The long, slow transition process

Transitions, particularly big, life-altering transitions, can be very long, slow processes. We sometimes expect our beliefs, behaviors, and habits to suddenly transform once we decide to initiate the changes. Moreover, big shifts are supposed to start happening at once. Unfortunately, it typically doesn’t work that way and we may become disappointed and disillusioned, often abandoning the transition process. That big shift might not happen simply because of our impatience.

I’m still in the process of making the transition toward retirement. I am, however, growing frustrated that I’m not further along. I’ve made commitments to finish off specific reports and archive the data. It has been a slog and the light at the end of the tunnel is still so faint. The best that I can do is continue to chip away at it, keep on course, and hope for the best down the road. And be willing to accept that some items might not be finished when I finally pull that plug.

I have been asking recently: how terrible would it be if I don’t finish what I had started? With everything going on right now with COVID, an election, and (here) devastating fires, the reports that I’m working on seem of little consequence. And they are standing in the way of what I really want to be doing. Do I keep pounding on this or let it go? Will six more months make a difference?

I just don’t know.

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I did my yearly performance appraisal this past week. This was likely the last time that I will ever do go through an annual review. I’m doing a lot of “last times” these days. My last scientific conference. My last field season. The last meeting with other professionals in the area. I find that I go through an initial uneasiness with each of these reminiscences and spend some time dealing with that sense of loss. I playback old memories in my mind and relive how things used to be. And then I understand that those events are in the past, the job has changed, and there is only the way forward.

And then I find that, meh, I’ll be able to live without it.

Photo by author

No end-of-summer blues

I’m so thankful that summer is just about done.

I haven’t been a fan of summer for awhile now. It’s an insane, hectic time where I have to crunch a year’s worth of work into a few months. Hiring and training temporaries. Traveling hours to remote areas. Bringing equipment online. The rush used to excite me, and I felt fortunate to be doing this type of work at some points in my career.

I now hate it.

Financial and logistical support eroded over time, forcing me to spend too much time on the job’s technical aspects. I’m supposed to be writing grants and papers, not programming data loggers, and collecting and processing samples in the lab. Working in the field was fun, but I wasn’t getting my own work done. Plus, I could never enjoy summer events like concerts or fun runs because I was always on call in the field.

I began to resent summer.

So even though we were in the midst of a pandemic and all of our planned activities were canceled, the summer of 2020 gave me a taste of the future in retirement. While I’m still working full-time, I can’t travel because of COVID restrictions. This is the first summer in over 30 years that I’ve done no fieldwork.

It’s delicious.

My tiny taste of retirement has been a break I needed, and I cannot wait for all of this to be finished. I have a feeling I’m going to love being retired. The problem is, I don’t feel like I can act excited about retirement with my colleagues who are still in the dredges. I know how they are feeling and how they continue to be pulled too thin without enough resources. Especially now, when our entire world has been up-ended.

But I can only help them for a few more months. I don’t plan on being emeritus for very long.

Photo by Andrew Bui on Unsplash

So how’s that challenge going?

In my last post, I shared a challenge that I started in early August, based loosely on 75 hard that is a current trend in fitness challenges. You can read about it here, but essentially there were 5 parts to the challenges that involve: drinking more water, some type of eating modification, daily exercise, reading from a non-fiction book, and taking a picture every day. The 75 hard challenge has been described as both a mental and physical exercise, intended to develop “mental toughness” and break bad habits. Since I’d like to do both, it seemed like an interesting project, only with my modifications added.

So how am I doing on my version of the challenge? Well, I lasted two weeks before life rudely busted in and I needed to stop. I had to travel for work this past week, and the travel time and actual work pretty much ate up any time I had for workouts. It was also impossible to get in all the water when I didn’t have access to it. Plus, I couldn’t afford to stop to pee every 15 minutes. Unfortunately, I failed given the parameters of the challenge and would need to “restart” from day 1.

I don’t think I’m going to do that.

While the challenge was pretty effective in getting me to think about what I was eating and being consistent with exercise, I also started developing some negative behaviors and thoughts. Given my history of disordered eating, I soon learned that this probably wasn’t a good undertaking for me. I’ve played this game before, and it didn’t turn out well — for nearly forty years.

It’s taken me years to begin to unravel my feelings around food and diets, using both for protection and to escape feelings of vulnerability. I had vowed to never diet again, and I’m not sure why I thought that I should do such a challenge now. Maybe it’s because I’ve been reading about other people’s experiences and wanted to feel that same sense of empowerment (whether the others are reporting truthfully or not). Maybe I thought it a way to kick start weight loss that is progressing so slowly. Or maybe I just wanted easy fodder to write about. Regardless, none of those were suitable reasons to continue.

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I’m now beginning to realize that challenge was not without harm. Quitting struck my sense of confidence. I’ve felt a bit lost for the past several days — like I didn’t know how or when to eat or how much I should be drinking. I didn’t work out because it felt pointless: I had already failed the challenge. I struggled to decide if I should try again or formulate something new. My indecisiveness started to affect my work. I was feeling a low level of depression just from this!

My husband said that he wondered why I was doing the challenge since I seemed to be doing okay without it. I now wonder the same thing.

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So, in short, approaches such as fitness challenges do not work for me. Following arbitrary rules leads me to disconnect from my body and my needs. I need different things on different days. Some days it’s four hour bike rides, some days it’s resting, strolling, and reading.

So I’m back to my usual plan involving a non-restrictive eating approach and enjoyable forms of exercise. I guess I need to be reminded about all of this for the next time I decide to go off on one of these tracks. Having already lived this for years, I doubt it will be my last time on any sort of challenge.

Photo by Jen Theodore on Unsplash

My COVID Isolation challenge, with credit to “75 hard”

Apparently, I’m may be the last person on the planet to hear about the 75 hard challenge. I’m now reading several bloggers who are doing this challenge and writing about the benefits they see. It sounded intriguing, particularly during the COVID -19 pandemic, when everything has been so upended. So, after further research and consideration, I’ve climbed onto this bandwagon. I think it will help me address some of the habits I’ve developed to cope with stress and calm feelings of vulnerability.  

I am, however, on a modified version of the challenge. Yes, purists will tell me that you cannot change the challenge and still be doing the challenge. Phooey. My modifications make the parameters more relevant for me under the current constraints of working, working out, and maintaining a household in times of COVID (without a gym!).

What is the 75 Hard challenge?

A Google search will tell you about all you need to know about the challenge. I don’t want to link it here because, frankly, the initial presentation is hard to listen to. I’m no prude to f-bombs, but it is extremely distracting to repeat any word that often. And it makes the speaker sound unprofessional. Listen at your own risk. I’d recommend reading about it instead.

But briefly, 75 hard is touted as a mental and physical challenge that involves 5 parts. They suggest that the point of this challenge is to develop all kinds of positive outcomes, such as improved confidence, self-esteem, perseverance, and resilience. Sounds miraculous, doesn’t it!?! I get it — pushing yourself to stay committed to high goals, even when it gets hard or uncomfortable, changes you, arguably for the better. This is the ultimate goal of the challenge. But there are lots of ways to get to the same end.

So the 5 parts.

1 — Drink a gallon of water a day. Only count plain, clear water.

2 — Do a diet of choice. No alcohol or cheat meals.

3 — Exercise two times a day for 45 minutes each time. One session must be outside.

4 — Read 10 pages of a book on non-fiction.

5 — Take a progress photo every day.

All parts, every day, for 75 days in a row. If you skip any one element on a given day, the challenge is restarted on day 1. Seems harsh, but this consequence is intended to keep one on track.

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My version of the challenge

So here are the parameters for my challenge, based on 75 hard. Sorry, purists. This is my deal, and I have good reasons for changing things up. I’d like to do some type of challenge that will test me, make me fitter, and help improve some habits, without throwing me into a tailspin trying to complete some seemingly arbitrary rules. Perhaps I cannot call it the 75 hard challenge though. Maybe COVID Isolation challenge is more appropriate?

Water

I already drink a lot of water. It’s summer. I get thirsty and drink, but I don’t monitor it. Some days I need more, some days less. Plus, there is nothing magical about drinking a gallon of water/day. However, I put a gallon of water in the refrigerator and use that throughout the day for this challenge. My aim is to empty the container.

A bigger challenge for me is to eliminate diet soda. My consumption has gone up during the pandemic—a lot. I’ve wanted to cut back, but haven’t been able to do so. This challenge leads me to cut it out completely.

Diet

I don’t do traditional diets anymore because that ultimately leads to disordered eating for me. But I did want to make some changes to my eating habits. Clean things up a bit, if you will. First, I am cutting out noshing between meals. I found that I was mindlessly reaching for between-meal snacks every time I passed the pantry, typically out of boredom or frustration with my work. I’m eating for reasons other than hunger, and I’d like to curb that habit.

Secondly, I’m eliminating sugary or overly processed food for 75 days. My spouse is on a Hostess cupcake kick — mainly because he’s running 6-10 miles a day. I really shouldn’t be joining him on this kick. I’m hoping that between this and cutting out noshing, I will develop some better, sustainable habits, long term.

I already don’t drink alcohol very often. So check that one off the list.

Exercise 

My modification is to work out once daily for 75 days without a day off. This is where I depart from the original challenge most significantly. I simply cannot work out twice daily every day. My main exercises during this pandemic are cycling and swimming. Cycling takes at least 2 hours for me to prep and ride — and that’s a light ride. Tack on even more time if I have to drive someplace. Swimming takes nearly as long since I have to drive to and from the pool and shower afterward. I get the lane for an hour under the current COVID restrictions, and I have to maximize that time. Adding another 45-minute workout on top of either of those and I’m looking at a bare minimum of 3 hours between all of the logistics. So, doing this twice a day? I’d be setting myself up for failure from the start. Also, I’m older and (active) recovery days are critical to helping prevent injury. The dogs won’t mind an extra walk on those days. 

Reading 10 pages of non-fiction

I already read primarily non-fiction material, but I skip around between books. So I will only read 1 book at a time to improve my focus and retention.

Picture — one photo daily

This one is harder than it sounds. I never get in pictures. Fat people rarely do. While you really can’t see progress daily, this part of the challenge might make me less sensitive to seeing myself in pictures. It’s forcing me to look at myself every day and learn to appreciate what I have.

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My plan is to report back periodically and describe any significant observations. I’m thinking of posting pictures at the halfway point in early September.

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I see this challenge as a kind of a game that may help me undo habits that have emerged recently (noshing on sweets, drinking diet soda, skipping workouts). These are unhealthy crutches I’ve used, mainly to deal with working at home during the pandemic. But they slow my fitness progress and keep me stuck in place. While the challenge may be hard, it really is a way for me to re-focus my efforts to get fitter and develop a better mindset. In more a typical year, I’d be training for specific events. This year, I’m training for life.  

So no, it’s not 75 hard in the “pure” form, but rather it’s a meaningful challenge that won’t overly stress me. There’s enough to deal with at this point, and I can’t afford to fall back into dysfunctional behaviors.

Photo by Rollalyn Ruis on Unsplash

Vulnerability — fear of putting it out there

I’ve read enough of Brené Brown’s writing to understand the concept of vulnerability, and how shame stops us from being fully engaged in our own lives. Vulnerability is essentially putting oneself out there, being authentic, saying and doing what you feel is true, despite the potential for negative pushback and judgment. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable is allowing yourself to be exposed. Letting people see who you are and what you think without a filter.

It can be frightening, and I know from experience that this fear has stopped me from doing many things. I thought it was a lack of knowledge and skill that held me back. Turns out, it was an intense fear of being vulnerable. Fear of being wrong. Fear of being judged.

While it often has a negative connotation, transformation happens when you allow yourself to be vulnerable. To take risks. Arguably, it’s the only way that change and personal growth can occur. I’m slowly beginning to embrace a higher level of vulnerability as I age and begin to leave my current career life and venture into retirement. Still, it’s hard because my innate tendency is to hold back. This tendency has gotten worse with time, particularly as I moved further in my career.

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So let’s talk about vulnerability when posting on a personal blog. I don’t post as often as I want because the words often feel stilted and forced. I’m still hiding. When I do post, I feel like I am exposing my insecurities. About my career. About my weight. About my past floundering and times I’ve given up. It’s uncomfortable to explore these thoughts, and I feel like I’m choking on the words that I write. Have I said too much? Put too much out there? Will I regret posting this? 

I’d like to say: enough of that. Writing about difficult experiences can help with regaining one’s sense of power and control. I think that’s what I need to do to push through this transition. Be more authentic, more exposed, and willing to face the feedback. The posts where I’ve done this have been the most cathartic.

And yet, I remain fearful. It would be easier to write about fluff things here, but I don’t think that it would get me anywhere. I may be throwing things at the wall with this blog, to see what sticks, but that seems part of the transition process. I’m allowed to explore and see where differnt paths lead to.

Photo by Tomas Kirvela on Unsplash