Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Just keep swimming and other life lessons learned at the pool

This summer, I decided to take up swimming lessons. It was one of those life skills that passed me over as a kid. I splashed around in the pool when I was younger, of course, but never formally learned how to swim. I did take a P.E. course in college. Unfortunately, because the majority of the participants were deathly afraid of water, it mainly ended up being a class in how to minimize panic and not drown. Since I wanted to actually learn some strokes and get more comfortable with the deep end, I recently signed up. As with any new movement adventure, I learned several lessons that can apply to life.

Think, but don't think
Swimming is tough at first because it's a total body exercise. You have to engage your core, keep your hips at the surface, your kicks must be fast and hard, but not too big or too small. You have to move your feet and arms one way, while your head goes another. It's a lot of coordination. To execute everything successfully, you have to think about what you need to do next. But, you also can't overthink the mechanics so much that you stop moving. Ain't that a word? You have to be mindful and also know when to get out of your head and into action.

Know when to breathe
Now, it's obvious that in order to engage in any physical activity, you need to breathe. But with swimming, you have to breathe at the right time, because humans have this weird thing with not being able to breathe underwater without drowning. Breathe at the wrong time and you could do just that. Therefore, it's all about rhythm and timing. You have to know when to take a big inhale in, when to brace yourself and hold, and when to exhale everything out. What do you need to do in this very moment?

There's nothing there
The first time my coach took me to the deep end, I was a little nervous. I started with a flotation device and then went hands free. Once we got to the deep end, she prompted me to look at the bottom of the pool. I did. Then she smiled and said, "See. There's nothing down there." I laughed a little because I didn't even realize I imagined something was. That must be a common fear for many people. Just because my feet can't touch the bottom, doesn't mean a monster lies in wait to devour me. Not in a pool, at least. Now, in a lake or ocean, who knows. Swim at your own risk. But seriously, what fearful thing do you imagine lies beneath that might not be there at all?

Just keep swimming
Once I got some exposure therapy in the deep end, I've practiced swimming back and forth a few times. You really have to commit to the path once you move from the shallow to the deep end. You don't really have the luxury to freak out in the middle. So, if you don't want to plummet to your death, you should just keep swimming until you get to the other side. I suppose that Finding Nemo phrase was right after all. Much of life is just that, after all. Just keep moving forward and you'll get to where you're going.

There's a thin line between fear and fun
A final lesson I've learned so far took place when I was learning to tread water in the deep end. My coach looked over and said, "Fun, right?" I just nodded and smiled or maybe grimaced, I can't be sure. While I had relaxed somewhat, glad to still be alive, I hadn't exactly gotten to the fun part yet. After all, I was focused on keeping myself up in 12 feet of water. I was still in survival mode. But I've seen people thoroughly enjoy themselves in the water. I know it's possible. I just have to push through a little more fear before I get to the fun.

What ways are you challenging yourself this summer? Are you pushing your limits? Don't let a whole season go by without trying something new and stretching beyond your comfort zone. There's so much to learn when you humble yourself to acquire a new skill. You might even get a new mantra out of it. Apparently, mine for the summer is just keep swimming.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Don't wanna? Do it anyway!

It's been one of those weeks. It hasn't been bad, by any means. I've just felt drained and low energy and haven't wanted to do much. Unfortunately, for me, I've had a lot to do. Blowing things off wasn't an option. I had to push through.

It's been a bunch of small things. I had forgotten I agreed to sub a Zumba class on Monday. That meant I had to cancel my personal swimming lesson, which frustrated me a little. But, I had committed to it weeks ago, and therefore, I had to follow through. I also ended up teaching for just two people for my Wednesday class, even though I hoped we could cancel and I could go home early. But, I had promised a student a special birthday fitness mix and I knew it meant a lot to her. Therefore, I pushed through. I had a few other appointments this week that aren't usually on my schedule, making for longer days and less personal recovery time. And even as I write this, I'm facing some other upcoming obligations that I'm not looking forward to. But once again, if called upon, I have to step up to the plate and fulfill those as well.

Part of the issue is that I over-extended myself. I obligated myself to a bunch of extra things and found myself resenting it later. That's on no one but me. I'll modulate my time and energy better next time. In the meantime, I have to honor my commitments.

I recognized the value of this even more when I was talking to friends on Twitter this morning. We were discussing how frustrating it is when people don't follow through or make good on their word. It not only erodes personal trust; it bodes poorly on your professional brand. All we really have in this life is our name and our word. Why sully them by being a flake?

If courage is feeling the fear and doing it anyway, then discipline is not feeling it at all and doing it anyway. Let me assure you that I have not perfected this and I don't always execute it well. I just come from a long line of relatives who instilled a suck-it-up-buttercup work ethic, which has served me well in life. Feelings were seen as a luxury and weren't taken into consideration at all when -ish had to be done. You just did it. It's about duty and honor. It's about maintaining integrity in a world that doesn't seem to require it as much.

I still have growing to do, for sure. I need to not only do what's needed but also be positive about it. And if not positive, at least neutral and not mean mug my way through it. There are no brownie points awarded for doing stuff with an attitude. But hey...progress, not perfection right?

It's hard to do what you don't want to do and to not do what you do want to do. Human nature would rather only do what feels pleasant. It would rather do whatever it feels like doing in the moment, regardless of what previous commitments were made. But a disciplined person, one of honor and integrity fulfills commitments even when it hurts (Psalm 15:4). Basically, he or she intentionally does what needs to be done whether it's easy or not.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Open letter to all the haters

Dear Readers,

For all of you who follow my blog, you know my last post was about the struggle with feeling hidden. It was a relatively benign piece in my opinion. I was simply sharing my experience, for better or worse, with feeling personally and professionally invisible at times. For whatever reason, this piece attracted my very first internet troll. And here I was thinking I'm invisible. Little did I know I am very much being watched and this person felt familiar enough with me to use my first name and offer unsolicited commentary about my character. I was flabbergasted at how insanely presumptuous it was of this person to think they can read one post or even my entire blog and think they know me well enough to comment on who I am as a person. Needless to say, I was shocked.

I immediately called my sister. I called my mom. I took to Facebook and Twitter about it. I just couldn't believe that a complete stranger would take the time to craft two detailed responses that felt like personal attacks. I guess I wanted to check in with people who really knew me. I was hurt and angry. I felt misunderstood. I knew I wasn't going to respond point by point underneath my blog to the anonymous "TC" with no profile picture or identifying information. It wasn't worth it. And yet, I was most upset because this was one of my worst fears about finally putting myself out there. I was scared of being targeted. And honestly, had it been a few years ago, something like this would have silenced me and sent me in hiding. Well, after a few days of processing it I decided I'm not going to hide. I'm not going to be silent. I'm going to address it. So, to the internet trolls, lurkers, and shadow dwellers who feel emboldened to come for people they don't know, allow me to offer you some feedback. Here is some old school wisdom for how to make friends and influence people.

If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all
There's such a thing as free speech. I'm all for it. But, you also have a right to remain silent. And I wish to goodness, people exercised that right more often. I see and hear things on a daily basis that I disagree with. What do I do? Ignore it. Keep scrolling. Put it out of my mind. It is of no consequence to me. It goes back to simple truth your mother or grandmother should have taught you. If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all.

If you don't know something, ask questions
If you do want to offer your opinion, try understanding someone's view before you counter it. You can do this by asking questions. Express curiosity. Get someone to clarify their stance before you make assumptions and certainly before you judge them as a person. That really says more about you than them. Like the old saying goes, when you assume you make an ass out of you and me...but really, more you than me.

Fight fair (above the belt)
If in the course of the conversation you realize you want to challenge the other person, the best way to do that is to offer a constructive critique rather than criticism. If you don't know the difference, a critique is descriptive and it's usually focused on a specific topic. Perhaps you are describing a behavior you dislike. If it's in the context of scholarly discourse, you might address your issues with someone's argument or the fallacy with their thought process. Either way, it's focused on the content of what's said and not the person themselves. When you criticize a person, you judge who they are, put them on the defensive, and limit any opportunities for their growth. Maybe you have valid points, but they won't be received if a person feels like they're being attacked.

If you have something to say, say it to my face
If your aim is to be confrontational and call out a complete stranger out about something, have enough gall to make your comments to their face. Post your picture and your full name. Make your contact information available. Don't hide behind an anonymous profile. Say where you're from and what you do for a living. Be a real person. Why are you hiding anyway? Don't you want to have a real conversation?

Treat others the way you want to be treated
My guess is that trolls don't want a real dialogue. You want to feel powerful by tearing down others. You feel invincible with your shield of anonymity. Maybe in your sad, empty life, upsetting others and making them question themselves is your only form of entertainment. Maybe that's the closest thing to any sort of human connection you know how to have. That's unfortunate. Be that as it may, that's no way to endear others to you. I just can't imagine anyone who's a closeted internet troll can have any genuine connections with others. If you were truly happy and well adjusted, you wouldn't incite discord online or anywhere else. The good news is you can choose differently. You are not sentenced to being bitter and isolated forever. You can experience healthy, lasting connections even in the virtual world when you simply practice the Golden Rule.

So, there you have it. These are basic principles I grew up hearing. I thought others were raised by them as well, but perhaps not. Maybe that's why internet trolls exist in the first place. There's a whole generation of people who don't know how to relate and connect to others in a healthy, productive way. That's why for this time (and this time only) I'll extend the benefit of a doubt. I choose to believe that perhaps you had sincere intentions in your commentary and just didn't know how to contribute effectively. Perhaps, now, you can learn from this post and make better communication choices going forward. If not though, if your true intentions were to be inflammatory, passive aggressive, smug, and hurtful, then I'll close by offering you this sentiment by Dr. Brene' Brown: "If you aren't in the arena also getting your butt kicked, I'm not interested in your feedback."


Dr. Gambrell

*Note: The author of this blog made a personal decision not to respond individually to any posted comments, positive or negative. However, this author reserves the right to remove posts that are seen as inappropriate, erroneous, or vulgar in nature.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Hello? Can you see me now?

Have you ever seen the musical Chicago? In it, one of the characters sings a funny solo called "Mr. Cellophane."

Cellophane, Mr. Cellophane shoulda been my name
Mr. Cellophane 'cause you can look right through me
Walk right by me and never know I'm there

It's meant to be humorously self-pitying. If I'm honest though sometimes I feel like that. It's kind of I'm waving at people like, "Hi. I'm Crista. I'm right in front of you. Can you see me now?"

By nature, I'm not an attention-seeker. The spotlight actually embarrasses me a little. That's why I ran from it for so long. I purposefully avoided putting myself out there for a lot of reasons. For the longest time I didn't want to be noticed. Then something shifted. I wanted to be out there more, not for attention necessarily, but in order to connect. I have gifts I want to share with the world. I want to make an impact. I accept now that you have to be seen in order to do that. But for whatever reason, it's like I'm still invisible. I'll give a few examples of how.

Few likes
I know it's petty to even admit this. I'd be lying though if I said it didn't bother me at times when I don't get many likes on my posts. It's so stupid and I hate that it gets to me. But the fact is that so many of us live our lives online. Those that do spend a fair amount of time thoughtfully crafting blog posts and making videos. We edit workout clips and set them to music. We take 19 selfies, select the 12th, and then go back and forth between the best filter to use. We think of witty captions or relevant song lyrics to narrate how awesome we are without even trying. We spend time creating flyers highlighting our fabulous events only to have 5-10% of our followers, if that, take the time to like them. We say we don't do it for the likes. Maybe 90% of the time we don't. Then sometimes, if we're honest, we do. Who doesn't want to be seen?

Few numbers
Another way I feel invisible is when I spend time creating wellness programs and classes and not many people attend. I am always incredibly appreciative of the handful of people that do show up. They always seem thankful and that means a lot. I'm there to serve them and give them something of value It's hard though not to measure success by attendance. It's similar to the number of followers you have or likes you get. It's easy to think the more people who show up, the better something is. That's definitely not the case. I don't even agree with that philosophy. But again, I'm just sharing some of the ways a person can start to question if what they're doing, and possibly if who they are, even matters.

Few dates (ok, NO dates)

And on the topic of mattering, what does a girl have to do to get a cute guy to ask her for coffee? I seriously don't understand what's up with the crickets in the romance department, but it's getting old. What's even more baffling is how I have watched more people than I can count breakup with someone and get with somebody else just a few months later. They don't appear to be rebound scenarios. It's just in the course of living their lives they're fortunate enough to meet a new bae. It just doesn't take them long. That's never been my story. And although I believe I'm a dazzling woman with a lot to offer, often the fact that it's been so long since anyone has pursued me makes me occasionally wonder if and why I'm invisible.
I feel like last Sunday I got my answer. I went to hear a friend speak at his church and the message was "What is God hiding and why?" Talk about timely. He had a few points related to how and why God conceals some things and readily reveals others. The point that hit home for me related to God hiding people. Basically, God will often hide people for their own protection. "God will make you invisible for the sake of your calling. He's placed unique things inside of you. He will protect you from unhealthy influences because he knows relational decisions will have a generational effect" (Pastor Gary Spell). Furthermore, he explained that sometimes we're hidden so we don't get in our own way or ruin what God has for us. "Only He knows what you look like when your dreams come true." To me, that's pretty powerful. We aren't hidden because we're worthless losers. We are hidden because we're special and God wants to lovingly safeguard what's inside of us and what's meant for us. 

I'm not sure if that message is helpful for you, but it certainly is for me. I still don't have all the answers to why I'm hidden and for how much longer. I won't even pretend to act like the whole invisible thing won't ever bother me again. When it does though and when I start to get distracted by likes, dates, or lack thereof, I'll try really hard to remember this teaching. I'll remind myself to be faithful and consistent with the things that are in my heart to do. I'll encourage myself that my value is fixed, regardless of whether or not others affirm it. Probably most importantly, I'll assure my heart that I am seen and I matter to the only One who truly matters. And He has a plan to show me off in His perfect timing.