Run Your Race

I recently finished reading Chrystal Evans Hurst’s book, She’s Still There. She writes about drifting off your path and your life not turning out as planned.  I can identify with this as I am sure you can as well.  I don’t know anyone who is living the life they expected back in 1st grade when they decided to be an astronaut, physicist or doctor. There are lots of unexpected obstacles in our paths and we wake up and wonder how we got here from there.

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What I love about this concept of run your race, is that it’s so easy to get caught up in comparisons to the race that others are running.  The friend with the ski chalet and new Cadillac or the sister with no student loans.  I’ve run many races in my life both literally and figuratively.  The 5ks where I was the very last to cross the line and the master’s degree while mid divorce with two toddlers.  They were my races, that I survived thank you very much, and I have the scars to prove it.  I have owned a sports car convertible and two failed restaurants even with a degree in Hospitality. The highs and lows but it’s my race and I own it.

Here are some ways to run your race:

Don’t Compare. Being jealous of someone else’s life is soul crushing.  As Hurst writes, “We look at the lives of other people and construct opinions of them – and ourselves – based on what we see.  The problem is we’re never operating with full intel.” That friend with the ski chalet and caddie?  They may be mortgaged up to their eyeballs.  They may have a substance abuse problem they can’t shake. It might take all the effort they can muster to get out of bed in the morning. Don’t skim social media and assume that you are less than because you didn’t go to Iceland this year. As Hurst espoused, “Comparison can kill.”

Know your values. I have always had wanderlust. My parents instilled in me the value of adventure and travel with several trailer trips when I was kid.  I have brought this wanderlust to my children. I value adventure over material objects.  It’s not that there isn’t anything under the tree at Christmas, it’s just I would rather experience something than to have one more thing to store. My son competes at the national level in weightlifting.  I want to be there when he competes.  My daughter loves to hike.  I value my time in being there for my son in competition and for my daughter experiencing the great outdoors. Make sure the race you are running aligns with your values.

Practice gratitude.  As Hurst writes, “Gratitude is the practice of being thankful and showing appreciation.  When you focus on what’s right in your world, you limit the power of what’s wrong to steal your joy.” I write in a gratitude journal every morning. I take stock in what went right the day before. It might just be a text from my son or a coworker’s compliment on my blouse.  It starts my day off right and keeps me on the path of what’s right in the world instead of what’s wrong.  I always find gratitude in something that I did for myself like my strength workout, sobriety or staying positive with a coworker.  Self-gratitude is important to stay the course of the race.

Encourage others. My boyfriend, Roy, recently ran his third triathlon.  It took a lot of training and practice.  I was his support team.  I was his timer when he practiced his transitions from swim to bike and bike to run (yes, a ten second savings matters).  In the weeks leading up to the race we focused on his sleep, his training, his race. Having run a marathon about five years ago, I could identify with the amount of focus and anxiety that can come with a big race.  As Hurst writes, “A compliment paid to someone else can have the effect of freeing you.” Try to focus on what is going right for others as they run their race.

Pay attention. As Hurst writes, “Comparison is a habit.  That means you can choose not to practice it.  There is nothing good about practicing an activity that only results in a feeling of competition, envy, or strife.” When you start envying someone’s new dress or vacation or new iPhone, notice it and redirect it. This won’t happen overnight. Sometimes awareness alone can help you break the habit.  Remember what you value, what you are grateful for and lift other’s up.  It’s the antidote to comparison.  That’s their path, their race.  What’s your race looking like.

Live intentionally. Hurst posits, “Stop letting where other people are in their run determine how you feel about your own. “This shows up for me as I see retirement some decade or more off.  I can be jealous as I see other’s around my same age either retiring or eyeing it some three years from now. I start comparing and beating myself up for not deferring more into my 401k in my 40’s. It’s OK.  It’s my race. So, I get to enjoy the camaraderie of going to work each day and continue to further my career. It’s a waste to sulk about what could have been.  Be here now and enjoy the experience.

I identified with this concept because Hurst wrote about how speed walkers would pass her as she ran in a marathon.  I have experienced that several times.  How come my run is slower than their walk? We are all different, we are all talented and unique to ourselves.  Don’t let comparison kill your race.  How is your race going?

Being Present

It’s easy to run through your day just skimming the surface. I’d bet you were on auto pilot on your last drive to work or home. You don’t remember that annoying person driving too slow in front of you or that family riding their bikes. It’s easy to blame technology and its incessant dopamine hits calling your attention back to social media and email notifications, so you can acknowledge that jerk at work or that annoying comment from a coworker on your Instagram post. We get wrapped up in our heads instead of actually being present.

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Kayaking on Lake Puiray

There is the novelty of travel and trying to get to the next spot to take the iconic picture. To check another item off the bucket list. To rush and hurry and strive and push onto the next thing. As you even read this, I wonder if you’re simply skimming this sentence (as I tend to do) and rush onto the bullets to see what you might glean (quickly) from this post.

Here are the benefits of being present:

Unexpected. One of the most beautiful moments I had on my trip to Peru a few months back was on Lake Piuray. I knew the plan was to kayak somewhere but besides that, I didn’t know much else. Well, it ended up being a highlight of the trip. We launched from a beach on a spectacular lake near Chinchero, Peru. Outside of a few farms and glacial mountains surrounding the lake, it was mostly uninhabited. The cranes, ibises, and ducks flew by and a clear blue sky bathed us in sunshine. We paddled peacefully near the reeds by the bank. I remember thinking to take it all in for just two beats longer. This is what life is all about; this hour or so of beauty, peace and tranquility. It may have been unexpected, but it was a gift I wouldn’t soon forget.

Ordinary. I have taken a short one mile walk in my neighborhood probably a thousand times. I usually have a set of earbuds in and am listening to music, an audiobook, or a podcast. I rarely “pay attention” to my surroundings. When I first did this walk (and almost every subsequent one) with my boyfriend Roy, he would stop dead in his tracks to watch the Purple Martins flying. I had never noticed them. Or their nest. Or the Ospreys. Or the Swifts. Now I do. I try not to skim through my day but rather observe the ordinary that I was oblivious to before. Be present to the ordinary.

Stop. I typically rush through my day. I try and check off all that I want to accomplish. Outside of meditating every morning, the rest of my day can seem like a long list of duties and appointments that I am checking off. A few weeks ago, I was hiking a trail next to the Eno River with Roy. He, of course, stopped next to the river for a few moments. He called me over. I stopped and looked as he pointed out the small crappies swimming in the river below the surface, only visible with polarized sunglasses. My typical behavior would be to move on forward down the trail and not stop. It’s in those moments of stopping that magic is revealed. The tiny fish were swimming as Roy threw in a piece of bark that they immediately swam for. Stop and enjoy the moment.

The feels. This has been a revelation over my past year of sobriety. When I stopped numbing out with food and alcohol, I actually felt things. I know that sounds crazy. It wasn’t like I didn’t have feelings before I quit numbing out, but when I was actually present for the feelings, I actually experienced them. I believe that there is an all or nothing view of feelings. Either we are raging with anger or stoically passing through drama unaffected (typically with a little help of some vice of choice). So, cry when you need to; it’s good for you anyway. Feel deceit, anger, regret, or resentment. Feel the feels. It makes you really present in your experience.

Meditation. I’m not sure how long I have been meditating (I’m guessing ten years) but it’s been over a year since I started practicing Sudarshan Kriya from the Art of Living. I will not pretend that I don’t have thoughts or extraneous worries as I meditate for twenty minutes in the morning. Stuff crops up. But it’s OK. This is not about turning off your thoughts. It’s about focusing on the breath and letting thoughts go as they crop up. It’s not about perfection. It makes me present, out of my head, and back into my body.

Whether today is a run of the mill day with a long list of to-dos, or you are on your dream vacation, don’t rush through: take a breath and feel the moment. Be here now. In this moment, regardless…Be Here Now. Each moment has its magic. Are you ready to be present?

Peru’s Amazing Animals

When I signed up last year to travel to Peru, I had no idea I would be seeing wildlife in their natural habitat. I expected, like it had been on my first visit to South America, that most of the wildlife would be captive. As in caged or behind glass enclosures. Or, as I had seen in Brazil some thirty years ago, ten snakes in a beat-up wooden box (yes, it was terrifying) or small parakeets with clipped wings kept as family pets. This is not what I found when I traveled to the Amazon jungle, the high plains of Lake Titicaca or the mountainous Andes around the Sacred Valley.

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Macaws along the Tambopata River

Here are just a few of the amazing animals I saw in Peru:

Bullet Ants. These ants are gigantic in “ant” terms. Up to 1.2 inches long. We happened upon one while hiking through the Amazon Jungle near the Tambopata River. Our guide Saul had one of these humongous ants on a stick large stick and explained that their bite was one of the most painful. I stood back as others took pictures. I guess I was afraid it could develop wings and fly towards me. Upon researching it once we were back home later, I found this first-hand account of being stung by Dr. Justin Schmidt: “It really felt like a bullet. It was instantaneous, almost even before it stung me. It was absolutely riveting. There were huge waves and crescendos of burning pain—a tsunami of pain coming out of my finger. The tsunami would crash as they do on the beach, then recede a little bit, then crash again. It wasn’t just two or three of these waves. It continued for around 12 hours. Crash. Recede. Crash. It was absolutely excruciating.” Luckily no one was stung, but I am glad to no longer be in the same hemisphere with those ants.

Caimans. As we first arrived in Puerto Maldonado and survived an intense bus ride down a rutted road from the airport to the Tambopata River, we embarked on a boat down the river. Along the 90-minute boat ride, we stopped to view different animals that happened by. We ran into a mother caiman with about 6 baby caimans of different sizes. The caimans are relatives of alligators and crocodiles. We sat offshore as the baby caimans walked along the riverbank and the mother sat 5 yards offshore with only her head (and large eyes) above water. I was surprised since the baby caimans were various sizes, but our guide Saul explained that the eggs hatch at different times, each up to a week apart, resulting in different sized caimans. Interesting.

Parrots and Macaws. We left our lodge along the Tambopata River at about 6 AM (horrifically early for folks on vacation). We hiked through the jungle and embarked on our boat while it was still dark, just to be prepared to view the parrots and macaws along the cliffs of the Tambopata. I had very low expectations. How in the world did they know that these birds would show up? It’s not like we had an appointment. Sure enough, along with several other boats of explorers, there we saw the magical blue-headed parrots flying along the cliffs. I would guess there were at least 60 parrots, if not more, flying along the banks. No cage. No clipped wings. Just beautiful blue and green parrots flying in the wild. About 30 minutes later, we parked our boat with several others along the riverside and watched as red, green, blue and yellow macaws flew along the cliffs and stopped to perch in the tree tops. I have to say that watching 4 or 5 macaws fly with their extraordinarily long tail feathers is spectacular. To see these amazing tropical birds in the wild?  Priceless.

Moorhen. We spent several days on Lake Titicaca, which is the largest lake in South America and the highest navigable lake in the world at 12,500 feet. We took a boat along the reeds and marshes of the Uros of the Floating Islands. There was this striking bird that had black feathers, the size of a mallard duck and a prominent red beak. They were visible throughout the islands and marshes alongside egrets and herons. The red beak is very distinguishable and showed up in many of the crafts that the local villagers made.

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Alpaca near Lake Titicaca

Llamas and Alpacas. I expected to see llamas on my trip to Peru. I did not expect to see its shaggy cousin alpacas. I really did not expect to see llamas wandering around one the seven wonders of the world at Machu Picchu. As we traversed the rocky steps and awe-inspiring ancient site, there they were; hanging out for photo bombs and eating the grass around the archeological site. We didn’t see alpacas at Machu Picchu but did see them in Chinchero, Peru. Llamas and alpacas have been domesticated in Peru for over 6,000 years. In fact, llamas are the only residents of Machu Picchu in present day. So, there’s a wonderful surprise for you while you explore the ancient site.

There are many more animals that we experienced in the wild like howler monkeys (loudest monkey in the world), puno ibis, wood storks, Amazonian oropendola (they make ingenious teardrop nests hanging off tree branches), capybara (largest rodent in the world), russet-backed oropendola, black-tailed trogon, spix’s guan (distant cousin of our turkey), vicuna (very shy cousin of the llama) and paradise tanager (spectacular in color as well as singing ability). It seemed as if there were gifts that showed up at least once a day on the trip. I have a new appreciation for the diversity of flora and fauna in Peru and a new patience for letting them reveal themselves. What do you need to appreciate?

7 Ways to Engage in JOMO

You decide against going to the company baseball game on the off chance your ex might be there, and according to the Facebook posts, it looks like it was a ton of fun. You want to go to your high school reunion but you haven’t yet lost the weight you want, so you decide to skip. What if your old boyfriend shows up single and rich? You stay at the Christmas party for one more hour (and one more drink) to see if they finally play your favorite song. These are examples of FOMO or the Fear of Missing Out. You say Yes to things you really don’t want to attend or No to things; and then regret that you didn’t go. It can make you either completely over-committed, or wallowing in shame over not feeling good enough to attend.

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All social media channels fuel the fire on FOMO. The Instagram pictures of fabulous food at the new restaurant you’ve been wanting to try, the fabulous pictures of Glacier National Park your friend just sent you (wow, I want to go there) or the Facebook pictures of your college friends getting together while you recuperate from surgery. There is an antidote for this. Blogger Anil Dash coined the acronym JOMO (or the Joy of Missing Out). For me, it’s an acceptance of being OK where you are.

Here are 7 ways to engage in JOMO:

  1. Other’s Expectations. As Wayne Dyer famously said, “What other people think of me is none of my business.” There is true peace in that. Let go of knowing or fulfilling other’s expectations and you will find joy. Isn’t that why you went to the committee meeting on Tuesday, so that you were seen instead of really caring about the agenda? I’ve done that in the past – just shown up so that everyone could check off my name on the list. Cathy was there. Letting go of other’s expectations is where the joy is.
  2. Their moment. When my kids and I went to Colombia about two years ago, my kids wanted to climb the 740 steps to the top of La Piedra del Peñol. I was fifty pounds heavier than I am now and I didn’t figure my adult children would want to wait for me to climb the rock. I waited at the bottom. I figured I would regret it, but it was their moment. I have a picture from the top of the rock, of my beautiful children smiling in the camera with that enormous sense of accomplishment. It is their moment together. Two Colombian-American kids standing at the top of an enormous Colombian rock taking a selfie. There is joy in letting it be their moment.
  3. Just say No. Christine Kane calls this the Proactive No. It’s one of the reasons I turned down an opportunity to go to a baseball game a few weeks ago. I hate baseball. Don’t go to something that you feel is boring. Unless my kid is playing in the game, I’m not going. Proactive No’s are rules to live by, like: I am always home on a Sunday evening, 2. No horror films (ever) and 3. I will never schedule a flight before 7 AM. These are your guidelines so that you have an easy out of the cocktail party on a Sunday night, “So sorry, Sunday evening is family time.” There is joy in Proactive No’s.
  4. Be complete. You are good enough right now. You are complete. If you are in a relationship or not. If you are overweight or underweight. If you have made your first million or not. If you finished the marathon or not. If you have been to all fifty states or you are missing three (Iowa, North Dakota and Alaska). You are complete right now. When I was suddenly single last year, I knew I had to be completely on my own before finding someone new. No one else or thing or place can complete me. There is joy in recognizing you are complete right now.
  5. Mindfulness. There are many ways to get to mindfulness. It might be yoga, running, or meditation. I personally find that the meditation that I learned from Art of Living is the best way to get me centered each day. I have been doing this twenty-minute meditation without fail for over a year. Focusing on my breath helps me reset my head. Let go of regrets and fears. Joy is all between your ears.
  6. Solitude. At this point in my life, I face an empty nest except for my beloved dog. Some of you might be rolling your eyes as you face getting the kids’ back-to-school clothes, signed up for activities, all while working a full-time job and trying to get the laundry done. You are just wishing for the time you’re faced with blessed solitude. Initially, the silence was deafening, but eventually, it morphed into peace and joy. Solitude takes getting used to and it’s not easily accepted initially. We end up filling up the solitude with technology, screen time and addictions. Grab that classic book you’ve been meaning to read for the last decade and relax into solitude. That’s where the joy is.
  7. Be grateful (not jealous). I have friends that travel the world, that accomplish amazing feats like triathlons and marathons, and have the means to go to exotic locations like Bali and Antarctica. I am grateful for the people in my life and am so happy an old college friend just relocated to Paris for the year. I’m so happy that a college friend traveling to Machu Picchu two years ago prompted me to make the trip myself just a few months ago. I personally know over fifteen people that have completed marathons. That is amazing. Being grateful reframes everything into joy.

JOMO is just another way of letting go. Releasing the energy that you might be missing out on something even better. There is joy in just releasing it.

6 Surprising Observations About Peru

I had the great fortune of traveling around Peru a few months ago. It was a great trip. I had certain expectations about Peru and most of them were based on assumptions I had made from previous travel to South America. It’s like assuming that Canada and the United States are the same. Same language. Same continent. It all must be the same. Well, of course it’s not. There are similarities to other South American countries, but there are so many things that are very different and unique to Peru.

 

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Here are some of my surprising observations:

  1. Even in anger there is politeness. When my friend Vicki and I arrived in Lima to begin our trip, we took an Uber from the airport to the hotel. It was around 10 PM. It was packed with people on a narrow sidewalk waiting for our car. Apparently, our Uber driver made some other drivers angry as he maneuvered to position his car to pick us up and put our bags in his trunk. Lo and behold in about 5 minutes into the drive, one of those drivers cut off our car to stop our driver. The angry guy got out of his car (in the middle of the road) and banged on our car with his fist. A heated argument ensued. Vicki and I just shot a glance at each other as if to say, “Are we safe?” I heard the other driver say to our driver in Spanish, “Out of respect for the ladies, I’ll let you go.” He turned away and got back in his car. We were back on our way; no further discussion or explanation. We went from an argument that felt like it would come to blows, to a peaceful end once the instigator saw “the ladies in the back seat.”
  2. Driving is no holds barred. It appears as if there are absolutely no rules of the road. Vicki and I took several Uber rides around Lima and, in every case, I felt as if I was taking my life into my own hands. Many intersections between roads had no signage or traffic lights. It was a free for all getting across; like a giant game of chicken. Even if there was a red light, cars (including our vehicle) would start to creep in and cross the street regardless of oncoming traffic. This created a cross stitch-like maze at many intersections. I would be thinking, “Well, we are stuck now” and our driver would press forward and cram his car into some impossible crack in the congestion. I texted my kids that, “Medellín (Colombia) has nothing on Lima drivers.” My son texted back, “Bold statement.” I stand by my statement.
  3. Being a pedestrian requires being alert and patient. Vicki and I saw that there was a coffee shop about half a block across the street from our hotel. It took about ten minutes to get across a major boulevard. The crosswalks are not always marked and one-way streets are not obvious. It takes a few minutes of observation to see “what the possibilities are” as far as traffic goes. Suddenly, as you stand on the sidewalk, you see an incoming onslaught of cars from nowhere. Observing other pedestrians is important as well. But by far, the most important thing is patience. I might be bold enough to walk in front of a car in a major U.S. city in the middle of gridlock, but in Peru? Vicki and I were outside a major archeological site for about ten minutes just trying to figure out how to cross an intersection.
  4. Living is simple. We had the opportunity to go into several homes in Peru from the Amazon Jungle to the Uros of the floating islands of Lake Titicaca. People live simply. A solar panel or a generator for electricity. No refrigerator or big screen television. A large pot on a fire and some wooden bowls for a kitchen. I recently wrote a piece on needing less stuff. It’s amazing what we view as necessary in the United States compared to the friendly country folks of Peru. In the country side, there are mostly tuk tuks (motorized three-wheeled taxis) and very few full-sized cars. A cow attached to a rope eating along side a road. Even in the bustling city, you don’t notice folks standing around staring at their electronic devices. It felt as if most of Peru was unplugged from distractions.
  5. Roads are not a priority. Destinations like Machu Picchu and Lake Titicaca must be big business in Peru. The infrastructure of the country seems in-congruent with tourism. We traveled on some roads that I would not even dare to hike across let alone drive a tour bus on. There was one rutted dirt road on the hillside between two archeological sites that due to heavy machinery during the rainy season was practically impassable. The driver navigated at slower speeds but some of those ruts were over a foot deep. I remember thinking at the time, “I hope we aren’t coming back this way.” When we were traveling from the airport at Puerto Maldonado to the Tambopata river, we were on another road that was mostly gravel and full of pot holes. The guide said that the road was less than a year old. I have to say, it may be the difference in weather and amount of traffic but Colombia had smoother, more modern roads than Peru.
  6. Bathrooms are different. I assume it is the septic system in Peru but toilet paper is thrown in a trash can instead of the toilet. This is a hard habit to break. I would reflexively throw the toilet paper in the toilet and then admonish myself. In some areas, we had to pay one or two soles to use the bathroom and were portioned out four or five squares of toilet paper (I know…right?). The craziest thing for me a lot of public toilets did not have toilet seats. I have a new appreciation for the luxury of not sitting on porcelain. I was expecting pit toilets at some point, but every toilet was a flush toilet, where even toilet seats were sometimes a luxury. You have been warned.

There is great diversity of topography and fauna in Peru. From the Amazon river basin at 400 feet above sea level to the 12,500-foot-high plains pass into Puno. From the glacier-topped Andean peaks to the beaches of Lima. It may not have been what I expected, but it was an engaging, unique exploration into the unknown.

Cry? It’s Good For You.

Some of the best memories from my childhood in Wilmington, Delaware are of my dad rocking me in our black rocking chair while I cried. I guess I was about 5 years old and, being the youngest and only girl, I may have caused a few of the outbursts by pushing my brother Rick or driving him to crazyland. Or, I may have just been plain melodramatic, which sent me to that magical rocking chair with my dad quietly soothing me. Until recently, I feel like he was the only one who let me cry. It’s taboo in our culture to cry. I think we all have those moments where we stifled down the tears and kept a stiff upper lip. I remember the first time I was terminated from a job, as I focused solely on holding back the tears. I have no idea what was said in that meeting, I just remember valiantly “holding it together.”

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Crying is frowned upon for either gender, although it seems boys are pressured to not cry more than girls (I don’t remember seeing my brothers in that magical rocking chair). Crying a sign that you can’t control your emotions, that you are weak or, perhaps, a loose cannon. Well, it turns out that crying is actually good for you.

Here are the reasons it is good to cry:

Toxins. Crying is a toxin removal system. It’s like a dump truck taking the garbage out. According to neuroscientist Dr. William H. Frey II, PhD, “Crying actually removes toxins from the body. Tears help humans eliminate chemicals like cortisol that build up during emotional stress and can wreak havoc on the body.” Who doesn’t want to do a cortisol dump occasionally? You don’t need a medication or self-medication (in the form of alcohol or drugs) to eliminate the toxins. Just sit down and have a good cry. It’s a natural body cleanse without the side effects, except for puffy eyes.

Blood pressure. It lowers your blood pressure. I think of it like a release valve on a pressure cooker. Let the steam go. Release it by having a good cry. As cited by Marlo Sollitto, “Crying has been found to lower blood pressure and pulse rate immediately following therapy sessions during which patients cried and vented. High blood pressure can damage your heart and blood vessels and contribute to stroke, heart failure and even dementia.” Crying can be good for your health.

Stress. It’s no surprise that since it can remove toxins and lower blood pressure that crying can reduce stress. “Chronic stress can increase the risk of heart attack, damage certain areas of the brain, contribute to digestive issues like ulcers, and cause tension headaches and migraines, among other health issues. Humans ability to cry has survival value,” Frey emphasizes. Since I gave up alcohol over a year ago, it’s been easier for me to cry and I have to say my blood pressure has never been better. I know this is anecdotal but any means to reduce your stress is important.

Relationships. It can help your relationships. This seems counter intuitive. How can crying help your relationships? As Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD wrote for WebMD, “Remember, the ability to feel comforted by others is wired into us from birth. So why not turn to it when you are struggling? Your loved ones can be a wonderful source of strength when you are feeling overwhelmed. They can help calm and comfort you, renewing your ability to think clearly and fully engage in life.” When I received some bad news a few weeks ago, my boyfriend Roy offered for me to cry on his shoulder. This is the first time in decades that someone offered for me to cry on their shoulder. It not only strengthened our relationship but it helped build trust. Crying can build relationships.

Through. Richie Norton said, “To escape fear, you have to go through it, not around it.” I can remember in my Neuroleadership Coaching training that most of us are just skimming through life and not actually allowing feeling. Coaching, therapy or just a close relationship, can set up a safe place to feel. It’s difficult to get past pain or fear without feeling it. We end up numbing out pain through food, alcohol and drugs instead of being in the moment of hurt. Think about labeling the feeling to really accept it. Like tightness in my throat, clenching in my belly and tears running down my face…this is what rejection feels like. Acknowledge your pain or fear. Label it. Understand what it is doing to your body and where you are feeling it. Go through it and not around. Crying does that for me.

It’s amazing that we all seem to try and hold back one of our bodies natural reactions to alleviate our pain. Crying is cathartic and helpful. Be present with it and let it happen.

Tenacity. Lessons from Kayaking.

I have been called tenacious as long as I can remember. I can remember driving in a blinding snow storm to get back to Ithaca, New York after Thanksgiving break. I was alone in my Honda Civic and regardless of the twists and turns down route 79, I was bound and determined to make it back to school. I did. When it came time to reopen my restaurant in Santa Rosa, California after the health department decided I needed a new tile floor at the cost of $20,000 that was not in the budget, I did. When my children wanted to go to Medellín, Colombia for Christmas and my home was ravaged by Hurricane Matthew, I still made it happen. If life throws down a gauntlet, I will pick it up and run with it.

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Vicki and I kayaking on Lake Titicaca.

A few months back, my resolve and tenacity were tested. My friend Vicki and I sat in a two-person kayak a thousand miles from shore (well, that’s what it felt and looked like) on Lake Titicaca! The wind was pushing waves higher, the water was 40 degrees and there was no one in sight. At the time I wondered if I had bit off more than I could chew; that maybe this wouldn’t be a happy ending. Obviously, I am able to write about this now, but it was an experience I won’t soon forget.

 

This is what I learned about tenacity on Lake Titicaca:

 

Discern. As we headed to the launch site on a peninsula on Lake Titicaca, we were on a large, comfortable boat. I was observing the water. In retrospect, I was actually assessing the landscape. Vicki and I had initially decided we would be in single kayaks for the 3.5 mile paddle. As I watched the water out the window and saw the waves starting to rise, I asked Vicki if she would be OK in a two-person kayak.  I felt like a larger boat would be more stable on the waves. It was a decision I did not regret. Only one brave soul in our group, Debra, did a single kayak and she was sorely tested. When handed a big task, make sure you use your discernment before jumping it.

 

Gear. As we suited up in our rain jackets, life preservers and paddles, I thought back to kayaking on the Newport River about a month earlier with my boyfriend, Roy. I had gotten blisters from the 45-minute paddle. I quickly got the attention of one of the guides and asked for a pair of gloves in Spanish. Luckily, we were the last group to depart from the beach, and he made it back in time with two right handed gloves. I made due with putting the extra right-handed glove on my left hand. The water was cold and I knew that it would be a lot more than 45 minutes for the 3.5 mile trek. Tenacity is important but making sure you’ve got the right gear is important as well.

 

Learn. This was not my first time in a kayak. It was the first time I’d ever been in a two-person kayak. It was also the first time I would be steering the kayak with a rudder and pedals to direct the boat. We watched as two kayaks departed and how the rudder was deployed. Our rudder was not deploying via a pulley as expected. Once in the boat, I checked the pedals to make sure they were operational and asked one of the guys on shore to make sure he physically put the rudder into place. I also made sure my kayak spray skirt was tight so that water (did I mention the water was cold?) did not spray into the boat. I watched as others who had just deployed went in circles in the small bay from our departure point. As you gather information, make sure you use it to your advantage. I had used a kayak spray skirt some three days earlier and knew it would be important to be snug. I knew that operating the pedals for the rudder would be important. When you have a big project, make sure you learn as much as possible with the time allotted to gather it, and more importantly, use the information.

 

Team. The biggest advantage of a two-person kayak over a one-person is teamwork. Vicki and I paddled two strokes on the right side and then two on the left. We started off by saying right, right, left, left. Then we started counting 1 right, 1 right, 1 left, 1 left. This morphed into to 1, 1, 1, 1, 2, 2, 2, 2, etc. We would decide initially on 10 strokes, then 15, then 20, then 25 and took brief rests in between each set. We took turns calling out the numbers and then finally decided to just count the first set and the rest were in our heads. We had the ability to adapt. If 25 strokes were too much, we cut it back to 20. If calling it out loud was too taxing (it was), then we would count to ourselves. If I started to get off course from the waves, Vicki would point it out. I’m not sure I would have made it across without Vicki. As Vicki said, “I really am glad that we did the 2-person kayak. It was only my third time in a kayak ever and my first in a 2-person kayak. I would have been miserable by myself and not sure if I physically would have been able to make it.It was a tough paddle that took about two hours. When you want to achieve something, use teamwork and devise a system, if possible.

 

Strategy. When we initially set off to go to Taquile Island on Lake Titicaca, we had no idea where on the island we were headed. We were in front of all the other kayaks and I just focused on the far-right end of the island, hoping that someone would point the way later. Eventually, a motor boat came along and pointed to the opposite end (the far left-hand side) of the island. I then changed strategies and steered toward the left-hand side. I was open to change in strategy and Vicki confirmed our focal point. A multitude of waves kept taking us off course. A second motor boat came up dragging another two-person kayak behind it. The man on board was shouting to me in Spanish: “Wait. There are dangerous rocks.” I hesitated. I told Vicki what I understood. We seemed to be about halfway to our destination and the lake seemed way too deep for rocks. We decided to muster on. We made the decision to move on but I was cautiously scanning the water for rocks. Once you decide on a strategy, be open to more information and adapt.

 

Calm. I was pretty nervous for most of the trip to Taquile Island. The waves were even higher than I anticipated. When one wave came across the kayak between Vicki (in front) and myself (in back), I was really nervous. What happens if we tip over?  I don’t see a rescue boat close by. I don’t think I can swim that far. I had a thousand concerns running through my head. I shut up the voice of doubt. On a rest break, I looked up at the blue sky, I counted two beats longer and just appreciated the fact that I was on the highest navigable lake in the world (at 12,500 feet) and just tried to take it all in. I kept my worried thoughts to myself and tried to remain as positive as possible. Panicking Vicki or any other kayakers was not going to help anyone. Keep calm and carry on.

 

We made it. A total of 4 kayakers were towed to Taquile Island. Three kayaks made it in one piece, although it was a lot more arduous than we expected. The current was against us rather than with us. It ended up being life affirming and I am proud that we made the journey. I believe that tenacity won out in the end and it made all the difference.

 

Do you really need all that stuff?

That question is rhetorical. I’d wager most of us don’t need most of our “stuff.” If you have moved in the last year, or lost or gained weight recently, you may be feeling the pain of dragging, moving and reshuffling your stuff. Your “fat” clothes and your “skinny” clothes. Your low carb cookbooks and your crockpot cookbooks, and your low carb crock pot cookbooks. Your ticket stubs to that off-community theater show and the coupon for the oil change that you don’t want to misplace; but do. It’s a whole bunch of stuff. It’s all weighing you down. At least it’s weighed me down.

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The Uros of the Floating Islands on Lake Titicaca (Dolores far right).

A trip to another culture can help you refocus your priorities. I found myself at the end of my trip to Peru on the floating islands on Lake Titicaca, its charming Uros people and my guide on the island, Dolores. It was sobering. Twenty or so folks living on a floating island of reeds (yes, you could feel the island actually float above the water) and Dolores’ one-room “house” that had nothing but a bed and some clothes (perhaps three sets) hanging on the wall. Dolores had a one-month old baby wrapped in a blanket on her back. That’s it. No bottles, diapers, bottle warmers, baby blankets, pacifiers, pink hats or booties or any other baby paraphernalia. My travel partner Vicki and I compared notes as she had a newborn granddaughter back in the U.S. with the typical compliment of baby trappings. This was austere. Cue in the mirror. “Wow, Cathy, you have got a lot of stuff.”

 

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

 

Does it fit? I’ve lost over forty pounds in the last year. I don’t want the forty pounds back. I have dropped over four dress sizes in the last two years. There is no need for me to hold onto clothes that are too baggy, the wrong color or made of wool (it’s scratchy). There is also no need for me to hold onto clothes that are too tight. Some things just don’t fit my body type. My torso is too long, I can’t stand bell shaped sleeves, and even though I can wear something, doesn’t mean I will. If it doesn’t fit? Donate it, sell it or give it away. There is no point dragging “sets” of clothes for being fat or being thin.

 

Does anyone else want it? Go google Swedish Death Cleaning. Basically, your children (if you have any) don’t want your stuff. They are not going to want to sort through all my stuff upon my death. My kids aren’t going to fight over the candle holder on my desk, the ceramic goose from Cozumel or the treadmill. If no one else is going to want it, and it is gathering dust in your attic or a far-flung closet, it may be time to donate, sell or give it away to a better home. I realize this may be adding to someone else’s stuff, but that’s their heir’s problem, not yours. I can assure you that when someone passes away from the Uros tribe, it probably takes about thirty minutes to sort through their belongings.

 

Can it be digitized? You never know when catastrophe can hit. My dear friends lost their home last year to the fires in Sonoma County and I personally had my home flooded by Hurricane Matthew. Irreplaceable things were lost. Digitize all those portraits of your kids and back up the videos of the soccer and football games from their youth to the Cloud. I am about one third of the way through this process. There are services that will save a digital copy of these irreplaceable moments of your life. My daughter playing clarinet at age sixteen and my son running for gold in the all state track meet come to mind. I don’t want to lose those moments that are on film or in photographs. Thanks to technology you don’t have to. Think worst-case scenario and digitize those moments that matter.

 

Are you really collecting something? If you have a doll collection that has two dolls in it, is it really a collection? I’ve read about people suddenly starting to collect turtles, giraffes or Hummel ceramics, and now their friends and family start adding to the collection on every birthday or holiday. It’s fine to have a collection, just make sure you love it and, perhaps, make sure it doesn’t define you. Your stuff does not define you. I try and purchase a Starbucks coffee cup in any major city I visit. I only have room for seven mugs to display. I weed out mugs as a more exotic location is added. Chicago just lost out to Peru (sorry, Chicago). Make a decision about what or when you truly want to collect something, and then inform your family and friends that your turtle collection is something you truly cherish, rather than something that becomes an embarrassing liability.

 

Do you own uni-taskers? Alton Brown, while on his show Good Eats, was famous for using one single item, like a garbage can lid, for multiple uses. Let’s say a smoker, steamer and, well, lid to a garbage can. Since moving back into my home over a year ago, I have been slowly culling out “doubles” like can openers and 3-quart pots. I had a menagerie of icing tips, misfit spoons and candles that did not fit any of my candle holders. I had crazy uni-taskers like round ice cube molds, cheese cutters, and sausage stuffers. Perhaps these could be used for more than one use, but if I haven’t touched it in five years? It’s time to go.

 

Is it essential? I just finished the book, AWOL on the Appalachian Trail. My boyfriend Roy is planning a hike on the trail for next year. What you carry, as the author did, are the essentials. One pair of underwear essentials (yikes). One pair shoes. One pair of pants. One t-shirt. Folks tear a guide book into thirds to keep down the weight in their pack (having the other thirds of the guide sent when needed). You really need to hone down what you need when you decide to hike for four to five months. When you carry all the belongings you need on your back, it has a way of resetting your priorities. You are there for the experience, not keeping score of material objects. I’m not suggesting you get rid of anything that can’t fit on your back, but it’s sometimes helpful to look through that lens to help you decide how necessary it is.

 

I was amazed at how simple the Uros people and Dolores lived. One common cooking area for the entire island. One solar panel for electricity. One bathroom. There are some 116 inhabited floating islands and their way of life dates back the 15th century. The simplicity of it all is inspiring.

Machu Picchu: It’s Worth It

I traveled to South America in 1988 with my first husband, Orlando. Besides visiting his native Colombia, we planned to make a trek to Peru and its treasure, Machu Picchu. The issue at the time was Peru’s internal terrorism and most of Orlando’s extended family recommended against a visit to Machu Picchu. Ironic that we spent an extensive amount of the month-long visit in the long-standing democracy (until recently) of Venezuela and ran into most of our issues with the police/army of Colombia. Perhaps we should have taken the bet on traveling to Peru, but we instead stuck to Venezuela, Colombia and Brazil.

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Suffice it to say, Machu Picchu has been at the top of my bucket list for the last thirty years. A very dusty bucket list since I’ve had children, a career and am no longer married to a bilingual adventurer. So I learned Spanish myself. When I saw photos of the classic photo taken atop Machu Picchu by a college friend, Lisa, about two years ago on social media, I reached out to find out how she had accomplished such an extraordinary feat. In addition, I have a co-worker from a past job, Claudia, who is a native of Peru. Without these wealth of resources due mostly to social media, I would probably not have had the wherewithal to head south of the equator to finally check off the item at the top of my bucket list.

 

This is what you need to know traveling to Machu Picchu:

 

Remote. I have traveled internationally several times over the last few years. I have taken Uber rides to far flung Colombian villages, like Guatapé, some three hours outside of Medellín, Colombia. No need for a bus token or much Spanish. Machu Picchu, the Sacred Valley and Ollantaytambo are all very remote with mostly gravel and rutted roads in between. You will not be able to get an Uber or taxi ride to the train station at Ollantaytambo or Agua Caliente. I point this out because, unless you are hiking the famed Inca Trail (I did not), you will need to have transportation set up in advance. I was on a tour with REI, so all of the transfers were set up well in advance. In addition, outside of tour buses and tuk tuks, you won’t see many other vehicles on the road. Be prepared.

 

Water. The water in Peru is not potable for US travelers. Every hotel and restaurant served bottled water. Most hotels instructed us to brush our teeth with bottled water. Basically, your stomach isn’t ready for whatever parasites and bacteria living in the water versus the water you drink every day in the United States. It’s not bad; it’s just different. I was amazed that every place we went to served drinks from a bottle without ice. Funny that when we arrived at a buffet restaurant right outside the park with self-serve drinks, most of the kids had put ice in their glass along with one of our tour group. When we pointed out the error, she came back without ice in her glass. It may just be the custom not to serve ice with drinks in Peru, but avoiding ice and tap water is important. I, for one, was guarding my digestive health to make sure I summited Machu Picchu successfully. Be prepared with plenty of bottled water.

 

Transportation. We took the train from Ollantaytambo to Agua Caliente (Pueblo de Machu Picchu) the morning of hiking Machu Picchu. I made the mistake of sitting opposite the direction the train was traveling. It’s a pleasant 90-minute ride but facing backwards may have led me to be a bit queasy later. What added to my queasiness was the insane, harrowing bus ride up to the actual archeological site. It’s about 30 minutes long and the full-size buses ride up switch backs and hairpin turns on a gravel road with no guard rails, inches from a precarious thousand-foot drop–as well as passing buses running down the mountain! It was a really bad movie scene waiting to happen! I don’t normally get car sick, although it may have been the anticipation of finally arriving at Machu Picchu. I do have one recommendation: keep your eyes shut. And the only other way in is hiking for several days on the Inca Trail. Don’t forget that you come back down on a bus on the same road you went up. If it sounds sobering, it is.

 

Altitude. I remember focusing on the fact that Machu Picchu is at about 8,000 feet in elevation. That, in hindsight, is not the issue. Cuzco, the closest major city with an airport, is at 11,500 feet. When we strode up a short flight of stairs upon arriving Cuzco, you feel it. You are out of breath. You start to get a headache. For some in our tour group of ten, you get sick. You feel dizzy and can’t stand up. Cuzco and its altitude is a bigger obstacle than Machu Picchu. Seems counterintuitive that the big city is at a higher altitude than what was once misnamed “the Lost City of the Incas” (it was never lost but the Spanish Conquistadors never found it). Apparently, altitude sickness is random. You may or may not get it. Just know that Machu Picchu is much lower than Cuzco. Acclimate in Cuzco and Machu Picchu will be a breeze.

 

“Steps.” I remember that by the end of my trip, I was sick of “steps.” There are “steps” everywhere in the various archeological sites we visited from Pisac, to the Saltpans of Mara, to the 250 “steps” up Ollantaytambo. I use quotation marks around the steps because they are not a set of steps that you would expect in any given public building with an even uniform height to the steps, singular material such as wood or metal, and, of course, a nice handy railing in case you want to grab on for balance at some point. Well, on the initial approach up to Machu Picchu there are “steps”. I’d guess there were about a hundred or so. There are many tourists in varying phases of fitness on those steps either going up or coming down. There are no railings, no escalators, no elevators (yes, I did sheepishly ask a few times during my tour of Peru). The steps are uneven, nonuniform, and disjointed. Poles might have been useful but having help from our guides and some fellow friends was invaluable.

 

AweThere are few sights in this world that bring tears to my eyes. The Golden Gate bridge, Yosemite Valley and the New York Skyline come to mind. On that approach just a few short weeks ago, to see that view? I had tears in my eyes. That breathtaking view of an ancient village built in the 15th century, nestled into the shear edges of mountains. The engineering feat in the middle of an impossibly steep mountain range. The civilization that masterminded the moving and shaping of the landscape without beast or wheel. The sheer beauty of the extraordinary backdrop. It is breathtaking. It is magical. It is inspiring. It was completely worth the thirty-year wait. Machu Picchu is awe-inspiring.

 

I am so fortunate to have traveled with my REI cohort of ten to Machu Picchu. A fantastic group of tenacious and fun hikers with knowledgeable, helpful guides. It wasn’t easy or simple but worth the wait for that awe inspiring view.

It’s OK to Ask for Help

My closest friends from high school and college all had babies in 1993. Five babies born all in one year. My good friend, Janine, was the first that year to give birth to her son in March. I followed closely behind in April.  I remember talking to her on the phone after her some 48 hours in labor in the back hills of Vermont. I recall she said, “There is no gold star or medal if you don’t have drugs.” Interesting. If you take the shortcut, the easier way; the fast pass, you still arrive at the same place. No one remembers that you did or did not have an Epidural. All they remember is that you had a beautiful, healthy baby. All five of us did by the end of 1993. There was no one keeping score on who did or did not try and escape some pain. Point being, no one remembers if you asked for help or not.

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Salt Pans of Mara, Peru

Fast forward to a few weeks ago. I am hiking in the Andes. I am navigating down the Salt Pans of Mara, Peru. The Salt Pans are man-made shallow evaporation pools for the harvesting of salt. They have been using these “pans” to harvest salt since the Incas. I have wobbly knees, the sun is slowly setting and my guide Danny has shown me the way forward. The way forward is what I feel looks like a balance beam across the edge of hundreds of salt pans. It’s about a four to five-foot drop off the edge I hesitate. Danny looks at me, “Do you need help?” I am embarrassed. I am the only one teetering on whether or not to proceed (although I have absolutely no choice since the bus has left). The rest of my group is ahead. Danny offers for me to hold onto his shoulders as we march across what was probably in reality a foot to 18-inch-wide path. I accepted his help.

Here is what I learned about asking for help:

Pride. I remember that there was a show many years ago called Weakest Link. The announcer would say to someone that was being eliminated, “You are the weakest link. Goodbye.” When Danny offered his help, I felt like everyone on that trip was looking down at their score card to check off [Cathy needed help. She is the weakest link.] That was my pride creeping in. Blasting in, actually. Pride is a dangerous occupation. You can put yourself in a lot of danger. You can worry more about what people think instead of plain old self-preservation. Don’t let your pride get in the way of your safety…and sanity. Ask for help.

One step.  It is immensely cliché to say: “One foot in front of the other.” It is completely true. As I held onto Danny walking across that imagined “balance beam” on the salt pans, I really did just put one foot in front of the other. My head was down. I couldn’t see the finish line. I didn’t want to see the finish line. I focused on my feet. It’s amazing how an enormous project like my dear friend Susannah has been going through for the past several months of moving to another country; can become manageable by doing one step at a time. Otherwise, it’s overwhelming. It hijacks our brain into believing we must get it all done today. It won’t. It can’t. Take a breath. Take one small step. Worry about the next step when you need to. Get the help and take a step.

Adapt. On another leg of this trip, we ended up hiking down about 2,000 feet in altitude on the Inca Trail in a ruin called Pisac. There was rarely, if ever, a hand rail. The size, shape and width of the steps varied with each and every step. My foot would end up dropping from 18 inches to 2 inches. From gravel to stone to dirt. Hairpin switchbacks that llama’s apparently glide up and down. We had no idea what was next. There was no anticipating what the next ten feet might bring. Sometimes our trusty assistant (read Lifesaver) guide Juan Carlos anticipated my need for some balance and arrived at the ready as we descended yet another uneven set of steps. Sometimes he wasn’t. I muddled through. I adapted. There is no perfection in hiking. There is only a safe arrival at the bottom. Get help and adapt.

Acceptance. My hiking mentor and Appalachian Trail hiker, Roy, instructed me to do whatever I need in order to be safe on the trail. Even crawling. Well that doesn’t sound very graceful. I needed to accept that if I wanted to get on my butt and scoot down the mountain, that was just fine. If I wanted to accept help from my guides, that is also just fine. There are no gold stars at the bottom (or top) if you use or ask or accept help. When I arrived at my bucket list destination of Machu Picchu and needed to lean on Juan Carlos down a set of uneven steps, I finally accepted it. There is no one keeping score except for myself. Get the help and, most importantly, be accepting.

This might be an American construct where we all need to be like Teddy Roosevelt and be the rugged individual. The person who can conquer it all. I can’t. I admit it. It’s freeing to actually look for help instead of being what my brother calls “a juggernaut of strength.” Be human and accept the help. It will make all the difference.