Raegan Risks

Stepping out of my comfort zone, being vulnerable and trying not to regret it.

Six Words

If you had to boil your life down to six words, could you do it? Six words isn’t much and our lives are so full – full of responsibilities, loved ones, acquaintances, accomplishments, experiences, memories, scars, victories and defeats. How do you take all of that and come up with half a dozen words to make up the story of your life?

That was an assignment I was given recently. As regular readers of this column might know, I have spent the last eight months going through the Multicultural Leadership Program. During this time we have learned about leadership traits and styles, a variety of skills, and a lot about our community. What I wasn’t expecting when I applied to the program last spring was that we’d learn a lot about ourselves too. We took part in many exercises to discover everything from our personality types to our strengths. But the exercise I found to be the most profound was to write our own six-word memoir.

The idea of the six-word memoir came to prominence about 10 years ago when the online magazine Smith asked readers to write their story of their lives in one short six-word sentence. The result was the book Not Quite What I Was Planning – a collection of contributions from people both famous and not. Several of the well-known participants include singer Aimee Mann who wrote “Couldn’t cope so I wrote songs,” and comedian Stephen Colbert who contributed “Well, I thought it was funny.”

As I sat down the tackle the assignment, I found myself first thinking about what my memoir shouldn’t be. I didn’t want it to be so one-dimensional as to refer to only one area of my life. I have a lot of interests so unlike the Mann and Colbert, there didn’t really seem to be any specific skill or interest that defined me. I also didn’t want it to be just a string of words that represented things that are important to me. I wanted my memoir to be something I could look to throughout my life and use it as a self-check to see if I was living the life I wanted to. (No pressure!) That brings me to the third thing I didn’t want for my memoir – I didn’t want it to have an expiration. Throughout my life, I’ve had many interests. I spent years taking photography classes, a while back I fell in with a group that taught me how to knit, and I was even enamored with writing Haiku for a while. While I still enjoy all these things, none of them really are representative of how I spend much of my time today.

So now I knew what I didn’t want my memoir to be. But that still left me pretty far from having an idea of what I wanted. One of the best ones that I had ever heard was from my friend Caryn. Caryn and her husband own a local bike shop and live the harried lives of small business owners. There are days when the stress can take over her life, but when she’s on her bike all is well with the world. Her memoir is “I’m only balanced on my bike.” It’s perfect. Biking is the balance in her crazy life and you have to have a decent sense of balance to ride a bike well. Caryn was obviously killing the six-word memoir game. My friend Terri also came up with the perfect one for herself. She works a corporate job but most people know her from the many volunteer activities she does throughout the week. She works to live but she lives to give back. Her memoir is “My life’s work pays it forward.”

As I was thinking about my life, the same theme seemed to come up over and over again. And it was actually the reason I was having a problem nailing down just one idea to reference. I kept thinking about all the things I like to try, people I meet and places I go. My interests are many and varied. I try to pack as much into my life as possible, sometimes to my detriment. For as long as I can remember I have been acutely aware that my time in this life is limited and so I want to make as much of my time as possible. I can get almost as excited about the small things in life like having dinner with a friend at a new restaurant or discovering a great book, as I can about traveling abroad or jumping off a cliff. When you look at every new experience as exciting, life is never dull.

I put all of this together and then I had my memoir:

“Seeking out my next great adventure.”

Six Words Rock

Here’s my challenge to you. Think about your life – what it is and what you hope for it to be – and start thinking about what your six-word memoir is. It can be serious, silly, thought-provoking or simply descriptive. It’s your memoir. I’d love to hear them. What are your 6 words?

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Roadblock or Detour?

Road Closed Ahead

A few months ago I attended a panel of executive leadership from various local businesses. At one point in the panel discussion, the moderator asked each of the executives to talk about a roadblock they had experienced and how they dealt with it. Each person answered the question, then one of the participants, the sole retired member of the panel, interjected: “Did you notice how often roadblocks lead to opportunities?” The room was quiet for a moment as everyone contemplated this bit of wisdom. I wrote that line down in my notebook because I knew it was something I wanted to think about later.

I came back to that idea day or so later. I tried to think of some of the things that I consider roadblocks in my life. Was it true that they lead to opportunities? Turns out, it was.

Years ago, fresh out of a college, I took a job in the North Chicago suburbs. I lived in the city and it was an hour and 15 minute commute each way….if the weather was good. It was a good job but nothing that I was passionate about. Shortly after I joined the organization, the leadership announced they were relocating the business to a suburb even further north – close to the Wisconsin border. That meant an additional 20-30 minutes to my commute or moving out of the city. I had a tough decision to make. As it turns out, the decision never had to be made. A little less than a year after I was hired, 5% of the staff, myself included, was laid off.

Being 22 years old, just starting out on my own, and suddenly out of work, I was in despair. Looking back now, it was one of the best things that could have happened to me. I ended up getting a better-paying, more upwardly-mobile position and it meant the end of my commute. I don’t know that I would have left that first job any time soon, but having that decision made for me led to career growth I wouldn’t have experienced otherwise.

Years later, I was working at a community college downstate. I enjoyed the work. I loved my boss. I was learning a lot. But then my boss was moved to a different position. I got a new boss that I did not care for. She had no experience working in the field and didn’t make my life very easy. The office politics throughout the college were also hard to deal with. Different camps formed and jockeyed for positions of power. I was under so much stress in that workplace that I ended up with a mild case of shingles. But it was there that I learned that I loved working in higher education. With the work experience I got at this job, I was able to get hired for my current position. That led to me moving to a community I liked a lot better, working in a job I love, and the opportunity to go to graduate school.

Century Ride

The workplace isn’t the only place the roadblocks to opportunities wisdom holds true. About seven years ago, marathon training left me with a repetitive stress injury that took me out of running for several months. Being that running is “what I do,” this was frustrating. I didn’t know quite what to do with myself. I started riding my bike more. As I rode more, I met more people that rode bikes. I got to know more about cycling and discovered I loved it. Then one day, in a burst of ambition, I signed up for a training program for triathletes. I met so many people that had similar interests. Suddenly I had a whole community of people to ride and swim with, and sure enough, the cross-training I was doing enabled me to get back to running. Some of the people I met through doing triathlons are some of my best friends today.

Strong Wetsuits

Here’s the thing: when each of those roadblocks popped up in my life, it caused a certain amount of trauma. It shook my world. In each case, at that moment, if you would have asked me if I wanted that roadblock to be inserted into my life, I would have asked if you were out of your mind. But looking back, I would say these events led me to where I am in my life now. I’m a triathlete with an MBA working in a job I love and living in a vibrant community. Without those roadblocks, I would have taken a very different path in my life. Might I have eventually found my way to something better without the roadblocks? Maybe. But I’m pretty happy with the detours those roadblocks caused me to take.

Road Closed Detour

What I’ve learned is that all will most certainly experience roadblocks. We should take time to fully experience the pain and frustration that comes with then. I challenge myself – and others – then to think, “Ok – what’s next?”

Chances are that what’s next will be even better than what you had.

Thoughts on Being Stupid

Thinking

“When did I become so stupid?”

That’s the question that has run through my mind more times than I can count the last several months. This thought that has been on replay in my brain lately is a new experience. Typically I’m a fairly secure and confident person. I like to think I’m pretty self-aware and have a fairly practical sense of self. I know I’m never the smartest person in the room, but can usually hold my own. I’ve always known I wasn’t beautiful in the traditional sense of the word but that there are parts of me that light up radiantly when I’m happy. I never had any illusions that I was the best athlete around but I realized what a gift I possessed to be able to use my body in ways that others only dream of. So for the most part, I think I’ve been pretty realistic about who I am and who I’m not.

But then recently, doubt starting creeping in. I’ve always thought I possessed a fair amount of knowledge and critical thinking skills. I perceived myself as being a pretty quick learner and someone who has a thirst for knowledge. But this year, something inside me broke. In the way that most important things usually happen – gradually and then suddenly – I started to feel….stupid. It was as if all the sudden the situations around me were finally telling me I was the emperor wearing no clothes. I had gone about my life thinking I was one person but really I was someone else entirely. And that someone was pretty dumb.

The feelings of inferiority attacked on mulitple fronts, and I think that’s why they have been so effective. At the job I’ve held in some form or another for the last 13 years, I suddenly felt like I was out of my depth half the time. I’d look around at my colleagues and think that they were all better at their jobs than I was at mine. When discussing a book or an article I’d read, I’d hear someone else’s take on it and immediately have the thought that my insights were shallow and unformed compared to those of the others in the conversation. While in class sessions of a leadership program I was a part of, I’d look around and think that the people in the room with me belonged there but I did not.

I carried these thoughts around with me for a while before I finally mentioned them to a couple select people. The reaction I got, while not unkind, was something that made me feel stupid for feeling stupid. So I stopped talking about it and instead started thinking about it. Being the determined person I am, I decided that the best way to see myself through what I hoped was a temporary crisis of confidence was to get down to the reason this was happening to me.

I started doing a little soul-searching. For me this usually means going for a run, listening to music, taking a walk in the dark, and writing, the latter of which is why I’m putting these very personal thoughts into print. I have found that through writing I’m better able to examine what I’m thinking. And while I am downright terrified of putting these out there for public consumption, I have also read enough to know that being authentic, and dreadfully, exhibiting some vulnerability, tends to make the process of self-reflection and healing go a little faster.

Self Doubt List

As I spent some time examining my situation and where I found myself, I had a few insights as to why I could suddenly be feeling the way I was. In no particular order, the contenders are:

  • Burning the candle at both ends. For the last 5 years, I’ve worked 3 jobs. And while I don’t work an obscene amount of hours, it splits my focus. It might not be uncommon for some people to work the same number of hours as I do but in one job. Because I work 3 very different jobs, I have to switch focus on a dime. I’ll be working one job and getting into a groove with my work when I have to stop suddenly (sometimes right in the middle of a good working session where all cylinders are firing) and go directly to another job where I have to switch focus and think about a completely new set of information. Sometimes, I then have to switch focus again for the third time in one day and focus some mental energy on the third job. All this stopping and starting causes me to lose momentum and focus. On days that I work all 3 jobs, my head is usually spinning by the time I crawl into bed at night. This situation cannot make for having many lucid and meaningful thoughts. And this year, I’ve added taking part in the intensive Multicultural Leadership Program and tasking myself with getting back into half marathon shape after a 2-year running hiatus. That’s a lot of different focuses (foci?) for one person.
  • Extreme fatigue. Related to the first issue, splitting focus and working all the time tends to lead me to miss out on a lot of mental and physical rest. When you’re tired you’re not thinking well at all. In fact, there have been studies that show driving while tired is more dangerous than driving under the influence. Being in a constant state of fatigue does not lend itself to clear thinking.
  • The people I surround myself with. I’m fortunate to have so many accomplished and wicked smart people in my life. Many are PhDs and even more of them are leaders in their field. I’ve realized I’m comparing myself to the “A” team all the time. If I was comparing myself to the general population, I think I would feel better about myself but I don’t think that life would be as interesting.
  • The Dunning-Kruger Effect. This idea posits that those who are least competent tend to be most sure of themselves, while those with genuine skills frequently doubt their abilities. This is obviously my favorite explanation. According to this theory, I must be a freaking genius.

So after thinking about this for a week or so, I have come to the conclusion that there are a lot of things that could contribute to my recent crisis of confidence. Are any of them the “right” answer? I don’t know. But I also don’t know that it matters. When theorizing the underlying reasons for my self-doubt, I came to the conclusion that I owe myself a little grace. I put a lot of pressure on myself to do everything, and to do it all well. That’s not sustainable. There will be times when I am the “stupid” one in the situation. But that doesn’t mean I’m stupid. We can’t know everything about everything. If we did, we’d never need anyone else.

Do I think this brief period of self-reflection is going to fix everything immediately? Heck no. I’m sure there will be times that I still feel dumb, but I hold out hope that I can stop those thoughts in their tracks and remind myself that we all have different gifts. And nobody has all of them.

I hope you can remember this too.

The Year of Me

I haven’t been taking very good care of myself for the last several years. My schedule was jam-packed. I wasn’t getting enough sleep. My exercise regimen had been lackluster. Little things were causing more stress than they should. In general I found myself in a state of malaise. So little by little, I decided things needed to change.  Somewhere around February, I decided to make 2018 the “year of me.”

The “year of me,” as I see it, is way to take stock of how well I’m treating myself and trying to make decisions to move in a more positive direction. Since we could all probably use some more self-care, I thought I would share some of the ways I’m trying to be better to myself. Maybe some of them could be helpful for you too.

Cut down on news consumption. Let’s face it – the news is largely populated with negative things. People are mad at each other. People got caught doing something they weren’t supposed to. People are hurting other people. Almost none of the items that make the national news are positive things. I was in the habit of waking up to the news on the radio, then tuning into the news while I got ready for work, listening to the news on my drive to the office and then reading news articles online throughout the day. I came to the realization that all that news consumption was making me tense. So I cut back. I have stopped watching the news on TV and instead listen to music. I even find myself sometimes dancing around my house in the mornings. That never happened when the news was on. I also switch to music stations or sometimes audio books and podcasts while in the car. I limit my news intake to some NPR and my digital subscription to the Washington Post. I don’t miss the rest at all.

Tour de Taco

RNR Vegas Start

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Get back to a regular exercise routine. Two years ago, I had a pretty consequential injury to my leg. It eventually required surgery. During this time my physical capabilities were limited. I now realize that I was not only affected physically, but mentally as well. Because I wasn’t able to do the things I liked to do, I kind of gave up on everything else too. Where I would normally be actively exercising 4-5 days a week, I was lucky to get moving once a week most weeks. I felt awful, I put on weight, and I was just not as happy. Now I’m on the road to recovery and I have signed up for a half marathon this spring to get me back to a structured workout schedule.

Get more sleep. I’m a social person. I love to hang out with my friends and like to have adventures whenever I get the chance. So it’s not unusual that I have plans most days of the week. While often that gives me energy, having too many things I have to do has also started to drain my energy as well. I feel guilty for not going to things I’m invited to so I’m usually out and about. I’ve noticed that I have a fairly sudden “battery drain” when I’m at these things. I’m fine and having fun one minute, and the next, I’ve turned into the proverbial pumpkin. I used to stick it out, yawing and apologizing to people for the yawning. Now I have given myself permission to leave when I need to instead of sticking around just because the event is still in full swing. This way I can enjoy the event, spend time with friends and still give myself the rest I need.

Say “no”. This is not a secret. So many articles will tell you that saying “no” to certain things is good for you. I have always had a problem with this. I have tons of interests and I want to do it all. Plus, I don’t want to disappoint anyone so telling someone “no” is really difficult for me. I’ve been working hard on saying “no” to the things that won’t bring me joy or fulfill a purpose that’s important to me.

But say “yes”. Through the Multicultural Leadership Program that I am taking part in this year, I have been matched with a very wise mentor. We were having dinner one night and she said something to me that I’ve carried with me ever since – “Say yes to things.” She told me about how she’s gotten so many great opportunities in her life because she was willing to say yes to something she might not have thought about doing. Since our conversation, I said yes to helping out at a League of Women Voters event, getting a coaching certification, and attending a networking group. I found that my interest has grown with some of these things and maybe others aren’t for me, but at least now I know for sure.

These are some of the things that I have found have made me happier and hopefully, healthier, so far this year. I’m still working on other things like drinking more water (sigh….), getting more fresh produce in my diet, organizing my house and getting a better bill paying system. But the things I have done have already paid dividends. What can you do for your own “year of me?”

Ducks Unrowed

Ducks in a row.fw

I have a confession to make. I do not have my act together. My ducks are not all in a row. Some of my i’s are dotted, but not all my t’s are crossed.

By legal and cultural standards, I am well into my adulthood but there are days – many more than I’d care to admit – that I feel clueless, like a child, or on particularly challenging days, a clueless child. That’s not to say that all days are like this. They aren’t. Some days I truly feel like I’m kicking butt and taking names. I guess when I was younger I naively believed that was the default of adulthood. Boy was I wrong.

I currently have two loads of laundry, cleaned and ready to go, in the process of getting wrinkled in my laundry basket right next to the washing machine. I actually take laundry out of this basket to wear. At this point I’m not sure why I even own a dresser. I drove around for 3 weeks with the low tire pressure light on in my car before I finally managed to test my tires and fill them. My Christmas tree didn’t come down this year until January 20th. Needless to say, I would not say that I have my ducks in a row. No – my ducks are drunkingly walking in all directions at once.

When you look at some people that you know, you have a feeling that they have it all figured out. They seem like the kind of people that remember to change their furnace filter on a regular basis, get preventative maintenance done on their car and balance their checkbook down to the penny. You look at these people and think why can’t I be more like them? Heck – I’m proud of the fact that I get my bi-yearly dentist appointments scheduled.

I spent most of my childhood, teens and 20s thinking that I would have things all figured out by the time I was a “real” adult. (I figured the 20s didn’t count because you were still learning.) But here is what I’ve fairly recently come to discover. Nobody has it together. Most of us can put up a good front, but very few people actually think they know what they’re doing half the time. An actual new phrase, “adulting,” was coined because of this fact.

We don’t let other people know this though. As a matter of fact, we spend a large amount of time and effort to prevent people from knowing this. Our egos won’t let us admit it to others. We feel the need to project success and an aloof confidence about our lives. This prevents us from being authentic. And it prevents us from assuring others that they aren’t alone.

I think it’s time to pull back the curtain. If you have kids, have them read this. If you feel like a kid yourself most of the time, read this twice. I’m here to tell you that nobody, and I mean nobody, has this life business figured out. Some of us may have it figured out more often than others of us, but we’re all just trying to make it through.

So here’s my call to you. Celebrate your successes with others. But share your struggles too. It will take a bit of vulnerability. As someone who does not do vulnerable well, I know that’s asking a lot. It will be worth it. Learning that we’re more similar than different could go a long way towards unifying us. Letting other people know our struggles makes us all a little less obsessed with perfection. I think we’d all be a bit less stressed and a whole lot happier. Life is messy. There’s no shame in that.

And if you’re one of those furnace-filter-replacing, preventative-car maintenance-doing, down-to-the penny-checkbook-balancing people, try to ignore the fact that I was supposed to reschedule my haircut three weeks ago.

Too Many “Me Toos”

Heart on Beach

Unless you’ve avoided all forms of media lately, you have probably heard that a rich old white guy in Hollywood has gotten himself in a heap of trouble. Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein has been accused of some pretty awful behavior towards women ranging from sexual harassment to flat out sexual assault. Though the behavior had allegedly been going on for decades, he finally started facing consequences recently thanks to a few very brave women who came forward with their stories. He was fired from the company he owns, kicked out of the Academy of Arts and Sciences and publicly disavowed by many of his colleagues. And his stink has gotten on those around him too – the men who knew what was going on but didn’t say anything, the fashion designer that tried to defend him and intimate that women are asking for it, and his wife’s fashion label that skyrocketed to success because actresses wear their gowns on the red carpet.

Then the “Me too” hashtags started. Social media quickly filled with people, mostly women, posting “Me too” to indicate that they too had experienced sexual harassment and/or sexual assault. Though I know, as a woman myself, the kind of things we experience on a regular basis, it was a bit sobering to see all those “Me toos” lined up down my computer screen.

I would image any of us would be hard-pressed to find a woman that couldn’t type “Me too.” It’s a sad reality. I have been very lucky to not have experienced any major sexual harassment or assault. I’ve never been told my job was at risk if I didn’t do something I was uncomfortable with. I’ve never been violently attacked. I’ve never been promised my career would be furthered if I provided a sexual favor. But I have not arrived at this point in my life unscathed. I’ve had my butt grabbed in gym class. I’ve been catcalled while running, biking and just walking down the street. I’ve had colleagues make comments about my breasts. I’ve had people ask me questions in a professional setting about my reproductive plans and mock me for my single status in a work meeting. None of these actions had any repercussions for the offender.

Shortly after the “Me too” hashtags started showing up, a male friend of mine, who is normally pretty sensitive to the issues facing those around him, commented that he was shocked about all the women he knew who had posted the hashtag. He wondered how he didn’t know how endemic this issue was in a woman’s life. I was shocked, but not about the number of women affected. I was shocked he was shocked. I guess I figured everyone knew that this was just part of a woman’s life. I figured this was a good opportunity to have an important conversation.

My friend then asked, now that he knew it was a problem, what could he do about it? It’s a question that all of us could stand to ask. There are lots of things we can do. The most important is accepting that this is a problem. There are other things as well.

  1. Use common sense and manners. Don’t touch someone else without permission or make comments about their bodies. Obviously all this depends on your relationship to the other person and, to a lesser degree, the setting. Bottom line, if you’re in doubt whether the other person would be ok with what you’re about to do or say, just don’t.
  2. Don’t make excuses. If someone is upset about how someone else treated them, one of the worst things you can do is write off the behavior. Saying, “Relax – it’s just a joke,” “That’s just how he/she is,” or the old standby “Boys will be boys,” is giving a pass to bad behavior.
  3. Don’t be a silent by-stander. When you see something you think is inappropriate, speak up. I was in a meeting recently when, out of the blue and unrelated to anything we were discussing, a co-worker made a remark about my romantic life. Not ok. There were three other people in the room and not one person spoke up and said that wasn’t appropriate. I left that meeting feeling humiliated and alienated.
  4. Teach young people in your care how to treat others with respect. Whether you’re a parent, aunt, uncle, mentor, teacher or other important role, you have the power and the responsibility to set a good example for our youth. Model respectful behavior. Let them know it’s ok, and expected, that they speak out when they see something that isn’t appropriate.

This is just a starter list, but there are many other things we can do too. If we all step up and take an active role in combatting harassment and assault, maybe someday we won’t have such a long list of people who can say “Me too.”

If you have been harassed or assaulted, free confidential services are available to you from the YWCA McLean County Stepping Stones program. Call them at (309) 662-0461.

The Last Ride

I had time for one more bike ride.

The surgery I’d been planning to have for months was only 2 days away. I had just returned home from spending the 4th of July holiday at a friend’s house. It was 9:00 pm and I walked out to the garage to air up the tires on Sophie, my Specialized Dolce Elite road bike. The next day was Wednesday and that meant the Spokeswomen’s weekly Wildflower Ride. I was planning to go. It would be my last chance to do something active for at least a month and I was trying to pack in everything that I could.

It was back in January that I finally got the ok from my orthopedic doc to start running again after last year’s stress fractures in my shin and foot healed. From that very first run, I felt it – the pressure in the back of my left calf. It started at mile one and wouldn’t let up until I stopped running. It didn’t matter if I ran quickly (well, as quickly as an out-of-shape me could run), leisurely, or in walk-run intervals, every time I hit the mile mark, it felt like my calf muscle was going to burst out of my skin and explode. After a month of this, I realized this wasn’t just “getting back into shape” discomfort. Something was wrong.

From February through April, my life was consumed with doctor appointments, x-rays, MRIs, pressure reading tests, doctor referrals and more doctor appointments. In this time I experienced pain, disappointment, despair and hope. But the one thing I hadn’t experienced was fear. Until now.

For months I’d been busy seeing doctors, having tests and getting poked, scanned, x-rayed and examined. I finally scheduled surgery (on my 2nd attempt). And since then I’ve been busy.  I arranged for time off of 2 of my 3 jobs. I worked ahead so as not to leave my co-workers in the lurch. I arranged for a set of crutches. I picked up prescriptions and bought anti-bacterial soap. I marked the date at which I could no longer take ibuprofen. I worked so diligently to plan ahead that I managed to neglect the present – I missed a shift at my part-time job and I forgot to renew my license plate sticker. And during all this time I went swimming, biking and walking as much as I could jam it in my schedule. I even completed 2 triathlon relays because I knew my days of activity were numbered. At least for now.

So that brings me to the Tuesday night before the Friday of my surgery. I have one more bike ride left. And it’s just now sinking in that there is some fear lurking under the surface of all the details that have now been taken care of.

There is fear that something will go wrong with the surgery and I’ll be worse off than I was before. Being active is my way of life and I can’t even contemplate if that wasn’t an option. My two bikes might be my favorite possessions and swimming outside might be one of my most favorite things to do. Running has been a part of my life before I was even born. Life without any of that doesn’t seem like life worth living.

There is fear that everything goes according to plan but it doesn’t solve my problem. That after the surgery I still won’t be able to run more than a mile without intense pain. Though it sucks, I have accepted the fact that my marathon days might be over. I’ve done a few and they were fun, but I could be happy doing shorter distances. But losing running completely – that’s something I cannot accept. In fact, that’s why I’ve spent the better part of 2017 running from one medical appointment to another (and meeting my health insurance deductible by mid-year).

The fear of not fixing the problem aside, there is fear of the level of pain I will be in. This is the first surgery I will have gone through where I will truly be bed-ridden for any significant period of time. Even when I’m able to get up and move around, I’m worried how much it’s going to hurt to move on that leg. Once I leave the recovery wing of my parents’ house, the only one to take care of things for me will be me. I’m not even sure what things will be a challenge. I’m sure I’ll find out in short order.

The fear has been uncovered and at least I’ve named it. But it’s there. What I have to tell myself now is that none of that is within my control and I just have to let it go. I have to think positively and I will do that.

And I will take one more bike ride.

 

40 for 40

My 40th year is coming to a close, and with it, my 40 for 40 experiment. In the last year I have attempted things I’ve always wanted to but never did, and things I never considered doing. It has been a fun experience. What made it even better was the interest my family and friends had in taking part. The memories I’ve made with many of them has been the most valuable part of the whole experience. I’m sure I’ll write more about it later, once I’ve had more time to absorb the experience. But for now, here’s the list of what I did for my 40 for 40 adventure.

  1. Wrote an elected officialGov Rauner
  2. Learned to make a cheesecake Raegan prepping cheesecake
  3. Made an online portfolio
  4. Did a trail run Trail run
  5. Went through sobriety testing (the cops gave me the beer first)Sobirety Testing
  6. Tried mountain biking mountain-biking
  7. Went indoor skydiving 13912789_10154027891453303_6749774227911730568_n
  8. At chocolate covered insects eating-a-bug
  9. Went to the Taste of Chicago Taste of Chicago
  10. Took a paddle board lesson Paddleboard lesson
  11. Shaved someone’s head Shaved a head
  12. Went zip lining Ziplining 2
  13. Went to the State Fair (and of course visited the butter cow)State Fair
  14. Visited Disneyland Disneyland
  15. Ran the Dumbo Double Dare (on a fractured shin) Double Dare
  16. Tried pumpkin spice drinks – don’t get the hubbub Pumpkin Spice
  17. Learned to make sushi (sort of) Sushi Making
  18. Attempted an escape room – did not escape
  19. Made stencil signs Sign Making
  20. Took part in a protest march Protest March
  21. Attended a black tie event Gala
  22. Visited the Garfield Park Conservatory Garfield Park Conservatory
  23. Tried Cuban food (yum!) Cuban Food
  24. Posed for an artist Posing for Artist
  25. Finished Great Expectations (FINALLY – and it sucked)
  26. Took a Hip Hop dance class Hip Hop Class
  27. Made pasta from scratch Making pasta from scratch
  28. Learned to do a flip turn
  29. Hosted a sleepover with my nieces (without supervision) nieces-at-my-party
  30. Took a pole fit class – yes that kind of pole Pole Fit Class
  31. Went on a free reign road trip (Plan? Who needs a plan? We have a map!)Free Reign Road Trip
  32. Got a spray tan (and messed it up) Spray Tanning
  33. Read a story to a 1st grade class Reading to First Graders
  34. Got a facial Facial
  35. Did a mountain bike stunt (and ironically got my first mountain bike bruise crashing doing something else) Mountain Bike Stunt
  36. Researched my ancestry
  37. Took a drawing lesson Drawing Lesson
  38. Went on a winery bike ride Winery Bike Ride
  39. Conquered the “Emack Attack” 

     

  40. Flew a plane Flying a Plane

In My (Running) Shoes

Raegans First Race

My first race and my first win. I’m in lane two. My dad is the starter.

It was 8:30 on a Thursday morning when my identity was stripped from me. I sat in the doctor’s office excited. I had been waiting for this appointment for weeks. This was my surgical consultation. I was getting ready to schedule my surgery to relieve my compartment syndrome pain and get me back to what I do. Because what I do is run….and I haven’t done that in any significant way in months.

The doctor walked in smiling and shook my hand. And then suddenly his demeanor changed. There was an audible sigh. A look of resignation crossed his face. And soon he started saying the things that matched his body language. He did not want to do the surgery. He was worried it wouldn’t be effective. He estimated a 30% chance of it not working. The doctor that did the pressure testing two weeks prior had a completely different opinion and I mentioned that to the white coat in front of me. His response was a terse, “How many surgeries has HE done? Zero.” This shocked me because I was referred to that doctor by him. Surely the doctor before me now had confidence in the testing doctor’s knowledge base.

Tremont Run Finish

As he kept talking, I felt the tears well up in my eyes. At first I tried to hide them. Then I didn’t care. I sat listening to the reasons why he didn’t want to do the surgery: he wasn’t sure it would be effective, I had REALLLY high pressure readings, the other doctor stopped my test because the readings where so high and that was unusual, mine was likely a complex case, the surgery is complicated and invasive. Then the reason that floored me: I was too emotionally invested in the outcome. What? It was at this point that he used the tears I had stopped trying to hide against me. He told me my reaction to the news made him even more convinced that surgery wasn’t a good idea right now. If I was this upset now and the surgery didn’t work, I’d be even more upset. Is that what oncologists tell cancer patients? “I’m sorry – I can see that having cancer upsets you and that you really, really want this surgery to work. If it doesn’t you’ll be more upset so we shouldn’t do it.”

Of course I realize that compartment syndrome is not life ending like cancer can be, and I don’t mean to trivialize that one bit. But compartment syndrome was threatening to end my life as I know it – a life filled with running and training and “racecations.”

My voice cracking, I tried to explain why I was upset. I told him my life revolved around running. I wanted to tell him that I work in a running store, my family is made of up runners and many of my friends are runners too. I wanted to say that I’d won my first race when I was 4 years old and that finishing my first marathon was one of my proudest accomplishments. Before I could get all that out, he interrupted me and said, “That’s not good. Your life shouldn’t revolve around running. Because if you are unable to do that, you’re going to be very upset.”

Roller Coaster Race

Mall Mile

He went on to say, somewhat flippantly, “I like to run. But I don’t anymore. My knees won’t allow me to so I don’t.” While I’m sorry for him, I doubt running was a prominent fixture in his life like it has been in mine. I would guess his father didn’t read him to sleep as a baby from Track & Field News. I doubt his social life largely involves doing crazy, silly or weird races. I imagine he doesn’t have a marathon tattoo.

After a while, my mom, whom I’d ask to come along to presumably learn about my upcoming surgery, that now wasn’t to be, spoke up. She mentioned that I had a few health issues and that she just had a feeling that they were all connected and wondered if he thought this too could have something to do with my thyroid problems. She brought up Mayo Clinic and asked if the doctor thought that might be a good idea. He said it couldn’t hurt. So we discussed the process of trying to get seen there. While the doctor was helpful in trying to help us start that process, I’m 99% sure he wouldn’t have suggested it on his own.

1 day 4 racesTri Shark Finish

I spent an hour with the doctor that morning. It was a pathetic example of someone who makes her living finding the right words, yet ironically unable to find the words to describe how just accepting this was my life now was not an option. I felt like I was unsuccessful getting him to walk a mile in my shoes to understand the importance of this decision.

I have nothing against this doctor. He’s a nice guy. In fact, our families know each other. His dad taught with my dad before they both retired years ago. I had seen him before when I had a stress fracture. In no way am I saying he’s a bad doctor. Maybe he was having a bad day. But it just seemed like on this particular day, in this particular instance, he was not advocating for me in the way I longed for him to be.

As we left the office, the tears came back. Now an hour late for work, I toyed with the idea of not going in at all. How much could I really concentrate anyway?

I did go to work. I walked into my office past a running poster signed by a local running legend and the congratulatory sign my coworkers presented me with after I’d completed the Dopey Challenge. I sat down at the computer where I typed in my running-related password. I checked my email and among the work items, also found messages from races luring me to enter. I pulled up the social media accounts I manage and when I logged in, saw promoted posts from stores trying to sell me running products.

We Care

The next day was the beginning of the Illinois Marathon Weekend. So many of my friends were doing at least one race during the weekend. It was at this race several years ago that I got my half marathon PR, besting my previous best mark by 7 minutes. The stream of social media posts featuring my friends smiling pre-and post-race continued well into the next week, every post reminding that this part of my life could conceivably be over.

PrincessThumbsUp

Realistically, I do have lots of other things in my life besides running. I know that running is not the only thing in life. In fact, there are times when I don’t even like running all that much. But it’s something I always comes back to. It’s part of who I am. And to be told that it might not be possible is like destroying a little piece of me – my identity isn’t quite whole without it.

Litchfield Podium

I’ve had a little time to process things and get over the initial shock of my situation. I’m still upset and disappointed. But I’m also preparing myself for the road ahead. Now the real work begins. I have to advocate for myself harder than possibly ever before.

After this, training for a marathon will seem easy by comparison.

40 for 40 Update

I have 3 months.

In that time I need to wrap up my 40 for 40 adventure. I need to complete 13 more new experiences to be successful. I’ve had several people ask me where I am in my challenge and what I’ve done, so being 3/4 the way through, I thought I’d do a quick update. Here’s what I’ve accomplished so far.

  1. Wrote an elected official
  2. Learned to make a cheesecake
  3. Created a website/online portfolio
  4. Ran a trail race
  5. Underwent sobriety testing (as a volunteer, not a because I had to)
  6. Went mountain biking
  7. Experienced indoor skydiving
  8. Ate chocolate covered insects
  9. Went to Taste of Chicago
  10. Took a paddle board lesson
  11. Shaved someone’s head
  12. Went zip lining
  13. Attended the State Fair
  14. Visited Disneyland
  15. Did the Dumbo Double Dare Challenge (10K followed by a half marathon)
  16. Tried pumpkin spice beverages
  17. Took a sushi making lesson
  18. Tried an escape room
  19. Made decorative wood signs
  20. Took part in a protest march
  21. Attended a black tie event
  22. Visited the Garfield Park Conservatory
  23. Ate Cuban Food
  24. Served as a model for an artist
  25. Finally finished Great Expectations
  26. Took a Hip Hop dance class
  27. Made pasta from scratch

I have ideas for some of the remaining slots on my list but I also want to be open to opportunities that arise. This year surely hasn’t been boring!

 

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