My Year in Writing: 7 Lessons Learned

winterriver

A year ago this week, on a snowy morning, similar to today, I nervously hit the “publish” button for the first time and shared my first blog post.

I had been writing for a few years, but my readers were a select, extremely supportive group of like-minded folks who were into talking about health. That to me was safe; everyone was always encouraging.

But opening up to people I do know? What would that be like? You have to think:

What do I want people to know about me?

How personal should I get?

What if people hate my writing?

Or disagree with me?

Or think I’m weird because the subjects I bring up like health, exercise, foods, parenting and self-image, are often unsettling.

Or what if they just don’t care at all?

But last year I was on this goal-oriented kick. I wanted to do something more challenging. And scary. My father died a few years ago, and I missed hearing his ever-reasonable advice. And so thinking about the one phrase he used to throw at me all my life, I decided writing and sharing my ideas, struggles and insecurities with friends, neighbors and family members, would be character-building. And I should just do it.

So here I am, a year later, wondering:

how the heck do you even measure character?

I’ll elaborate instead on what I think I have learned from the year, and we’ll circle back to that later…

Learning #1: Writing identifies concerns; keeps them top of mind. Sharing holds me accountable.

Are you the kind of person who loves a good challenge? Who tackles big problems head-on?

My husband is a bit like that. He’ll buy every book or relentlessly search the web until he finds answers and then develops a plan of attack.

Unfortunately, that’s not me. I’m an avoider of problems. If I identify one, I’ll think about it for a few minutes and then promptly put it out of my mind for another day. And often that day never comes.

But when you write it down, it’s different.

My biggest concerns seem to be ones that have no answer. They involve a constant balance. Thinking and re-thinking. And the recipe for success isn’t always apparent. Sometimes you think you find an answer, and then it changes on you.

How do I stay healthy over time? What if I’m bored with exercise and don’t want to do it. What if my kid is driving me nuts?What about adding back a career, how will I do this without losing myself in the process? How do I not gain weight on vacation when I want to eat everything in sight? How can I be there for my child when he needs me? How can I be happy with myself, and how I look, as I age?

See? All tough questions. But if I look back on a post where I made public resolutions. Or if my sister-in-law calls and asks about my latest fitness slump. Or if my friend stops me in the school parking lot and mentions she’s going through the same issue about too much sugar and too little activity with kids, and let’s talk. It all helps keep me on plan, and holds me accountable.

Learning #2: My motivation for fitness appears to be seasonal.

I make room for formal exercise each day, but there’s a big difference between being excited about it, and just going through the motions. As I look back throughout the past year, I can see a trend vividly in my writing. Every spring and fall, because I’d rather be outside, doing what I love best: hiking, taking photos, foraging for mushrooms, hanging around in the river and just enjoying the scenery, I start to resent strength training.

I did some research on exercise and seasonality and learned that athletes have on-seasons and off-seasons, as well as different expectations about their fitness level during each season: they have an in-training weight, and an off-season weight. And this varies sometimes by 5-15 lbs!

My take-away? I need to think like an athlete and just go with the rhythm of what I want do each season, and not worry that I’ll be losing a little strength. Going outside gives me a mental break, and that’s important And, like an athlete, I’ll just pick it up the tougher workouts again during an official training time.

I wouldn’t have identified this issue at all if I hadn’t written about it.  I know this will be tough, to adopt a new mindset, but am grateful I was able to at least identify the problem and work to resolve it as I think about the upcoming spring season. Alleviating the angst will be welcome!

Learning #3: Parenting challenges often intersect with my own, and help me grow as a result.  

I was hesitant to write about parenting concerns because I thought they were off-topic. But what I realize now is that we can’t be one-dimensional. No man or woman is. We can’t just think about work. Or health. Or our kids, in silos.

They all intersect and our needs are stronger at different times of the year, to deal with the challenges of all of them. I have found often when I work out parenting-issues I end up drawing conclusions on my own concerns in the process.

For example:

When I was struck by Brett’s sugar problem in school, it made me re-think my own foods and the activity I get throughout the day. His peanut allergy keeps us reading labels and although is a terrible problem to have, it has helped us choose healthier foods in the process. Brett’s inability to sit still and his solution, helped me find one of my own when I realized I had been sitting too much.

I could go on and on about this one! We adults, we are just big kids, and have similar concerns. It took writing about them to see this more clearly.

Learning #4: I have inspired my family. Maybe some friends too…

I’m sure a few of you have tried to have conversations with a spouse or other family member about eating well. Or starting to exercise. But nobody will ever make the effort until they determine it’s a priority for themselves.

I know this to be the case because I was like this. And I have attempted to encourage others who are not remotely interested. I have since learned my lesson and will not even discuss health topics unless they bring it up first.

Instead, I have been leading by example, building a fitness habit and thinking critically about every food that makes it into our kitchen. It has taken awhile, but my husband is fully on-board. I think his positive-health check and encouragement from his doctor a few weeks ago really helped too. It’s almost like a race now, he’s started the year in full force: making time to workout most days, even if he only has a few minutes. The biggest surprise has been his pro-active research on super-foods, and introducing them into our kitchen.

Using what I have learned in Spark, by John Ratey,  and Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv, I have been talking to my son about the importance of moving and exercise and spending time outside. These conversations, and reinforcement on the same subject in his health class in school is helping him pro-actively seek movement when he needs it and he is having fewer focus problems in school.

As for friends, I hope the topics discussed here have helped inspire you in some way too!

Learning #5: Personal stories are best, and sharing gets easier over time

As a writer, I’m a reader, and a consumer of many different types of media, from news, articles, other blogs, magazines and books.

There are way too many articles I click open, and the message falls flat. As a reader, I’m not engaged. Someone is speaking at me, giving advice, but they aren’t actually with me. They don’t seem to get it.

I hope whatever I write is something others can relate to, and have found the more personal my stories are, the more personal and amazing the discussions surrounding the topic. 

Once another blogger friend mentioned she gets lots of comments like “great post!” or “nice!”. While any feedback is great, I am so thankful I’m generally blown away by some of the responses, details and sharing I get from readers, and thank each and everyone of you for adding to the discussion. As much as I like telling stories, I love hearing yours too, and your experiences, solutions and the open dialog can help all of us.

Now, I don’t hesitate as much before I press that publish button. I have learned, you never know who your writing will touch, so you might as well just say it!

Learning #6: The community I have met through writing has been essential.

I had no idea when I started writing how many amazing people I would meet.

And that these people, some in other countries, some who I have never met in person, but talk at length to about similar concerns, have been essential to my life.

I learned a few years ago health is a touchy subject. Most people don’t like to talk about it, so I would keep concerns to myself. Finding a community of awesome folks like Maggie and Marlene, and Chris and Tina, Jess and Lara, and Carolyn, Angie and Tienne, oh my this is getting long, but I could go on and on and on….

They have all been essential to my thought-process, and a pleasure to know.

I’m excited in year 2 to build more of a community and add to the experience.

Learning #7: Good Health is an enabler.

Health is not something I want to think about all day long.

One of my biggest challenges with exercise has been determining that point where I can get the most, best overall fitness in the least amount of time.

And of course I want to eat well, but not too much. And we all love foods that aren’t great for us. Where do splurges fit in?

As much as people like to think staying healthy is intuitive, I don’t think it is. As we get older, our bodies do slow down. We need to adjust what we eat and how much activity we get. That in itself is easier said than done, bench-marking what we need appears to be a moving target!

Good mental health helps too. How can I be a good parent if I’m not happy with myself? If I am not participating in activities I enjoy? Or setting new goals or challenges for myself?

For once, I am not avoiding the hard topics that have no answer.

I’m writing about them. And keeping them top of mind.

And hope to set up a good system so I don’t have to think about it so much, and I can move on to just living life.

I have said many times to myself when I need a pep talk:

Good health is not a given; it’s a choice. And my choice.

Good health will enable me to fulfill all my other goals and dreams.

In my 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s.

Yes, I’m planning to get there, and to be independent like many of the other awesome women in my family.

After all that, what do you think, did writing help me build a little character this year?

So wish my dad was still here to live it with me, as he was one of my biggest health inspirations.

Perhaps I can’t measure it accurately, but I do think he’d say yes.

Would love to hear your thoughts and opinions. What do you do to keep health top of mind? If you don’t write, do you have a creative outlet that helps you stay focused?  

Thanks again for your year of support,  reading and sharing!

21 thoughts on “My Year in Writing: 7 Lessons Learned

  1. Hi Robin:

    I love your blog posts and read them when they cross my desk. I think this newest one re seven lessons learned is a wonderful summary of the past year, and a great look forward. Hi to Tom and Brett, and thank you!
    Cheryl

    • Cheryl, thank you so much! I am really glad you enjoy the posts. You and Richard and C&N as you can see still guide me everyday in my life, and w/parenting. Hope to see you in the new year!!

  2. Yeah, you’re right on target, AS ALWAYS. Points #5 an #6 resonate with me. Writing helps me keep focused but there’s always a seed of doubt at the back of my mind. Am I being too personal? Am I saying too much? Are my friends bored and rolling their eyes? LOL And I realize there is a deficit to my outdoor activity time that is not planned exercise. When did that happen? So point #2 makes me realize I need balance. Something to work on this year.

    • Chris, thank you so much! I know what you mean about #2! It’s almost like I was hit with a lightning bolt a few weeks ago….duh! Just “allow” yourself to have an off-season and it’s just normal! I realized fitness models do the same thing! They are 10 lbs more or so at other times of the year and then just under eat for 12 weeks and don’t drink water for that one photo shoot. The media’s version of what we should look like, year round, is not healthy or even attainable. We all need a break..there’s an ebb and flow on intensity that needs to happen. Our expectations need to take that into account. So when those jeans get tight you just say “oh, I’m off training right now” 🙂 Thank you again for your awesome support!

  3. Hi Robin,

    I, too, have enjoyed your posts this past year, and we have personally exchanged a bit of supportive info on children with the dreadful Peanut Allergy–your Brett and my grandson, Zeke, whom I care for in my home regularly each week. And as for fitness, well, that is always on my mind too, but I have admitted to some limitations, which are not excuses but are real, as I simply cannot do lower body exercise anymore, other than walking on flat areas. Not the end of the world, but one has to admit to the need to “go around” some roadblocks and continue onward toward the goal, which here is good health. Just last evening, I had to wheel my grandson by stroller 10 blocks in the snow and ice, to meet up with his poor, tired Mom, whose subway train had broken down and she had had to take a train farther away from my home, where she usually picks her son up after work. We agreed to meet half-way, and that upper leg exertion on flat but hard-to-navigate icy sidewalks, pushing 40 pounds for 20 minutes, caused me to wake up last night after two hours’ sleep, with the first time ever, MULTIPLE “Charley-horses!” in not one but both legs. Four in one leg and two in the other, at the same time, lasting 3 full minutes! Then there is my back where I have tried strengthening exercises many times but it only makes it worse (fused vertebrae and arthritic problems–some of your other readers “of a certain age” will know the drill!) Well, I AM 77 years old, so muscles are “not what they used to be.” But otherwise, I am mentally a 50-year-old:-) I do hand-weights and upper-body-fitness exercise more than exercising legs now, although all outside errands are done on foot, having had to sell my car last year (absolutely NO parking spots available in New York City!). And my brain–I am always working on keeping that well-oiled. I went back to college in my mid-40s and finally got a degree in French at age 55, and when I hit 77 the end of this past December, I vowed to learn the violin! I began lessons on January 3, and what a mental workout that is, and I never knew how physical violin-playing was. Wish me luck! An amazing number of older folks, I have learned, have taken up violin, but when I started, I thought I was the only one who wished to “Twinkle at 77”). (If your readers know music, they know we usually all begin, no matter the age, on many variations of “Twinkle Little Star.” So, all this is to say, you have inspired me a lot with your writing this past year, and I hope that I and your other readers can also inspire others, as well. Best, BEST 2014 for you and your family! (The writing about Brett’s restlessness was also MOST helpful–it reminded me so much of our Zeke, a whirlwind 3-year-old, but so funny and bright; he just learns his “own way” oftentimes, which does not always include sitting at a table to do his learning 🙂
    Please excuse the length of this…I was in a writing mood this morning.
    Ramona

    • Ramona, thank you for your great note. You really crack me up–love your energy and at 77, I so look up to you, your energy, your quest for knowledge and learning new things. And also the amazing amount of effort you put into your time with Zeke and all the complications that go along with it. Love your stories so no worries about length. Look forward to more of your insights this year!

  4. I love your outlook on exercise being seasonal for you and how you’ve adopted a training season and off-season. I never thought to look at it that way before but it makes complete sense. I struggled with this myself and I think it’s alright to give myself permission to have an off-season and just enjoy the outdoors more. Thanks Robin!

    • Carolyn, thank you! I’m so glad this resonated with you. I don’t know why this hasn’t clicked with me either, the seasonal idea, I think finally it was looking at my posts and realizing the timing of my slumps seem to be when the weather is beautiful. I’m finally convinced it’s the way to go though (although need to learn to not feel bad about myself during those off-times) I did a bunch of searches on this and the downside is really gaining a little weight and losing ground a bit on body fat %….but it sounds like if you can keep the variance reasonable, and stay active and healthy in the off-season, it shouldn’t be a problem once you are back in training full-time and want to build that strength again.

  5. Oh this is such a great post, and a perfect one to celebrate your first year of blogging! I love the learnings you’ve shared and, after 7 months of blogging, I can relate to a lot of them myself, especially those to do with parenting and kids. I, too, have found that those really personal stories are often the ones people respond to the most. That dialogue is so rewarding – as are the friendships developed through the heartfelt conversations. I am SO glad we “met” and count that as one of the three top benefits of blogging, the others being rediscovering my ability to write creatively and working the tough things out with a supportive network.
    I see you also worked in the idea of on and off season exercise 🙂 I like that there is an allowable swing of 5-15 lbs. How liberating!
    Looking forward to more years of reading your thoughts – and hopefully meeting one day!

    • SL thank you so much –I’m glad you liked it and once again, we find so much common ground! Yes, finally got that in-season off season idea out there–one of these days I’ll find a way to write it in a full post, I’m not sure why it hasn’t worked out so far. Thanks for being such a great friend, it’s be so fun to bounce ideas off of you and of course get to know you, and read your stories. Lots more to come this year!

  6. Congratulations on one year, Robin!! Although I don’t often comment, I read your blogs and love them. Thanks for being courageous enough to share!

  7. Robin, I can’t believe it’s been a YEAR already (and 3 total for you). It seems like it has sped by…and as I think back on my year with you (reading along on your journey), I’m so glad to be a part of your world. 🙂 You and I seem to travel the same routes at the same time, and hit the same potholes along the way. Keep it going, Robin, because you’re good at it, you’re completely open and honest, and people appreciate that in their lives. I hope one day I can have the courage to write again, in some form. I’d love to have an active blog like yours. Can’t wait to see where you go next! So many hugs, and much love for you.

    • Tina, thank you so much! What an awesome note. And I love your writing! Almost every time I get a comment from you, I think the same thing–You should definitely try it! Maybe a goal this year??

  8. Congratulations on hitting one year! I loved this post and I’m glad to hear blogging has been such a positive thing for you. I can relate to a lot of it, particularly the way writing about things actually has a tangible effect on the way I deal with things in my own life. For instance, writing about my past body issues has really helped them to lose their hold on me. And I often get feedback on the things I write that makes me think hard and reconsider my own perspective, which I always appreciate it.

    I also related a lot to #4. I had an exchange with a commenter who expressed frustration with people he saw as unhealthy and talked about how he “nudged” people to make better choices, and I was like, that’s basically a really good way to ensure people shut you out and refuse to listen to you. It’s much better to just live your life and be excited if people decide they want to follow your example. Plus those changes have a way of actually sticking, unlike the changes that come about as a result of nudging. 😉

    Anyway, here’s to more years of good fitness blogging and self-discovery!

    • Caitlin, thank you so much for your note, I’m glad it resonated with you too! It’s great to hear about how writing has helped w/your body image, that’s the one area I am not 100% sure I’m all that great at yet, you know, that disconnect between what others see of me vs. what I see when I look in the mirror and expectations of what I should look like. Huge difference! Your blog, and writing has been an inspiration to me on that subject and I’m very glad to have found a voice likes your who has such a healthy attitude about it, reminding me and others we need to get on board. Thanks again, and happy writing and reading to you too this year!.

  9. Congrats on a year! Blogging is fun but it’s also a lot of work, so keeping one going is well worth celebrating.

    I think we’re awfully hard on ourselves when it comes to fitness. Some animals hibernate, after all…:-)

    • Thank you so much Caitlin for your nice comment and reading. This has been an Interesting year and is only going to get more tough with my new work commitment ( that I’ll write about this week…). Your writing has helped inspire me in many ways throughout…

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