A Fresh Perspective on Regret

As I have accumulated more and more evidence of how quickly life moves and of how short it really is, the specter of regret has loomed increasingly large in my life. The idea of looking back and wishing I had made different choices scares me. In one of the evolutions of my coaching practice, I even identified as a “No Regrets Coach.” I thought most other people must be as frightened as I was of ending up with regrets. Since that concept never gained traction, writing a blog post about regret may be risky or futile. Maybe there will be no interest.

Recently, though, I have been introduced to a fresh perspective that I find tremendously helpful. You might, too, so I decided to share my new insight.

My bike ride a couple Sundays ago started out pleasantly. I knew it was the calm before a front moved in, but I was happy to be out there enjoying my ride. I had had a rough track record of harassment by badly behaved humans and dogs (still the fault of their humans) over the previous couple weeks, but I was riding highly vetted roads on a Sunday morning, when it is generally quiet. Suddenly, just as I was really settling in to enjoy my ride, I spotted a dog ahead—large; black, with a white chest, and jumping out of his skin with excitement. He had clearly seen me before I saw him and was eagerly waiting for me to enter his chase zone.

After a really scary encounter the previous weekend with a different dog, I just couldn’t handle a confrontation. Abruptly, I made a U-turn in the middle of 247th Street. Realizing I was turning around and not wanting to lose this opportunity, the dog took off after me on a dead run. I hammered the pedals and blared my dog horn. It took two blasts, but the stronger second one stopped him in his tracks, stunned and confused, giving me the break I needed to watch him drift farther and farther back in my mirror. After that adrenaline surge, I switched directions and recalculated my route in my head.

Several miles later, “Hmm, is that a sprinkle I felt?”

A few more questionable sprinkles, and soon there was no wondering. Heavy mist settled upon me, coating my sunglasses and dripping off my helmet. On my altered route, I would make a pass by my house and resigned myself to ending my ride then, six miles short of my goal for the day, since the heavy mist was making it harder to see.

But then inspiration hit.

Not wanting to lose the moment, I rode right past my street and felt a surge of excitement as some ideas I had been pondering for a couple days really started to gel.

A few days earlier I had seen a Facebook post that Mel Robbins shared. It was a quote from Nakeia Homer:

“Forgive yourself for learning some things the hard way.”

I had no idea who Nakeia was (I have since learned.), but those words really spoke to me.

After seeing Mel Robbins’ shared post, I started tossing the concept around in my mind, but it was on my soggy, rerouted bike ride that I saw, through my mist-covered lenses, what the words really meant to me.

They offered a fresh perspective on regret.

For several years, in my quote collection, I have had Brene’ Brown’s quotes: “Regret is a fair but tough teacher.” and “’No regrets’ doesn’t mean living with courage, it means living with no reflection. To live without regret is to believe you have nothing to learn, no amends to make, and no opportunity to be braver with your life.”

Those words must have struck me at the time I originally read them in Rising Strong because I recorded them in my quote book, but in the years since, I have resented them and rejected them. When I have landed on them while randomly select a quote for reflection, I have brushed them off and chosen something else.

Suddenly on that bike ride, alongside Nakeia Homer’s words in my head, I saw them in a different light.

I recognized that the feeling of regret—and my fear of it—is actually learning the hard way.

This is such a helpful perspective for me. I invite you to explore it, too.

It allows me to shine a compassionate light on a personal paradox. There are certain big decisions that I made years ago that I have, at times, viewed with a twinge (or more) of regret. The paradox, though, is that while the person I am today would not make the same choice as I did back then, I wouldn’t be the same person I am today, if I had not made the choice I made back then.

On that wet bike ride, I realized that these regret-evoking decisions were opportunities to forgive myself for learning the hard way. Having made the choice I did propelled me down the road toward a greater understanding of the lesson I needed to learn.

Learning the hard way is still learning. It is valid and deserves to be recognized for the lessons and progress it brings.

What occurred to me on another bike ride last week is that learning the hard way may be incremental. That is okay, too. We make a decision, choose a direction, take an action. If the results of our movement are not what we hoped or expected, it is important to acknowledge that. With the acknowledgement that our decision or action didn’t lead to what we wanted, we can choose to forgive ourselves for learning the hard way and then make an informed decision about how to proceed. Sometimes the results of our next decision also may be disappointing. This is where the recognition that learning the hard way is sometimes incremental comes in. We move farther along our journeys with every decision, become more fully the people we are capable of becoming, and we forgive ourselves for—and release ourselves from the pain of—learning the hard way.

I have come to recognize another paradox around regret. This quote is often attributed to Mark Twain, but that attribution is disputed. I am not sure who actually said it first, but for a long time, I have taken it as a caution and held it to be true. Taking this fresh perspective on regret opened my mind to the paradox. “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.”

Regardless of the original author of those words, what I realized while pedaling with a push from a strong northwest wind was that it is not that simple. Everything we don’t do—whether by conscious choice or by the default of not choosing—means that we do something else. Every time we leave one action on the table, something fills the void. We may come to regret—and learn the hard way through—whatever fills the void. It may not be clear whether it is what we didn’t do or what we did instead that led to the disappointment, regret and, as long as we recognize it, learning.

I have always found forgiveness to be difficult, whether for myself or others. I have tried to understand it and to embrace it more openly, but it has been elusive much of the time. During my yoga practice last week, it occurred to me that, not only can I acknowledge regret as learning the hard way and forgive myself, but I can also more easily find my way to forgiving others when I recognize that we all learn the hard way.

That doesn’t mean that everything is excused. Some actions are just wrong and cruel, and I can’t begin to understand what is behind them, but we are all flawed works in progress (unless we have stagnated through hopelessness, callousness or deprivation). When I can look at people who have hurt me, but who still play a role in my life, and see that they, too, sometimes learn the hard way, it can open the door for me to forgive them for being flawed and still having lessons to learn.

The essence of the JustWind mindset is that we have the freedom and power to choose our perspectives, and the ones we choose shape our lives. Viewing regret as a marker of learning the hard way and having the compassion to forgive ourselves for needing to learn that way in some (many) instances feels life changing. Instead of being stuck in a stew of regret, disappointment, shame and guilt, we can acknowledge the hard lesson for what it is, recognize that learning the hard way is still learning, compassionately forgive ourselves (or others) and choose to move forward in a way that serves us and our world more powerfully.

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Honor Your Fears, But Don’t Let Them Paralyze You

I decided the time was right on Saturday. I had avoided a particular section of road since last November, after I had an upsetting encounter with three dogs, coming at me from two different directions. Avoiding this section was inconvenient and limited my options because it is just about five miles from my house and a major route to the west, where some of the best cycling is.

I was finishing a very enjoyable, solo 55-mile bike ride on Saturday and was feeling emboldened because I had already come through several miles that I hadn’t ridden this year, in part because of mild dog fears. Although this section, farther away from home and easier to avoid, had caused me distress in previous years because of a very aggressive, chasing Australian shepherd, I had not had a problem in the last couple years. But, after my closer-to-home stressful encounter last November, I had shied away from this stretch as well. Considering my options on Saturday morning, though, I found myself drawn to this route and made the decision to ride it. It was empowering to come through it without incident.

This was part of what inspired me to try the closer, scarier route. I thought about it while I rode. Besides my success that day, another cyclist had told me recently that he had been through that section several times without encountering the dogs. Also, I knew I would have a cornering tailwind as I passed them, and it would be hot, so the dogs would be less motivated to move from shady resting spots.

The time felt right.

As I approached the intersection where I would have to make a decision to proceed north, avoiding the dogs, or to turn east toward them, I told myself that either choice was okay. I would listen to my instinct.

I made the right turn toward the dogs.

I used some of my calming mantras as I approached their houses, which are across the street from each other, with the bigger problems across the road from me. I also grabbed another gear and accelerated—no need to dilly dally! I made it past them without encountering a belligerent canine.

Victory! I had done it. For the firs time in nearly 10 months, I had been brave enough to calculate my risks and face my fears.

It made me think.

As you know if you have read many of my previous posts, I find lots of analogies from the bike that apply to the bigger picture of life. This situation is no exception.

Allowing myself to ride this section of road opens options for me. It means less need for backtracking and more possibilities. Similarly, facing our fears in the rest of life creates possibilities, too.

Facing our fear, in a way that acknowledges and honors them allows us to see options that might be hidden from us otherwise. It literally opens our minds. When we don’t—or believe we can’t—face them, routes remain off limits. The doors remain closed. We can’t see down a certain path.

There are some things in my life off the bike that have me feeling fearful lately. The lesson from Saturday’s ride can serve me as I navigate these situations in the upcoming days, weeks and months. I can analyze the situation, like I did on the bike, and calculate my risks. I can also empower myself by providing opportunities for victory in lower-stakes decisions and circumstances. Doing this can embolden me to face the tougher, scarier things with more confidence and to see creative possibilities.

This doesn’t mean the fears go away. I’m not ready to ride past the dogs on their side of the road yet. I’ll need at least a few more passes on the opposite side with some degree of tailwind. Then, when the time is right, I may try it heading west.

The same is true in the rest of life. Navigating the changes that life brings us can be frightening, but it doesn’t have to paralyze us. Remembering this can help us to optimize our circumstances and live the best lives we can, while helping others do the same.

I’m no expert at this, but Saturday’s experience taught me some lessons that I can share:

  1. When something scares you, think about your options around it.
  2. How risky is facing it? Analyze the risks.
  3. What factors could mitigate the risks?
  4. Is the time right to face it?
  5. What does facing it look like?
  6. Listen to your gut. Even if you feel some fear, do your instincts tell you to take that turn toward what scares you and explore it openly?
  7. If so, go for it?
  8. Consider the possibilities that open for you once you are willing to openly acknowledge your fears.
  9. What is the next action you could take to move you forward in the direction of your dreams?
  10. Is there anything stopping you from taking it?
  11. If nothing is stopping you, and you have analyzed your risks, make that turn toward the thing that scares you.
  12. Once you have done it, what changed for you because you were willing to face your fears?
  13. Celebrate your courageous decision and decide how you will move forward next.

“Everything you want is on the other side of fear.” –Jack Canfield

Several years ago, this quote really spoke to me. It still does, although I am not sure that everything I want is on the other side of fear. Or that I will find everything I want if I face my fears. What I do believe is that there will be more options, and I will see more possibilities, if I do face my fears, rather than remaining stuck in paralysis by them.

I am going to work to remember this and practice facing my fears more often. I know I will have several opportunities to do that coming up in the near future.

Have you had the experience of facing your fears and finding creative possibilities and unexpected alternatives on the other side of them? Let us know in the comments.

“Choose courage over comfort by vitally engaging with new opportunities to learn and grow, rather than passively resigning yourself to your circumstances.” –Susan David

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Taking My Lane: Being Seen and Establishing Boundaries

There is an intersection about a mile from my home where, when coming from the south, I am particularly aware of the need to remain visible and present myself confidently. As I approach it, I watch all sides and move to the center of my lane. By moving away from the white line towards the middle of my lane, I position myself in the best place to be seen by traffic, particularly those who might turn left in front of me.

Kansas bicycle laws state that cyclists should ride as close to the right side of the roadway as safe and practicable, and I definitely do, but there are times when it is important to be seen and to set expectations for motorists’ behavior. Like so many lessons I have learned on the bike (and will share in my forthcoming book), this one has high applicability to life off the bike, as well.

In addition to being seen at an intersection, there are other situations that call for taking my lane. A couple weeks ago, I was headed south on a quiet, but narrow, two-lane road, when I saw two cyclists on low recumbents heading north. Behind them, a car was approaching on a gentle hill. I moved to the center of my lane, in order both to be seen and to discourage the car from passing between us, squeezing all of us toward the edges of the road. The cyclists and I waved at each other as we passed. As soon as we did, I moved back to the right edge of my lane, smiled and waved at the motorist. In my mirror, I watched the vehicle pass the recumbent bikes safely, and we all went about our day. The driver was delayed for no more than 10 seconds. As I continued pedaling south, I reflected on the brief encounter.

I realized that I felt powerful—in a good way. I had assessed the situation, identified a potential danger for myself and others, found the courage to take a position and acted confidently (and with trust in the driver). The small act of taking my lane made things safer for me and allowed me to advocate for the safety of two oncoming cyclists. Those recumbents, just inches off the ground, are probably more maneuverable than I think (I’ve never tried one.), but I felt like I was in the better position to make a strong move and protect us all.

One of my daily mantras during meditation is, “I am rooted in my power. I stand in it and own it.” As I have gotten older, especially in the last couple years, I have become better at living this mantra. The first step for any of us in doing this is recognizing our power.

I am not perfect in my practice of standing in my power and owning it, but I have gotten so much better at recognizing that I have some power and that I have a right to assert it in situations where I need to set boundaries for myself or others who don’t have, or haven’t found, their voices.

In recent years, I have realized that I lived much of my life fairly passively, deferring to others and feeling like I didn’t have a right to speak up and be heard or to stand up and be seen. I could do it for a cause or a principle—like becoming vegetarian at age 12 and becoming vegan in 2008. I recognized that animals didn’t have a voice or choice, so I stopped eating them in 1982. Then, I stopped eating or using their products in 2008, after I found the courage to learn more about the egg and dairy industries. For many years as a vegetarian, while I didn’t apologize for my principles, I would say, “I recognize that I am the weird one.” As I type that, it actually sounds a lot like an apology. Now, I may still be the weird one, but I own it, and it is not an apology.

I’ve advocated comfortably for others in different contexts, too—for victims of sexual assault, for people living with HIV and AIDS, for my son, for my students—but it has only been in recent years that I have really felt okay about advocating for myself.

Cycling has helped me to realize that there are absolutely times when we need to take our lane to make ourselves more visible or to be heard.

What has taken longer is cultivating the courage to do it, on the bike or off.

When I pull into the center of my lane to make sure I am seen by motorists or to promote proper passing by a car, I am setting a boundary of sorts. I am teaching the motorists how to behave around me. Of course, there is no guarantee that they will respond the way I intend. Most will, but a few may get enraged by what they perceive as my audacity (or sometimes by my very existence). Most, even if irritated, will drive the way they should, to avoid hitting or otherwise endangering me.

Taking a strong position in any setting to be seen or heard and to help other people understand how they should treat us requires courage and comes with risks. But, if we meekly remain against the white line on the bike or in the rest of life when we really need to take a bolder stance, our expectations may be misinterpreted. As Brene Brown has warned, this is likely to lead to resentment. We expect others to treat us a certain way, and they don’t. We haven’t asserted ourselves to instruct them how to treat us, but we resent them for not meeting our unstated expectations.

“What you permit, you promote. What you allow, you encourage. What you condone, you own.” –Unknown

We have both the right and the responsibility to set boundaries, but this doesn’t excuse blatant bad behavior—by drivers, by the humans in our daily lives or by society and institutions. As I was recently writing a book chapter about taking my lane, I thought of two 21st-century social movements: #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter. In both of these movements, members of communities—people who have experienced sexual victimization and African American people—are positioning themselves to be seen and heard and are instructing society in how to treat them. This is a version of taking their lane.

Finding the courage and recognizing our right to take our lane can be a gradual process. I think we often have to live our way into it. For me it has come with the recognition that life is moving ever more quickly, and time is short. With that realization, I have less and less patience and, quite literally, less and less time to shrink into the white line and risk not being noticed. On the bike, it is my life and safety. Off the bike, it is my quality of life and my ability to make the contribution I want to make in the world.

Because time is short.

So, I will keep digging deep to find the courage to take my lane, and I encourage you to take your lane. Position yourself to be seen and heard. Share your message with the world. Speak your truth.

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A 53-Mile Lesson in Surviving and Thriving in 2020

“Please subdue the anguish of your soul. Nobody is destined only to happiness or to pain. The wheel of life takes one up and down by turn.”

–Kalidasa

This morning’s ride started off humidly, but blissfully. After a short internal debate—”Do I face the 61st Street dogs early in the ride, with tailwind, or later in the ride, with headwind, but when the dogs are likely to be hot and lazy?”—I headed west. That meant I would pass these pests (Their people are the real pests, since they allow them to run.) within the first three miles, but then be done with them for the rest of the ride. As I approached their home, on the same side of the road, I came upon a rural traffic jam—two slower cyclists up ahead and multiple cars both directions. “Great!” I thought, “Of all places to have to slow down.” I did slow down, knowing that I couldn’t move to the oncoming lane if the dogs ran out to chase. After the last oncoming car passed, I called, “On your left,” and pulled around the cyclists, two Biking Across Kansas acquaintances. We exchanged pleasant greetings, and I said, “Glad those dogs didn’t come out, with all that traffic.” “That’s for sure!” one said, clearly familiar with the furry fiends, as well.

I soon turned south and saw in my mirror that the women continued west. It always feels like a small victory when I get past those dogs without a sighting. Pedaling happily, relishing the quiet Sunday-morning roads, I saw hot air balloonists preparing to launch or wrapping up a flight—I’m not sure which—a few miles later. Except for the dogside traffic jam, the roads were quieter than usual, which had me thinking that people were sleeping off the Fourth of July celebrations.

My ride continued smoothly for several more miles, including a bathroom stop at Lake Afton, until, all of a sudden, 25 miles in, a shockingly painful sting to my groin literally nearly caused me to crash. Disoriented, I realized I was hurtling toward the gravel at the side of the road. I managed to regain control of my bike and come to a stop. Once I clipped out of my pedals and put my feet down, I had to practice great restraint not to strip off my shorts right there on the side of the road. A stinging beastie, apparently unaware or unimpressed that my vegan nonviolence extends to insects, had delivered an excruciatingly painful stab to a very sensitive region. I never did find the perpetrator, but I’m sure anyone who might have been watching from a house window got an entertaining show as I searched.

The scene of the stinging.

After taking some breaths and this photo, I got back on my bike, unsure how it was going to go with a painful groin and shaking body. Fortunately, shortly after getting moving, the pain subsided (Thank you, endorphins.), but the quick reaction that kept me from crashing came at the cost of a serious adrenaline dump from which I never fully recovered for the remainder of my ride. It was a fair trade—staying on two wheels but feeling like I was dragging in the dirt afterwards.

So, I pedaled onward, wondering what stung me. Murder hornet? Given that it is 2020, the thought crossed my mind. I thought about other insect encounters on the bike. Years ago, climbing the big hill (Heartbreak? Wilmar? Manhattan Hill? I can’t remember what it is called.) in Manhattan, Kansas, a bee flew into Kenny’s cycling glove. This resulted in much cussing and an impressive glove removal with his teeth, while we continued to climb with David Blair. Kenny has also been stung by a bee inside his helmet. That also resulted in cussing. One year, as we rode through Andale on the Tour de Parish, Kenny decided to call it a day, and I continued on for the metric century. My phone rang a short time later, but I didn’t answer or check voice mail until I got to the next SAG. I had a message from Logan saying, “A bug is inside Dad’s ear. He went to the emergency room.” According to Logan, he was first alerted to the problem when he heard Kenny yelling profanities in the driveway. So, Kenny has certainly had his share of bike-bug problems. I have had stinging insects fly into my jersey and into my sports bra, leaving trails of tiny bites before I could extricate the creatures. Flies have bitten me through my shorts. On some late-summer evenings, I have come home thoroughly plastered by gnats that had been so thick they flew into my nose and eyes. But no sting has ever hurt this badly or shocked me so dramatically.

I thought about all that as I rode, feeling worn out by the adrenaline dump. Finally, I turned west. Although the wind was not bad at all, by Kansas standards, I looked forward to what should have been a nice push from the east. However, the first things I saw when I turned were two orange construction signs. “No center line.” No big deal; it’s a quiet road. “Loose gravel.” That was less welcome. “Of course there is,” I thought grimly. The gravel wasn’t all that loose, but new chat had been put down since I was last on that road. It was what I refer to as “boulder-size gravel.” Not that loose, fortunately, but it still required a much greater effort than I felt like expending. I tried to distract myself by asking, “What is the lesson in this?” After all, I’m writing a book based on lessons I’ve learned on the bike. Surely, there must be a lesson.

After four miles, I turned back north and soon reached my bathroom stop in Goddard. I felt beaten up by the stinging insect, the ensuing adrenaline dump, the chat road and the humidity.

I was glad to stop for a moment and said hello to a cute little boy and his dad, as I headed into the bathroom. A thorough inspection of the interior of my shorts yielded no evidence of whoever had stung me, and the light was too dim to assess the damage to my skin. I washed my hands and headed back outside. The little boy, whom I soon to learned was three years old and named Tower, approached me and wanted to talk. His dad said, “She’s a smart girl. She wears her helmet.” I told Tower, “Real cyclists always wear helmets. You have a good brain, and you want to protect it.” He asked his dad to get his Spiderman helmet out of the car to show me. Tower talked to me as I filled my water bottle and took my electrolyte capsule. He held the button on the water fountain so I could refill my Camelbak. He said, “You have a flashlight on your handles.” I explained that I had flashing lights on the front and rear of my bike so cars could see me because I ride on the road. He asked about my bike computer and my dog horn. I asked him, “Does your bike have two or three wheels?” He said, “One, two, three, four.” Ah, training wheels. As I prepared to leave, Tower said, “I have a sticker,” and pulled a water bottle barcode sticker off his shirt, gently pressing it to my jersey. I said, “Thanks, Tower. That will be a nice souvenir of our conversation.” I mounted my bike and headed back to the road, telling Tower’s dad, “He is quite the charming conversationalist.”

Heading north, I felt lighter and more energized. I hadn’t totally shed the effects of the stinging/near crash, but I felt happy and recalled other experiences at that very same bathroom stop on the Prairie Sunset Trail, just off 199th Street West in Goddard. Two days ago, I spent an hour and a half in the pavilion there, waiting out a thunderstorm. In 2018 I had another blog-post-inspiring encounter there, when I met Dale who stopped for a bathroom break while on a solo bike ride two days before his 90th birthday.

After crossing Highway 54, I allowed my mind to wander pleasantly again. A mantra, borrowed from Gabby Bernstein, that I use daily in my meditation came to me. “I am open to creative possibilities for abundance.” Then I knew. This ride was a metaphor for 2020. Like the year (2020 just sounds cool!), the ride started with such promise. I had the good fortune of passing the 61st Street dogs without incident, a pleasant exchange with the cyclists I passed and the balloonists, then BOOM! Out of nowhere, I’m stung in the groin (How did the little beast even get between my leg and the saddle?) so painfully I nearly wreck. So startlingly that I am brought to a standstill to assess the damage and recover enough to keep moving forward. (Not unlike the current pandemic when it knocked us all off course and closed and cancelled everything, starting in March.) Making my way after that, I felt battered and weakened. Then, there was Tower, a pleasant surprise who revived me enough to keep going and gave me the boost I needed to recognize inspiration.

As I thought about the ways that my bike ride mirrored the year, I recognized that it was a gift, truly a creative possibility for abundance that called for an impromptu blog post that I expect to develop into a book chapter. It occurred to me that, even as we make our way through the rest of 2020 and beyond, tired and beaten down by the pandemic and all its effects, by social unrest, by political ugliness, by personal and family struggles, we need to remain open to the pleasant little surprises, like curious three year olds and beautiful sunsets caused by the Saharan dust cloud covering the Kansas sun. As the quote at the top of this post reminds us, 2020 and life itself is full of the unexpected. Some of it is painful as heck. Some of it is delightful and energizing. We will always have a mix. We just have to be open to that.

I made it home. Even though I’m sure my average speed was lowered by the exhaustion I felt after the stinging, I made it home safely and in a decent time. (Sadly, when I went to take a photo of the sticker Tower gave me, it was gone. I felt bad because that meant that I had inadvertently littered and because I had lost my souvenir. I guess I was just too sweaty for it to stick.) I think the message of my ride is that we will get through this year. It may be hard, and it may hurt, but there will be joy, too, as long as we allow it in. We have to set the intention and make the effort to notice the gifts, those boosts that will sustain us as we keep moving forward, never completely sure what awaits on our journey but courageous enough to persevere and find out.

What lessons are you learning from 2020? Please share in the comments.

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Self-Compassion or Losing My Edge?

We are living in strange times. So much has changed in all of our lives in such a short period of time. I could never have imagined the current state of our world. Maybe that was ignorance or short-sightedness or naivete´, but the events of the last couple months have me working to find my way in this new reality. Partly by necessity and partly through this process of feeling my way, I am doing a lot of things differently. Within these changes, I have found myself struggling to discern the difference between self-compassion and weakness or laziness.

I believe in listening to my gut and in being patient and compassionate with myself, but I also believe in self-discipline and determination and dedication. I believe in living courageously. Where is the line between these values? Are they dichotomous? How can they coexist?

The changes in my life and my habits extend beyond the bike, but I find so many metaphors in cycling (I’m writing a whole book around that.), that the bike is where these are most evident for me.

I’m still riding a lot. I have over 1,100 miles for 2020, so far. I generally ride five days out of seven. But I am doing it differently. Maybe it is okay because I am still putting in the miles, but it does make me stop to think whether I am being honest with myself. How much of this is related to COVID-19 and being socially responsible, and how much of it is losing my edge?

For me, my “edge” is my dedication and commitment to do what I say I am going to do, to live courageously and to push myself. Cycling is the major manifestation of it at this point in my life.

I have an index-card file (old-fashioned, I know!) of cycling routes I have constructed in every direction from Andale, ranging from 15 miles to over 100 miles. I have ridden all of them, mostly alone, some of them hundreds or even thousands of times.

In all honesty, I have felt myself becoming more constrained over the last few years, even before COVID-19. This has mostly been related to multiple scary close calls with chasing dogs. (And I LOVE dogs! Just not irresponsible people who let them run unsupervised. But that is another post.) There are some routes I have avoided completely since a particularly harrowing canine encounter. It feels like I have narrowed my “safe” options a little more in each of the past few years. I have told myself that there is no point adding to my stress if I can have a more enjoyable ride by playing it safe.

This year, in the midst of the pandemic, I have made the decision to do shorter loops on my longer rides, so that I can stop back by my home for bathroom and fluid breaks, rather than stopping in public places. For example, on Sunday, I rode 26 miles for the first loop and 25 miles for the second loop. Somehow this feels both safer and more socially responsible. I ride without a mask, alone on the road or occasionally with Kenny. The more I read and hear about the ability of asymptomatic individuals to carry the virus, the more important it seems to wear a mask when I am around people. So, it seems wiser and more courteous to be more self-contained on my mask-free rides.

But, is that the truth?

Is it just fear? Is it getting soft or weak?

And, whatever it is, what all is behind it?

I have pondered several possibilities.

  • Fear. There is certainly fear involved. This is not just about social responsibility, although that is part of it. But, is it simply that I am letting fear dictate my choices? I don’t believe in living my life from a place of fear, but, if I am genuinely (and justifiably?) fearful, is it smart to listen to it? Is that self-compassion? Is that trusting my instinct to keep me safe, or is it being a wimp? The line between the two seems blurred to me.
  • Uncertainty. It is impossible to plan anything right now. Everything feels uncertain and in question. Maybe that is why it feels safer to stick to known, safe, chasing-dog-free routes that are close to home. The uncertainty of the world is overwhelming. Introducing additional unpredictability feels like too much.
  • Weirdness. Grocery shopping feels so weird right now. Increasingly, it seems like the only appropriate thing to do is wear a mask, just in case we could be asymptomatic, but infectious. Or to help other people feel more comfortable. This is just one more thing to worry about on the bike. Putting a mask on a sweaty face (after pulling it out of a sweaty jersey pocket) sounds unappealing. Not wearing one into a small-town gas station seems rude, if not reckless.
  • Fatigue. Is it just that I am tired, not so much physically, but emotionally? The world feels heavy. Life is more complicated. We have all had to accept a lot of loss in the last couple of months. Maybe I am just exhausted by that and want to minimize my potential for more loss and stress and trauma. Does it just feel easier not to have to cope with apprehension around what I might experience out on the road in farther reaches, even though that sense of adventure and possibility has been food for my soul in the past?
  • Wisdom. Maybe I could take a more positive perspective. Maybe my reluctance to venture farther from home, to stop at small-town gas stations, to road-test routes where I have had previous serious dog problems is rooted in the wisdom of lived experience, replacing the perceived invincibility of youth. It is true that I have had many close calls with chasing, even snarling, dogs. I have had bottles thrown at me. I have been run off the road by a semi. I have been blown off the road by wind. It is possible that all this has accumulated into wisdom that has compelled me to shed the perception of invincibility that I carried through my younger adult years. I never really considered myself to be a risk taker, but I have ridden and/or run many thousands of miles alone, often in remote territory and in unfamiliar cities while travelling. For most of my life, this has just been what I have done. But maybe I now recognize the fragility of life, with the accumulation of loss of people and animals over the years, the recognition of how fleeting my son’s childhood is, the sense of foreboding that comes with realizing that I am likely in the last half of my own life. Maybe this translates to wisdom, to taking chances when it is smart and to avoiding them when it makes sense.
  • Hormones. Pedaling and pondering on Sunday morning, the possibility occurred to me that hormonal changes, like lower testosterone (Yes, women produce it, too.) associated with perimenopause could be contributing to my need to minimize risk. (I have been thinking a lot lately about menopause, in general, and plan to do a fairly extensive review of the literature around it, both for myself and for an idea I have for my coaching practice. Stay tuned, if you, too, are a perimenopausal woman.) This is just speculative pondering at this point, but maybe hormonal changes are producing more risk aversion in my life. Or, is that the very definition of losing my edge? Hmm.

I don’t think I have come to any solid conclusions through writing this post, but I believe there is value, not just for myself, in sharing my struggles because I know we all struggle. I know we are all living in a scary, uncertain and previously unimaginable time right now.

I know others are scared of this world, of COVID-19 and of the social and economic changes that it is bringing.

I know others feel the stress of uncertainty. When will we get back to “normal”? What will “normal” look like in the future? Will the kids have school and sports in the fall? Will we be able to take vacations this summer? Will it be safe to see the older adults in our lives or for them to see their grandkids?

I know that I am not the only one who finds it hard to relate to other people from behind a mask that conceals a smile or other facial expressions. I find that people are less inclined to make eye contact while wearing a mask. Is that because of self-consciousness or because we are all scared of each other right now? Maybe it is a little of both.

I know I am not the only one who feels fatigued by the heaviness of this world—the result of fear and uncertainty and accumulated loss. We have all had to give up traditions, vacations and habits that have been deeply engrained in our lives, that we never could have conceived of abandoning so abruptly and in such volume. Something as seemingly small as the Western social convention of shaking hands now sounds dangerous and has a questionable future. Even as we have become desensitized—“Oh, now school is cancelled. Now Biking Across Kansas is cancelled. Now we might not be able to travel to see family. Of course, I can’t get a haircut.”—the losses, both micro and macro, add up and weigh on us.

I also know that many of us do gain wisdom as we live life. Generally, this is good, but it may cause us to rethink long-held patterns and to look back wistfully on a more carefree time. Confucius said, “By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.” I wrote those words in my very first volume of quotes in 2001, but they feel truer than ever now. Our earned wisdom through lived experience feels unquestionably bittersweet, and sometimes more bitter than sweet.

I also know that I am not the only perimenopausal woman who may be feeling her way in the world, as her body changes and takes her mind and feelings along with it. Men experience hormonal changes, too. Testosterone levels decrease as they age. They may have similar feelings of risk aversion. I have recently determined to take a more proactive and positive approach to menopause, which is why I have planned a campaign for knowledge on the topic and a curation of the fruits of my study to share with others. It feels like I a way that I can contribute, while helping myself.

I am a thinker, so I contemplate these things more than a lot people do. But I believe that others are experiencing similar feelings, and I hope my ponderings can help some of you feel less alone and maybe can help you approach your response to these feelings with compassion, patience and self-love.

One of the reasons I love to read and write nonfiction is that I believe we all have so much to learn and to teach through sharing our struggles and what we learn through them. As I said, I learn and experience so much from my bike saddle that has far broader application in life. The issues I address in this post are not exclusive to the bike. My experience on the bike just helps me analyze and come closer to understanding them and to be able to articulate them in a way that may reach others.

I have noticed risk aversion and weariness and fear when it comes to my business, my job, my relationships, just being out in the world.

If you are experiencing a sense of wanting or needing to hunker down or to stay closer to home or to minimize exposure of any kind in the world, know that you are not alone. Even as I try to tease out the truth from the myth from the excuses, I am also committed to being compassionate, yet disciplined and patient, while still striving for excellence.

Maybe excellence doesn’t have to look the same as it used to look. Or maybe it doesn’t have to look the same right now. Maybe it is okay to pause a bit. Maybe it is okay to put in the miles, even if they are “safer” miles right now. Maybe it is enough to honor that I am not just curling up in a ball and shunning life.

I think all of us are still trying to figure out what this pandemic will mean for us and how our world will change. Maybe that is where the patience should come in.

Do any of these ponderings resonate with you? Have you resolved them in your life? What do you think—is it self-compassion to acknowledge and respond to our fears by taking “safer” action, or is that giving in to fear and losing our edge? I would be interested to know your perspective on this topic.

Let’s stay in touch in these uncertain times. If you haven’t yet joined my email list, please do.  I’ll send you my Plant-based Recipe booklet with 28 of my favorite nourishing and delicious recipes.

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