Saturday Upside: The Clarity of Frugality

saturdayupsidesbuttonBonnie, the mastermind behind this Saturday series, shares her enthusiasm for couponing on her site, Recipes Happen. I admire that sort of dedication to seeking out the best value, especially now when I’m forcing myself to be a responsible adult once and for all by taking control of my finances. I never really gave any thought to being more proactive about extra savings through coupons other than a quick glance at the circulars I get in the mail. I figure I buy stuff on sale so that’s good enough. Right?

That was until yesterday when I found myself furiously clipping and printing coupons like a pro. $1.00 off my coconut milk creamer?! SCORE! I felt triumphant with each new little slip of paper stacking neatly on my desk. It was then that I realized that I’d entered a new phase in my life: I’m officially a grown up.  I am more concerned with saving a buck then just buying things at whatever cost. Moment for pause……Being a grown up sucks. Why didn’t anyone warn me?

piggy-bank

There was a time when I would come home with a smaller check than I make now (although not by much, sad to say) and still manage to carry in loads of shopping bags filled with God knows what on a weekly basis. Shoes, jeans, more jewelry than I can figure out what to do with, hair accessories, expensive shampoos, dresses, that fancy jacket in three colors; you name it, I bought it. I was young and I had a bit of a disposable income. But it was more than that. I harbored images of a future that would see an even bigger paycheck which had the potential of bringing my hopes of a glossy-NYC-up-and-comer lifestyle to fruition. Why? Because I felt I was entitled to that future. All the promises made me to me when I was growing up and in school about working hard and being a “leader of tomorrow,” only got more magnified when I climbed my way into the ivy-league and made it out on the other side. I’d done my part. I graduated from a great school. There’s a payoff here and I can feel it coming any day now.

Seven and a half years later and I’m still waiting.

There’s been a heavy burden of expectation weighing me down for years. I constantly struggle with this idea of what my life should look like by this point. Comparisons are made to my peers and so and so who has this job or that title or that income and I always end up feeling like crap by the end. I point the finger at me and blame myself for not being good enough to have accomplished more, as I was supposed to do after I was done with school. Yet here I am, not living up to those expectations and clipping coupons at a desk at a less than impressive job wearing clothes two sizes too big because I no longer come home with shopping bags of new things. I’m entering my thirties with a completely different life than what I pictured when I was accepting my diploma at my college graduation.

Some people call this a problem for the “millenials,” a generation of over-achievers who came of age during a major shift in globalization and technological expansion. We all grew up believing that we were capable of reaching further and thinking outside the box to become innovators and leaders. Hell, Mark Zuckerberg was my same year at Harvard when he was writing code for Facebook while I was wasting time napping between classes. But I had no clue at 21 what I wanted to do when I “grew up.”  All I saw or thought about was financial security. By 30, I figured I’d have the money, maybe a marriage, a respectable job, and most of all, that I’d feel settled. It never dawned on me that I’d be just as confused about what I wanted out of life or that my priorities would shift to embrace new expectations that included emotional and spiritual fulfillment. It never crossed my mind to really question the environment that shaped me with its set ideals of success as defined by money or status. I was a product of that system and the pictures of a bright future framed by those ideals that were fed to me all throughout my adolescence and early 20s, was what I wanted more than anything.

Now, I fight that picture in my mind every single day. I battle to shrug off the weight of expectation every time I allow myself to wallow in self-pity that I haven’t become the “big deal” I thought I was going to be at my age. I try not to compare myself to my peers who seem to have it together according to me, and acknowledge that we’re all going through some version of this problem. I know people making money hand over fist and are absolutely miserable with their chosen careers. We’re all in this boat together it seems.

I used to get upset and think that we were all bamboozled by the system by being made to think that there would always be a golden path laid before out feet because we were the generation to change things. My naivete was delivered a crushing blow when I was forced to take any job I could get my hands on out of college because I couldn’t wait around for the one that I thought was suitable for someone of my academic background. Snooty, snobby, outrageously ridiculous, yet it’s very much a true story. Reality kicked the door down of my fantasy ivy-league dreamhouse and I’ve been picking up the scattered pieces ever since.

American Dream over

It’s taken a long time for me to make the distinction between that dream and my real dreams. As difficult as its been to cope with financial challenges at my age when I feel like I should be a “grown up” and like, own things already, the fact is I’m weirdly happy I was dealt this crap hand. Sure, I’d love to be able to just buy things and not have to think about it five or six times before I do. Or have all my student loans paid off. Or not stay up late at night trying to figure out how the hell I’m going to cover all the huge plans I have laid out for myself this year. But having all of these pressures has forced me to look at everything from a different and more critical angle. That former dream-life picture has changed to a new dream of my own creation. This new picture paints a life where I’m not bound to things or accumulating stuff, but rather to focus on the aspects that make me feel truly happy and satisfied regardless of how it might be perceived by the outside world. In this picture I can do what feels right for me and not have to worry about what other people think. It’s a freedom that I wish for every single day.

I made resolutions like most everyone on January 1st. To blog more. Exercise more. Get back to school. Meditate and spend time nurturing my emotional and spiritual well-being. And to be more financially responsible. I have major challenges set for 2013 and I’m working hard to get out of my own way this time around so that I can finally get moving towards my goals. A big piece of this puzzle has been letting go of the former expectations from my past and to embrace the sacrifices I have to make so that I can make my dreams a reality.

I used to feel lost when that old dream crumbled, and I wasn’t quite sure what I had to look forward to when I didn’t have any direction. Now, I have a direction and a strong desire to follow that path. More importantly, I realized that I can still dream and dream big. Only this time it would be shaped by the new ideals and expectations that have grown out of my experiences as a “grown up” trying to make sense of it all. It’s 100% me and seeing that for the first time is worth a bit of coupon-clipping to help get me there.

Got a Saturday Upside to share? Then head on over to Bonnie’s site and copy a link to your post on her page. While there, take a peek at the other upsides and see what your fellow bloggers shared.

Until next time, stay healthy and keep paying it forward. Happy Saturday! 🙂

Saturday Upside: Trainer Knows Best

saturdayupsidesbuttonAfter careful consideration, I’ve come to the conclusion that I hate running. When I first started this blog, I waxed poetic about how great it felt that I started running and could jump that particular hurdle. I bought fancy running shoes and read dozens of articles on proper running form, how to begin training for races, and advice for newbies. And then it stopped being fun. Between shin splints, side stitches, nausea, and sore hip flexors, I realized running is hard. I know, what an epiphany. Eventually, I turned my back on the exercise, and swore that I’d conquer it some other time in the distant future.

So this Wednesday, it came as a bit of a shock when after about an hour of weight-lifting and exercise, my trainer, Natalie, decided to blindside me with a running challenge after I got through our workout.  I was struggling through a set of lunges when she dropped that bomb on me and it took several minutes to process what she said. I think I literally stopped myself mid-sentence when it clicked and asked, “Wait, did you just say I was going to run after this?” She chuckled, “Oh yes, you are and I’m going to run with you.” I was terrified. Dumbstruck. I thought about how I was going to get back on that dreadful machine and pull off a run when I wasn’t prepared for it. I had no choice. The gym is Natalie’s world, and her word is law…or something to that effect. I couldn’t give up and I had to get it over with. 

Why, hello there old friend.  Long time no see.
Why, hello there old friend. Long time no see.

I won’t bore you with the details of mileage, pace, or time of my run. Just note that the challenge was for both of us to do 1.5 miles at a moderate pace. And we did it. I, the person who’s procrastinated on getting back on the treadmill for nearly three months, did it. And I did it without the trimmings. No preparation. No iPod. No Nike Running apps. No thinking. And you know what? I didn’t hate what I was doing. I actually felt myself enjoying it after awhile. Even better, when I left the gym and made my way home I felt awesome, like I’d accomplished something huge. I always feel great after a good workout, but this was different.

I think there were a couple of factors here. I had the guidance and encouragement from Natalie who not only had faith that I could get it done, but also joined me. Having her running next to me gave me that extra push to keep moving even as it got harder to breathe and maintain my pace.

Then there was the element of surprise. I know myself. If given room to think, I’ll usually talk myself out of doing things. The thing is, the moments that stick out in my memory as gamechangers, big or small, usually got started by turning my mind off and taking action. Being thrown in the deep end to do something I really don’t want to do yielded some pretty excellent results and I think that was also because of the last factor.

I had faith. Sure, this was just a little run, I mean, how important is it really? It’s crucial. Why? Because I got to stop doubting myself and to just start moving. Because I knew I could do it no matter how terrible I thought it was going to be when Natalie initially challenged me. I knew I would come out of it on the other side feeling better that I put the effort in no matter what the results were. And I think that’s the hardest part for most people, especially when it comes to their health.

Staying healthy goes beyond what we achieve physically and what we choose to eat. A big piece of the puzzle here is learning how to get our minds right when it comes to our goals. Overcoming my impulse to immediately say no to new experiences or challenges that cross my path is extremely difficult. Like losing weight, I don’t expect to see results overnight. So I rely on the little silver linings along the way to track my progress. For this particular upside, it was an unexpected run. Next time it could be finally learning to ride a bike (uh huh, you read that correctly!) or getting through a day without focusing on the little things in favor or letting the big picture guide my choices. Luckily, I have a trainer and a friend to help keep me motivated to push as much as I can, and then some. 🙂

Bonnie from Recipes Happen has a great thing going with the Saturday Upsides series. Sometimes I come here brimming with thoughts I need to share and my fingers fly across the keyboard. Other times I’m so resistant to look at the bright side, that I literally push my computer away. I always find my way back here eventually though and I’m so much better for it. If you’re looking for inspiration, then head on over to Bonnie’s page at Recipes Happen and read other stories published each Saturday. If you’re looking to share your own stories, then leave the link with Bonnie’s post and make sure to add the button up top. I hope to hear more in 2013 and take part in your positive outlooks. For now, remember to keep paying it forward.

Saturday Upsides: The Beauty of Strong

saturdayupsidesbutton

“It is amazing how complete is the delusion that beauty is goodness.” -Leo Tolstoy

“Give us that grand word ‘woman’ once again, and let’s have done with ‘lady’; one’s a term full of fine force, strong, beautiful, and firm, fit for the noblest use of tongue or pen; and one’s a word for lackeys.” –Ella Wheeler Wilcox

 

 

I don’t have dainty arms. Let me rephrase. I don’t have beautifully elegant, thin, delicate arms, which I covet. Instead, these are my arms:

my arms

They’re muscular and shapely with a bit of roughness. Not exactly my idea of graceful or feminine. Bearing signs of all the hard work I put in over the last couple of years, my arms have become an important symbol for me. From the very first push up I struggled through to the kettle bells battering my wrist, each exercise and its results are a physical manifestation of my internal battle: to be strong versus being skinny. The constant effort I’m putting into each push and pull of the weight goes towards building a woman capable of so much more, both inside and out. I see this and love it, and yet, these arms challenge me. They’re not a part of the package I signed up for when I first started losing weight. I wanted dainty arms. I worked hard to get them, and instead, I have the very opposite.

What makes a woman beautiful? Is it the shape of her hips or a slim waist? Blue eyes and high cheekbones? Long silky hair or voluminous curls? Tall and willowy figure with graceful arms or short and curvy with an athletic build? I ask these questions every single day. I know what I believe; that all women, in every size, shape, and color, are beautiful. There is no one ideal and it’s shameful that we are all encouraged to be something other than ourselves. I get angry when I hear the statistics for eating disorders and how these issues have grown far worse with the advent of modern technology and social networking. Vicious bashing, both self-imposed and by readers, and the so-called “thinspiration” photos posted on various sites across the web are just one byproduct of the struggle to reach an impossible goal because the standard ‘one-size-fits-all’ image of beauty isn’t real. I am fiercely vocal of what body image disorders can do to a person’s psyche and how corrosive it is to self-esteem. And yet, I’m guilty of imposing those same impossible standards for myself because I still struggle to apply what I believe for everyone else, to myself. So, how can I say I really believe in something if I don’t allow it to hold true for me as well?

Here’s what I know. Beauty is all about perception. We each have our own ideas about what makes a person attractive based on our preferences and personal experiences. As much as I’d like to think that when I’m meeting someone for the first time they’re judging me based on my awesome personality, the reality is that we’re more often assessed on the physical. It’s just human nature. We gravitate towards what pleases the eye. But at what point do we say its okay to judge on physical appearances before we get so caught up in it that we end up trying to present an image that we think others want to see? Where do we draw the line between reality and perception?

fashion collage

When I took on fitness as more than just a vehicle to lose weight and made it part of my lifestyle, I started noticing other images of beauty to challenge my concept of physical ‘perfection.’ The rail-thin models awkwardly posed in haute couture were replaced with strong women in workout gear, their abs glistening as they were posed running or lifting weights. It makes sense when you consider I used to work in fashion and now I’m involved in nutrition and fitness. I’m not flipping through the pages of Vogue nearly as often as I am Women’s Health.

The fact is that there is a one to one exchange and neither one is better than the other. Both pictures above feature women, each beautiful in their own way, but representing two very different ideals that are equally challenging to achieve. Either you’re the glamorous yet distant waif or the sexy and playful warrior. Also, both are thin. I can argue over what’s more healthy or how these photos pick on certain stereotypes, but the fact remains that I see these two images and I see something I want and don’t have. It works for me by giving me a fitness goal but against me as well, since I’m admittedly obsessive and self-critical, especially when it comes to my body. The cons here far outweigh any bar I’m setting based on an image I’ve found on the health page on Pinterest. Whether its a fashion or fitness model,  I still manage to force expectations on myself by making unhealthy comparisons. In the end, both images are equally destructive if I allow it to go that far.

And I do allow it to go that far. Even now, after all this time and with all the changes I’ve made to improve my health by becoming more physically active, I still find myself standing in front of my mirror looking critically at my muscly arms and thinking that it’s not ‘pretty.’ I’m haunted by these thoughts that I will never look like this idealized version of myself I have permanently etched on my brain. I’m focusing on arms here, but other times it’s my legs, or my stomach, or my nose. I fixate on a body part and tear it up because I always find faults. It doesn’t matter where I’m looking because I’ve torn my reflection apart to the point where it’s unrecognizable. And still I ask, what makes a woman beautiful?

I often talk with my trainer about how women shy away from strength training because they immediately think “scary bodybuilder” and that it’s not exactly sexy for a woman to have muscles. I realize now that it all boils down to the same thing. We all have our ideas about what an attractive woman looks like, and more often than not, muscles get left out of the frame. We can be sexy, alluring, coquettish, moody, joyful, and angry. But we can’t be seriously strong. At least not all at the same time.

I don’t know when it happened but at some point this year, I realized that I wanted to be strong more than skinny. Now, I’m beginning to embrace a new ideal. I make the distinction between the image of the faceless fitness model pictured with the workout and the way my body will look like after I try it myself.  I flex my arms now and love the fact that they’re not delicate and thin. They show off strength and they’re a physical reminder of what I’ve accomplished. This alone is reason enough to keep at it, as I constantly forget what my achievements are in favor of hammering down on my failures.

Maybe these strong arms are attractive to the observer. Maybe they’re not. Either way, I can’t afford to get lost in these ideas because the person I have to worry about impressing most is myself. It takes a lot of mental will on my part to keep this from sliding in the wrong direction and I admit, some days are harder than others. When you’ve always doubted yourself as I have, this will take some time.

The upside here is that I’ve proven to myself that I can reshape my mind along with my body. I “tattoo” my wrist with positive quotes to keep me inspired, but really all I need to do is look again in the mirror and take note of my arms. There’s my inspiration. There’s beautiful.

Like looking at the silver lining? Share yours with Bonnie at Recipes Happen every Saturday. Enjoy your weekend and remember to keep paying it forward. 🙂

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