Crazy week – mentoring, bullying client, balanced responses

I used to think that parenting was the most terrifying job in the whole world, because the consequences of failure impacted others outside of me. I could easily imagine screwing up so spectacularly that my children would suffer dramatically and their hatred of me would be a defining energy source for the entirety of their adult lives.

At this point, I am comfortable that my mostly irrational fears had no basis in reality. I did make at least my fair share of mistakes, but perhaps in my imperfection I did a better job of preparing my kids for successful independence and living life under their own means and power.

While I mostly enjoyed being a parent, especially the part where the kids grow up into people I genuinely like as well as love because they are my kids, I have always been open about anticipating the launch point, where I am no longer primarily responsible for their well being and making all the decisions for them and their lives. I know a lot of parents cannot fathom my feelings – and probably judge me as unfit for feeling that way – but I believe a big part of being a mom is preparing kids for functional independence as they mature and are capable of assuming it. To me this is a very natural, organic transition.

In work, I have been a worker bee; I have been a supervisor; I have been a boss; and I have been part of a firm’s policy-making and enforcing management body. In my current law firm position, I actually wear all those hats and more. Here, I am also considered a mentor for not just my direct report, but also for other administrative and newer/junior staffers.

The mentor role – it’s disquieting for me in the same ways it is sometimes hard to be a flawed human being and a parent.

Yet, I think I probably do okay, so I should probably quit squirming internally at the title and wincing and physically trying to shrink into my chair whenever the word surfaces in relation to me and my place in the firm. There are ladies in my business network and social circles that I trained and supervised 20+ years ago that have gone on to their own careers as managers or more that still keep in touch and occasionally even ask for help or advice with their own thorny business problems.

I recently hired a new receptionist, and it is on the surface a risky hire. Even my bosses were kind of tepid on my selection at first. She is young – only turned 20 this week – and had no real office experience, much less law firm experience. However, she has a steady, stable work history, good test scores on the Office suite programs she uses as part of the job, and positive entry-level references. In our interview she was poised, thoughtful, and had a restrained sort of eagerness to prove herself. I saw her as a blank slate – no bad habits to break immediately – and someone bright enough I could train to the job.

Thus far, it has gone very smoothly. The reception and basic admin functions she’s doing well, learning quickly. I am finding it’s the smaller details that I am having to provide more training, correction, feedback, but she is learning and adapting. Things like dress codes. *sigh* I have a love-hate relationship with my firm’s dress code, which is essentially law firm level professional, i.e., suits and ties for male attorneys, skirted suits or more tailored dresses and jackets for female attorneys . Administrative staff have a slightly relaxed version of that – slacks, dress shirt, ties for the men, slacks/skirts/nice tops or dresses for the ladies. Fridays are considered casual days, unless in court or in meetings with clients outside the office. And then there is a mostly unspoken standard understanding of casual if you have any meetings in the office, i.e., khakis and buttondown shirt equivalent of business casual. For the rest of us, jeans and tailored t-shirts are fine, except they cannot be ripped jeans or screened t-shirts for favorite things, etc. And no gym-like attire, as in no tank tops, board shorts, flip flops, yoga pants. Believe it or not it was a question posed when we announced relaxing the casual Friday standard.

It seems the more you have a dress code, the more you have to talk about what it means to have a dress code. And I admit being kind of surprised that I have to be so specific and break it down into what not to wear for some of the staff, or had a female staffer bring in a new dress or outfit and ask if it’s okay for the office. I remind myself I’m older and can remember working for firms where I had to wear a dress or skirt and pantyhose every single day, including the 100+ degree days of summer. I am so glad professional dress has eased back from that point.

For my receptionist, there are also things like taking notes, writing down instructions, asking questions if she does not understand something. Where I am very old school and tend to walk around with a notebook and pen in my hand, she is just learning the habit and constantly trying to find something to write with, write on, but improving. She is adopting my post-it note habit of sticky-ing every document that comes across her desk and writing down what it’s for, what needs to be done with it, any deadlines associated, etc. I have had decades to hone these skills, figure out what works best for me and the way my brain works. She is just starting out and adopting/adapting new habits for her workstyle. There are far worse people to learn from; trust me, I have worked for a lot of them at some point.

Overall, she is doing quite well and I am very pleased. The risk seems to be paying off.

Until today, and now I worry that she might be thinking of running away screaming and never coming back.

My least favorite client came in for a meeting. Usually I review the meeting schedule and advise her if there are any high maintenance clients coming in, but this morning I was handling another issue and had not had an opportunity to look at today’s schedule. But when I saw him in the conference room and the expression on her face as he was speaking, I knew it was going to be a rough introduction.

In an odd coincidence, M knows him quite well and has since his very earliest running days. And once client figured out that M and I were related, actually married, he has taken that as license to be very observant about my physique, trying to fat shame me, and stating how I am not capable of running on M’s level. At first I just stated the obvious – I had no desire to be a runner – but he was undeterred. Last time he was in the office for a meeting he tried to fat shame me again, this time saying if I lost X amount of fat I would do better with my exercise efforts, and in his professional opinion I might want to join an obesity therapy group program to work on my lifestyle habits.

To say I had had it at that point is to put it very mildly. I looked him squarely in the eye and said I was not paying for his analysis and would like him to stop sharing his unsolicited opinions with me or anyone else. He started to tell me how getting angry was good, but being defensive was not going to get me anywhere, and I just put my hand out in a “talk to the hand” type gesture and left the room, seething with anger but maintaining my basic professionalism and not throwing the cup of coffee at him instead of setting it on the table. He told my boss that I was resistant to change and inflexible. When my boss asked me what that was about, I told what was said and that I showed admirable restraint in my response. Boss was aghast. Hostile workplace and harassment laws apply to clients and vendors as well as other employees.

My new receptionist was not so fortunate this morning and got snagged by his very cutting tongue. She was nearly in tears by the time she got back to her desk, and I sent her on a coffee run – hers was on me – to calm her nerves and then had her working in the file room when the meeting concluded to avoid further confrontation.

When I came home and told M about my first run-in with this old acquaintance, M remarked that this is his specialty – confrontive analysis – and he is quite brilliant and effective at it. Totally lost my shit on M that night. I maintain that since I have not engaged him professionally for such services, he’s just a big, mean bully and that I cannot effectively defend myself against it since he is effectively assaulting me in my workplace and professional environment.

Which elevated it up to the boss. To boss’ credit, he initiated a telephone conversation prior to this meeting and told client to not engage any staff in any discussions unrelated to his current consultation.

Except as I almost expected, he completely disregarded the advisement. My receptionist is today’s cannon fodder. And I feel badly about not shielding her better, yet at the same time understand and accept this is a teachable moment for her from the way we, her management team, handle the situation. Boss is writing a strongly-worded email and we will be withdrawing as counsel should it happen again.

And I find myself irrationally angry with M for indirectly defending this jerk. Intellectually I know M is mostly horrified at the behavior of this client of my firm and his old acquaintance, because M’s acquaintance has had a direct, negative impact on M’s wife, but emotionally I know this man is someone M has known for decades, followed his career, and actually admires his methods and successes with patients. It’s the “admires his methods” that enrages me. Irrationally, I know, and I am working on finding my way to letting go of it. The situation would be completely different if this had happened in a non-business situation, because my honest reaction would carry no consequences. But in my professional office environment, I am completely hamstrung between how I would like to respond and how I am professionally able to respond.

F**king asshole. The client/acquaintance, not M. Just to clarify, because I am kind of irritated to different degrees with both at the moment. But it far better, healthier for my marriage to sort out my shit here rather than going home and picking a fight with M because this guy put me into a very pissy mood. Hopefully I’ll be completely over it by the time I get home tonight.

And while I am speaking of my personal irrationality, let us transition to the crazy portion of this post.

Monday I had a conversation with another member and found him odd. Our conversation seemed a bit disjointed and weird, and I had already decided to keep my distance and avoiding getting drawn into another chat-fest with him. Yesterday J remarked that he’d seen the guy doing weird stuff and talking to himself, which reinforced that it would be far better to me to be really busy and focused on my own List of the day should our paths cross and he try to engage me in conversation again.

So this morning this same guy shows up as I am finishing the first block of my List of the day. He said hello, I said hello back, and then promptly turned my back and started mentally projecting “I am very engrossed in my exercise” vibes while actually being very engrossed in my List. Thankfully he did not talk to me further, but instead sprinted around the room several times (in his bare feet), climbed onto the TRX structure, shadowboxed, all while carrying on a very animated conversation with himself or an invisible friend. I avoided making eye contact and kept reminding myself I had an exit strategy in place and knew exactly where I would go to finish my List should the need arise.

I believe he is a mostly harmless nutball, but still. From the animated conversation I observed (had headphones in my ears and music turned up and could not hear what was being said), he could be quite a time suck if encouraged to chat.

And I am not the only one having brushes with nutty people. M is out on the trail running before dawn every morning, and last night he told me about passing a homeless couple whose dog had gotten sprayed by a skunk and they were trying to find the dog and wildly shining their flashlight up at the homes above the trail while trying to find their dog in the bushes. The noise, the light shining in the windows woke a homeowner who threatened to alert the authorities if they did not move along. Rather than moving along, homeless guy yells back at the homeowner to “shut the f**k up, we are on public property.” At 4 in the morning. State parks are close at dark, and technically neither they or even M should have been on the trail at that hour. M warned them about it and continued on with his run. By the time he returned a couple of hours later, stinky, skunk-smelly dog was the only one left on the trail. Poor dog.

It is turning into even more of an eventful week than I had anticipated.

Business stuff and managing expectations

It has been a very busy day for me. Tuesday is typically my work from home day, where I focus on my self-employment side of life and taking care of that aspect of business. But like most of my life and work, part-time law firm stuff seeps in here and there, just like on other days I am sometimes returning a phone call or text or email to one of my private clients or handling self-employment/private client matters on law firm days.

Whatever is going on this week, everyone seems to be having some sort of crisis. I just accepted another private client because while I am absolutely at capacity with work and hours, he is a close friend of an existing client and told me my top-shelf fees were fine. *sigh* Sometimes it’s really hard to say no.

But different industries have different business standards. I think, anyway. For me, being a solo little entrepreneur, I make myself as available and accessible to my clients as possible and within reason. That said, I have yet to have a client be abusive of my time. They might email me at 2 a.m. on a Saturday morning, but they are fine if I do not reply until sometime on Monday. If it is a genuine emergency – and let’s face it, genuine emergencies are really rare in accounting – they can call me anytime and I will do my best to get back to them ASAP. In the span of my career, the biggest emergency contacts I have had occurred with regard to unexpected deaths in the immediate family and the need to reschedule appointments or special handle document signatures, etc.

Anyway, I am pretty strict about time management. If I have an appointment, I am either a few minutes early or absolutely on-time. I come prepared, and I do everything I can to cover the points that need to be covered, and I try very hard not to waste time – mine or anyone else I interact with.

I am researching local gyms for corporate membership possibilities. Of course I start with my own, because I love and adore my trainer and like the atmosphere of my particular club. J is the one I have the most contact with there, and while I absolutely know he is the very best trainer in the place, I make the (incorrect, apparently) assumption that bringing his sales manager an existing client seeking information about corporate membership – that is a 10 member minimum – she will also be in some similar vein of professional.

So Saturday I emailed her requesting specific information about corporate memberships, after J had very kindly greased the wheels and let her know I would be contacting her. J had gotten me some very general information from someone higher up the food chain, so I wrote a nice email and requested specific terms and conditions. She asked me if I was going to be in the gym at any time this week, and since no managers get in before 9 a.m., I had to make a specific, unusual-for-me appointment time. First for Thursday afternoon, but we know now that wouldn’t work out, so I rescheduled on Monday and sandwiched her in between business appointments late this afternoon. I actually thought if we finished early enough, I’d be able to get a quick cardio session in before moving on to my next meeting.

But I get there, she has apparently forgotten that I had emailed her and scheduled the time to talk about corporate membership. My name rang no bells, only when I reminded her of my email request for corporate membership information, and that I had scheduled an appointment with her did the coin drop in her memory. I can understand that – busy days, lots of members and staff in and out and needing her time and attention. Then she says she will print out the information for me so as to not waste my time and hands me a sheet of paper describing the program, tells me to call or email her with any questions, answers a few of my immediately-come-to-mind questions, and does not even sit down at her desk to have this very brief conversation with me. Obviously I am interrupting her in something else. She spent less than 3 minutes chatting with me, and probably half that was printing out the piece of paper.

It is perplexing. I am somewhat embarrassed to point out the shortcomings to J (yet here I am, blogging about it), because he has to work with these people and probably has little to no sway over what sort of training they receive or how they do their jobs. I feel there is some big missing piece here that I just do not understand. If she is just printing out the information, must she waste my time and bring me into the gym for what I expect is an appointment only to hand me a piece of paper? Maybe she does not know how to attach it to an email and send it?

The problem may be with me. My expectations are too unrealistic for conducting business in other industries. I texted J after our non-meeting with these same sort of bewildered ponderings. I wonder if I have outdated expectations in how people conduct business? I am not in sales; I manage and obsess about other people’s money for a living. Most likely issue, though, is that J is so professional, so good at his job, and so customer focus oriented he has created unrealistic expectations within me for his coworkers. Again, he has set a high bar and ruined me for other fitness-related professionals.

I am hopeful she is better with non-members fresh off the street. Maybe the folks at the other gyms I have to speak with will be even worse and make my club’s sales manager look really, really awesome, like a superstar sales professional. Mostly I am really disappointed in staff performance at my home club. I want them to be better. I want them to aspire to be better. I got no such vibe, but again, maybe it’s because I am already a member and a steady training client; I personally do not represent a commission for her.

However, I am the mover and shaker on what to do about employee benefits, whether gym membership is something we offer our staff and which club chain we choose as our provider. She gave me the impression that she saw me as if I am a worker-bee cog in my organization and not really a decision maker in the process, therefore trying to make a positive impression is pointless. I do hate that. I could care less if I am the janitor cleaning the floors, she could have been a bit more … helpful. Maybe I am just baselessly irritated. Maybe after days and days of glitter-bombing here on the blog I need something new to talk and be bitchy about this time instead.

It’s just really hard to speak glowingly of your own club when you feel like they could not care less about you or anyone you might want to invite to join. J cannot do everything. He has clients to train, classes to lead, personal life to relax and enjoy.

And I am kind of sad to see that he has such … marginal … coworkers. I have heard about them, but this is truly my first firsthand experience of dealing with them.

On the brighter side – because I feel rather Debbie Downer in this post – it has been an amazingly productive day with work and other matters. The membership sales manager is a head-scratcher, for sure, but tomorrow is a new day and other than the front desk guy, J and/or some of his trainer peers, there are no managers in the club before 7 a.m. to harsh my practice buzz.

Yep, I’m reaching for that elusive silver lining tonight.

Boozey-schmoozey summertime

A couple of my private clients run very social organizations. Over the traditional holiday season and in the summer there are multiple parties for different tiers of their organizations with lots of really great food and booze. The raffle and door prizes are pretty stellar, too – everything from bottles of good booze and cases of wine to gift cards, weekend trips, expensive electronics. The food is always amazing even if not stuff I personally enjoy, and the people are mostly interesting and happy in a social environment.

So summer is also very busy season as well for celebrations, only without having to dress up and wear heels so much. Last couple of weeks there were bbq events with lots of beer and wine and amazing bbq chicken and even more amazing potato salad. (I love a good potato salad, but I admit to be hugely fussy about it.) It was fabulous! And I ate way too much, but worth every single calorie I have been sweating off in the gym the past weeks.

Being the owner of my own little firm, I have a certain level of obligation to attend such events when invited. M gets a pass for a lot of the summer invites because of his running schedule and his own social calendar, plus a lot of these things are after work and going solo is not looked upon with any sort of raised eyebrow. Thankfully I get a pass on most of the golfing, being a non-golfer, non-tennis player, but the happy hour and bbq events are kind of tough to dodge.

Last Christmas it felt as if I could open my own small liquor store with the amount of booze I won or was gifted by clients and vendors. There was also some really good cheese and Godiva chocolate and a basket of assorted cheesecake and baked goods, but the cheese M and I enjoyed with friends and the Godiva and goodie baskets were shared with my various offices. The booze – being non-drinkers – we gave to our friends who enjoy the occasional cocktail or spirits, the kids, my trainer, my hairdresser, my nail ladies, the associates, etc. The bounty was almost embarrassing.

Now we are into the summer social season and I have my first bottles of rum and scotch, and last weekend a couple of bottles of wine. Thankfully we have friends who are not so set in their booze ways they are willing to experiment and figure out if they enjoy different spirits.

I almost feel guilty asking others if they might enjoy this bottle of liquor, that 6 pack of beer, what about this wine, but I would probably feel worse pouring it down the sink.

On Saturday M and I attended a boating cruise adventure that had a riverboat gambling theme. We came home with a couple of bottles of wine and bunch of restaurant gift cards. M, big winner at cards without having much interest in cards, exchanged his chips for mystery gift card packages, including a few places we like on occasion. We are pretty far from restaurant snobs, but with me being a picky eater and M’s present dietary guidelines, we tend to stick with the same local haunts. So again, our kids, our friends are beneficiaries of my work-related social swag.

My clients, and my law firm bosses, are fantastic, social people. The lawyers annual golf/promotion day is coming up with dinner afterwards. While the booze is flowing during the event, I do not think they are giving bottles away. Thankfully. However, the partners do the gift and award choosing, and they are very secretive about the process. From what I hear from the associates the gifts are always a wearable of some sort and then something fun – gift card or some sort of desirable object. That’s not until August, though, so I will have to bide my time and manage my curiosity.

But my friends love me more summer and holiday time, with my boozey-schmoozey summer and holiday hauls of wine and spirits and such. It is kind of gratifying to I have come up with oddball things to share that actually taste good to them, unlike the frozen green beans in protein shakes that one of my friends tried this morning on my recommendation. Apparently she now think I may be trying to kill them off by hoping she and her husband could choke it down. Made me laugh, because it’s not THAT bad, especially since I cannot even taste them buried under the fruit I toss in with it. Makes me wonder if she cooked them first.

Ah well. Me and my first world problems, you know.

When the world hugs me

Word is out that I had The Call after my routine mammogram, and the texts and emails and kind and encouraging words are pouring in from all sides. I am so touched, always, by the care other people present to and for me. Friends near and far sending me hugs and good thoughts and kind and funny and touching stories about their experiences.

Having been down this road a couple of times, I am truly not especially worried. The phenom of dense breasts and fatty tissue in breasts and all sorts of other things it could be rather than cancer surround me. And even if it were that … well, let us just agree it presently seems unlikely and leave it at that. But you know I have a plan tucked away for the just-in-case possibility. No need to pull the ripcord on that parachute until I am sure i have been shoved out of the plane.

My sister died of breast cancer. She found the lump, then waited 8 months and until it had grown to the size of a walnut before going to see her doctor about it. She was gone 3 years later.

I, on the other hand, found my first pea-sized hard thing at age 34 and had a hysterical, tearful meltdown on the phone with my gynecologist’s office that I had to be seen THAT DAY. I don’t think the crying stopped until they agreed to squeeze me in on the same day to look at it. By the time I got to the office late in the afternoon, the little pea-sized lump had moved on, and I was kindly counseled that this was likely a hormonal cyst in conjunction with my impending menstrual cycle. I cried all the way home, in relief this time.

So yeah, I take the breast cancer screenings pretty seriously. And while the annual mammograms (since age 40, because of my family history) are not something I look forward to each year, they have gotten easier as the years pass. I dislike going to the dentist to get my checkups and have my teeth cleaned, too, but I am always happy walking out with sparkly clean-feeling teeth and freedom for another 6 months.

The silver lining right this minute is the random emails and texts from friends and family members. I love hearing from distant folks, even if they only live across town from me. I just wish it did not take something like this to bring us closer, to reach out and say hi. I am as guilty of it as anyone. I should not wait until someone is ill or potentially ill or passes away to reach out and express myself; I should do so more because it’s Tuesday and someone crossed my mind in a random thought or memory.

But for today, thank you universe, for the kindness and the kind words, and the big giant positive embrace. The week is busy, too busy for worry about the unknown, but never too busy for kindness and news from old friends.

I am a very lucky woman.

Training #59 – Legs

Monday morning, training with J. Today was leg day and a new machine-based routine for me with some new stuff. Specifically:

A1. Leg Press (255, 12-15/15-20, 4 sets)
A2. 3 Point Toe Touch Reaches (5-8/side, 3 sets)
B1. Abductor (120, 15 to 20 reps, 3 sets)
B2. Adductor (90, 15 to 20 reps, 3 sets)
B3. Anterior Reach (8-10/side, 3 sets)
C1. Glute Pushdown (Assisted Chin Machine) (80, 12-15/15-20/side, 3 sets)
D1. Seated Hamstring Curl (12-15/15-20 reps, 3 sets)
D2. Alt. Reverse Lunges (Partial) (8-12/side, 3 sets)
E1. Leg Extension (8-12/12-15, 3 sets)
E2. Bodyweight Squat (8-12/12-15, 3 sets)

As usual, I had a lot of fun. It was a chill, almost zen-like session, and part of me is curious about trying it again and seeing how it goes. And how weird is it that I am evolving into the low-maintenance, no problems, very zen client? These gym wonders never seem to cease these days. But the leg workout today was good. The other leg workouts we have are pretty intense in different ways, and this one feels almost laid back in comparison. Or so I say TODAY. Doing them on my own may make these the hardest things ever. If I have learned nothing else I should know better than to suggest something is less than challenging. More than anything, this is primarily machine-based, and that’s very different for me. The weights are heavier, too. I will have a better feel for it after I run through it on my own.

These are upstairs machines. Different brand than downstairs, and they each seem to have little hydraulic things in the seats that can be tricky. It happened to me on the leg press, and I watched J demonstrate the caution required with the leg extension machine. I expect these things will take a fair amount of thought until familiarity is established. Anytime we have new stuff, I’m very intent on learning what body is saying about it. Pain, of course, immediately has my attention. But since a lot of this stuff does cause muscle burn while I am in the moment, it’s the lingering effects when I am sitting or standing writing the recaps that really tend to speak to me about their effectiveness or whether or not I got it right. While we are going through the new stuff, while J is patiently watching and correcting, I am free to really think about what should be working, what feels like its working, and whether or not I am getting the sensation correctly. Maybe I am not feeling anything at all in that moment, but hours late … boy howdy am I feeling those muscles wake up and chatter loudly.

Upstairs leg press just feels different. The angles and legs positioning is different, and the readings on the plates are strange as well. But downstairs I was at 250, this one was 255, and it feels about the same, so I am evolving into a “sturdy” girl. J said that to me this morning, with the disclaimer that he only said that in this context and meant as a very positive affirmation, and it made me laugh. Because I am a sturdy girl. I could probably acquire an eating disorder and still be a sturdy girl.

The 3 point toe touch – balance, balance, balance! I am showing some modest improvement, though, and I am definitely on the right track of getting better. Watching J do these – he makes them look so easy – make me sure they are ridiculously difficult. Keep practicing, I tell myself; someday I too shall be some shadow of his gracefulness doing these things.

Abductor and adductor machines upstairs are eerily similar to the set downstairs. I feel mostly confident about my abilities with these.

More anterior reaches. Kind of falling madly in love with these all over again, because I am mostly getting pretty good at them.

The glute pushdown with the assisted chin machine was brand spanking new to me. I have seen the chin machine before, but I honestly cannot recall ever seeing or noticing anyone actually using it before today. Once I got the hang of the mount/dismount it was fine, just the right blend of seemingly not that challenging and very effective (aka: feeling it this afternoon writing this recap). Rather than kneeling on the pad as it is designed for, I put my foot on the pad and press down and let it rise back up for glute contraction. Once the weight was adjusted correctly it was fine. And believe me I was taking a A LOT of mental notes about how to get on and off that bad boy safely. This is one of those machines it is very easy for me to envision Very Bad Things happening if I fail to pay attention.

The seated hamstring curl machine is an exercise in patience to wiggle your way in and out of it to actually use it. I cannot recall what weight it was set at, so I will have to experiment next time I test drive this workout. Not yet gotten to the point of crazy about this machine, but maybe it grows on you. Like moss. Or mold.

Another old favorite (NOT!) – alternating reverse lunges. Just like the 3 point toe touches above, J makes these look so darn easy. There is another member I see a couple of mornings each week who has these in his rotation, and he too makes it look like no big deal, a graceful, elegant down up, down up, go-go-go! Me, I feel like some big giant herd animal trying to take a bow and preparing to topple sideways any second now. But I can do them. I just do not look as good as others doing them.

Leg extension machine is the one with the tricky seat that must be watched before it jolts forward and bops you in the head. Again, no idea what weight we used, but it was okay. I think it is still new enough that I do not have any strong feelings about it one way or the other.

Ending this list with the bodyweight squat – always nice to finish with something I am fairly confident about. Not speed squats, just move along at a steady pace bodyweight squats.

One of my takeaways from today is regarding communication. For the most part, I think I do okay. But in the deeper, darker corners of my brain there is niggling fear that I might not be clear about my intent or meaning when casually conversing with someone. Or when I am distracted, like trying to focus on learning how to use machine and listen at the same time. The exercise and fitness realm is so new to me, and I go through spurts of trying hard to catch up to and understand what I see going on around me in the gym or read about on other blogs or my casual internet reading. Already I know enough to be very skeptical, and if I want a more in-depth answer to satisfy curiosity, I ask J or ask him to recommend something that more accurately illustrates what I am seeking to learn.

This morning I had another member chat with me while I was warming up. There is typically a class going on when I am in my warm-ups on Mondays, and he asked me how I liked the class. I had to explain I was not really part of the class, that I just came to use the room and the equipment to prepare for my training appointment at 6. He asked me who I trained with, and after I told him he said he’d heard of J and that he was supposed to be good. I corrected him – J is the best trainer – and he said something about wanting to get a former trainer (Marissa) because she was also a life coach and he needed more than just physical training help. Okay then.

A couple of minutes and after he had completed some barefoot sprints back and forth across the room he asked me what my goals were for the gym, and honestly, it stopped me short for a minute, it has been so long since anyone has actually asked me that. I explained about the better health quest, and he asked me if I had lost a lot of weight. Not really, but then I thought … 10% is 10%. So yeah, a satisfactory amount in the last year. He said something about losing 40 lbs. in 40 days, and I thought he was joking, then he said, well maybe 35, and I realized he’s serious about such a feat. Okay then. If I have nothing productive, constructive, or positive to say, I am not going to say anything.

The exchange with him, and then with J as we moved along, made me wonder if I am getting sloppy and clumsy in my communications with others. There are moments when I think I might be making too light of a topic when describing what I think, how I feel, or whatever message I am garbling while trying to get it across.

As an example, J and friend J are pursuing these really hardcore, heavy-duty workouts. These guys are in good shape, and the 2 different workouts they have been doing lately are kicking both their asses. Now, I have been giving friend J a bit of a hard time about it, because frankly he has been having a minor existential crisis that has become an elephant in our communication room. It is and has been good to see him focused and immersed in something other than his own particular brand of misery (that he does not yet want to talk about openly). Rather than point that out to him directly, though, I may tease him about slacking, or coasting, or whining about how hard his current workouts are, because I know that if I coddle him or encourage anyone else to coddle him it will become this monster we may have to shoot to put the rest of us out of our misery. Think men who become babies again when they get a head cold – it’s that sort of dynamic.

But because the workouts the J’s in my life are pursuing require a much higher degree of fitness than I presently possess, I fear that I am making too light of its intensity and level of challenge or not reaching the right balance in communication. Never do I wish trainer J to feel that I am pooh-poohing his professional expertise or abilities in the gym (or friend J either, but he tells me very directly if I am ever being a bitch). Yet sometime in the last couple of weeks we (trainer J and I) were talking about the powerlifting ladies he coaches, and I had expressed some surprise at their workouts. Now, thinking about it further, I get that they must have a well-rounded routine of whole body strengthening and such, yet their focus and interests are so different than mine and the way they pursue their strength-based focus is far from where I dwell in my gym practices and pursuits. And I know this. And I know that it had just never occurred to me they would be so different because I am mostly clueless about how someone can build to the point of being capable of lifting the volume of weight the ladies are capable of lifting. I am still learning about how other people train, and there was a little twitchy tone change in J’s response while we were chatting about it that made me think I said something offensive. The moment passed quickly and I am quite certain I am more bothered by the exchange even now than he was in the moment, but it’s how I learn. If I feel clumsy in my communication on a topic, it becomes part of my overall incentive to try and learn more so I can understand and ask reasonably intelligent questions and expand my understanding. Not just in the exercise realm either; this is my methodology in other aspects of my life as well.

I recognize these communication hiccups may happen as a symptom of my craving to have a straightforward plan to resolve life’s thornier problems. Diet and exercise, if everything mainstream is to be believed, is a simple math equation of operating at a calorie deficit, i.e., calories consumed are less than calories burned means weight loss happens. Only as I have learned, nothing is ever so simple in the diet and exercise realm.

M has been covering 140 miles per week minimum the last few months. He’s lost quite a lot of weight, his legs are pretty much barren of any excess fat, and he tells me frequently he would like to drop maybe another 5 lbs. to ensure he says at his present weight. I watch. I listen. I nod and smile. And I just keep throwing some vegetables in my protein shake and eating whatever I am eating for the day, that may include dairy and carbs. To his credit, M would never want me doing even a small slice of the shit he tries himself with regard to diet, and no way would I ever aspire (or have time for) the amount of running and exercise he pursues daily. M’s test kitchen is his own private Hell for debunking things he reads about. And I am perfectly okay with that.

We do have our differences of opinions, though, and periodically they escalate into our version of a spat. While these eating habit experiments are not always particularly healthy, they seem to mostly work for him or provide valuable insight for sharing experiences with other, less experienced runners in his realm. I am not following him on any of the harder core eating plans, and he does not suggest that I should and has gone so far as to tell me not to do it. However, he has been coming home with muscle spasm irritations and painful back/hip pain that seem to linger for weeks, and the practical side of me sees some cause/effect here. Granted, my training is different, but for my level of fitness, I am working just as hard and in some ways harder, because I am not as fit and trying to learn at the same time. My bias and personal preference for a more conventional eating plan and a more balanced training experience shows in our discussions, and M can be very hard-line about what he has read, what he knows, what he is doing and why. What I end up stressing over and over again is that I am not questioning his expertise or his experience; I am simply trying to understand it from a position of no or very limited context. M gets that, I know. However, I also know that there is so much bullshit in the running circles where he roams that being able to defend your actions is a well-honed reflex the leaks out even with your very supportive non-runner wife. And it’s fine. I am capable of pushing back just as hard when necessary to make myself heard and understood.

With the J’s in my life, I think my intent and interest is pretty clear. I know very well how capable and experienced both are in the nutrition, exercise, weight lifting realms, and my statements or questions are hopefully not ever perceived as direct challenges or insults to their abilities. But I think about it nonetheless. I am not obsessing about it, merely writing it down as an observational topic to ensure I make myself clear in our future and ongoing conversations.

What I have learned through this many years of adultier-adulting is that there rarely is a lone true pathway to achieving life’s objectives, and communication about how we are each progressing on our journeys is important to me. Several of my friends are involved with Crossfit gyms, and I remember asking J about this phenom very early in our training partnership. I remember his answer being so very diplomatic – that it was not necessarily a good place for the inexperienced exerciser to begin and a lot of the success/failure depended on the coaches involved. And I completely understood that. At the time I asked about it was because my friend had really wanted me to try it with her – she’d been going a few months and loved it – but I suspected then as I now know that I need a little lot more hand-holding in my personal learning curve.

But my pal has persevered and is coming up on 18 months of crossfit training and looks amazing. Her confidence has been soaring lately, she feels so much better about herself and her stronger, fitter, sleeker physique. Depression and anxiety and adjustments to medications used to be an ongoing issue for her, and the exercise has helped get her stable. In the last year she and her doc have been steadily cutting back on the medications that controlled her moods and let her live a mainstream normal life. This weekend we were pondering if it is the actual discipline of exercise focus that causes the better mood stabilization and focus or something physiological and chemical impacted by the exercise that makes us feel more whole? Perhaps a combination of both?

I was trying to ask intelligent-sounding questions about what a crossfit workout is like, and she has invited me, again, to try it. And I am declining, again, because I am happy pursuing my List of the day every day. Plus I have real fears of losing my place, my footing, or both and harming myself or others trying something new and out of my typical environment. I am a creature of habit and need that stability to stay on track.

She laughed when I said that, says we get more graceful as we get stronger and more capable. I was thinking she was right, until I started to dismount this new chin machine thing this morning and was so glad J was watching and correcting me before I mucked it up.

Throughout this and other processes I am toiling at in my life, I want to do my best, improve, be better than I was before. Opportunities to learn new skills and experience new things or old things in different ways abound. While I hear negative girl faintly in the background with her poisonous messages, I choose to believe my intent is clear, and those I interact with on an almost daily basis understand I am not by nature a malicious or cruel person who would make sport of the challenges they are deliberately pursuing or be mocking or derisive about their knowledge and expertise. If anything, I want to be front and center of their cheering sections, supporting and encouraging their efforts in any and all ways I possibly can.

I am rarely to never likely to be the smartest person in the room, and because of that I dislike being careless in word choice or its ability to be interpreted inaccurately. And despite this little tinge of doubt about myself and my ability to communicate accurately, I am not unhappy, feeling disturbed or anxious. Mostly I need to write it down, sort it out so it doesn’t sit and fester as a “what if” possibility in my mind.

it’s been a pretty damn great day. Busy, hectic, even kind of crazy with work and private client crises arising. It does not even feel that hot to me outside, which possibly alarms and elates me in equal measure. Alarms because I am typically greatly bothered by the heat, and elates me because I take this as a sign than going to flaming hot pilates on Sundays and Bikram yoga on Friday nights is enhancing my ability to handle heat.

Even with the phone calls about the screening mammogram findings and additional pictures required, I enjoyed today enormously. Because I know most likely it’s nothing to worry about, and until told otherwise I am choosing not to concern myself with it. And in truth, it has turned me into someone who is eager for tomorrow to get back to the gym, to work on shoulders or chest or something. Because I am in good health and I can continue to work on shoulders or chest or something else that includes those areas of body.

I have a really, really good life, kind of sore legs and glutes notwithstanding. I have no need to borrow trouble and worry about something that is not even a problem until at least Thursday, and probably not even then. Until a doctor somewhere is diagnosing me with breast cancer, I have no new health problems, merely the inconvenience of additional tests to reassure ourselves or define the scope of any issues the tests disclose.

This post is late enough that Monday is now concluded for most of us, so happy Tuesday everyone!

A not-so-fun thing coming up

So I had my annual mammogram last week, because several friends had theirs recently and I wanted to be part of their growing clique. Plus it was just time for mine, and with breast cancer so rampant throughout my family (my sister and too many aunts and first and second cousins) have died from this in my lifetime, I need to stay on top of these screening things.

Except I got The Call today that there is something to investigate further and I have to go back for a repeat performance. Oh joy. Then I got a The Second Call saying that they may also do an ultrasound, so I should be prepared to spend more quality time with them on Thursday afternoon.

The day just gets better. Thursday afternoon is turning into a scheduling nightmare, but I think my bosses are presently more freaked out than I am, and of course they/we can reschedule anything and everything to get this done. My health is highest priority. (I have the best bosses; they are genuinely kind, caring men. Plus talking boobs and potential breast cancer with their business manager makes them uncomfortable anyway.)

I am not putting on the brave face here, but it seems a little pointless to worry until the next set of results come through and tell me whether or not this is something to worry about. My first thought while I was talking with the scheduling staffer? I wonder how long I would be out of my gym loop, quickly followed by how I better enjoy the bump up in upper body weights while I am still able to do so.

Both thoughts made me smile and then laugh when I hung up. I am not the same woman I was this time last year, and yep, I really have crossed over into the exercise weirdo dark side. Then again, it’s training day (recap writing in progress) and I feel great, so it’s a little difficult for me to get agitated about the unknown until more information is available. Until then, I’ll just continue my skipping along the yellow brick road of life and wait and see what happens next. Plus now plotting to go through a List tomorrow that lets me enjoying moving my newly increased dumbbell weights to and fro.

What influences us

I had my headphones on and was listening to music while doing the dreaded domestic choring. Whether it was allergies, not eating right, or simply working really, really hard, this morning’s “what day is it?” adrenaline rush told me I needed a break from my routine. So I am playing hockey taking a rest day from the gym and from exercise. And doing housework. And if I get tired of doing housework, I have other work-work waiting. Or not. Maybe I’ll waterproof the iPad and float in the pool for awhile.

So were my thoughts earlier in the day. Instead I finished my domestic duties, cooked some food for the upcoming week, and had long conversations with some dear friends.

While I do not feel badly about taking the day off, I feel the reflexive, distant anxiety of losing something with this skipping a day. Rationally I know I am not going to regress and forget everything I have learned in the last year, nor am I going to lose my muscle gains and all that good stuff that comes with a lot hard work, blood, sweat, and tears. But I was kind of a mean girl about it, and I regret it. And I was kind of mean girl about it because I have been in that place of anxiety and fear and crippling self-doubt. I do harbor some concern that I could fall back down that rabbit hole without much thought.

Earlier today I was doing my usual run through of blogs I follow and titles that capture my attention and tempt me to take a look. Sometimes it’s a one-and-done read, other times I find myself returning for a second, third look, perhaps add them to my rotation of blogs I read periodically.

There are a couple in particular in the personal finance realm that are opinionated and extraordinarily negative. While I am all for the idea of saving a buck, I am no frugalista, hate bargaining and negotiating (although I will do it if pressed or it seems appropriate), and I believe that people are imperfect, make mistakes, or just make different choices than my own. Too much badgering on how wrong everyone else is, how they are spending their money wrong, or going to run out of money in retirement (if they are so fortunate), or are simply generally negative and unpleasant make me want to turn tail and run. Actually, too much general obsession with money tends to bother me anyway. I worry about other people’s money for a living, know a lot of folks doing really well and having money practically rain from the sky for their efforts, yet they have the same sorts of problems as everyone else, sometimes exponentially bigger or more intense problems with their elevated income levels.

So I have to stop, just say no, not be tempted any further by such blogs. I am not bothered by people having problems or talking about how they are dealing with the issues, because I get some great ideas to incorporate into my own life. Or maybe I have faced something similar and have supportive things to say or a suggestion to offer. I am also always suspicious of my own ability to cope, particularly on an emotions front, because I do not necessarily process in the same ways, particularly afflictions for which I have limited or no experience with.

More and more, I am finding myself shying away from blogs where Debbie Downer lives 24/7. Even in the most heartbreaking things I have followed people through there is something good, positive, or just different from the constant drone of “woe is me” or “I’m right, you’re wrong” or “I am so angry and refusing to get over it because I get a lot of attention and strokes for being this way.” People have deep and significant hurts out there that are not being addressed and they are left on their own to try and find a way to heal themselves to simple functionality. Sometimes a kind word means a lot to a stranger – this is something I know from own personal experiences with blogging.

These random influences have an impact on me, and there seems to come some overexposure point when I have to step back and away or drive myself crazy and to unhappiness because of it.

Then I got to thinking about who and what influences me out here in the real world, in my own life. And I wonder about others as well. I know there are people I influence in real ways, who like me because of who I am and the qualities I bring to the table.

As they enter the home stretch of wedding planning and the rubber is meeting the road as far as the wedding, I see K getting bogged down in the details. She calls it her crazy, in that she gets a visions of something and then for whatever reason it does not work out as she thought she is deeply disappointed. Even something so simple and insignificant as my replacement dress search, she tells me she’s having trouble getting enthusiastic about any of the new choices because she has this vision in her head of the original dress. It makes me feel kind of bad, and she knows the problem is not with me. I know the problem is not with me. But her obvious disappointment is impacting me and making me feel like screw it, be twinsies with the aunt and let her be happy with this detail on her big day. That bothers her as well, so we are sort of at an impasse. Today I’m still at the screw it point; I have a couple of other very acceptable choices that I love, Love, LOVE (and one shows off the new smooth lumpy-bumpy lines in the emerging shoulders!) and will figure it out as we get closer.

Mostly I know I impact her in real ways, and I do not want me or anything related to me to weigh a microgram on her stress scale.

Those who influence me most in my life – M, of course; my kids and their spouses; my village (TM, trainer J, RD, Dr. Spencer); my closest circle of friends, which is maybe 8 to 12 people on any given day and depending upon the circumstances. My family, my friends, my village are people I depend upon to steer me straight and to tell me the truth when I need it. For the most part, they are pretty positive folks. We talk smack about others, we talk smack about ourselves. But when it comes down to it, there are days, strung out into weeks and months, where we are overwhelmed with personal problems and issues that take up the majority of our energy. But when I think of these people and why they are my closest friends, problems are not unsolvable, and if they are unsolvable, they are transformed into broken things to be tidied and then abandoned. It is not always so simple, easy, or without a lot of angst and drama, but to a person these are not people who enjoy angst and drama. We are practical people, problem resolvers and overcomers more than anything else.

And maybe this is why they became my trusted advisors, or my closest of friends, or somehow morphed into a new hybrid that is both. If I can help you, I will. If I cannot, I will tell you. But it just came up recently – my lack of worry is not the same as a lack of concern. Worry is a waste of energy, an obsessive thinking loop that does nothing productive and drains my emotional batteries.

I am not facing big problems right now, but others I know are struggling mightily. And unfortunately the only thing I can do for them is to listen, to read, to reply when they communicate with me. And to blog about my life and times. If I am in a Very Good place t shows. If I am in a Very Bad place it is like flashing neon lights. A big bonus and blessing in my life the last few years is being able to resolve my thornier issues or turn them into some assembly line of bite-size pieces to be managed. I would not know how to do that if it were not for the influence of those around me holding me hand through all my life’s big and little crap.

I make light-hearted reference frequently to me and my first world problems, because I recognize the things I whine about here are microscopic cakes when compared to others. But I also get that my ability and willingness to lay it all out there and accept the constructive criticism and advice to turn the situation around also makes me feel more in control and on top of my issues as they arise. Others are not always so receptive, and I truly believe it is partly the fault of the recipient for not being ready and possibly part of the delivery system and how the message is presented.

So maybe my current march toward positivity and being the best me I can be is just choosing great influences and mentors and friends. Maybe the people I choose to surround myself with, admire, and aspire to be more like are big parts of the reasons I am still standing after the way my life began and how hard those wounds were to heal. The biggest thing is that I face the choice, every minute of every day, and I now understand hope for good and better choices is for me as well as for everyone around me, everyone I care for and about. It’s different. I write thousands of words about this every week, and it seems like I get incrementally closer each day to what I actually mean with each new lot of words and posts.

The therapy was not as hard this year, maybe my issues were not so deeply rooted to the point that ripping them out and then watching the healing happen. Or maybe it was just my time to learn to have a hopeful heart with enough generosity and compassion left over for myself. Or maybe I finally grew my heart and soul enough to have generosity and compassion for me as well.

I’m fortunate to have the circle of influence that surrounds me. I’m so grateful for their patience and continuing affection. I’m glad they have always accepted me as I am and give me opportunities to continue to grow and to be better. I’m love my tribe.

Positivity terrorist? Yep, it’s me.

Glitter-bombing unicorn? Yep, that’s me, too.

Happy heart and soul? Oh yes, and improving.

And if I have to turn a blind eye and shy away from the droning unpleasantness of others, I think it is worth the cost of missing out on whatever thoughts and ideas they may be sharing. But the bitterness, the negativity, the contempt, the darkness is everywhere; I have no need to deliberately seek it out on my own. It’s an election year; the specter of the upcoming presidential race and its ugliness taints everything.

Those who influence me most, we are not yes people to one another. We are not sitting around nodding in trance-like agreement with everything that is said or opinion expressed. And from those interactions and exchanges I have learned and will continue to learn to be a better human being.

And blog about it. A lot.

I wish you all a very good week.