Monthly Archives: January 2011

Wildfire

It’s amazing how much disorder can spread. Now, don’t get me wrong: I don’t have any life-threatening issues or sick family members. I’m in a stable relationship, I’m happy, I love my job. But even for normal, happy, shining people, we still have our ups and downs. Sometimes, it just takes a little match to set the whole thing ablaze.

Two months ago, I started a new job. A new, incredibly awesome job. And with the new job came new responsibilities, new things to learn, new things to read, new ways to behave. I was no longer the senior lab tech, I was now a humbled post-doc in training with lots and lots to learn. It has taken me some time to find the reigns, and I am still reaching. Whenever I would start to think I had a good grip, something would happen and I slip backward a little. But I was inching more and more closely to being able to handle it…

Mind you, two weekends ago, one of my best friends got married. When she got my RSVP, she called me up and asked if I’d like to read a scripture during the ceremony. Hello?! Of course I will do that.

So, to get to the wedding on the cheap, because I am still broke beyond all means and couldn’t afford the plane tickets at the time that they were <$600, I decided I’d drive from St Louis to Minneapolis. It was a hike, so I split it up- and I pretty much had to since I had surgeries on the Friday I was planning to leave. After work, I drove to my teammie Rachelle’s house in Iowa, where she put me up and entertained me for the evening, and then in the morning, I headed the rest of the way to Bloomington for my friend’s big day.

The wedding was a blast. It was an incredible honor, and to be a part of her and her new husband’s special day was an amazing treat. She looked like a princess, and I’ve never seen a couple more happy than they were. It was an absolutely beautiful day.

That night, I stayed with another friend in the Cities on Saturday night and headed back to St Louis on Sunday morning- it was a long-ass drive back- where my calorie consumption consisted of Monster Nitrous, popcorn, and candy bars. In fact, all weekend, I ate really crappy. And in the 50hrs I was away from St Louis, 22 hours were spent in the car. Yuck.

It took me a few days to find my groove once I returned, but to put it lightly- that week back was hell. My experiments were going haywire, and I couldn’t focus. Never mind that I couldn’t find the time to get in my workouts. It was hell. I was eating like crap (peanut butter and chocolate chips do not equal a well-balanced diet). I was making excuses. I was putting things off and losing my grip on my priorities.

The weekend following that hellacious week consisted of two days of rest and recoup- where I did laundry for the first time in weeks and I was actually able to get on my bike for more than 2hrs. Once I found my groove, I was (sort of) back in the game.

This week? I had a blast. I had a lot of meetings, have been able to actually get things done in the lab, and even made it to masters swim most mornings. Granted, getting home from work at 7pm makes me want to eat dinner instead of hop on the trainer, but I am going to try harder this week to make sure I’m either a) out the door by 5 so I can run/bike or b) get it done during the day (either post-swim or as a mid-afternoon break). And, of course, I am also getting rolling on two major projects, sifting through data on two older projects, and writing a grant that is due in a few months. So, anyone else want to strike a match for me?

I don’t really reflect on “Chi” or Feng Shui much (at all), and if you walked into my apartment and you were a natural energy believer, you’d probably croak. My bike trainer is always set up, smack dab in the center of my living room, and clothes are piled all over my bedroom. My mom would have a conniption. “This is not how I raised you!” I can hear it now… but I do feel better when there is order. I do feel a sense of relief when things are put away, there is cleared counter space and clear floors. I feel better when I look at the calendar and can cross everything off, when I am organized with my projects, and when my desk has less piles of journal papers because I have already put them into their respective binders in order to find them easier later. Anyway, there is definitely a balance in life when I can get on top of the pile of stuff that I need to do and beat my chest and yell “I have conquered you!”… if only for a brief moment. I’m still climbing to the top of the pile, but I’m getting closer… I can already see the crest.

And on that note, I thought I’d share with you this video of life in academia as a grad student. It cracks me up every time I watch it!

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Drive versus Desire

Desire: To wish or long for; want.

There are many, many people out there with desires and dreams. In fact, I think you’ll be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t have a dream of some kind or another. Some people share their dreams with others openly, as stories by the fireplace or on long runs in the woods, while others hold their dreams tightly to their chest, not saying a peep and just carrying on in their everyday lives. Some people give up everything they know to make their dreams come true, and others just plug along, their dreams up high, working slowly day by day to get a little bit closer to realization. Some are superstitious, thinking that if they share their dreams then they won’t come true, and also so that- if they fail -they won’t be ridiculed. Others think there is some communal support in sharing one’s dreams; by putting it out there, it’s a sign of commitment. Some dreams are big, while others are just within reach. We can be close to seeing our dreams becoming reality, or we could have a long way to go.

I wouldn’t go so far to say that everyone with a dream is capable of doing what they are setting out to. No, then the idea of the dream would be – well…- reality. Some don’t even set out to tackle their dream, they just continue to dream- maybe as an escape or something to distract them from their mundane lives. Or they think: “Hey, I really want to do this” without making attempts to move that dream within reach. There’s absolutely, positively, nothing wrong with dreaming itself, whether actualized or otherwise. Dreaming can get us through a lot of really tough stuff. I dream about a lot of things that I won’t ever have my hands on, like ending world hunger and having a million dollars to give to my favorite charity (and, of course, running for Miss America). But just dreaming isn’t going to make things happen. Just having the desire for something isn’t going to make it real. Things will sometimes fall into our laps and we can be grateful and make use of those wonderful gifts, but that’s just dumb luck (hey, I’m just being honest).

No, if we really want something, if we really want to see our dreams become reality, we need something a little more. We need determination. We need drive.

Drive: To push, propel, or press onward forcibly; urge forward.

A lot of people can say that they want to do things. A lot of people can do a lot of talking. I try to not be one of those people. Granted, I don’t usually say anything aloud that I don’t strongly feel I can accomplish. And there’s a fine line between knowing what you can do and just hoping, of course. (Yet, if we only ever did what we are capable of doing at that time, then what is the point of doing anything at all?) There’s a lot of merit in hope. Hope is what drives people to see a change, to base their dreams upon. Hope is a non-tangible necessity for anyone who wants to see a change occur. But just like desire, hope itself is useless.

It’s the drive that gets your places. Just like in a car, or on the bus. It’s simple physics, really, Newton’s First Law of Motion: in order for an object to change directions- to move – a force must act upon it. Drive is that force, it’s taking that step forward, toward our goals, to see them to fruition; or to at least the attempt. The attempt itself is worth more than a million dollars for some. And there’s a difference between dreaming and driving. Dreaming is stagnant, driving is moving. And sometimes, driving takes us to places we may never have even dreamt we’d go.

When I was an undergrad, I decided to go to grad school not because I thought I wanted to be an academic or some hot-shot medical consultant. Nah, I wanted to design shoes. I thought that by going to grad school in biomechanics, I’d be in a great position to apply for a running shoe company and design the next generation of shoes. But during my first year of graduate school, something changed. I wanted to do more. Don’t get me wrong, good running shoes are an incredibly important part of my life and I am incredibly meticulous about finding the right pair. But it wasn’t enough for me. To be honest, I felt like stopping where I was at, getting a desk job somewhere (to be a CAD monkey for a running shoe company); well, I felt like that would be settling. I had more work to do.

“What kind of work?,” you ask. While I didn’t think that I could find a cure cancer nor did I think I’d invent a special pill that would end world hunger (and mind you, I still don’t), I had other types of questions more pertinent to my field of study. And I had time. I was 23, and I was curious.

Luckily for me, I applied to grad school and was offered an opportunity to do what I wanted to do: ask more questions. Granted, I had a sub-par undergrad GPA, and I had big shoes to fill. Whose shoes? I had no idea. Someone else’s, that should be there filling them- but, instead, I was. I didn’t feel like I was the type of person who should be getting their PhD. I mean, really? Me? The thought of someday, someone calling me “Doctor”- it didn’t really make sense. But I went with it. And I had the drive to succeed. I had to prove that I was worthy, right? Someone else had believed in me, that’s why they offered me the job. Now I had to step up to the plate. I’m doing the same thing now with my post-doc. I’m intimidated… definitely intimidated. There are so many smart people with so many incredible ideas and questions. So much wealth of knowledge and resources. But I am here. Somehow, they either overlooked my CV and are kicking themselves for their decision, or they believe that I, too, am capable of doing great work alongside them. I’m no longer sitting on the bench (and I’m not sure if I ever really was, especially not the lab bench- that’s a big no-no); and it’s time once again. Batter up.

I approach triathlon, and running for that matter, with the same mentality. I don’t think I ever dreamed, as a kid, of doing triathlon. And, I am not some genetically-gifted girl with a phenomenally high VO2max and loads of fast twitch muscles that can swim-bike-run her way to a podium spot at every race. But I can train hard, I can recover smart, and I can roll with the punches. I can learn a lot about my body, my physiology. I know what to eat, when to sleep, when to rest. I not only have the drive to succeed, but more strongly, I have the drive to do what I am capable of doing as best I can. And I also have the passion to see what exactly I am capable of. Sounds tricky, but it makes sense to me. I have this weird, quirky tendency to take something, like triathlon, and play with it like Play Doh. I can change it from being “just a sport”, like how many normal people see it, to being something more. It turns into a test, a challenge. To me, it’s a treasure-trove, full of dreams ripe for picking. What am I capable of today? I often ask myself. And I have no doubts, of course, that I can strike out. I can miss out big and fall flat on my face, I’ve done it before (literally). But sometimes, I can hit a home run.

Our drive is what gets us there. Where is there? I’m sure my colleague, Dr Seuss, has a book about it. It’s different for everyone. Ultimately, it’s to our goals (or closer to them anyway). It’s getting us to our potential. Our true potential, not just the potential that someone else may have outlined for us.   Drive is what we do to demonstrate we are capable, and we are passionate. Our drive is our best tool to succeed.

Speaking of drive and determination, my friend Sam has started his own initiative: To hike all four major through-hikes in the US consecutively. And right about now, he’s trucking along the North Country Trail in New York, pursuing his dreams by putting one step in front of the other. Good luck, Sam!

Sigh no more

I don’t really like to think of New Year’s as a special event. It’s just a day like any other, and frankly, I don’t do well with resolutions or “how I’m going to change my life in a day” hulabaloos. It’s the same reason why I don’t practice lent (that, and I’m not Catholic). But, even though I tend to disregard January first as a significant day of change, I do still have this feeling of starting afresh. Jan 1 (well, Jan 3, actually) marks the start of focused training, since I have attempted, and failed, thanks to the move, new employment, and holidays. I’ve struggled over the last few weeks to stay focused; I’ve struggled with coping with life.  I have been sleeping a lot, I have been lackluster about running, and that’s just not me. Frankly, being an adult sucks, and I want to get whisked back to the time (about three months ago) when I wasn’t concerned about having enough money (because I could just take out a student loan and I split rent with a roommate). Without getting too mopey about it all, I’ve basically struggled with being alone, broke, and overwhelmed.

But, I can exhale now. I have a roof over my head, I have been paid, and I have food in my cupboards. I’m finding my groove at my new job, I’m committing to training runs and swims, and I’ve found a few people who could use my help as a training buddy as much (well maybe not as much) as I can use theirs. I’ve got a lot on my plate, but I guess that is what life is all about. One step in front of the other.

And I’ve found a little something else that can help. There are certain things that trigger emotions. Smells, sights, sounds- it can mean something different to everyone, but it can mean something nonetheless. Today, for example, I was struggling to find motivation to hop on my trainer, even though it was the 1st of the year and everyone and their dog was doing something active (at least that’s what Twitter would have you believe). And then I turned on iTunes, and it came to me. I played the song Mastermind by Mindless Self Indulgence and immediately threw on my bike shorts and got to work. Apparently, that’s all it took.

So I wanted to share with you, dear readers, my songs for 2011. These are the songs that are going to get me through the day, whether I’m waiting at the bus stop or I’m finding another gear on the trainer. These are the songs that are going to make me think about home, about life, about who I want to be and who I am now. These songs don’t define who I am; I didn’t write them and they weren’t written for me. Some are old, some are new. But they strike a chord in my soul and they give me something to hold onto. Some give me drive, and others give me hope, and that’s really all I need.

Shut Me Up – MSI

Breathe – The Prodigy

Shake Me Down – Cage the Elephant

Ghosts and Stuff – deadmau5

Two Weeks – Grizzly Bear

Cosmic Love – Florence + the Machine

Animal – Miike Snow

Islands – The xx

Dog Days Are Over – Florence + the Machine

The Ghost Inside – Broken Bells

Wait So Long – Trampled by Turtles

The Cave – Mumford and Sons

What are the songs that are motivating you?