Jailbreak from Mediocrity

What’s more frightening: the uncertainty of exploring uncharted territory, or the certainty that if you stay put, you’re imprisoned in mediocrity?” –Iris Krasnow

Between multiple, consecutive gray, overcast days and a disappointing setback Friday night, I found myself on my bike yesterday (after yet another weekend rain delay!) thinking, “It would be easier not to . . ..”

In this case, the “easier not to” referred to bothering to build a coaching business. It is not the first time that thought has crossed (or hung out in) my mind. Sometimes, that thought has gotten the better of me for a period of time. Lately, I have been more successful at warding it off, but it was coming back with a vengeance yesterday.

It’s not just building my business, though, I realized, as I pedaled into the headwind in a fairly heavy mist. It’s also easier not to ride my bike. It’s easier not to write a blog post, take a course, cook a healthful dinner, go to the trouble of learning new software and practices for managing business finances, have a child, be in a relationship. You name it. It is probably easier to sit on the couch and not take the chances or put forth the effort to do any number of things in life.

But, if we don’t, what’s left? Did we live at all?

For me, with the coaching business, I believe there is a reason that the idea hasn’t left me alone since it first presented itself around 2001. I pushed it away for several years because it seemed impractical, with a young child and little support or enthusiasm from others.

It rose back to the surface, though, a couple years ago when I was feeling very dissatisfied with my career and had experienced a couple major professional disappointments in a few years. This time, I promised my idea and my spirit that I wouldn’t shove it back down.

Still, it’s not easy, and it’s the “uncharted territory” to which Iris Krasnow refers. Any time we take a risk on something new, it is scary. Accidents and unforeseen events can take place. We may have to climb over huge obstacles we didn’t even know were there. Yet, finding out what is at the end of the journey in this uncharted territory is compelling. Sticking with the known and not worrying about getting dirty or risking some scrapes and bruises might be safer on one level, but soul crushing on another.

Years ago, when I first read Krasnow’s words, I experienced a visceral negative reaction to the concept of mediocrity. Rather than the pursuit of dominance over others, the rejection of mediocrity is for me a reaction to my belief in my responsibility to optimize my strengths, talents, resources and experiences–to give back in proportion to what I have been given.

It has become clear to me over recent months that my recurrent urge to serve the world through a variety of manifestations of health and habit change coaching—including blogging; individual coaching; my free Facebook group: JustWind Producers of Power & Purpose; and future workshops, classes and nonprofit work—is a calling from the Universe.

Sometimes, I have relished the synchronicity and signs that have reassured me that I was on the correct path. Other times, it feels like I am braving Krasnow’s uncharted territory all alone, in the desolate and uncertain wilderness.

My mindfulness practices, along with my cycling, have become lifelines for me, helping me stay grounded and focused during the inevitable ebbs and flows of life. When I start to stumble and risk falling into a pit of hopelessness, I have practices in place these days to throw down a net and catch myself before I hit bottom.

The net helps me bounce back up and courageously return to the uncharted territory.

Yes, it would be easier not to bother, at least for a while. But, then it wouldn’t be. Then, regret would set in–disappointment in myself. I would be mired irrevocably in the muck of mediocrity.

This prison that Krasnow describes is even more frightening to me. As an introvert, I live in my head a lot. To be trapped there with the disappointment and shame that mediocrity would bring feels like the worst fate.

I’ve set some ambitious goals for myself that I am just starting to share with a few people. They are scary. But, the alternative to pursuing them is worse.

So, how do I—and how do you—persevere on an uncharted journey of uncertainty and risk? Here are the things that currently sustain me:

  • I have cultivated a deeper belief in the abundance of the Universe, in an updated way that resonates with me, as the person I am today. We each must find our own path here, but I have come to believe that finding it is crucial. It will likely evolve over time, but it is important to honor our need for a connection to something greater. I have a consistent, cherished daily mindfulness practice that now includes meditation, which I long believed was something I could not do. Now, I can’t do without it.
  • I have connected with supportive others, including a couple of Facebook groups and some business coaches. This helps when I feel alone. I can serve others in the group, while I receive support and guidance myself. As in any relationship, there can be disappointment, but I have grown much more since connecting with the people in these groups than I was doing entirely on my own. Finding the right fit is important. Although my coaching certification institution emphasized that they were “my tribe,” they weren’t. I had to find the right people on my own.
  • I trust my own intuition and instincts. Mindfulness has helped me tune into this and honor this more than ever. I have always believed in doing this, but I am more likely to trust myself now than I used to be. I can really listen when I am in my state of mindfulness, whether it is during my formal practice each day or it is just found in my increased centeredness, a residual effect of my practice. Much like exercise has benefits that last for hours following the actual movement, mindfulness resets my emotional barometer and keeps me on a calmer, more receptive plane throughout the day.
  • I strive to maintain the lifestyle practices that I teach for living and aging with power and purpose—purposeful living, plant-based nourishment and empowered movement—with a high level of integrity. Taking excellent care of my body, mind and spirit best positions me to persist when the going gets tough.

These are what I recommend to you, as you dig deep and find the courage to attempt the jailbreak from mediocrity too. What does that mean for you? Which is more frightening—uncharted territory or known mediocrity? How can I support you?

“There is an inner knowing that there is more to life than the mundane, as well as a desire to create meaning of one’s life by doing the best that one is capable of doing.”

–Linda Kreger Silverman

Choosing Not to Be Defined by Fear

“How many of us are held back by fears that make our lives smaller than they need to be, fears that, before we know it, define who we are?”  Patty Chang Anker

I initially wrote this post in the middle of April, just before my mother-in-law was hospitalized with a series of strokes and then lived out her last days with hospice, back in her long-term care facility. While her death was a well-deserved release from suffering, between trying to support my husband as he processes the loss of his mother and coping with a very busy, stressful time at work, I got derailed and am just now getting back to this post.

The interesting thing is that even without looking at it for several weeks, I knew that it was going to be necessary to revise the post because I could sense an evolution in my relationship with fear. I don’t believe that I have conquered my fears completely, but it is encouraging and empowering to acknowledge that changes have taken place over the past several weeks and to know that my conscious work is responsible for the evolution.

This version of the post is quite different than the original one (which I thought was good, but didn’t feel current anymore). When I wrote it a little over a month ago, I still felt very much a prisoner of my fears. In this revised version, I want to share the strategies that I believe have loosened fear’s hold.

Franklin Roosevelt said, The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

When I originally wrote this post, Roosevelt’s quote resonated with me because I realized that I had become increasingly fearful in certain areas of my life, thus limiting myself and making my life smaller than I wanted it to be. Fear had crept into aspects of my life in ways and to degrees that I had not previously experienced, and I also had begun to realize the extent to which fear had influenced my decision making. I was afraid that fear would continue to contract my life in the future.

One disturbing area where fear had begun to limit me to a greater and greater extent was the fear of being chased by dogs on my bike. In the 20 years I have been a road cyclist, I have experienced some scary dog chases, especially in the last few years. It had started to get into my head (Patty Chang Anker calls these “sensitizing events” in Some Nerve: Lessons Learned While Becoming Brave.), and I had become more and more reluctant to ride out of my “safe,” well-vetted routes. I was still putting in 4,000 to 4,500 miles a year, but I had become less and less courageous when it came to riding outside of my comfort zone. I was feeling ashamed and very limited, almost paralyzed at times, by this fear.

Because I want my life to keep expanding, not shrinking, I made a commitment to work on facing this fear in a conscious and systematic way. While it is not entirely gone, the fear has become more manageable through three primary strategies.

Susan Jeffers says, “The only way to get rid of the fear of doing something is to go out and do it. . .. The ‘doing it’ comes before the fear goes away.”

Stepping (or pedaling) past the paralyzing hold of the fear to venture into areas that had recently become too scary (without necessarily having a good reason why) was hard, and it is still tough at times, but as I have pushed myself to ride more and more routes that I have ridden in the past, but had become afraid to ride, I have grown in courage each time. Sometimes that has been because (happily) the dog that had worried me was not around or was there and did not chase. Sometimes a dog did chase, but I handled the situation well and went on to have a good ride. It was a version of self-administered exposure therapy. It still is because the work is ongoing, but I have noticed a real difference. After each ride where I face my fear, I feel a little stronger, a little braver, a little more successful. I do a lot of self-talk—my own version of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy—and remind myself that I make good decisions, have solid bike-handling skills and use strong judgment. I also reason with myself (e. g., “I have never had a problem on that route.” Or, “I was chased once there, 11 years ago.” Or, things are almost always fine when I ride.”) I also have some tried-and-true mantras that help me feel braver. I repeat those in my head, when I am in areas where I need a little boost in courage.

The second strategy I have used is Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT or Tapping). I am still very much a novice with this technique, but I do believe that it has played an important role in loosening fear’s grip. For several weeks, I focused specifically on the fear I felt around being chased by dogs on my bike, and now I have felt the pull to use it in other areas to manage stress, indecision, frustration and other conditions from which I would like to be free.

Another contributing factor (the third strategy) was my participation in a Facebook group consisting of wonderful women who came together to share our pursuit of increased courage. Although the courage challenges in the group officially ended the same week my mother-in-law was buried, the strength I gained from choosing to connect and engage with these women helped to prime me so that the work I was doing on my own was more effective.

In addition to this type of fear (which is not restricted to the fear of being chased by dogs on my bike, but has been most pronounced and constrictive there), I have recognized retrospectively that I have limited some of my major life decisions because of a different type of fear.

The most prominent example of this is my career. I have come to feel in recent years like I have always sold myself short, probably because of fear—of failure, of not being perfect, of making money and seeming shallow, of being considered inadequate for certain positions. Suddenly, I am in my late forties, feeling like I have not lived up to my potential.

I have been working on this with EFT, as well, and I feel a little better about it at the moment. I am releasing some of the regret over the decisions I wish I had made differently, and I feel more empowered to make courageous decisions in the future.

Now, it feels important to me to create a successful coaching business. It also scares me greatly to think about all the risks and challenges of doing so.

I have taken a risk on myself to pay for and complete certification courses in health and life coaching. The investments of time and money were not insignificant. Now, it is time to make the business happen.

I am a good coach. I know that. I have an important message that the world needs. But, the business side of things—and making money—scares me.

Because they scare me, I have tried to break the business details into tiny chunks and take on little bits at a time. I do find this helps. Every time I take a step to do something official, like buy liability insurance, get a business PayPal account or design a logo, I have a moment of fear that threatens to stop me. But, I find that if acknowledge the fear and move forward, I am okay. So, maybe I will get there through this method—just like I feel a little braver with each bike ride outside of my previously narrowing range of options.

It feels super important to keep pushing forward, even if the pace can seem (be!) plodding. I know that I will be sorely disappointed in myself if I don’t go for it with this business. The idea of that disappointment scares me, too. Disappointment and regret around career decisions are part of what I am working to release.

The motto of my coaching practice is “Live and age with power and purpose.”

I want this for myself, as well as for my clients. Living and aging with power and purpose requires facing fear, finding courage and refusing to be defined, limited or contracted by fear.

One of my personal mantras is “Each act is an act of self-definition.” I want to be defined by my courageous, value-aligned actions, not my fears.

It is embarrassing to admit my fears. I feel like I should just be able to get past them and live boldly.

I have been especially ashamed of my dog-chase fears. I am a CYCLIST, for goodness’ sake! I LOVE dogs and have a long history of rescuing and living with them. But, being chased by them is an entirely different story, and the fear of it was creating a huge, embarrassing disruption in my life.

It is my hope that this blog post can help others realize they are not alone and find the courage to step over the threshold of fear. According to Tom Kuegler, “There’s something about showing people your deepest darkest secrets that actually brings others out of the darkness to say, ‘Me too!’”

My courage group helped me own and acknowledge my fears more openly. While I haven’t dispelled my shame of being afraid of certain things, I realize that I am not alone in feeling the need for more courage, and that eases the shame.

Witnessing my mother-in-law’s suffering and decline in the last few years, especially the last several months, has added to the sense of urgency to help people live and age with power and purpose and to do so in my own life. There are no guarantees in life. We don’t know how much time we will have, and, even if it is a long time, we don’t know what it will look like. Ultimately, it is short, in the big picture. So, we have to make the most of right now, each moment, pushing through the fear that threatens to hold us back from living the lives we were meant to live.

“Pushing through fear is less frightening than living with the underlying fear that comes from a feeling of helplessness.”  Susan Jeffers

Each of us must choose between being limited and defined by our fears or living and aging with power and purpose, even though doing so can be scary. Feeling—and, thus, becoming—helpless ultimately scares me more than taking responsibility for living life to the fullest. So, I am committed to working to push through fear to live the life I want.

Sharing these fears feels like a risk because of what they reveal about me, about my regrets and about my aspirations, but I hope doing so can help others feel less alone and find the courage to dig deeper to live and age with power and purpose.

February Funk

I promised myself to publish at least two blog posts per month in 2018. It is late February, and I am just writing my first for the month. It is not the post I planned to write. Hopefully, I’ll still get that done in the last few days of the month.

For now, I just need to acknowledge that February has been an “off” month and move forward.

There is no major reason for my February Funk. Through introspection, I have come to recognize some contributing factors.

One of my problems has been vertigo attacks and the residual symptoms. All in all, I am very grateful for my great health, but I have dealt with Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo occasionally, since January 2017. I wrote about my first attack here. After months of feeling fine, I had a severe attack, with extreme nausea, on December 10, 2017. That one really knocked me down. My most recent attack was January 23, 2018. It came on after a prolonged period lying flat at a periodontist appointment. I treated it with the Epley Maneuver, which a vestibular therapist taught me to perform on myself, so that I don’t have to see a doctor every time I have an attack. I am grateful for that, but I have not felt “normal” since my last two attacks in January. I feel a sense of disequilibrium in variety of positions, and, frustratingly, I have felt a bit limited. I am very grateful that, unless I am in an active attack, my cycling is largely unaffected. I have had to modify resistance training, yoga and other exercise, though, and I don’t like that. I am afraid to sleep in any position, except on my back, propped up on two thick pillows. The sensation that it would not take much to send me into another attack has left me feeling vulnerable in a way that is uncomfortable.

Combined with the vertigo, winter weather has added to my funk. I am a summer girl, so Kansas winters are always tough on me. Winter driving is a particular fear of mine. While I know that this winter could have been (and still may be) much worse than it has been, but I have had a few very stressful driving experiences this season. The worst one occurred unexpectedly earlier this month, when I was driving back from Manhattan, Kansas, after a Biking Across Kansas volunteer staff meeting. While I knew northern Kansas had a winter weather advisory starting at 6 p.m., south central Kansas was not under any kind of advisory. I left Manhattan by 5 p.m. and drove south. The first half of my drive was fine, but I suddenly realized, while driving 75 mph on the interstate, that freezing precipitation had started. My heart started was pounding. I reduced my speed and took deep breaths to calm myself. My biggest problem was that my defroster was not keeping up with the precipitation in the subzero wind chill. No matter what I tried, the portion of the windshield through which I could see grew narrower and narrower. My anxiety became overwhelming on the dark, icy interstate. I desperately needed to exit, but could barely see to do it. I turned on my emergency flashers and slowed even more, barely able to see at all. Finally, I made it to an exit with a truck stop. Shaking because of my greatly reduced vision, I managed to make my way onto the street and then make a left turn into the truck stop. I could not really see where I was going and ended up among the diesel pumps and semi-trailers. Somehow, I weaved my way to an access road and then into a McDonald’s parking lot. I got out, scraped my windows and sat for several minutes, with the defroster on full blast and the windshield wipers running. Eventually, I found the courage to head the remaining 22 miles home on county roads. I was grateful to make it home safely, but the experience was terrifying and left me feeling completely spent, even the next day.

I fully realize that these are small problems, in the big scheme of all that people face in this world. Still the disequilibrium of my lingering vertigo symptoms, my fear of setting off another attack of vertigo and the adrenaline crash after my frightening drive have left me feeling drained and off and ineffective this month. I have felt an unsettling lack of clarity around goals for my coaching practice and other areas of life, and I have felt a heavy inertia settle in and weigh me down.

In my coaching practice, I work with people who choose to live and age with power and purpose regardless of life’s challenges, so I must make the conscious decision to get back on track and do the same. The JustWind philosophy teaches that we can face the Kansas-strength winds of life and still look around and appreciate what we have and choose to keep taking brave steps forward. I talk to my coaching clients about viewing their mistakes, shortfalls and steps backward with curiosity, not judgment. I have to remind myself to do the same. I realize that sometimes we need to take a step back to look around and make sure we are headed the right way. Maybe that is part of what is happening for me.

I just can’t stay here. I need to keep moving forward and making progress and evolving and growing. As part of that process, I am in day three of a reset cleanse. This is not a fast. That works for some people, but it is not for me. I don’t function well at all without food. I am just taking extra care for the next two weeks to emphasize whole foods even more diligently than I usually do. During this period of feeling off, my chocolate cravings have returned. This reset cleanse will help me eliminate those. It will also allow me to lose the sense of heaviness that I have been feeling. Some sunshine (which we have for the first time in a week!) and warm weather would certainly help that, but those things are out of my control, so I will control what I can and eat very cleanly, while incorporating empowered movement and engaged mindfulness.

I will treat myself with compassion, acknowledge the impact of the vertigo and the terrifying drive, and view my feelings of the last several weeks with curiosity and openness, learning from them and carrying those lessons forward, as I resume my journey.