Progress

It’s been a while since my last post.  I always figured I’d get back to posting, but I guess I wasn’t ready until now.

I was in a pretty deep ditch a few months back.  I’m not sure if I’m still there.  It feels wrong to say I’m in a ditch–in a lot of ways it’s self-created.  That’s what I’m working through, one step at a time.

Every day brings a set of challenges, and sometimes I wonder why it seems like so much work just to get through a day.  But most days I feel pretty good.  It’s up and down.  I’m learning how to make it work, figuring it out on a daily basis.

Three weeks from now I’ll be sitting in a hotel room in Colorado Springs on the eve of the Pikes Peak Ascent.  It’s the first race of the Pikes Peak double.

I’m nowhere near where I had hoped to be at this time when I signed up to race the double.

My fitness for the past three months has mirrored my overall state–up and down.  For three weeks in May I ran a total of 7 miles, that’s it.  Starting in June I had six weeks of solid workouts, but those provided merely the start of some basic fitness.  The past week was spent on a backyard project (which I’ll get into some other time), so no workouts.  I ran yesterday for the first time in a week, and today I could barely walk when I got out of bed.  I spent the day in my walking boot.

I have no idea what the next three weeks will bring, or what will happen when I toe the line for the Ascent.

I plan to take it one day at a time.

But I’ll be there.  I’m actually stoked about it, despite my crap level of fitness.

A few months ago, when I authored that last post, I was pretty sure I was backing out of Pikes Peak this year.

Progress.

 


Why I plan to be more selfish

For a while now, especially the last 2+ years, I’ve felt something was “off” in my life.  I’ve felt like most days were a grind, that there was something missing from my life, but I just couldn’t put my finger on it.  Most days I’m somewhere between happy and sad; more like numb.  I can’t go back to one specific incident that changed things either.  It’s been more of a slow, gradual deterioration.  I’ve felt myself sinking deeper and deeper into a morass, the shape and form of which I cannot clearly identify.

Reading The Fountainhead may have helped give me some insight into what’s been happening.

One big part of my life was tied up into my job, the one I lost about a year ago.  Prior to losing it, I had become increasingly frustrated there.  Why?  It felt like I was pushing a string up hill.  The culture at the place I used to work was well known for two specific themes:  passive-aggressiveness combined with the need for consensus.  In a company where we all knew job cuts were coming, most everybody was running for cover.  I never fit in there.  These words of The Fountainhead took me back to my old job:

“…there is no substitute for competence.

That, precisely, is the deadliness of second-handers.  They have no concern for facts, ideas, work.  They’re concerned only with people.  They don’t ask:  ‘Is this true?’  They ask:  ‘Is this what others think is true?’  Not to judge, but to repeat.  Not to do, but give the impression of doing.  Not creation, but show.  Not ability, but friendship.  Not merit, but pull.  What would happen to the world without those who do, think, work, produce?  Those are the egotists.  You don’t think through another’s brain and you don’t work through another’s hands…

…That’s what stopped me whenever I faced a committee.  Men without an ego.  Opinion without a rational process.  Motion without brakes or motor.  Power without responsibility.  The second-hander acts, but the source of his actions is scattered in every other living person.  It’s everywhere and nowhere and you can’t reason with him.  He’s not open to reason.  You can’t speak to him–he can’t hear.  You’re tried by an empty bench…”

I can’t say how many times I felt frustrated at my old job…that I couldn’t get my ideas across, that nobody was listening.

I think part of my slow deterioration, specifically related to the job, was a resignation of my individual sense of self to the collective.    I stopped fighting the fight.  I’ve always thought that losing that job was the best thing that could have happened to me, but I could never quite figure out why.  Perhaps it’s more clear now.

Another thing that contributed to my funk, ironically, was this blog.  When I started this thing, I was so focused on writing things that other people would want to read.  I essentially got away from writing what I liked (or what was inside me) in favor of trying to impress others.  This part of The Fountainhead resonated:

“Look at everyone around us.  You’ve wondered why they suffer, why they seek happiness and never find it…He’d see that all his wishes, his efforts, his dreams, his ambitions are motivated by other men.  He’s not really struggling even for material wealth, but for the second-hander’s delusion–prestige.  A stamp of approval, not his own.  He can find no joy in the struggle and no joy when he has succeeded.  He can’t say about a single thing:  ‘This is what I wanted because I wanted it, not because it made my neighbors gape at me.’  Then he wonders why he’s unhappy.”

The point is, I compromised my own sense of self for prestige, for a stamp of approval from others.

At home, it was the same sort of thing.  I started to worry more and more about what I thought my wife and kids wanted or needed.  To seek opportunities to make their lives easier, at the expense of my own life.  This despite the fact that they never asked for that kind of help, nor did they need it.

Where am I going with all this?

As I read The Fountainhead, I started to understand that for the past few years I had started to live like a second-hander.  I had sacrificed my wants and desires for things that were outside of me.  I had placed too much of my sense of self outside of my control.  It wasn’t intentional, it wasn’t for any ill-conceived purpose, I wasn’t even really aware that it was happening.  But the net result was that I had lost the joy that comes from living a life that meets my needs, first and foremost.

And so I plan to be more selfish.

Selfish in the sense of The Fountainhead–that I am a creator, an achiever.  My first duty is to myself, to create things that fully express my talents and abilities.  I am bound to nothing else.  I cannot be affected, positively or negatively, by what anyone thinks of me.  The prime concern is living in a way that’s congruent with my best self.  That’s it.

If anything, this will improve my relationships at home and everywhere else.  Why?  Because I won’t be seeking approval from those relationships.  My self-esteem won’t be on the line.  I’m no longer concerned what anyone thinks of me.  The only thing that matters is what I think of myself.

“In all proper relationships there is no sacrifice of anyone to anyone…Men exchange their work by free, mutual consent to mutual advantage when their personal interests agree and they both desire the exchange.  If they do not desire it, they are not forced to deal with each other.  They seek further.”

I expect that I will slim down my relationships, focusing only on those that fulfill the quote above.

I’m not sure I fully grasp some of the concepts that I’m writing about here.

But I do have a strong feeling that the “morass” I described at the beginning of this post, that pit that I’ve been sinking deeper into, has a source in my evaporating self-esteem.  Or perhaps more precisely, my increasing willingness to sacrifice my own sense of self and self-respect for something that was outside of me.

“This country…was based on a man’s right to the pursuit of happiness.  His own happiness.  Not anyone else’s.  A private, personal, selfish motive.”

Count me in.


The fallacy of tomorrow

One sure sign that I’m fooling myself is when I promise to start (or stop) something…tomorrow.

If it’s that important, or that great, why not start today?

 


New York City Marathon thoughts

I only ran the NYC Marathon once, but it was memorable.  It was in 2001.

I nursed a back injury through the summer of 2001.  Although I was entered in the NYC Marathon, there was a chance I wouldn’t be able to run.  I remember being at the chiropractor’s office when I first heard that a plane had hit the World Trade Center.

Obviously, that day changed everything for New York City and people like me who lived there.  I made a promise that day to run the race in November.  Like most everyone, I wanted to do anything I could to prove that I was getting back to life.

I remember starting the 2001 NYC Marathon…running over the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.  Looking to my left, I could see the smoking rubble.  I’ll never forget that picture.  I remember race organizers telling us to only take aid from authorized aid stations.  That was the mentality.  I remember thousands of American flags.

If you took the NYC Marathon course and plopped it anywhere else in America, it wouldn’t be all that interesting.  It’s a fair course—not too hilly, lots of turns.  They actually made it easier several years ago.  They bypassed a relatively big hill entering Central Park.

Stating the obvious here…it’s the city that makes the NYC Marathon.  For a runner, there is no experience like it in the world.

Each borough leaves its own distinct impression, even when you are trying to focus on the race.  I remember the cultural diversity and raucous atmosphere in Brooklyn.  I remember the quiet pragmatism of Queens.  I remember a specific section of Queens—a Hasidic Jewish neighborhood.  The residents were lining the streets, but they were completely silent.  Periodically, a child would break the silence by clapping (which didn’t make the parents happy).  Shortly after that neighborhood, we crossed over into Manhattan and a scene that was very very different.  Throngs of screaming people.  I remember feeling alone in the Bronx until I ran into the gospel choirs.  Heavenly.  I remember finishing in Manhattan to a beautiful scene in Central Park.  I ran so many miles in Central Park, I knew the finish by heart.  It was great to be able to walk home after the race.

The NYC Marathon is a crowded, complicated race.  To get to the start, you need to get on a bus about 5 hours early.  It’s not for everyone.  I lived in NYC for 10 years and only did the marathon once.  I don’t know if I’ll do it again.  But I’ll always remember 2001.

Good luck to all the NYC Marathon runners!  Stay safe and run well.


Aftermath of the October snow

Here are some pictures from the October snow we recently experienced.

Above:  a view from our front porch. That tree on the upper left is a river birch…it should be straight.

Above is a view of our driveway during the storm.  Below is the driveway after the storm.  Notice the one tree below with no snow?  That’s the one I kept having to knock the snow off.  It’s not there any more; I cut it down already.

Below…morning in the land of the bent trees.

The back of the house, during and after the storm.  In the “After” picture, you can see that the sun has already started melting the snow at the treetops.  There is no snow at the tops of the trees, but still a ton below.

Still some strange things happening.  School is still closed.  Roads are still closed.  About 2,000 people don’t have power yet.  Four “snow” days used already this year, and November just started.  Yesterday I heard someone say that was the full allotment of snow days for the year.  The kids will be going to school in July.

I’ve got to say I’m confused and a bit frustrated.

I know these storms supposedly don’t come along very often, but we had one 3 years ago almost exactly to the day.  The power was out for a week just like this time.  This time may have even been worse.  Same with Irene a couple months ago.  It’s impossible to understand how something like this could impact us so heavily.

I don’t know who to call to the carpet on this.  Probably everyone.

Government.  For spending billions of dollars of “stimulus” money to repair the “infrastructure” without fixing problems like this.  If power and phone aren’t infrastructure, then what is?  I’ve seen the same highway re-paved every single summer.  When will government figure out how to spend money on the right stuff?  I don’t pretend to know how it all works.  I just wish we could have a better, more transparent way of figuring out what to spend the money on.

Power company.  Has a virtual monopoly in our area.  Why would they spend money to upgrade their system or prevent these things from happening?  They have no incentive.  They can’t even gather accurate information regarding who has power and who doesn’t.

Me.  Didn’t take enough action at the local level.  It’s easy to sit on the sidelines and say that I can’t have influence.  And nationally I think that’s probably true.  But I can have an influence on the local level.  I can get out to township committee meetings where they decide what projects to do and how to spend our tax money.  I can demand some sort of transparency and accounting for the response.  I can at least make my voice heard.

Here are a few scenes that are repeated countless times even today, 4 days after the storm.  I understand that there are priorities, but why is a tree company cutting branches on my street where the power lines are fine as opposed to here, where there is a much more urgent need?  My guess is that the people running the operation don’t have all the information they need.

Things like preparedness for and response to emergencies like this are complicated problems.  The power grid is complicated.  I get it.

I’m just really tired of seeing storms like this hit our area with absolutely no improvement in how we handle them.  We’re not any more prepared.  We’re not any better at responding.   I don’t think the finger can be pointed anywhere specifically—we’re all accountable.

Perhaps a starting point is just seeing if we can get more transparency into the process.  What happened, what information was known and not known, what are the priorities to fix so this doesn’t keep happening.

And the powers that be could stand to be a bit more creative too, like enlisting some locals to help in some way, shape or form.  With all kinds of social media available and mobile access (the only thing that worked reliably the past few days), we should be able to gather better information and deal with these kinds of issues more swiftly.  We should also be allowing locals to cut trees that are down in areas where there is no risk.  They would love to have the wood and it would get things up and running much more quickly.

I think a better dialogue between the people, the town and the power company would really help.

That’s it for now.


What I learned from posting every day in October

I’ve been thinking about how making and keeping small commitments, no matter how small, can build character and lead to achieving bigger goals over time.  I first recall reading about this concept in Steven Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.  The idea is pretty simple, really.  When we make and keep a promise to ourselves, we’re building our character.  Similarly, when we make and break a promise to ourselves, we’re tearing down our character.  The bigger the promise, the bigger the impact.  But even the smallest promise can have an impact.  Over time, even small things can add up.  Kind of like the movie The Shawshank Redemption, where Andy tunneled his way out of prison with a tiny rock hammer and a lot of consistent work over time.

Over the summer, I had a really hard time keeping commitments I made to myself.  Getting out for runs, writing, yard work, eating well, the list is long.  I was just in a bad place and couldn’t make things work.  And failing to keep those (admittedly small) promises to myself created a lot of negative energy.  I felt the downward pull.

As September rolled around, I was doing a lot of stuff in fits and starts.  I’d make progress for a few straight days, but then lapse into negative land again.  This doesn’t make for very good progress.  This was an improvement over the summer, but still not where I wanted to be.

Along came this (at the time) wacky idea of posting every day to this blog.  I didn’t come up with it.  It was suggested by the good people at WordPress as “training” for getting ready for something even bigger in November (I’ll have more on that tomorrow).

I decided to give it a go.  Both the big November project and the daily posting.  Being a runner, I understand the value of training.

Given what I experienced over the summer, I actually didn’t think I’d be able to post every day.  I figured I’d flame out after a week or so when I didn’t have anything stunning to say.

But my expectations never materialized.  The flame out never happened.  I managed to post every day.  Towards the end, I got into the mode of doing whatever it took to get a post up, including writing one on my mobile phone when the power and regular phone lines went out.

And keeping that (admittedly very small) commitment every single day actually helped me get some positive momentum.  As Covey suggested, keeping the small commitments helped to start building something positive that I’m hoping to carry into the upcoming months.

Along the way, I’ve learned some other interesting things during my efforts to post every day in October.  A lot of them might be familiar to runners:

  • It doesn’t have to be “inspired” every time.  Like running, some days you just grind it out.  It’s ok to have some bad days…the consistency is more important than anything.  Just showing up matters.
  • Pictures often tell a better story than words.  You can never describe a visual scene well enough.
  • It’s better to focus on the current moment.  In the middle of October, it was pretty disheartening to think about the notion that I still had 2+ weeks of posts to go.  Before I knew it, I had only a handful of days left.
  • Inspiration comes from everywhere.
  • I enjoy writing this as more of a chronicle of my current state of mind.  When I started this blog, I never thought of it that way.  But it’s almost therapeutic to write.  It gives me a chance to reflect on things and keep some record of how I was thinking (for what that’s worth).
  • Doing something frequently helps make it easier.  And there’s a chance you’ll get better but it’s not guaranteed.  Just like running.

Throughout the month, my perspective shifted from being lukewarm to being excited about writing.  Maybe I caught the bug.

Either way, I’m happy that I made the effort and excited for what the future holds for this blog.  I don’t have any grand plans.  I just hope to keep it going.


Snow and great baseball

Got a 23-miler in again today.  Down the Columbia Trail to High Bridge.  Beautiful day.  Lately I’ve been drawn to the longer runs and rides for whatever reason.  I’m enjoying the nice easy pace.

I’m surprised by how dark it is in the morning.  I don’t remember it being this dark in the morning in late October last year.  Didn’t they recently change the date when we turned our clocks back?  Maybe that has something to do with it.

Snow in the forecast for tomorrow.  Not just a little…6-10 inches.  Snow at this time of year is a big problem.  The trees still have leaves, so they catch more snow.  The snow is also heavier, so a lot of trees end up coming down because they can’t handle the weight of the snow.  Trees coming down = power going out.  The last time we had snow in October was 2008, and that year we lost power for 4-5 days.  Ugh.

This year we have a generator, so we won’t have to endure 50 degree temps in the house like last time.  We’ll have some light and the food in the fridge won’t go bad.  Still, it’s no good when the power goes out.

In fact, in 2008 we got out of Dodge…I went to my dad’s place and the wife and little girl went to her mom’s.

I have vivid memories of watching the Phillies clinching the 2008 World Series from my dad’s couch.  Good times.

Speaking of the World Series, game 6 yesterday was one of the best games I have ever seen.  It looks like the Rangers are done…too bad.  I wanted those guys to win.

I’m searching for pictures from the 2008 October snowstorm.  Will post them if I can find them.