How do you define “success”?

  • making a certain amount of money?
  • winning an age group medal in a race?
  • moving into the coveted corner office?
  • going viral on social media?
  • having your blog read and shared by thousands of followers? (okay, count me guilty on this one…)

The other day I was listening to my new best friend podcaster, Jonathan Fields, and he was riffing (his word!) about success, how we measure it and how we might be doing it all wrong. Fields has a knack for putting his own distinct spin on things that we take for granted; instead of thinking as success as an outcome, we’d do better to think of success as putting the work in on the process.

Just last month, I was writing about my finish of the run at Pere Marquette Park and that I felt defeated by what should have been a victory. Simply put, I defined my success — or lack thereof — by how I did compared to all the other runners out there. There are so many things wrong with this!

First, unless I’m spiking pre-race water with, say, prune juice or something else to slow everyone down, I have no control over how the other racers will perform (I’m still working on my mind control skills).

Second, comparison, as I hear it told, is the thief of joy. Or something wise like that.

Third, it’s foolhardy to pin my happiness and feelings of success based on the performance of other people. Doesn’t it make more sense to simply challenge myself?

In the end, it was the metric that I was using to measure success that did me in during that race. It wasn’t that I was slow or that the course was tough or that the other runners were too fast — to salvage both the race and my opinion of myself, I needed to redefine what made me a winner in my own mind. And that definition needs to be under my control and not dependent on external circumstances. So, what makes me successful?

  • Training and going into the race with a good attitude
  • Giving my best effort out on the course
  • Finishing the race, completing what I started
  • Giving myself the credit I deserve for doing everything within my control to turn in a good performance.

I had set pace goals for this race, but even that’s a dangerous way to measure success. Yes, I beat my goal, but if I didn’t and I still left my best out there on the course, would I be any less successful? It’s hard for me to change this way of thinking, but yes — I would still be successful. Last time I checked, I wasn’t earning money doing this, so I get to pick which lens through which I want to view my performance.

The key is this — I can’t control other people and I oftentimes cannot control any sort of outcome, so the best way for me to get the “W” is to measure myself based on those things that I can control. Yes – outcomes are awesome and rewarding, but my focus always has to be on the things that I can do to get me the outcome I want. It’s a weird line to draw, but it’s important: as long as I do everything I can to get the outcome I want, I’m successful whether or not I actually get that outcome. Make sense?

And this applies to so many areas of my life:  if I want to lose weight, I need to stop focusing on the numbers and instead focus on what influences those numbers — eating healthy and working out. If I want to be a fast runner, I need to focus on training. If I want to be a famous blogger, I have to write awesome blog posts and spread the word about my awesomeness. I might not get the results that I’m looking for, but if I gave my best effort, then it’s not a failure. I might need to change tactics or tweak my process to get different (and desired) outcomes, but the work that I’ve put in already gives me enough to feel good about.

Short and sweet, that’s the lesson I learned this week.

My running shoes have a definite opinion about things. Belle seems to listening closely.

As I was heavy-breathing through the last few intervals of my run the other day, I started thinking about my long history with this weird little pastime. I don’t need to survive by catching my dinner. I’m not being chased by anyone. And hell, I’m on a treadmill so I’m not even moving forward. So, why do it? For a long time, running was nothing more than punishment for being late to practice (one reason of many to be on time for everything) — to pair the words “running” and “fun” would have left me scratching my head in confusion. As long as I could get from home plate back around to home plate without needing oxygen, I was in good enough running shape for anything that I might need to do.

And then, I broke my arm playing softball. The tl;dr version of the story is that I spent an inordinate amount of time in occupational therapy trying to get my hand and fingers to work again and I think the thrice-weekly torture sessions wore me down enough so that when one of the therapists there asked, “Want to run a half marathon?” I dumbly nodded in response, which was interpreted as an enthusiastic “YES!!”. Thus roped in, I began what would become one of the most important relationships of my life — my relationship with running. If Facebook had been around, we would have been Facebook Official within weeks.

Currently, running and I are circling each other and giving each other the side-eye, not sure if it’s going to work this time around. For a long time — you know, before I broke up with it — running was my constant companion through ups and downs and while I might not have thought so at the time, ended up teaching me a lot about life:

Don’t leave things mostly done; it feels better to wrap things up the right way.  It was one of those days where I didn’t really feel like running, but did it anyway, knowing that I’d appreciate the good kind of tired that comes from a hard run. As I cruised up the driveway, I stopped my Garmin — 4.93 miles. I sighed, whispered some NSFW words to myself, and headed back down the driveway to go to the corner and back. Less than a minute later, I’m on my driveway once again. My stopped Garmin now showed 5.01 miles. NOW I had officially finished and could go inside and relax. That’s one of the rules of running (didn’t you know?) … you can’t stop when you have less than a tenth of a mile to the next mile. That’s just how it is.

If it were easy, everyone would do it.  It was March 2008 and we were lined up for the start of the Wacky Snacky 5K. Not very windy, chilly but not overly so — a good day for running. Starting out, I didn’t have any real race plan in play — I was there for the post-race food, after all (it’s the Wacky Snacky race and BOY did it live up to it’s name!) — and went out strong, figuring I’d see what I had in the tank. First mile was good, second mile was a touch faster. I knew there was a potential PR out there. At around 2.25 miles the burn started to happen. Physically, my legs were screaming at me. Mentally, my brain was telling me that I ought to slow down a little because if I didn’t, I’d blow myself out, that this was just too hard to do. I spat back at myself:  “if this were easy, everyone would be doing it” and kept running, keeping an eye on my Garmin for pace and doing my best to ignore all other thoughts. I PR’d that day, by 13 seconds and took 7th in my age group. And then I ate candy and cookies and Hostess snacks, easily out-eating my calorie deficit. The fact that it wasn’t easy (both the run AND the post-race snacky binging) is what made it all sorts of awesome.

Never judge a book by its cover. Corollary: never judge a runner by their shoes.  I have a confession to make — I’m a bit of a fanatic about running shoes. I love buying new ones (I can’t be the only one, can I?). And when I was running 20-30 miles a week, it was (almost) justifiable. My problem was that while the shoes I would buy at the running store were invariably awesome and fit great, I couldn’t help going online and buying shoes that I thought looked cool, regardless of whether they were stability shoes or lightweight trainers or some other type that was utterly unsuitable for my feet (case in point: Vibram FiveFingers (my poor heels and Achilles tendons!)). You can see my point a mile away:  sometimes the coolest-looking shoes were the absolutely worst shoes that I could be wearing. Sometimes the boring old Asics Kayanos were what I should really have been running in. Or really, any sort of shoe that had some semblance of stability in them. Just because they looked good, didn’t mean they would work for me — there’s more to a shoe than just it’s fancy-dancy color and fashionable look.

You can’t count on motivation to get you to do something.  I knew — or at least passionately hoped — that the marathon I was training for in 2011 would be my last. I wasn’t in love with the distance, or the training it required, but I wanted to have just one race where I did everything possible to give it my best shot. Which meant a rigorous training program. During that summer, I was running 5-6 days a week, including a long run on the weekend. My mileage topped out at around 45-50 miles a week and I can tell you with complete honesty — I didn’t really enjoy it. Did I enjoy some of the individual runs? Of course. I was still a runner, still got a high out of getting outside and pounding the pavement. But overall? Not much fun. And I learned, over and over and over, that motivation was never going to get me to the start line (much less the finish line). I needed to draw upon something deeper than an inspirational video to get me moving. By reminding myself every day how much I wanted a good marathon finish, I turned off the alarm, got out of bed and got the miles in, even when I utterly unmotivated to do so. I knew that a good marathon mattered more to me than the “I don’t wanna” feeling toddler-tantrum I wanted to throw. Motivation would come and go and carried me through maybe half of my training. Pure guts and a clear eye towards my goal got me through the rest. And I’ll tell you something else — there’s no better feeling than kicking butt on a training run that you didn’t want to do in the first place.

That’s just a short bit on how running has changed my brain. And now that I’m not a runner, but keep wanting to be one again, I wonder what the next lesson is that I’ll learn. Is it that no matter how hard something is, if you try hard enough that anything is achievable? Or is it that sometimes you can’t go home again and moving on is the best way to gracefully deal with life?

Hellooooo 2017! Welcome, welcome … come on in. Make yourself comfortable. Stay awhile. Maybe try not to kill so many beloved celebrities as your predecessor 2016 did.

As I’ve been doing for a number of years now, I pick a word for the year.  I find a word that embodies what direction I want to take in the new year, something that will remind me of what’s important and what my goals are and this year, it’s ENGAGE. And no, not the kind of engagement that ends with a ring and a ceremony, the kind of engagement that means I should get off my couch every once in awhile and go interact with the big, scary world out there, at least more often than my once-a-year average.

Seriously, though, I spent 2016 mostly looking inward and while that was necessary and worthwhile, I think it’s probably time that I started pushing the boundaries of my comfort zone and finding new tribes of people. In Jonathan Field’s Good Life Project parlance, my connection bucket needs some filling! It’s stuff I’ve been talking about doing, but never quite managing to get it done. And because I don’t make a lot of noise about it, I’m really the only one that knows that I got scared or nervous at the last minute and opted to back out (I always had a good reason, like, Belle looked lonely or I ought to stay home just in case FedEx came with a package that needed to be signed for).

Of course, I’m still an introvert and need my down time, so my resolutions for the coming year are a nice mixture of getting out there and sitting home — I’ll never be a party animal, so don’t set your expectations for me too high.

Join a running group  Close to me is the Frankfort-New Lenox Running Club. I’ve joined their Facebook group and they seem likely extremely nice people. And it even sounds like they can accommodate people like me who are starting at the beginning, still doing the run/walk thing. Why haven’t I done this yet? I don’t want to get up early on the weekends. It sounds hard. I’m injured. I shouldn’t run that much. I might love it and then have to flog myself for weeks for being too nervous and intimidated to join them earlier. You know, all the usual excuses.

Take some classes at the local community college  Already done! I’m such an ahead-of-schedule over-achiever! I signed up for a yoga class that meets once a week starting at the beginning of February. Should be interesting because I might be the least bendy person that I know, but people keep telling me that it’ll be good for me. So – I’ll give it the ol’ college try (ha! see what I did there?). I also want to find a photography/Lightroom/Photoshop class to take as well. Treated myself to the new DSLR and want to make sure that I really learn all the ins and outs of it.

Complete my 2017 Challenge Everything challenge  I’m going to challenge myself every month with one thing to do for 30 days. I’ll have a page set up on this blog (see the page link on the left side of the page) to track my progress and detail it all out for you. I’m starting easy on myself — in January, I will eat vegetables every day. You’d think this would already be happening, but it’s stunning how many days go by where not one green thing is on my plate. The stupid part of this? I really like vegetables. So, this is one of those things that has no downsides and perhaps it’ll even get me into a healthier eating pattern. A sneak peek at February? Yoga every day. Boo-yah (I have no idea how that’s actually spelled. Just imagine me saying something like that with a lot of verve).

Spend less money  I spent way too much money in 2016. Way too much! I keep a pretty close eye on my finances because my goal is to retire early, so I’ve known this was going on, but it was juuust under control enough for me to ignore it. This year will have some strict rules — the only money I can spend on non-necessities is money that’s in my PayPal account or as a credit on Amazon. Money in my PayPal account comes from selling something on eBay, so if there’s something I want, I can always get rid of something else that I already own. Amazon credits are pretty small — it’s a kickback for using their credit card — but it’s a little something.

Travel somewhere new to hike  This is the one exception to the no-spending resolution. Last year’s trip to Utah reaffirmed what I already knew: spending time in nature is a balm to my soul and one that needs to be applied as often as possible. My retired life will include more mountains and a lot more hiking, but until then, I need to make a concerted effort to get out there.

Online book club  Right now the book club that I started with the Good Life Project book is going awesome and I LOVE all the ladies who have decided to participate! It’s been a lot of fun for me. Once we’re done with that book, I’d love to continue with looking at other books, but if not, then I’ll find another venue online for this. I love the discussions and give and take of opinions. It’s a fun way to make my brain do a little extra work without it feeling like extra work.

Keep active  With no expectations of losing weight or getting in better shape, I’ve learned that simply getting my body moving does me a world of good. I did a little experiment as 2016 came to a close where I did absolutely nothing active for almost 2 weeks straight. Yes, I had headaches, but that can’t be an excuse (though I used it as one, for sure!). And then, I didn’t do anything because, you know, I was running an experiment … didn’t want to ruin the scientific process. What did I find? My mood took a hit. My joints hurt (specifically, my fingers, though I can’t explain that for the life of me). I didn’t sleep as well and, weirdly, slept a whole lot more than I should (somehow, while 12-13 hours of sleep a night sounds decadent, it really isn’t all that good for me). Being active is integral to me feeling good, so, as I’ve done in the past, a mile a day is my minimum and over the course of the year, I’m shooting for 80% adherence rate.

Complete the Storycourse fiction writing class  There are something like 7 or 8 sections to this and I’ve gotten through just one. It requires a fair amount of time — there are materials to read, audio to listen to and then, of course, the writing — probably around 2-3 hours per section at least. Fiction has never been my forte — I always find it easier to write about what’s happening to me — but I’ve been curious about it for a long time and this is just what I need to not only learn the basics of putting together a good story but also doing the work and getting words down on paper.

There are other things I want to do — make a point of talking to strangers and starting up conversations more often, figure out how to limit my Facebook time, figure out how to get the news but not spend hours down a rabbit hole reading ALL the articles that are online, evaluate my charitable donations and make sure that the organizations that might now need more help get my help — but what I have listed up there is quantifiable, trackable and more than enough to keep me busy. Everything else will be on my internal, in-my-head list, but you’re not allowed to hold me accountable for those ideas.

So what’s your word for 2017? What do you want to accomplish? Do you have any resolutions or goals or do you eschew them as something that’s bound to fail?