Home

Easing Up On The Brakes

1 Comment

“Frame your mind to mirth and merriment, which bars a thousand harms and lengthens life.” ~William Shakespeare (The Taming of The Shrew, Introduction, ii)

Last week, I took my car into a small local brake shop to have some squealing noises looked at (the car, not me).  The owner of the shop was a nice guy and seemed thrilled that I’d chosen his shop instead of one of his competitors, who I told him had treated me badly in the past.  While I usually hate taking my car into any shop for any kind of work because I feel (as I imagine most women do) that they’re taking advantage of me (and I hate admitting that I’m actually pretty hard on my brakes when I drive), this guy actually seemed honest and dare I say genuine, and didn’t try to sell me any unnecessary services.

In fact, he almost seemed to be one of those too-chipper people that I was complaining about in a past post.  He seemed way too happy about a new granite countertop that they’d just had installed in the waiting room.  And then he said something that made my jaw drop:  he was talking about working there at the shop and helping people with their car problems, and he said “This is the best job IN THE WORLD.  I’d do it for free if I could!” 

And he was being totally, completely serious.

This guy works in a hole-in-the-wall greasy mechanic’s shop next to a busy, noisy freeway, with six meager seats in the waiting room and frustrated customers who are having to sometimes spend a lot of money on costly auto repairs.  And yet he is HAPPY to work there.  Joyous, even.  What is going on??  How is this possible??

Is it because he’s the owner of the shop and feels pride in something that is his, to run under his own tutelage and direction?  Could be.  Is it because he actually really enjoys working on cars and now has a shop where he gets to do just that all day, every day?  Hopefully. Does he live for the days when cars break down just so he’ll have a chance to fix them and help people out? 

It’s still such a shock to me when I meet people who are genuinely happy doing the jobs that they’re doing, I guess because the grand majority of people I’ve known are in the opposite camp and are miserable in their jobs.  In any case, that guy’s statement and genuineness around it made an impact on me.  Maybe because I’m more UNunhappy lately, I’ve been able to notice it more in others?

When I look back at the past few years, it feels like my life was being driven in emergency-brake mode. Grating, pressured, dragged down by resistance.  Unable to move forward with any real progress or meaning.  Stuck.

brake

It’s nice to finally feel – sometimes, not all the time – that I’m able to ease up on the brakes and just breathe, reflect, ponder.  Move more freely and with more purpose.  I’m trying not to pressure myself with time constraints when possible, although in our hurry-up society, that’s not always easy.  But slowing down naturally without slamming on the brakes, recharging, allowing – we should all make time for these life-charging aspects.

Many people I see when at my new university job ask me “So how are you liking it here so far?”  I’ve had the surprising pleasure so far to be able to say “I really like it” and actually MEAN it!  I was also pleasantly surprised when I started another new job last week and the company owner exhibited concern and gratitude for my contentment and labor.  Why are we so surprised when people are nice and kind to us?  What does it say about our society when we are sometimes more suspicious than thankful of people who demonstrate consideration towards us?  Because that’s the temptation, isn’t it?

(There’s a great moment that embodies this tendency in one of my favorite movies, “Sense & Sensibility,” where Elinor states to Edward “The unkindness of your family has made you astonished to find friendship elsewhere.”  Like a tragic sucker-punch to the gut, that line.  One of the best movies ever made, period, based upon the masterpiece by Jane Austen.)

sense

I had another moment of pure joy yesterday when I booked my plane tickets to go back to the UK next summer.  I’d signed up a while ago to volunteer for the organizing group of the 2014 Tour de France kickoff in Yorkshire, England (yes the French race is starting in England, then they’ll fly back over to France after the first three days of racing).  Buying the tickets for actual dates has made it real!  There’s a wave of anglophile happiness that rushes over me when I think of going back to England, but it’s also because I feel good about making something happen that’s important to me and that I want to do.

phoneboothslondon

(The other reason why I was so stoked at the moment of booking: because I “beat the system” of maddening frequent flier reservation sites that give you the worst flight choices and mandate eleven-hour layovers in Detroit…  I was able to use a combination of miles from two different credit cards/airlines to get exactly the flights I wanted on the dates I wanted, reasonable layovers, and with all of the cost covered except for those darn fees and taxes. It took a week of searching and finagling but when I finally did it, I had saved $1,200 and felt like I could conquer Kilimanjaro at that point.)

I’ll be staying three weeks this trip, which should give me plenty of time to explore some corners of England I didn’t even get close to when I was last there in 2012: Cornwall, Bath, the Cotswalds…and I’ll definitely be going back to Shakespeare country and hopefully ticking off a few more London boxes.  And of course the Tour kickoff in Leeds and York should be amazing.  I’m giddy about planning the itinerary, even though I’ve told myself I’m going to be more relaxed about the trip this time and less over-scheduled. I want to truly relax and rest while on the sceptered isle, take in the tea and the scones, and relish in the wonderful rain-soaked afternoons.

savrain

So while it hasn’t been all good things in the past week or so – I got TWO tickets from an overzealous sheriff’s deputy, I’m still getting over a case of shingles, and I have yet to conquer my chips and queso addiction – focusing on what IS good is indeed good work if you can get it.  The good things act as tonics against the not-so-good, don’t they?

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

Hanging Out My Shingles

Leave a comment

“The web of our life is of a mingled yarn, good and ill together…” ~William Shakespeare (All’s Well That Ends Well, IV, iii)

So seven weeks ago, I wrote these words in a post called Falling Up For A Change: “It looks like I won’t have a day off for the next six weeks. But it’s a good problem to have, I keep telling myself. And six weeks goes by in the blink of an eye, right? I’m still scared and unsure of what the next months will bring…and, I may even fall down again instead of up…

Silly little naive me. Oh it did go by pretty quickly, in retrospect. And I did take a fall alright – I fell waist-deep into the pool of false mindset, believing that I could work and function at the same no-consequences level of my younger self from twenty years ago.

I did actually have one (unforeseen) full day off during those six weeks of working both jobs. What I didn’t count on was the cumulative effect of all the other days I didn’t have off. Add to that recipe the fact that I worked harder physically in that span than I have in quite some time, throw in a significant mental and emotional stress factor, and out popped the last thing in the world I expected:

Shingles.

For those of you that have never experienced shingles, allow me to describe it: for me anyway, it started about ten days ago as a feeling on my left hip near my waist (hence being waist-deep in that pool I described above, get it?) of the skin having been rubbed raw or chafed but when I looked, it wasn’t. It almost felt like burning heat-rash but there was no rash (yet), and it was extremely sensitive to the touch. Then the next morning I woke up with a very itchy area on my stomach just to the left of my bellybutton. Two days after that, I woke up with the same burning skin feeling on my back, again near my waist.

I finally made an appointment to see the doctor the next morning, and I’m glad I did: that morning I went, the little red bumps characteristic of shingles started popping up on my stomach where it had been itchy before. The doctor confirmed it was shingles and started me on anti-viral meds immediately. The rash has continued to grow and spread but the meds have kept it from going crazy. The weirdest part is that the pain on my back has been by far the worst, but no rash has popped out there (and hopefully won’t). Nerve pain is a trip.

You know all those TV commercials you see with burly marines telling you that shingles pain is the worst they’ve ever had? Luckily it hasn’t been that way for me, but it’s definitely not comfortable either. (I’ve known people with much worse cases than me and I have a whole new admiration for you now.) You know those novelty pin-case gift things you see at stores like Spencer’s, where you can put your hand or face in the pins and it leaves an impression? When I sit back against something, it feels like I’m sitting against a panel of those pins and that they’re very sharp. And then every once in a while, it feels like someone’s stabbing me in the back with an ice pick, that’s pleasant. I’ve been trying to go pants-less as much as possible, but that can be a bit awkward.

Shingles

I feel lucky that I caught my case fairly early and got on meds to help with the pain and the rash. I get tired pretty easily and the medication causes some side effects like headaches, but I feel like I may have dodged a real bullet in terms of a more serious case. If you ever start having those sensations I describe above, please get to the doctor immediately! Starting on the meds will decrease the severity of your case and hopefully prevent the lingering long-term pain sometimes seen with shingles. And if you’re over 60, consider getting the shingles vaccine.

I suspected my issue was shingles almost as soon as it started happening, and yet I still waited five days to go to the doctor. I kept hoping it would just turn out to be nothing; I kept saying that I didn’t want to overreact. I knew that shingles in people my age are mostly caused by high stress levels, but I kept telling myself that I hadn’t felt that stressed over the past two months. Yes, I knew I’d been overworking myself at pretty tough levels recently in terms of both time and degree of manual labor without much (if any) rest, but I had definitely gone through times of worse stress in my life without ending up with shingles.

The day after I saw the doctor, I was resting at home and feeding my Twitter addiction when I had the following conversation with a friend of mine that lives in England:

tweet

Did you get that? Read it again. Patricia pretty much blew my mind when she said “That Body/Mind connection [is] so strong but not always obvious.” Yes! Our relationship with time can make all the positive OR NEGATIVE difference in the world…so why do we abuse and neglect it willingly? Why do we push ourselves until the body can’t take it anymore?

In retrospect, I believe I made myself susceptible to shingles because I neglected my relationship with time and allowed myself to get worn down, plain and simple. Getting worn down weakened my immune system, which gave the dormant virus a portal. There’s a reason why the work week is five days on, two days off; we need time to rest, recharge, rejuvenate – but I hadn’t been permitting myself to do that. Both my mind and my body were being stressed beyond healthy levels, but I was refusing to listen. I had ignored my mind/body connection, and so now I’m paying the price. I’m just glad it wasn’t something more serious.

Our bodies are amazing vessels that take years of punishment from us and try to protect us anyway. Our brains deliver signals when the system gets overloaded or when there’s a problem, but we don’t always listen. Why not? I remember when I was going through my last separation and divorce, I chose to isolate myself while going through the process, revealing my distress and pain only to my therapist once a week. My body started revealing signs of the severe stress: hives, fatigue, even these weird squiggly lines in my vision that the eye doctor said were signs of impending migraines and 100% stress-related.

So I’m going to try to do a better job of listening to the signals from now on. And scheduling – I’m not going to work seven days a week anymore if at all possible (my internship ended so I’m getting more much-needed rest while I re-group for future opportunities). I’m going to try to not ignore the things that make me feel more balanced and just better in general. And I’m going to try to not get so upset by things that have upset me in the past (like the insane Austin traffic). Easier said than done, I know. But I know I don’t want to get shingles again, that’s for sure, so I at least have to make an effort.

Shameless plug: my friend Patricia in England (from the aforementioned tweeting) is starting her own business called Well Ahead Coaching. She will be partnering with career-minded women to help them re-engage with their career goals, realign with changed priorities, or reinvent themselves after maternity leave. I know Patricia from college, and I have no doubt she’s going to be an extremely successful life and wellness coach. Follow her on Twitter at @wellaheadcoach and sign up on her website for early bird specials on coaching opportunities (especially you readers in the UK!).

I hope all of you have a wonderfully balanced body/mind week. I’m starting mine out with fresh-baked pumpkin bread, so what could be better than that? It’s not a cure for shingles, but it’s a start.

pumpkinbread

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

Life Letters to My Nephews #3: Perseverance

1 Comment

“I am able to endure much.” ~William Shakespeare (Henry VI Part II, iv, ii)

Dear Nephews,

This letter is about a big word with a big meaning: perseverance.  It’s also a bit difficult to spell, but take the time to learn it – not just because it may pop up in a spelling bee one day, but because it’s a good character trait to have that will help you out in life as you get older.

Persevere

You see, perseverance means that you don’t give up, even when something is difficult or tough.  Perseverance is hard; it doesn’t always feel good at the time, but can often to lead to great things.  However, you have to be the one to decide when to persevere through hard times or through a challenging situation.  No one else can make up your mind for you, because you are your own person and you have your own thoughts and dreams and wishes.  Which means you get to make your own decisions (well, maybe not right now, but you will when you get older!).

When you are faced with hard times, or a tough job, or a situation that you don’t like or enjoy, you’re probably going to have a few different options.  One of those options will be to choose do something else instead.  And sometimes, that may very well be the best option, depending on the circumstances.  Another option however will be to endure the challenge and persevere through the difficulty – this too is sometimes the best option.  How could this be?  Why would you choose to do something that’s hard or not pleasant or doesn’t make you feel good?

choices

Well sometimes boys, you have to go through something bad to get to something good.   You’ll probably hear many people say as you get older that “nothing worthwhile ever comes easy.”  I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I do think it is true that you usually have to work hard and make some sacrifices to get what you want and where you want to be in this life.  And hard work is not usually very fun, but it is honest and earnest and a sign of good character.

But try to keep things in perspective while you’re persevering – don’t lose sight of what’s really important, and keep in mind the end goal of why you’re really doing something.  Seek advice of those who are important to you and listen to what they have to say.  Weigh the positives and negatives of what you’re doing and then make up your mind of whether or not to keep going down that same path, or to take a different road.  If the sacrifices become too great or start to cause harm, you might need to change course, and that’s ok sometimes.

Just yesterday I observed one of you get very frustrated that you couldn’t find a toy you were looking for; you were upset and angry and after only a few minutes, declared “Forget it, we’re never going to find it, it’s just gone and it’s no use searching.  Just never mind.”  It is pretty easy to give up sometimes, but you don’t usually get what you want.  And it doesn’t usually make you feel any better; in fact, most of the time you’ll feel worse when you give up on something important to you.  (And look at how nice it felt when your grandmother persevered and found your toy a few minutes later – she didn’t give up!)

I’ve been in a few pretty difficult situations in my life; sometimes I persevered, and sometimes I chose that other road.  When I lived in Africa during my time with Peace Corps, I thought about quitting from time to time; it was indescribably hot every minute of every day, the work was slow and frustrating, and the flies just about drove me out of my mind.  But those were just the bad parts – there were many good parts too, and in the end, I’m so glad I stayed and stuck it out.  I’m proud of my service there and I feel that I gained as much (if not more) than I gave.

I guess what I’m really trying to say is that perseverance is about choice, and you’ll often be faced with what choices to make when you come face to face with things that are overwhelming, or challenging, or just plain hard.  I believe each of you to be strong and creative and capable – capable of doing great things in your lives and becoming amazing examples of character and originality.

And if you ever need help persevering through those tough times, I’m here for you.  Always.

dont-just-fly-soar

Love,

Ant Kristi

ant-with-flower

Just Keep Swimming, Just Keep Swimming

Leave a comment

“Upon a time, -unhappy was the clock that struck the hour!” ~William Shakespeare (Cymbeline, V, v)

It took me until the age of 42 to finally make a conscious decision to stop being so dang miserable all the time.  To quit my miserable job, to stop hanging out with miserable people whenever possible, and change course to do things that actually interest me and speak to me in terms of meaning and significance.

Have you ever met someone who just seemed inherently and generally a happy person by nature, practically all the time?  Nothing ever seems to get to them, they’re overly optimistic about everything in their lives, everything seemed to go their way, and they were always smiling no matter what?  I’ve known a few here and there.  I was always kind of annoyed by them, to tell the truth.  They seemed unreal, like a character in an X-Files episode.

jose_chungs_from_outer_space

Lately though the opposite has been true for me: I find myself even more annoyed by those that are miserable and grumpy and cantankerous all the time, especially those that are doing nothing to change the situation that is contributing to their negative state of mind.  Assuming they are not all suffering from low blood sugar at the same time, there’s a lot of the dejected and downtrodden out there these days.

So I’ve been thinking: is the state of happy one that happens by nature, or by nurture?  Is one born generally happy (or unhappy), or does one have to constantly nurture the factors of their life to bring forth opportunities to experience a positive state of mind?  And if it’s the latter, isn’t that then saying that life is inherently negative and unhappy, and that we then have to swim upstream and make conscious choices to not let it all get to us and to try to be happy and move forward in spite of everything that is happening to us?

OR – is everything that is happening to us, especially the negative, the daily grind of life that brings us down, brought about by our own decisions (be they conscious or unconscious) over time to either do or not do something about the state in which we find ourselves?

Yes I’m getting philosophical.  No I don’t know the answer.  I do know that I haven’t run across very many happy people in most of the jobs I’ve worked in.  Which is really unfortunate, because we spend the majority of our waking hours at our jobs.  When we are miserable there, it tends to have a cumulative effect over time…on ourselves, on our friends and families, and on the other people we work with.  There have been many times when I’ve looked at a coworker (or at myself in the mirror) and wished I could say out loud: “If you hate this job so much, why don’t you quit and do something else?”

Yes yes I know that most people do not have the luxury of choosing their idea of the “perfect” job to pay their bills and occupy their time.  It’s apparent and common, but very sad and unfortunate, that most of us are not living to work, but working to live.  For those lucky few of you out there who get to do what you want and enjoy while also earning enough money at it to live comfortably: I’m convinced you’ve hit the real lottery, even if you don’t realize it.

I just received my first paycheck at my other job – the one I’m actually really enjoying, the first job in practically forever that I actually look forward to on the days I go in.  My paycheck for an entire month’s work (it’s a part-time job) is a mere 60% of what I used to earn every two weeks at my previous miserable city government job.  So over the course of a month, I’ll be earning only about 30% of what I used to.  And of course that’s with no benefits.

And yet despite the belt tightening on my bank account, and in spite of the recent ups and downs of my recent forays,  I’d estimate I’m about one thousand percent happier and more satisfied than I was at this time a year ago.  Would that my satisfaction level could magically pay my utility and insurance bills, and all’s well that would end well.  I’m fighting going into debt with every responsible fiber of my being, but as this amusing (and eerily accurate) articleGeneration X Gets Really Old: How Do Slackers Have a Midlife Crisis?says, “maybe midlife is about figuring out how to accept the limitations.”

Or maybe it’s just about staying afloat the best way we know how, while swimming through and then past all the fish poop in the water. 

Now where did I put my water wings and nose plug…

Dory

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

%d bloggers like this: