent my character  
  • Making homemade soaps for my guests at my bed and breakfast 

Here’s what I am doing:

  • Lying on the floor

I ditched my bed six nights ago. 

I’ve been sleeping on the floor instead of sleeping in my bed. The first night was an accident, so it was cold, hard, and uncomfortable. But I woke up feeling good. The second night was by design. I was better prepared: flowered quilt, pillow, and further away from the coffee table.

Huddle up with me for a minute: in a weird way, I think moving to the floor reconnected me with my younger self—the one who wandered the world, comfort be damned. The one that understood you had to risk it to get the biscuit. And maybe it took 30 years, but this revolutionary energy has me like “I’m ready!” … I’m ready to risk myself to succeed.

I’ve reached a tipping point where the pain of not doing what I love has become more significant than confronting my fears. So I’m working on changing my habits and shifting the trajectory of my life. I’ve laid out a roadmap that should take me from stuck-in-yesterday to unstuck-and-taking-action-today. But the roadmap calls for patience. It requires time-management, reflection, and new habits. 

I’m going bat-crazy.

The more time I spend on this “road,” the more likely I’ll get mid-way and make a U-turn. I know myself too well. While hard work is hard (and I welcome hard work), ‘steady-creating-new-habits’ work sounds boring. 

Now I know what you’re thinking: only boring people get bored. But that’s not true. Research shows that when we feel bored, it’s because we have an impulsive mindset and are continually looking for new experiences. The world isn’t enough of a roller coaster—it’s chronically under-stimulating, and we know we can give more. 

Nietzsche referred to boredom as the “unpleasant calm that precedes creative acts.” It seems paradoxical, but it’s an interesting idea that feeling bored now will make me less bored in the future—that it’s just a pause to make magic happen. And if I buy into this, then boredom isn’t really about what I do but how I do it. The question is, will I do it before I turn the car around?

Doing breaking promises the right way

I stopped promising myself every day I’d drink a green smoothie. Why? Because I was breaking that promise—every day. And every broken promise was becoming just a plain downer. I was a closet promise-breaker when what I was trying to be was a genuine badass.

I’m about to break another promise I made to myself—and worse yet, I published this promise, so now I’m a public promise-breaker!

Everyone agrees that your best writing happens when you ‘write what you know.’ Well, I know how to fail at dating, and I know marketing. I promise you don’t want to hear about my year of bad dates. (Both were mojo crushing.) This leaves us with marketing. 

My social media presence (what little existence I’ve kept, these days) is occupied with mostly marketing friends, acquaintances, and peers. And, forgive me if I sound a little pissy, but these marketing experts ask the same questions and give the same answers that they’ve been asking and providing for the last decade. 

It’s absurd, and it’s foolish. And it’s all that’s on my LinkedIn.

The world has moved ahead, so far and so fast, that it’s time to be asking better questions and creating a new vision about what marketing really is. It’s time to stop using outdated marketing playbooks. They’re ineffective.

For starters, there is no “funnel,” folks! And the idea that we can force people into this mythical funnel is passé. People are digital experts, and they know how to get any information they want, and from a million different places. Companies can’t buy their way in. They have to be invited in.

People are tired of being interrupted and force-fed lousy content. They’re annoyed, but even more, they’re in control. There, I said it. The customer is in control. This isn’t my opinion. Studies show successful marketing is, in fact, human-generated activities. Companies don’t design the customer journey; The customer owns the journey. Research verifies this. 

We need to stop hiding in the shadows with our heat maps and link-trackers and embedded UTM codes that collect little pieces of data. These tactics have always been, in my opinion, borderline invasive. Who else besides me is tired of being tracked? And I know, THIS coming straight from the mouth of a marketer! 

Marketing, no matter the business, needs to be fresh. Brands need to stop copying each other. Just like this blog was my way of proving that I can have original thoughts and tell a unique story, brands need to stop telling the same stories that their competitors are telling. They need to stop chasing customers. Be unique; be original; dare I say it, “know your why,” and let the customers come to you. That’s how you’ll propel your business forward. 

I will rip my eyes out if I see another article that addresses SEO, keywords, ranking, engagement metrics, referral sources, link building, CTAs, brand awareness… These are mere weeds that become irrelevant before they’re mastered. Google has no plan to give you even 15 minutes at the top of the leader board.

(Wait. I’m having a vision: make new [non-marketing] friends.) (But don’t date them.)

Fear is so last year

When I started this blog, I promised myself I wouldn’t talk marketing, and I wouldn’t publish any of my old blogs. Every story would be a new story. In fact, I threw out last year’s notebook and bought a brand-new fluorescent pink notebook. And I cracked open my new notebook, put pen to paper, and I triumphantly started writing.

One week in and that divine spirit that I was counting on to feed me next-level original prose is MIA. I’m stuck. I’ve been in it for all of five minutes, and I already have writer’s block??

My brain has gone crazy generating uncontrolled “what-ifs.” What if I can’t write an original story? What if my writing sucks? What if no one reads me? What if I’m just an imposter? What if I spontaneously catch fire?

I tell you this not to brag about my apparent lack of writing talent but because the glare of these empty pages in my weird pink notebook is how everyone starts the day. We all begin staring, point-blank, into an empty page, a bare stage, a napping computer screen. Doesn’t matter if you work in a soul-sucking corporate job or the most amazing creative job ever. Every new day is a blank page

And here’s the fantastic thing about the proverbial blank page: we get to choose how we fill it. We decide whether we fill the blank page with conventional, expected, and safe – like an old blog that’s already been published. Or with something brave, risky, and wildly creative.

Personally, I’m praying the divine spirit swoops down and starts making out with me. But just in case, and instead of freaking out, I’m putting pen to paper, and I’m starting. I’m going to make something out of anything, even if that anything is nothing. And the first line begins like this: “Mainstream society wasn’t ready for my supreme coolness.”

I’ll say it again, I’m not moody

I hate going to the doctor. It takes a lot to get me to go, like a severed limb or a bullet wound. And honestly, doctors have never actually cured me of anything. Not once. The way I see it, I’m better on my own and with my own version of first aid: tweezers, hydrogen peroxide, and honey sticks.

But this time, my daughter firmly insisted. And by ‘firmly’ I mean she demanded. She was irritated by my incessant coughing. So I made an appointment with my primary care physician – whom I have no faith in whatsoever.

“Alrighty, what’s going on with you?”

“I think I have a sinus infection; I have sinus pressure, my ears are blocked, and I have a stuffy nose.”

He slapped his knee. “Yep. I’m going to have Meredith come in next.”

Just like that. He didn’t even examine me, but I’m OK with that. He walked out, and I waited for Meredith.

Twenty-four minutes later, the door opens, and Meredith, a perky twenty-something-year-old walks in. She’s wearing pink scrubs with cupcakes all over. I just wanted to be on my way. I was ready for her to hand over a prescription, but instead, she sat down at the computer, looked at me, and said (and I quote): “Looks like you gained some weight. You know, a 10-pound weight gain during menopause is perfectly normal.”

“Um. What?”

“And not just weight gain. You might notice some mood swings. You know, highs and lows. And you might start to get a little forgetful. This is all normal for your age and what you’re going through.”

“That is awesome,” I said, trying to rein in my compulsion to kill her, all 110 pounds. “But what does this have to do with my sinus infection?”

She actually grunted.

“The doctor suggested I give you these pamphlets about, you know, The Change.”

“Aha.” I stared at her. Then I let it pour.

“I realize I will never be able to wear a tube top again, but I’m not anywhere near the need for the ‘fat talk.’ And no offense, but telling a woman who, “you know,” is going through “the change,” that she’s getting fat is not helpful. You really don’t have any idea. I mean, if you must know, the really upsetting thing is my nightstand drawer. I used to have candles, gels, a blindfold, yeah that’s right! And all sorts of really *fun* things, if you know what I mean, inside my nightstand. Nowadays, when I open it, I have aspirin bottles, Chapstick, a pair of reading glasses, and probably a handful of candy wrappers in it. Oh, and don’t forget the tiny hand-held fan because I wake up in the middle of the night, soaking wet. No less than eleven times! And for the record, I eat right, I exercise every day, and I’m talking squats, bench press, and even deadlifts. And although I’m a little softer these days, my only real problem is hot flashes. Do you know how much I sweat during a hot flash?! I bet I lose at least a pound of liquid a day, just from sweating. I sweat even when I stand directly in front of the air conditioning vent. Is there anything in those pamphlets that tells me how I can get rid of hot flashes?! Well?! Is there? Oh, and I’m losing my hair. I used to have thick and shiny hair. Know what’s thick and shiny now? Just my thighs. I mean, I come in for a sinus infection, and you want to say to me I’m fat and moody?

I’m not moody.”

Decisions children shouldn’t make

I loved her for more than 40 years, and then one day, she did the unimaginable – she broke my heart.

I can’t describe my relationship with my mother. We barely had anything in common. But she was what I thought all mothers were, and that is, immortal. I also saw her as invincible, sometimes the enemy, always a nurturer. Never a woman – much less a woman with problems and experiences similar to mine.

And then she died.

It wasn’t until that day that I realized she was a person who experienced pain, just like me. She felt sorrow like I did. She held regrets, endured loneliness, had bad habits, addictions, held grudges, and had a laundry list of mistakes under her name. She had feelings. Turns out, she was like me, and I was like her. She was more influential in my life than I realized. With every passing year, I like to think our relationship grew and evolved into a newer, more significant, grander relationship. Until she abandoned me.

But deep-rooted issues are the least of my problems. It’s the cause of my mother’s death that has me wrecked.

It was three months before she died. I had just turned 40, filed for divorce, quit my job, and was hitting up neighborhood psychics and tarot readers daily. I didn’t have a plan for my future. I didn’t even have an idea for Tuesday. I assumed leaving a lousy marriage and starting over was the answer. Instead, it stirred up a weird animosity toward my family.

The day I moved into my new place is the day I’d take back.

My mother and I were making a quick trip to the store for cleaning supplies. Only ‘being quick’ didn’t happen. It wasn’t one of her ‘good days.’ She had a lot of medical issues brought on by her weight. Obesity comes with a slew of health issues. Our quick run was more like a gradual stroll with many rest breaks.

Still, I was happy she offered to help. My mother was nothing if not a clean freak – and my floors were sticky and the ominous dark spot on the bathroom wall needed diagnosing.

Patience isn’t one of my virtues. 

I drove a Jeep Wrangler – a nearly impossible vehicle for her to climb in and out of.

After five minutes, and that’s all I was giving her to get in the car, I noticed her struggle. No matter how strategically she placed her hands or angled her body, she couldn’t lift her leg and hoist herself into the passenger seat.

Thinking back, I am ashamed at how invisible she was to me.

It wasn’t until her legs gave out, her arm nearly pulled out of the socket, and she lay flat on the pavement that I jumped out to help her.

The sling was one thing; the black bruising was another.

Weeks later, she was still unable to bring her right arm above her head. And the skin from under her arm and across the front of her chest was turning blacker every day.

We ended up at Urgent Care – several times over the next month.

I was at work when the paramedic called.

They were in a helicopter and headed to St. Joseph’s. The paramedic spoke so slowly. He assured me the facility they were headed to was the most advanced (but also the busiest) stroke center.

My mother suffered an ischemic stroke early that morning, but it had been several hours before she was found. Siri gave me the 411: An ischemic stroke is a type of stroke that is caused by a clot, or some other blockage, within an artery leading to the brain. The patient’s prognosis after an ischemic stroke is good. More than three-quarters of people who suffer a stroke survive for a year and over half survive for more than five years. Many survivors recover their independence.

They found clots in my mother’s lung.

Three days later, the doctor handed me a form that was signed by my mother the day she was admitted. It was a scribbled signature, but it was a completely legal and fully-witnessed document naming me my mother’s trusted medical power of attorney.

And then her doctor presented me with a medical decision.