Category Archives: Inspiration

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The Treasures in Our Pockets

18th January 2016

I hate the cold. I despise it. My body despises it. As a measure of precaution, I live in the South, where we list our wintry sixty degree days as a perk. So this morning, when I checked the weather to find it felt like a balmy 20 degrees out, I went to work from the comfort of my down comforter.

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As the hours passed and the guilt rose, I got up the courage to head to the closet and pick out as many layers as possible, determined to keep my word to myself to lace up for five miles.

At the back of my closet, I stumbled upon the Better Sweater. A few winters ago, I saved up to buy this cozy little vest. While its name should ring full of blissful adventures, over the years it has become my last ditch resort for keeping warm on a chilly morning run. I zipped it up, put my hands in its fuzzy pockets and found a single stick of chapstick.

As a kid, I would hide little trinkets in the pockets of my winter coats. Barbie shoes, a dollar, a 25¢ ring, it didn’t matter the value, but more the reminder. It was as if some brilliant figure from the past had sent treasures into the future to say “I don’t care how miserable it is out there, look at these awesome things we used to have!” Those Barbie shoes had been gone a year, so naturally this was a sign of something good to come. The treasures were my way of reminding myself that it wasn’t going to be all doom and gloom for the next four months.

In this scenario chapstick is grown up treasure, until it isn’t. Chapstick means I probably I went for a run, my nose tried to fall off and I couldn’t feel my face for three days. This is what we have to look forward to, Better Sweater, Chapstick and I, no noses and sore faces.

I begrudgingly laced up my shoes, zipped up the Better Sweater, took one last deep breath and zipped out the door.

I’m home now, five miles faster, and while my nose did try to fall off, the Chapstick was a true treasure. It’s a reminder that when you get your butt out the door, the miles aren’t nearly as bad as you make them out to be. As an extra perk, Chapstick does soothe red lips and sore noses miraculously fast, and I don’t know how it does it.

Next time your brain tries to trick you into thinking treasures are for suckers, remember someone in your past put them there for a reason. Oh and Spring, you can come any time now.

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The Problem with Fear

20th November 2015

Growing up, my parents taught us that if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. With four kids, all of which seem to have inherited the quick and occasional Irish temper, it was repeated with a relentless fury in our household.

When that advice didn’t stick, it was usually thanks to the screaming of the “s word”, a reigning master insult we would each throw across a room more than our parents would have liked. For the record, the “s word” was likely defined by the atrocities of “stupid” or “shut-up”.

On the upside, it turns out calling my brother Erik stupid approximately a bazillion times didn’t change his upbringing by so much as a fraction. Of my three siblings, Erik is my closest in age and, statistically speaking, probably received the highest frequency of this foul language. Today, Erik is an astrophysicist and possibly the most rational and humble human being I have ever met.

In the days that have followed Paris, my mom’s voice has been on repeat in my head with each media report, Facebook post and sideways comment. While I’d like to respond to each and every post fueled by hate with a retaliation of more than scary s-words, my experience thus far has proven that it’s likely not very conducive to getting anything accomplished.

So as I sit here, trying to decide whether it’s more productive to open my mouth, or not say anything at all, I’ve reached this conclusion: hateful comments aren’t at fault for or a solution to what’s unfolding in the world around us.

Here’s the thing about hatred, negativity and tempers: we control them. Individually. Erik did. Which is why my words didn’t inhibit his ability to turn out to be a stable, loving and brilliant brother later in life, despite my best efforts.

The outside world, myself included, doesn’t have the power to control our reactions. When you take a step back and consider this human superpower to self control emotion, it’s a pretty incredible gift. It’s why above all of the heartbreak you’ve stumbled upon breathtaking stories like this in the days since Paris.

We were designed by our Creator to think, to love and to act individually. So what if instead of channeling our actions into an influenced spirit of hate, we sought to better understand what was causing it to rise up inside of us in the first place?

We can blame hate on the actions of others, but if I categorize hate as an emotion I control, then I’ve made the conscious decision to allow it to control me. If hate is a conclusion I somehow reached, then there must also a way I can reverse it.

It starts by understanding that hate is simply fear, dimensioned.

A few months ago, I had the pleasure of hearing from professional Red Bull kayaker Steve Fisher speak at an Atlanta Creative Mornings event on the topic of action, and subsequently, of fear. If you think you understand fear, pause now and watch the trailer for Steve’s last project here.

While the rest of us may deem him insane, Steve breaks down what he does for a living quite simply.

Fear is an assessment of risk.

Fear is subjective.

Fear isn’t calculated.

Risk is calculated.

We assess risk by understanding it; breaking it down into statements, actions and the likelihood of a particular outcome. By understanding risk, we grant ourselves the permission to dissolve fear.

Ultimately, like hate, we individually have the power to control fear. We grant fear the power to inhibit us from taking action, or in the case of those horrific actions take in Paris on Friday night, to succumb to it. We can’t change someone else’s fear, the same as our inability to dissolve their hate. We can however choose to dissolve our own fears and fight for their opposites.

I know from experience that someone else’s hate cannot control my happiness, the same way my hateful words couldn’t control Erik. In the light of the what’s unfolded in the world around us, I refuse to succumb to fear. I refuse to share an emotion with a group of individuals who haven’t taken the time to calculate, understand and connect with what’s driving their own irrational emotions.

I choose understanding.

I choose curiosity.

I choose conversation.

I choose community.

I choose faith.

But not fear. Not isolation. And most certainly not hate.

We have a long, and very hate filled, road ahead of us. I’m certain our superpowers of emotion will be tested again and again in the days to come. If we control any of what the world throws our way, let it be how we control our fear. Let it be that we face our fears and channel them into a search for more ways to help, not hinder. Let it be that we open our ears to new conversations, not hide in old ones. I’m hopeful in doing so, we may collectively find a power and resilience to fight for good, together.

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Expectations

26th October 2015

Damp grey Monday. After a weekend filled with more than a few fall excursions with my favorite person, we’re back to Monday, and a gross rain filled Monday at that. As the rain barrels down on our rooftop, I can’t help but set my thoughts back to our fall filled weekend and a word that’s lingering in my head as a result: expectations.

As running and I haven’t been on the prettiest of pages lately, I’ve been in search of podcasts to fill the miles I could normally, quite happily, fill with silence. A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon a podcast released earlier this year called Invisibilia.

Brought to us by NPR, Invisibilia documents the invisible forces that control human behavior. It is so incredibly fascinating that in the last few weeks, I’ve found reasons to stay out on the road, just to finish episodes.

But back to expectations.

In episode three, Lulu and Alix explore how the expectations we set for both ourselves and others can quite literally transform the world around us. The pair begins by sharing a story from Robert Rosenthal, professor of psychology at the University of California.

In his experiment, Professor Rosenthal brings a group or ordinary lab rats and labels them either “dull minded” or “bright minded” before handing them over to a group of test subjects. While the rats did not possess any difference in intellectual value, when handled by people with these preconceived expectations, the “bright rats” were able to improve their maze learning by 65%, simply by the way they were held, spoken to and interacted with. In other words, expectations changed the outcome.

I found the entire episode fascinating and couldn’t help but gush to P about what could be possible if only we forced ourselves to think differently about our situations. Luckily, we were quickly able to put the thoughts into practice (unknowingly) this weekend as we set out on our first long-ish mountain bike ride in North Georgia.

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A short break early on in our ride.

Last fall, we stumbled upon the Jake and Bull Mountain trail system and have been dying to get back up on our bikes. While we didn’t take the plunge on the full trail (see elevation estimates below), we did set out on a shorter loop that would take us ten miles and across some of the most rewarding trail we had seen in years.

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We cruised through the first eight miles or so, passing horse after horse, fording two creeks (to which I made more than a few Oregon trail references) and settling into the silence that is listening to gear shifts and leaves crunching. If there is way to feel closer to having heaven on earth, I haven’t found it.

But, oh mile eight. We started up a steady climb, that while not terribly steep, went on. And on. And on. After not biking for a few months, it kicked out butts. Until at about mile nine, when P broke the silence and reset our expectations with a simple reminder, “don’t forget, when we finish this, we can go find boiled peanuts.”

The view of the pumpkin patch (and home of the boiled peanuts) we visited after our ride.

The view of the pumpkin patch (and home of the boiled peanuts) we visited after our ride.

It made all of the difference. If we had watches, we would have probably noticed clocking our fastest mile after that moment, but alas, no watches.

It was the perfect reminder that expectations don’t have to be world changing or even life changing, but they can be moment changing. So while it may be damp, grey and Monday, I’ll hold on to the idea that event the smallest of gestures can set your expectations off in an entirely new direction, and maybe daydream a bit about our next trail ride adventure.