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.
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!