motivation is such a fickle thing.

This post hasn’t been well thought-out or anything.  I’ve just been frustrated a lot lately and felt like ranting a bit.  I don’t think I’m alone, especially with the winter season here now.

I officially moved into my new place in September.  Around that time, I had a TON of unpacking to do and also a lot of planning.  I had just decided I would be flying to Hong Kong in 2 months and I had $2,000 to raise.  Needless to say, I was using my time to scramble.  I had to finish painting so I could at least push my furniture against the wall, then I had to sort through boxes and unpack.  And I’ve lived alone since 2011 so I have quite a lot of things to unpack.

Well, with the trip coming up, my fundraising prioritized slightly.  I was going through my boxes of books and selling things online, setting up an Amazon account and having to deal with issues with my bank to make the thing work out alright.  I went to a few events and raised funds there.  Also, I was planning a trip to Orlando for National Conference (AISES) – and we’re not talking like it was last year when I flew to Denver and just did whatever.  I was just a volunteer that year.  No, this year I was a volunteer, a judge, a presenter, a chapter member, a student chaperone/assistant, and a networker.  Plus, I drove.  And so that also took money, which meant all September and October I was working overtime, then November I was traveling.

So my place is still at least 5 to 10% unpacked.

My kitchen cabinets are 70% finished and have sat like that since September.

And then I put things up and they come back down.  Like my curtains.  I took the time to hang them and my cats took the time to rip them back down again.  Twice.  Or the Christmas tree that was eaten twice before I finally established a “NO!!!” basis with the cats…but that still hasn’t managed to uncover my lost star tree-topper, or the cat collar that somehow vanished in the chasing process…

Oh, and the excellent caretakers….like the ones who drove the plow truck into my garden units and smashed my boards to pieces.  Or the idiots who did a repair to my gutters (which still, by the way, don’t work) and so now my basement still floods and my back porch got smashed by a backhoe.

The people who came to replace a pipeline in my yard, tore up my grass and gardens, and made a mucky mess out of the sidewalk.  Which is now solid ice because someone thought plowing it a little and letting the snow melt in the sun was a good idea.  So I nearly wiped out 10 times last night.

The mailman who doesn’t mail my rent checks, so I find them 10 days later in my mailbox.

Well, at least I finally have heat.  It doesn’t seem to work right, but my place is generally around 60 and I’ve stopped showering at LA Fitness because I actually have hot water now.

All of these little things going on and it’s so hard to come home from a 10-hour work day, walk into a semi-warm house, and say “I’m gonna clean this ALL UP right NOW!”  It just doesn’t happen.  I might sit down on the couch and suddenly find myself waking up, it’s 2am, and I haven’t eaten dinner.  So what about my workout schedule?  Well, that’s been pretty terrible, too.  I used to run all the time and it felt good, but suddenly I was feeling like running was a burden.  I don’t like running on the streets with cars passing or guys whistling or something stupid, so I’ve felt trapped.  I’ll go to the gym at 5:30am, but with hockey most nights now I can’t possibly get home at 1am and expect to be working out in a few hours.

I’ve been lucky lately because I’ve forced myself to try a new thing: Nike Plus “Coach”.  I went for a 3.6 mile run last Sunday while the weather was still decent.  I realized I needed to get back into this running.  5Ks used to be so easy – even 10Ks.  I want to run a full marathon someday and realize I had been close to running it when I did my last 1/2 marathon, so why slack off now?  It’ll be harder to catch up later.

My Coach function allowed me to choose “Marathon” as my training goal.  I’m not saying I’m gonna go through the whole thing and actually run that Marathon when it says I will, but I’m going to stick to it as much as I can for as long as I can.  Partly, I want to do this because it will bring me through this cruddy months when I usually drop my mileage anyway.  I hate treadmills, I hate running indoors unless I’m sprinting on a track.  That’s just by the nature of the sports I did: Fall XC and Indoor/Outdoor Track.  And I always trip on treadmills.  It’s pretty uncoordinated and bad.

With my “Coach” telling me to get out and run, I have logged over 10 miles since Tuesday this week and am about to go to North Chagrin Reservation to log another 5.  Yeah, it’s been icy and in the 20s, but the Coach just wants to see you try.  It’s kind of nice to hear a voice say “Halfway there!’ and “Congratulations!  You finished your goal!”, followed by a recording of an actual star athlete complimenting your work.  And I’ve slowly come to realize that a 3 mile run is really only 20 minutes out of your day.  I could kill 20 minutes just looking at my Tumblr feed and, while Tumblr tends to be my source of “news” considering I follow a very trendy, outspoken friend, it’s not at all as useful as spending that time accomplishing something.

My Coach says I can run a Marathon by May 31st on the plan, so maybe I’ll look into running one this summer. If nothing else, sticking to the plan through the winter is the first inkling of motivation I’ve had for a long time, and just in time too.  These months are rough ones here in the Lake Effect Snow zone.  But I love snow, so I won’t complain.

you’re almost there.

I broke both laces on my dance shoes last night in class.  I’d never broken a single lace in my 16 years of dancing, so it was surprising and also extremely frustrating.  Nonetheless, I took laces from an old pair, restrung my new ones, and got back up to finish class.  Then I stayed after class… making practice about twice as long as usual.

On the drive home, I was thinking about dancing.  How Scottish Highland can really suck sometimes.  You’d think dance is just dance, but I tell ya… First, you have practice.  Long, long practices.  It’s generally the same dances week after week which means you’re working either on stamina, grueling details, or both.  And no matter what, you’ve got to be trying your hardest – even in a practice run.  If you don’t, you’ll either not improve or pick up bad habits or both.

Then there’s competition.  Most competition is done in the hot summer months.  Our costumes are several pounds, namely the traditional kilt.  I’ve got yards upon yards of pleated fabric, knee-high wool socks, and a long-sleeved velvet dress.  You sweat a LOT dancing outside in that stuff and you have to be strong enough to elevate with your weight plus the kilt.  Growing up, that was especially challenging for me because I didn’t wear a dance kilt but instead a heavy military one.

So what’s my point in all of this?

Well, I was imagining practice.  I was imagining competition.  I was reliving that feeling of keeping every muscle tense, every movement precise, every jump as equally high and perfectly timed, even maintaining the right look on your face (performing smile or determined countenance)… and I remembered the mantra that always plays in my head.  I never noticed it before, but I most certainly am constantly chanting to myself while I dance:

You’re almost there.  You’re almost there.  You’re almost there.

But sometimes I’m not really almost there.  I just have to tell myself that.  I get through the first half of Step One and I tell myself, “Excel through the turn!  You’re almost there!  You just have to do it on the other side!”  Step one, I’m saying this.  Then I say it for Step Two.  Step Three.  At Step Four, “You’re halfway done!”  And when Step Six arrives and I just want to drop my heels and lose my form, “You’re seriously almost there!  Pick up your elevation!  Make this the strongest step!”

I definitely hit a wall dancing.  Nearly every time I compete, I get to about the middle or 3/4-point of the dance and I just want to slouch, slack, quit.  I have to talk to myself to make myself pick it up, telling myself I didn’t work all this time and all this dance right now to quit.  I already dressed up and did my hair, too, and that’s a lot of work!  So go!

Then when I finish the dance, I feel horrible.  I’m sweating, I’m sore, I’m panting and I can breathe because my vest is so tight…but I walk off and feel such a wave of relief that it’s done.

And I tell myself, “You’re almost there!  Three more dances left.”

You’re almost there.

That gets me through more than just dancing.  It also gets me through the following:
-a track workout
-a XC workout
-a hockey practice
-a sprint
-a timed mile
-a 5K
-a half-marathon
-a hockey game that my team is winning when the score is really close
-kickboxing
-PLANKS
-basically any kind of physical labor
-musical performances
-driving
-a day with a long, time-sensitive to-do list
-work
-cleaning my room
-essays or reports
-a book, especially if I don’t like it much
-school
-anything checklist worthy
-anything I look forward to and write on my calendar
-etc.

Yes, any time I feel like my strength, endurance, patience, motivation, determination, whatever is being tested, it’s a matter of almost being there, of pushing aside walls, making up checkpoints, and constantly crossing them off as I reach them.

It’s amazing how much You’re almost there can help me get through anything.

Defining [Your] Life

How do you define life?  Some people define it as gift, either a gift from parent to child, from a deity, or from both.  I personally think life is neither a parental nor divine gift; in fact, I don’t think it’s a gift at all.  I believe that calling life a “gift” creates a foolish implication of purpose, which I don’t believe it has.  Maybe that’s the cynical scientist in me dismissing any thoughts of a divine intention, but I think life is simply an evolutionary mechanism of continuing a species.  Why are there species and why do they prosper with the intentions of constantly maintaining and increasing that prosperity?  I never associate life or lifeforms with purpose, but merely niches.  I think there is no reason species drive for success apart from the chance of their existence and the fact that survivors have continuing survivor genes.

From my perspective, I’m here, I didn’t plan it, it’s socially unaccepted for me to make a choice of when I leave, and all I have left is to exist during the time that I will be here.  I feel like most people probably prefer not to think that way.  It’s blunt, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true.  But if I’m here by chance, and I have no choice on the end, what is there left for the time in between?  This is my next point: Life isn’t just about defining life itself and what others expect of you and the world around us; it’s also about deciding what choice you want to make for you and no one else.

I have a lot of things I still want to do in my life, like see the Nazca lines and find someone who wants to be my crazy teammate in life… Yet, if I were to die tomorrow, I can confidently say that my life has already been more fulfilling than that of many people I know, especially other 22-year-olds.  This fulfillment is due to my personal definition of life and how I’ve managed to adhere to my own rules for living.

I’ve never been one to outright slander someone for diverging from societal beliefs of right and wrong.  I don’t think the world is black and white like that, straight down the middle.  I also disagree that there really is such as thing as rigtht or wrong.  As with the notions that life is a “gift” and that everyone and everything serves some alterior “purpose”, I find “rights” and “wrongs” as wishful thinking, hoping, and desperation for directional security and social safety.  Instead of using mainstream models by which to live my life, I choose to create my own set of ideals.  I follow these ideals by merely the motivation of my own being striving to be something better for myself, not under the looming threat of a greater force, like a god, and without fear of standing apart from others.

I want to see as much of the world as I possibly can.  I want to understand everything that I see and to feel it, sensually and culturally, to really grasp it.  I want to learn everything; for I believe that living is learning.  I want to learn so that I can dismiss any and all fears, naivete.  Life is my race against time to see, do, feel, experience, touch, taste, breathe, try all of these things.  I would rather die trying to live than die never having lived at all.

This way of thinking has enabled me to dabble in everything I can possibly lay my hands on.  I’ve competed in or at least attempted probably three dozen sports (from Scottish Highland Dancing to mushing), I’ve learned or taught myself almost twenty instruments (from bagpipes to banjo), and I’ve studied and competed in a dozen kinds of art and crafts (from oil on canvas to latch hook pillow-making).  I’ve studied about eleven languages, visited three continents with another planned this summer, and even represented Team USA in the Junior Olympics since I was 15.  I’m an avid reader of survivalism books and have confidence in my ability to take care of myself.  There are so many things I have done that the list could bore anyone to death.  But the purpose of this is not to brag, it’s to demonstrate that, in 22 years, I have accomplished this much.  I spent the first 5 of those 22 years not doing much of anything.  What can I do with the rest of my life?  What can anyone do with the rest of his or her life?

I wish to keep living my life just as I am now, where I see, do, and am everything I possibly can be and to the best of my ability.  It is for no one’s benefit but my own, and to my own satisfaction.  But if there is one thing I can add to the way I live my life, I would like to add purpose – a purpose more significant to the planet than just my own personal gratifactions.  I’m still finding how to do that.  I’ll walk up my stairs in the dark to save energy each day – that helps the environment.  I’ve rescued animals and nursed them back to health – that helps outside species.  I’ve tutored and consoled many people before – that helps society.  But there has to be more I can do.  I hope to fill that void with my career choices over the next several years.

That all being said, how do you define life?  How do you define yours?  Think about it.  It doesn’t matter what age you are, reflecting on it now will keep you from using “should’ve” in your sentences later…

Just do it.

I’ve had some interesting turns of events in recent weeks.  I’ve gotten involved in some really cool projects and really put my heart into doing them.  There’s my senior project class for  my Civil Engineering degree where we are designing a real replacement pedestrian bridge for a local national park.  There’s this EPA contest my Environmental Geology class is doing where we are managing Stormwater in a green way.  For my French senior capstone, I am traveling to Africa with Engineers Without Borders to study French, implement a well, and serve as a translator before returning to make a presentation on communication and the different barriers in language for tradition differences to education separation.  Finally, I am working on a research project with a focus on tribal economic development using green energy.  I’m studying a real project to analyze the substructures for offshore wind turbines and reporting my findings to various companies and programs, including my sponsors.  I’m doing all of these things because I am learning so much and genuinely enjoying the projects I get to work on.  It wasn’t until recently that I realized the extra effort I’m putting into these projects is unusual.

Last week, I stood in front of a financially strapped society and presented my research project and upcoming presentation in Alaska in order to receive additional funding.  Not only did I receive more than I asked for, an event is going to be made for my research and I was called an inspiration about ten times.  I have been told this by colleagues and friends before, but I never fully understood what they meant.  Now that I have relayed my news to my family, I have been reminded of things I have done over the years which shocked me with their results.  For example, I created a roller hockey team at my high school.  I got sponsors, players, recognition on tv and in the paper, and we even won silver one year in the finals.  I was astounded that we not only created a team but that the team grew to two and continues to this day, long after I have gone.  My mom reminded me of this.  My grandma told me I have a gift to inspire and used that as an example.

Maybe I do have an ability to inspire, but I really don’t think it’s that.  The way I see it, anything outstanding that I have done was something I loved doing.  Hockey, French, Engineering, helping people.  It took no extra effort for me to dedicate myself to those projects.  People use me to inspire themselves when really I’m just an example of what anyone can do if they want to do something.  There’s no secret recipe.  If you’re passionate about something and you express that ardor to others, they’ll be just as fervent as you and support you in ways you wouldn’t be able to imagine.  And it’s always so much easier to find that passion when it’s for something like human rights and equality and that which you believe is an absolutely necessary way by which to act.

So what am I trying to say?  I guess it all depends on what you want from life.  Do you feel like you’re fulfilling it?  Are you helping improve the quality of life for others?  Are you bettering yourself?  Are you satisfied with what you’ve done with the time you’ve had?  It’s not like I’m some expert but I can tell you, from what I’ve seen, all it takes is a little heart and you can transform people and things in ways you couldn’t imagine possible.  Feel like doing something?  Just do it.  This isn’t even Nike but just do it anyway.