A year in progress

Tucked in the southwest corner of Minneapolis, amongst the chaos of the city, is a place where the rest of the world disappears.  Perhaps I’m the only one who sees it that way, but I would venture to guess that I’m not.

It’s a place where trails weave in and out of urban greenery, amongst gorgeous mansions and homes as they curve around one of the city’s many lakes.  Runners run.  Bikers bike.  Walkers walk.  Sitters sit.  Readers read.  Artists… art.  You get the idea.

I’ve written about this place before; about how it’s where I started an incredible life-changing journey and where I still go to retreat and reflect.  There’s one specific spot along the trail that is my refuge.  No matter what else is going on in the world around me, when I’m there, everything just makes sense.  I’ve never shown anyone that spot, although many people waltz right by it all the time.  And to be honest, I don’t know that I ever will share it, not unless I trust that person an awful lot.

Everyone should have a place like that.  I hope you do, too.

But I digress.

Twelve months ago, on a cold January afternoon, I headed out with my camera and no real plan.  The temperature was well below freezing and snow covered every inch of the metro area.  I was bored and out looking for something to do.  As I tend to do often, I gravitated towards my favorite city lake.

The lake was frozen over and the trails were nearly empty as the sun glistened off the white blanket of snow.  There were diehards jogging on snow-covered trails or cross-country skiing over the solidified water, while fishermen huddled up around holes drilled in the ice.   There was a game of pond hockey in one corner and I could hear the kids shouting “Goooooal!” whenever they sailed a puck into the net.

I took a deep breath and saw it freeze as I exhaled.  It’s impossible for me not to smile when I’m there.  Impossible.

I took a bunch of random photos that frozen afternoon and one shot in particular sparked an idea that would play out over the next year.  I decided to take a photo from the same spot once a month during 2012 and put it all together to see how it changed throughout the seasons.    (And no, I didn’t shoot these photos from my secret spot. 😉 )

The video below is the result of that idea.  Sure, I could have done a better job at remembering what settings I had used from month to month.  And I probably could have lined up the shots a little more similarly.  But I still think it’s kind of cool to see how the seasons here change.  You can see the lake come to life as summer graced us with its presence… and how it slips back into quiet hibernation with the arrival of winter.  I hope you enjoy this 60-second peek into why I love this place so much, as much as I enjoyed putting it together this past year…

 

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Baby Steps, part 2

There’s something about being on a plane that make me reflect.  Seems crazy, right?  Sitting in a metal tube, thousands of feet above the ground, with people talking and coughing and babies crying… doesn’t seem like the most insightful place to be.  But for me, once we’re in the air, there’s a calming to it.

Monday night I settled into seat 19D and took a breath as we took off towards the Midwest from New York City.  I slid headphones in my ears as we barreled through the sky, turned on a tune and just fell deep into thought.

I recently came into a very blunt realization about just how much I keep people a “safe” distance away from me.  It takes a lot for someone to get past that barrier I have up and when they do, I never let them see it. I focus on every single reason why I shouldn’t and simply continue on, business as usual, always with my “game face” on.  Meanwhile, they’ve unknowingly grabbed a hold me and I just let that connection waste away.

After all, there are rules, responsibilities, and reasons to keep myself contained and conformed, right?

Heading into 2013, though, I say fuck the rules. That way of living is not the way to grow as a human, as it just leads to dormancy.  How many relationships – friendships and otherwise – have I let slip away because I’ve lived so strictly by these “rules” that are mostly made-up in my head?

Now don’t worry, I’m not talking about breaking any laws or going crazy off the deep end.  But I am going to make a conscious effort to take more risks in my life and put myself out there a little more, day-by-day.  You know, those baby steps I keep talking about.  (Again with the baby steps!)

SIDENOTE:  I’m always looking for contributors to The Awkward Dancer.  Let’s face it, we could use some more voices here.  You can post anonymously – and remember, writing about something your working through could help someone else in a similar situation.  That’s what this site is all about.  Hit the contact button up above if you’re interested. 

Otherwise, I wanted to take a moment to wish you all a very HAPPY holiday season!  And thank you for the many encouraging words as I find my voice again… and for humoring me by reading along.

End of Days?

For as long as I can remember, tomorrow’s date has been infamous as the fabled last day of the world.  I joke about it all the time, as do a lot of people.

“Doesn’t matter, the world is ending anyway.” I’d udder sarcastically during conversation, not really believing an ounce of it.

But for the sake of this post, what IF the world ended tomorrow?  Have you lived a life you are happy with?

I recently ran across this article in my news feed on Facebook about the Top 5 Regrets of the Dying.  And, like the author, the list hit me like a ton of bricks.

Have I been a good person?  Yes.  Have I been relatively successful in a career?  Yes.  Have I been a responsible member of society?  Yes.

But have I lived my life completely how I want to live it?  No.  Not fully.

I recently wrote about fear and how I’ve let that hold me back in the past.  If the world really did end tomorrow, as the big fiery ball of doom came barreling down on us, I’d be disappointed in myself for wasting so much time.

Not that I’m saying my life up until now has been a waste.  Not by any means.  But I feel like there’s so much more I could and should do.  More risks to take.  An even more fulfilling life to live.

What that means exactly, I don’t think I’ve fully realized yet.  But if I wake up tomorrow and the world is still intact, you better believe I’m going to make more of an effort to find out.

We all should.

Human Again

Last Friday, the unthinkable happened in Newtown, Connecticut.  The news coverage makes me sick to the point where I had to completely shut it off after a few hours on Friday.  Not because I didn’t care about what happened there, believe me, it has affected me deeply.  I turned it off because the media does nothing but add fuel to this disturbing fire engulfing our country.  They glorify these killers, when we should forget about them.  I don’t want to know his name, see his face or know his reason.  Grieving families shouldn’t be paraded in front of cameras while pushy reporters exploit their pain.

On top of it all, a raging debate has exploded on social media.  Heated deliberations over gun control versus the state of our mental healthcare system.  Finger pointing and hateful shouting spews from the keyboards of people hiding behind a screen.  We’ve reached a scary point of paranoia and extremism in our country that’s only pushing us, as humans, farther and farther apart.

I’ll be the first to say that I’m guilty of constantly checking my phone to see the latest updates from news outlets and/or friends.  Half the time, I don’t even realize I’m doing it.  That’s a huge part of our problem.  Not just for me, but for all of us.  We are mindlessly consuming an ungodly amount of needless information in place of actual human interaction.

I spent this past weekend with a friend in New York City, which is perhaps one of the most chaotic and diverse places on the planet.  After a couple of days of touring all the various Christmas spots around the city and dodging in and out of masses of people, we found ourselves tucked inside a small pub in the West Village with incredible ambience.   A fire was roaring in the fireplace while the cold and rain blew outside.  I reached into the pocket of my jacket as we settled into some stools at the bar and habitually pulled out my phone to scan it over.  I discovered it was dead, likely from a day full of battling a couple million other people for a tower signal.

The thing is, I was kind of relieved.  It was like my eyes really opened and I could truly appreciate where I was and just enjoy the moment without the distraction of the world in my pocket.  It was honestly one of the best nights I’ve had in a long time because I was completely there without diversion.

Now, I’m not swearing off technology or even social media completely.  It does have a way of bringing us closer when geography keeps us apart.  But there’s a line that too many of us have crossed where it starts to have the complete opposite effect.

It’s time to focus more on the actual, real people in our lives.  Get to know them beyond their Facebook profile.  Embrace our differences and learn from each other, rather than going off on tangents about things or situations we don’t truly understand and driving people away.

And perhaps, when we humanize each other again, the violence and hate will stop.  That may elicit an eye roll or twelve, but I believe it wholeheartedly.  It’s not as simple or easy  as that statement makes it sound and it’s not an instant fix.  But every act of kindness you enact every single day, no matter how small, will contribute to the survival of humanity.

Baby steps, friends.  We’ll get there.  Be good to each other.

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If you’d like to make a donation to the Sandy Hook School Support Fund, please click here.

Skeptical Contradiction

Like the rest of the state, I decided to make a trip to Mall of America this past weekend in an effort to make a dent in my holiday shopping.  I ducked into a store that has a bunch of nooks and crannies, filled with a variety of “gifty” types of things.  A cool, distorted frame caught my eye.

“This thing is twenty bucks,” a voice said near me.  I looked to my right to see a dark haired guy holding a cheesy metal frame.

“Oh yeah?” I said, playing along.

“Seems like a lot, right?” he continued, “Nice picture in it though.

I smiled and nodded.

“It would be better if it was me and you in it,” he threw out there, clearly a planned line that I’m sure he tried on several women already that afternoon.  I gave him a small laugh and probably rolled my eyes a little bit.

He continued to introduce himself, asked my name.  We made small talk, yet in my head I was trying to find a way out of the situation.

I recently wrote about how I wanted to meet someone the “old fashioned” way.  Meaning, through real life encounters, not through an Internet dating site.  Yet, as I was doing just that, I immediately became a skeptic.

Now, in my defense, this guy had a ton of red flags.  Like saying he was from France, yet had no accent whatsoever.  (Ladies, you don’t fall for that, do you?)  Not to mention that he was incredibly pushy.  Ditching him was definitely the right decision, but it still got me thinking.  What if he had been a normal, friendly person?  Would I still have been a skeptic?

It seems as though we live in a world where we don’t trust anyone until they give us a reason to.   Shouldn’t it be the other way around?  Do we let our fear of the unfamiliar prevent us from growing as humans?

Fear used to cripple me.  You could say I was shy… and to a certain extent I suppose I still am.  More than simple shyness, though, it was a fear of being a bother to other people, really.  I’m not sure if those two ideas are the same, but I’m sure they’re related.

I’d often hide my “fear” behind my work.  I direct a team of multimedia project managers and web developers and deal with large clients on a regular basis on insane deadlines.  That gig is not for the timid or weak of heart.   I have to be confident and fearless.  Knowing who I really am at my core, it seems impossible that I’m in that role.  Yet I am.  My work self isn’t the same as my real self, so I suppose that’s why I’m not shy when it comes to the job.

I also hide fear behind humor.  I’m often told that I’m “the funny one” or am always “good for a laugh.”  Don’t get me wrong; I love being that person and it really is a big part of who I am.  But I think I hide behind that persona.  Very few people have known me beyond that barrier, as  I tend to keep people at arms length out of an unwarranted fear of becoming a burden on them.  (It makes no sense, I know that.)

I’ve spent the better part of this year pushing myself into situations that are (or were) incredibly uncomfortable for me.  Like joining a rec sports league where I knew no one.  Or driving by myself two states away and going to a concert with strangers.  Or even just writing right here on this blog.  Through it all, I’ve met some really awesome people, had some great new experiences and learned a lot.  While I still catch myself retreating back to my old comfort zone sometimes, I’ve made huge progress in my own personal growth that I intend to continue into the New Year.  I’m excited to see what kind of adventures it gets me into.

I wish the same for you, friends.  How do you want to grow?  How is “fear” holding you back?  What can you do to conquer it?  And conquer it you CAN.

Baby Steps

My six-month old nephew recently learned how to sit-up on his own.  He’s been working on it for a while and has since become a champ at it.  Before we know it, he’ll be crawling.  And soon enough, we’ll be chasing him around as he learns how to walk and starts running around.  Babies don’t go straight from laying on their back to standing on two feet.  They take “baby steps” to get there.  (Hey, there’s Captain Obvious again!)

As adults, I think we sometimes forget that baby steps apply to us, too.  We can’t go from being fat and out of shape to thin and fit overnight.  We can’t build proper savings by tossing five bucks into an account from time to time without a plan.  We can’t expect to come out of college and land a high-paying gig straight out of the gate.  The work has to be done in order to get the quality results we’re after.  It’s the only way to make our personal ideals reality.

I keep using weight loss as an example, because that’s something I’ve gone through recently, but the idea can be applied to pretty much any goal or dream.

Three years and 120 pounds ago, I was extremely obese, out of shape and unhappy.  I half-assed it for a while and lost twenty pounds without really trying too hard (I don’t even count those 20 pounds when people ask me how much I’ve lost, as I don’t feel like I earned them).

That’s good enough, right?  Or, I guess that’s all I’m meant to lose, I’d try and convince myself.

In reality, I wasn’t putting in the real work.  I’d sort-of watch what I ate, but didn’t take it seriously.  I’d go for a walk on occasion, but rarely broke a real sweat.  BUT IT’S SOMEONE ELSE’S FAULT!  RIGHT?!

Wrong.

It took me almost three years to reach a healthy weight.  Three years of hard work every single day.  I had bad days, sure, but I kept at it.  I didn’t quit.  You can’t if you really want to change.

Reaching that goal was a huge deal for me, not only because of the lost weight, but because it proved to me that hard work really DOES pay off.  It’s not just a cliché.

Looking ahead, I have new goals.  I’m training to do distance rides on my bicycle in an effort to get fit.  I’m focusing more on my finances and planning for the future.  I’m working on being more productive with my time away from work.  All of these things require me to take baby steps and change my habits yet again.

As we charge towards another ball drop in Times Square, what do you want to change?  What can you do to live your life closer to your own ideals?  And what are the baby steps you need to take in order to get there?

That’s my beef with New Year’s Resolutions.  People make grand declarations about making an epic life change.  After a couple weeks, it doesn’t work out like they thought, so they quit and they feel like crap because in their minds they’ve failed.  They’re only looking at the end goal and not paying any attention to the baby steps they need to take in order to get there.  Don’t wait until January first and pile up all that pressure.  Make a small change today and build on that.

And remember, babies fall down from time to time… but they get back up and keep putting one foot in front of the other and become stronger walkers.

Getting back up is key in order to keep moving forward.  Babies are so smart.  Grown-ups could stand to learn more from them.

The Tremendous Week of Nothing

The end of the year has rapidly appeared, as it usually does, and again I found myself with a ton of vacation days to use.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s a happy problem to have, but at the same time it reminded me how much I neglected to take time away from the office this past year.

In an effort to not toss that time into the wind, I took last week off from my full time gig.  I didn’t have anything planned.  I wasn’t going anywhere.  Typically when I do a staycation, I’ll plan a ton of stuff to do locally.  Lunches, shows, etc.  This time, I didn’t.

Sure, I had grand ideas of things I’d get done around the house, like clean out the storage closet in my basement that’s full of stuff I haven’t looked at since I moved in five years ago.  And clean my garage.  And teach myself how to bake kick-ass bread.  And read a few books.

I did none of that.   I did a whole lot of nothing.  I stayed up late and played guitar.  I slept until 10 a.m. and went to the gym.  I watched a ton of movies/TV shows on Hulu.  I did a little Christmas shopping.  I finished one of the six books I’m in the middle of.  I put up Christmas decorations.

Ok, so maybe I need to check the definition of nothing, but compared to a normal week and everything I intended to get done, it was pretty lazy.  And while lazy it may have been, I did still learn something about myself during that time.  I need some kind of deadline in order to get anything productive done.  If my boss comes to me and says “I need a report on this done by end of day.”  BAM, I crank that sucker out, stat.  If a family member needs me to do something, I do it right then and there.  But when it comes to my own stuff, if there’s no sense of urgency, I just don’t do it until I feel like doing it.  That mode of operation translates to a lot of procrastination, wasted time and stress because I get pissed at myself for not following through.

That’s what I’m working on as we head into the New Year – personal time management and motivation.  I need to learn how to do things for the sake of getting them done, not because there’s a looming deadline or because someone else needs me to do it.  I need to devote more time to doing productive things and less time to distractions.  I’m not calling it a resolution, because I hate New Year’s resolutions.  Let’s just call it a continuation of my personal evolution.

(Did she just say she hate’s New Year’s resolutions?  I did.  More on that to come.)