Lighter Fare

Craving a slice of humble pie?  Got caught with egg on your face?  In the first iteration of Lighter Fare, I’ll leggo my ego, swallow my pride, and indulge in a satisfying smattering of cringe-worthy moments and realizations…or as I like to call them, “brewed awakenings”.
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  • My freshman year of college, I had an Ed Hardy poster hanging in my dorm room above my bed.  In my defense, they handed it to me on my way out of the store. In the store’s defense, it was after I handed them the $7.99 it cost to purchase it.
  • I talk to my mom on the phone so often that I have to deliberately coach myself not to habitually end conversations with, “Okay love you, bye” before I call my boss.
  • One time, my ex-boyfriend was studying my face intensely as if he wanted to lean in for a kiss.  We locked eyes as he pulled me close to whisper in my ear, “You have a fuzzy face.”
  • My co-worker and I were using my iPhone to test the functionality of our website on a smartphone.  It didn’t occur to me that when I opened Safari, the app would load my most recent search by default.  So now my co-worker and I both know: “How come raw cauliflower smells so mich [sic] like fart?”
  • I’ve had expired turkey burgers in the back of my freezer for about the same length of time a U.S President can serve a full term in the White House.
  • My family likes to reminds me about the time I ate four hot dogs at the beach as a three year old.  Since it’s only a vague memory to me, I’ve incredulously asked them, “Did I eat all the buns, too?” as if I’m half-expecting one of them to rationalize it like, “Oh god of course not, you were doing a lot of Crossfit back then.”
  • When I drive in the rain, I get self-conscious if I notice I’m using my windshield wipers at a faster speed than other cars on the road.
  • I wasn’t sure how to pronounce a close friend’s FIRST NAME for almost a year because I was too proud to ask her and afraid to offend her.  I introduced her to at least a dozen of my other friends during that time, but fortunately we were always someplace loud or crowded so I could mumble her name quickly and pray someone else would ask her to repeat it.  To this day, I don’t know if she knew what I was doing but was too polite to call me out.
  • I tell chatty people at the gym that my headphones are noise-cancelling to give me an excuse to ignore them if they try to interrupt my workout.
  • I get genuinely embarrassed singing in the car by myself when I imagine a judgmental serial killer crouched behind the passenger’s seat listening to me.
  • When I went home for the holidays, I found my third grade diary at my parents’ house.  On a page titled Secrets, there was a single sentence written by me in lavender milky pen: “Sometimes I pick my nose and wipe the booger on an object.”  I don’t remember writing that, but I sure remember doing it.

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I decided to publish Lighter Fare to offer a more realistic, unkempt narrative of my life.  #nofilter! While it takes minimal effort to sit on my soapbox behind the safety of my laptop to preach an ethical code of conduct, demonstrating those principles through my daily actions takes far more bravery and elbow grease.  In reality, I could probably stand to take much of the advice I’ve doled out so freely in past entries.  This may not my most profound, inspirational post, but hopefully it’s a #relatable one.  After all, I don’t write with the delusion of inspiring people; I write with the hope of connecting with them.

The Bowl of Light

There is a Hawaiian proverb called the Bowl of Light that metaphorically describes the evolution of the human spirit.  It explains that when we are born, we are like a shining bowl of light that represents our innately radiant, untarnished souls.  When we operate on the foundation of love, respect, and gratitude, the light serves as kindling to ignite and spread more luster.  On the other hand, when we are critical, judgmental, or harbor resentment, we drop a stone into the bowl that blocks out some of our light.  The more we allow stones to accumulate in our bowls, the more we become dull, stagnant, and burdened by their weight.  To bring the light back into our lives, the proverb encourages us to “huli the bowl”, which means turning it upside down to shake out the stones.

While that solution seems practical, letting go of stones isn’t always such a simple task.  Even with enough self-awareness to see that stones can perpetuate destructive thought patterns and poor coping skills, carrying them may feel like a safer option than discovering what lurks beneath the void they fill.  For example, I fixate on every pucker, crease, and blemish on my body out of fear that accepting my imperfections would foster complacence with my own mediocrity.  I have been stingy with forgiveness and deemed others unworthy of compassion when it has been easier to hold a grudge than to swallow my pride and admit I was hurt.  I haven’t made peace with accepting the apologies I will never receive, but still long to hear.  Other stones aren’t so heavy; they’re more like pebbles that bury themselves at the bottom of the bowl, only to rattle around and come loose at random.  For example, I’ll jolt myself awake at 3:00AM to replay the time I blurted out, “Good, how are you?” in response to a toll booth worker who said good morning or “Thanks, you too!” to a waiter who told me to enjoy my meal.  I ruminate over my faux pas as a constant reminder not to repeat them.  For better or for worse, some of my stones are wedged tightly into my bowl and won’t budge easily.  They aim to protect me, but could use some repurposing.

The good news is that the direct translation of “huli” is transform.  In other words, the proverb doesn’t simply call upon us to dump the bowl and get over it.  When we aren’t ready to let go, we have the choice to polish our stones until they transform into crystals.  This transformation not only allows the light to pass through, but also gives us the capacity to shine in prismatic, multifaceted patterns that reveal new perspectives we wouldn’t have seen had it not been for the stone dropping in our bowl.  Polishing our stones teaches us the strength of our character by shaping adversity into opportunity.  Essentially, we have the power to reframe feelings and experiences that once buried us into ones that enlighten us.

I first heard the Bowl of Light proverb on an ecological jungle reserve in San Pancho.  At twenty-five years old, this had been my first time out of the country.  Though most of my friends had studied abroad in college or found other opportunities to fill their passports with stamps, I had always found excuses as to why the timing wasn’t right.  Maybe I was too busy.  Maybe I was trying to save money.  Maybe I had a tomato plant I couldn’t leave unsupervised for the week.  Maybe I had JUST promised my second cousin’s best friend I’d be at her cat’s bar mitzvah that weekend.  The truth was that I had crippling anxiety, an inflexible relationship with food, and I was unwilling to so much as dip a toe into the moat I had dug around my comfort zone to keep out that which I could not control.  So when I was invited on my dream yoga retreat to volunteer at a no-kill animal shelter and the first thought that ran through my head was, “but what if they expect me to eat simple carbs?”, I realized my comfort zone was no longer swaddling me; it was suffocating me.  Despite remembering only enough Spanish to ask for the bathroom, not traveling with a buddy or having cell reception to contact home in case of an emergency, and praying with every fiber of my being that the TripAdvisor reviewer who said he got crabs in his cabin was referring to ones of “the Little Mermaid’s crustacean pal” variety and not the “uncomfortable Uber to Planned Parenthood” kind, I booked the getaway.  In the months leading up to the yoga retreat, I was troubled to find myself eager to get the trip over with just to be able to say I did it.  Knowing that someday I would probably regret white-knuckling this incredible opportunity I was so fortunate to experience, I vowed to try my best to be present and open to receiving whatever I was meant to gain on the trip without worrying about proving anything to anyone once I got home.

After a shaky attempt to meditate my jitters away on the evening I arrived in San Pancho, I was told the story of the Bowl of Light from a Shala in the mountains overlooking a sunset so beautiful, it washed over me with a soothing reassurance that I was exactly where I needed to be in that moment. As I sat in stillness feeling the dampness of twilight raise goosebumps on my skin, I resolved to begin to repurpose that which weighed me down into something resilient and capable of shedding light on a new perspective.

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Thank you Dia Moeller for once again turning my long-winded, flighty explanations of abstract concepts in my brain into something beautiful.  You are as refreshingly unpretentious as you are extraordinarily talented.

Food for Thought

Some old friends meet for dinner at a restaurant.  They scan the menu, place their orders, and exchange stories while they wait for their meals.  A server comes to the table with all but one of their plates and walks away, presumably to get the last plate from the kitchen.  The group politely sits in front of their steaming, fragrant dishes waiting for everyone to be served before beginning to eat.  A considerable length of time passes, and the server still hasn’t returned.  The friend without food, we’ll call him Joshua, takes an exasperated sigh and states, “Man, I’m hungry. I wish I had my food.”

Joshua’s friend gazes longingly at his own congealing, untouched meal, and says, “Look, we’re all hungry.”  Joshua replies, “Yes, but you have a plate of food to eat.  I don’t.”

Another friend shrugs his shoulders and says, “So eat some bread to tide you over.”  Joshua explains, “That may temporarily satisfy me, but what I ordered is more nourishing.”

The girl next to him rolls her eyes and sneers, “Didn’t you just eat lunch a few hours ago?”  Joshua looks over at her bountiful plate and says, “I did, as you may have too.  Can’t we both eat?”

One friend looks sympathetically at Joshua and pushes her plate across the table saying, “Here, you can have my dinner.”  He replies, “I appreciate the gesture, but I’m not asking to eat your dinner.  I want the food I ordered.”

She cuts her meal in half and insists, “Then at least eat some.”  Joshua says, “Thank you, but that’s really not enough food for either of us.  If we split it then we’ll both leave the restaurant hungry.  I just want my own—“

Someone cuts Joshua off mid-sentence and bellows, “This service is OUTRAGEOUS!  How can we just sit here doing nothing?  I’m going back to the kitchen and demanding they fire that server!”  Joshua gently places a hand on his friend’s arm.  “Please, I don’t want to get anyone fired.”  He continues with a chuckle, “Besides, then who will bring me my food?”

Another friend was no longer listening to Joshua, instead turning his attention to his smartphone to type a scathing review of the restaurant on Yelp.

The final friend looks Joshua in the eyes and asks, “Is there anything we can do to help you get the meal you ordered?”

Joshua smiles. “Thanks for asking.  Would you mind helping me get the server’s attention next time he walks by so I can ask if it’s on its way?”  The friend nods and waves a hand in the air, which catches the server’s attention immediately.  He quickly scurries to the table to apologize for the delay and fetches Joshua’s meal.  Within moments, they all have the dinners they ordered.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT:

The reactions from Joshua’s friends represent fairly typical responses to campaigns that promote advocacy and equality for marginalized groups of people.  I have observed that unfortunately, there will likely always be a subset of people who don’t recognize the magnitude of a societal issue if it doesn’t apply to them.  Fortunately, more often than that I see well-intentioned people who want to support and facilitate positive change.  Sometimes people aren’t sure how to help.  They may pity targets of injustice rather than empower them.  This isn’t the most helpful approach because giving sympathy instead of showing empathy further ostracizes people who have felt victimized or demonized.  Other people get so excited about an issue that they speak on behalf of their allies as opposed to providing the underrepresented group with a platform to articulate their own fully capable voices in the way they want to be heard.  There are also folks who believe they can elicit change by arguing with strangers in the comments section of articles posted on Facebook .  Engaging in conversation can be a productive first step, but only if participants are as willing to listen as they are to speak, which is often not the case on those types of forums.  Thankfully, amidst all the conflicting messages, there is a group of people who recognize that even if they haven’t experienced a specific injustice firsthand, they validate that a problem exists and they want to learn how they can become part of the solution.

Which of these friends would you like to be?

Gym Shorts: Volume 3

A disorderly collection of passing thoughts, insights, and short stories inspired by true events at my gym.

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If you wear yoga pants when you do yoga, swimsuits when you go swimming, and tennies when you play tennis…don’t come around me when you wear a windbreaker.

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If I want to ignore a gym rat, I’ll wear headphones. If I want to attract a gym rat, I’ll flex my traps. Why? Traps catch mice! (And they’re as cheesy as my puns if you take the bait.)

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If you sacrifice alignment, control, or safety to finish your set, you’re lifting too heavy.  If you don’t look like you’re crushing a bowling ball with your butthole on your last rep, you’re not lifting heavy enough.

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If you wear your hair down to do cardio, how do you keep from:

a.) Getting it stuck in your sweaty armpits by the warm-up
b.) Getting mistaken for Weird Al Yankovic by the halfway mark
c.) Getting a deeper understanding of why Britney Spears shaved her head in 2007 by the cool-down

…Asking for a friend.

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Gotta run!

A Hard Pill To Swallow

When I was younger, I regularly looked after my neighbor’s cat.  The cat had hyperthyroidism, so she was prescribed oral medication to take before each meal.  My neighbor warned me the cat didn’t like taking her pills, but said she’d feel much worse if she was off her meds.  The feeble feline was fairly frail as a result of her overactive thyroid, so I figured she couldn’t put up much of a fight even if she tried.  But when I went to grab that pussy like my name was Donald Trump, the cat channeled the spirit of the late Meowhammad Ali.  She thrashed, clawed, bit me, and even hid the tablets under her tongue to cough up after I walked away.  I had her best interest in mind, but she could only infer from my approach that I wanted to hurt her.

I could have followed the path of least resistance by deciding to stop trying to give her the pills.  Avoiding the situation altogether was the easiest, most painless solution for me, but ultimately it would have been a very selfish one that led to an even less undesirable outcome for both of us.  Our interactions would have been harmonious on the surface, but the cat inevitably would’ve gotten sicker and before long, there would be no more cat for me to look after.  I started thinking creatively about how I could make med adherence more mutually beneficial.  Each pill was about the size of her favorite salmon-flavored pellets, so I began feeding her a few treats with the pill mixed in before I put out her food bowl.  When I tried this method, the pills softened in her mouth first so that they were easier to swallow and tasted more pleasant.  Our new system served us both because she started getting stronger and I walked away without a scratch.

While this is a literal example of delivering a hard pill to swallow, we’ve all likely had to do this in the figurative sense.  Any relationship with depth carries the potential for having to relay bad news, express a difference of opinion, or have an otherwise awkward conversation—including the one about ending the relationship.  It’s especially uncomfortable to have hard conversations with people we care about, as we risk becoming the target of resentment for causing them pain.  We don’t want the burden of hurting someone on our shoulders, so we convince ourselves we don’t need to address these situations to avoid facing our own egos.  (What’s a matter; cat got your tongue?)  The downside of skipping a dose is that even though figurative pills can be hard to swallow, they’re delivered with the intent to mend the health of a relationship.  If we don’t deliver them to preserve a superficial facade, the relationship will suffer more profoundly long-term.

On the other hand, if we hide the pill in a sea of salmon pellets, our recipient may get full before they swallow it.  When we’re too sweet with our approach, the importance of our message dissolves into its sugar coating.  It is critical to be direct and authentic in our delivery so that there is no doubt that the recipient absorbed the pill.

When I’m delivering a hard pill to swallow, it’s helpful for me to consider how the other person wishes to receive it.  Rather than thinking about how I’m in the mood to deliver the message or even how I would want it delivered to me in a reversed scenario, I do my best to read the individual and take his or her perspective.  I focus my efforts on articulating my thoughts in the manner that person will be most receptive to hearing.  It’s not about manipulating someone by telling them what we think they want to hear; it’s about having the capacity to show empathy and the willingness to be vulnerable with someone whose wellbeing we value.  If we force feed someone information the way we feel like saying it, they may respond combatively or defensively, which only reinforces their opposition.  But if we avoid the truth or equivocate, we’re not communicating with their best interest in mind, either.  Treating others as we want to be treated is a good rule of thumb with respect to common human decency, but there’s something to be said for treating others as they want to be treated, too.

Sorry in Advance

For two years, I’ve worked closely with one of my colleagues.  We typically don’t go more than a few days without connecting over the phone, via email, or in-person.  Because we’re in constant communication, we’ve established efficient workflow processes to which we contribute equally and collaboratively.  Despite our mutual respect and genuine connection, she still initiates every interaction with the same opening line:

“I’m so sorry to bother you.”

Initially, I thought I must have accidentally given her the impression that by simply doing her job, she was a nuisance.  But as I began taking note of her interactions with others, I realized she apologized to everyone…for just about anything.  This got me thinking about the power of apologies, particularly in the workplace.  In general, I feel a strong moral obligation to apologize when I have done something wrong or hurtful.  Furthermore, I see an organizational leader who exercises humility by taking culpability for missteps as more likely to achieve greater innovation and support from one’s peers than one who is unapologetically pig-headed.  Having said that, there is no benefit to saying sorry reflexively.

I thought of an analogy on apologies.  An anology, if you will.  Imagine you just started dating someone special.  During the honeymoon phase, you hold hands with this person, you hold doors for this person, and above all, you hold farts in with this person.  The first time your special someone farts in front of you, it will inevitably catch your attention and evoke a reaction.  (And if the reaction isn’t laughter, then I’m probably enjoying writing this a lot more than you’re enjoying reading it.)  Regardless of your response, the deed itself is noteworthy.  Now imagine you’ve been married for 35 years.  At this point, your spouse has passed so much gas in front of you that it’s completely negligible.  You are desensitized at best, and rolling your eyes at worst.  Think of an apology like a fart.  Save it for when it is necessary and appropriate.  And most importantly, when the timing strikes…you better make sure it doesn’t stink.

From my professional experience, albeit limited, I have found that people often say “sorry” as opposed to “thank you” when they receive constructive criticism.  Instead of interpreting critique as a reprimand for inadequate performance, consider reframing it as an opportunity to learn and grow from someone who has a fresh perspective.  If the feedback brings attention to a mistake you made, assess what the consequences of the blunder were before deciding whether you should ask for forgiveness.  For example, if your boss catches a grammatical error in a memo you wrote, instead of saying, “Sorry for the typo”, you might say, “Thanks for your attention to detail. I will proofread more carefully in the future.”  If your boss has to remind you about an impending deadline, instead of saying, “Sorry, I forgot about that”, you might say, “Thanks for being patient.  I will put a recurring appointment in my calendar so  it won’t be your responsibility to remind me about that deadline anymore.”  When the error is inconsequential, it’s more meaningful to acknowledge it by setting a plan to prevent it from happening thereafter than simply saying you’re sorry.  People who demonstrate perceptiveness and receptivity to feedback come across more mature and competent than ones who simply show remorse.

Another instance I see sorry used in the workplace is as a disclaimer.  These are the “sorry, but…” sentences.  Not only does the qualifier come across insincere, but it also raises a red flag that you’re about to say something your recipient likely won’t be open to hearing.  As a result, your credibility diminishes and the person you’re talking to will likely tune out.  It creates an unnecessary and disadvantageous dynamic of power.  If your message is thoughtful and relevant, there’s no need to preface it with “sorry” because that implicitly gives the other person permission to reject it.  I have also seen “sorry, but…” as an opener for a message to a colleague who hasn’t followed-through on his/her responsibilities.  No one wants to come across as a nag, so we pepper our notes with apologies to show that we’re not trying to be pushy and that we are empathetic to our coworkers’ busy schedules.  Be that as it may, meeting deadlines is non-negotiable in a professional setting and there’s nothing unreasonable about holding colleagues accountable for the job they’re paid to do.  Apologizing for either your ideas or your requests comes across passive and helpless.  Thanking people for their time and attention or simply saying “excuse me” if you have an interjection comes across assertive, but totally respectful.

CliffsNotes on the Do’s and Don’ts of Apologizing in the Workplace:

Don’t apologize for having ideas or sticking to your convictions.

Don’t apologize for asking people to do their jobs.

Don’t apologize for inconsequential mistakes that would be better acknowledged by developing a plan to prevent the mistake in the future.

Do thank people for their feedback, patience, time, attention, etc.

Do apologize when you are sincerely sorry for what you have done.

Do be prepared to say why you are sorry.

 

RE: Puppy Pic OTD

For those of you who have read A Message from the Heart, consider this the prequel:

On December 30, 2013, my father had a left ventricular assist device implanted in his chest.  An LVAD is a battery-operated mechanical pump that functions as portable life-support for folks in end-stage congestive heart failure.  When the heart becomes too weak to work on its own, the LVAD manually pumps blood from the heart to the body via an external battery pack that connects to a port passing through the individual’s abdominal wall.  The intervention is often used as a “bridge procedure” for heart transplant candidates who have exhausted their treatment options and anticipate long wait times on the transplant list.  This extraordinary device saves lives by not only allowing candidates to live long enough to receive a match, but also to wait for their transplant from the comfort of their homes rather than the confines of the ICU.

While the LVAD was miraculous in many ways, my family understood that it came with a laundry list of risks, and it was merely the first step in my father’s journey to receiving a heart transplant.  Prior to receiving clearance to have the bridge procedure done, he had been in the ICU for thirteen weeks and his condition was rapidly deteriorating.  He had coded more than once when his doctors tried to perform far less invasive procedures, so his doctors weren’t confident he could tolerate a 6-hour open heart surgery.  Even if he survived the operation, his risk of life-threatening complications such as stroke, GI bleeds, and thromboembolism became greater the longer he had the LVAD.  His health would obviously be far more stable with the LVAD than without while waiting for a transplant, but his projected wait time on the transplant list was up to four years, so we still weren’t sure if the device would buy us the time he needed.  Moreover, while we were hopeful about his quality of life improving enough to go home, we realized there were many unique considerations that went into making accommodations for him once he left the hospital.  We would need to buy a back-up generator for our home in case we lost power so his batteries wouldn’t die.  We would need to have his clothes altered to thread his tubes through his shirt so he could conceal his heavy batteries in his back pockets.  We would need to buy a special showerhead, washcloths, and buckets so that he could learn to wash himself without getting his batteries wet.  We focused on the wonderful prospect of my father receiving the gift of life, but couldn’t deny feeling overwhelmed that no amount of planning could prepare us for the uncertainty of the road ahead.

The night before the operation, I sat with my father at the foot of his hospital bed.  Although he was hooked up to over a dozen IVs and could hardly sit up, I remember him pointing to a bridge outside his window and telling me how grateful he was to have such a beautiful view of the New York City skyline from his room.  He always managed to find small joys in his day.  Despite spending so many months in the hospital that he began referring to it as his “NYC office” to his colleagues, I don’t think he ever actually identified as a patient.  He tried so hard not to look sick in front of me, which always made me feel guilty because I knew it drained him of the little energy he had.  But on this night, I saw his irrepressible spirit soften for the first time.  He propped himself up in bed to shred passwords to his confidential work files.  He wrote down where his assets were located and compiled a list of people for my mom to contact “just in case”.  It was hard to believe that this was the same man who used to toss my chubby little seven-year-old body a thousand feet in the air at the lake where we used to swim together, even after the thousandth time I begged him for just one more turn.  This was the same man who, when I was eleven, lifted up two teenage boys by the backs of their shirts at the mall when they tried to steal my Bath and Body Works shopping bag full of bubblegum scented body glitter.  The same man who, when I was 23, taught me that in times of conflict, strength in character will always prevail over physical strength.  Though I was disheartened knowing there wasn’t anything I could do to change my father’s circumstances, I knew I could give him strength by reminding him why he was fighting.

There are three things my father loves more than anything in the world: his family, his job, and puppies.  Knowing that the first thing he would do if he made it through surgery would be to check his iPad to respond to work emails, I made a deal with him that night.  If he promised to survive his operation, I promised to email him a picture of a cute puppy first thing in the morning every single day between his LVAD and his heart transplant.  That way, no matter how weak he felt on any given day, no matter how frustrated he was that his quality of life was restricted, and no matter how anxious he was that the next time he raced to the hospital would be for a stroke rather than a transplant, he would have at least one reason to smile waiting for him when he woke up.  In a situation where I had so little control over the future and couldn’t be by his side each step of his recovery, this would be my way of showing him that no matter the circumstances, he was the first person I thought of when I opened my eyes each morning.

On December 30, 2013, my father followed through on his promise, and I followed through on mine.  So by the time he received his new heart on December 4, 2014, I had spent nearly a year making a routine of hitting the snooze button on my alarm, rolling over to grab my phone, and queuing up his “Puppy Pic OTD” email.  It had become such a habit that I decided not to stop after his transplant.  Now, exactly 900 days (and 900 puppies) since his LVAD surgery, I have not missed a morning.  Though my puppy pictures are a minor and admittedly insignificant gesture that have no implication on his health, they continue to serve as a reminder that his family will always help him find strength when the going gets “ruff”.

 

If you have a puppy you would like to be featured as his “Puppy Pic OTD”,
please email me at kayla.mantegazza@gmail.com!

Defining Moments

Defining moments are events that influence the way we interact with the world around us.  These experiences give context to the landscapes of our lives by shaping the prospective paths we travel.  Though we try to map out directions that lead down perfectly paved roads, defining moments are the inevitable detours we face along the journey.  Sometimes they cause us to lose our bearings, and other times they guide us to bridges and tunnels that connect to beautiful uncharted territory.  Though bumps in the road influence the lay of the land, ultimately we are the navigators who dictate where we go, how we get there, and who to bring along for the ride.  Simply put: defining moments put us at a crossroads where we are challenged to choose our course.  The decisions we make at those crossroads don’t merely build character; they reveal character.  These are important lessons I’ve learned from defining moments in my life:

1.
My best friend and I were riding the school bus home in sixth grade.  We had gotten a test back that day and I was playfully teasing her about how smart I was because I received a higher grade.  She was a good sport about it and shrugged off my comments by lightheartedly boasting about how many extracurricular activities she did and how she still found time to study.  Not to be outdone, I immediately snapped back to remind her how many clubs and teams in which I participated and that I didn’t use them as an excuse for my grades.  In an instant, I had managed to turn a tongue-in-cheek conversation into the Sesame Street equivalent of a dick-measuring contest…and all before we reached the first stop on our route!  She replied calmly in a firm tone I had never heard her use before. “There are other ways to show you’re smart, Kayla…like knowing when to stop.”  Then she moved to the seat in front of me, leaving me to sit by myself and reflect upon what she said.  I called her to apologize as soon as I got home, and thankfully this valuable lesson didn’t come at the expense of our friendship.

Moral of the story:
A smart person cares about the spelling and definitions of words, but a wise person cares about the impact and consequences of words.

2.
I had been elected student council President by my peers annually ever since elementary school.  By the time my sophomore year of high school came around, I was comfortable representing my class and since I hadn’t done anything particularly offensive during my terms, I didn’t feel a beseeching urge to convince anyone to re-elect me.   I coasted through campaign season with an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality.  It’s not that I didn’t want to be President anymore; I just didn’t want to have to keep working for it.  My opponent that year was not only extremely bright, motivated, and qualified, but she was also among the most likeable, sincere, considerate girls in our school.  Moreover, she brought a fresh perspective and eagerness to prove herself that my campaign devastatingly lacked.  She was Catwoman…and I was Garfield.   Needless to say, democracy prevailed and the better candidate won.  While losing the election was a blow to my ego, instead of being defeated by defeat, I took it as an opportunity to learn that the world doesn’t owe anyone anything.  If we want something, we must work hard to earn it.  Moreover, even if we earned something today, it’s not promised tomorrow.  In our careers, friendships, and marriages, we must never settle or get too comfortable.  Greatness isn’t achieved by those who passively wait for it to come to them, and nobody gets an award just for participating.

Moral of the story:
Wanting something does not make you entitled to having it.

3.
My final defining moment wasn’t an epiphany as much as it was a transformative phase that taught me many lessons worth taking to heart, so to speak.  In 2013, my father was diagnosed with end-stage heart failure and needed a heart transplant to survive.  In addition to the complex regulations that restrict transplant candidates from even being waitlisted, there’s a vast shortage of viable donors with hearts to give.  With statistics showing 22 people dying every single day waiting for organ transplants, my family did our best to remain hopeful that my father wouldn’t become a statistic.  After a year of waiting, he miraculously received a match.  Meanwhile in a paradoxical turn of events, shortly after my father’s heart was fixed, my heart was broken by someone I loved.  When it first occurred, I had to retrain myself to operate without my best friend by my side, as he had been an integral part of my existence for many years.  This was especially challenging amidst the fragility and uncertainty of my father’s condition because the reassurance of having any constant variable in my life would have been comforting at that time.  Moreover, I felt guilty burdening my parents with my sadness since my father’s recovery was far more critical than my non-life threatening problems.  I found myself at a crossroads where I was faced with two options:  I could be miserable about what I had lost, or thankful for what I had gained.  And when I framed it in that light, I realized no one was important enough to make me lose perspective that the first man to carry a key to my heart was back in my life; my father.

Moral of the story:
Hearts are not a dime a dozen, so take care when someone gives you theirs—figuratively or literally.

Gym Shorts: Volume 2

A disorderly collection of passing thoughts, insights, and short stories inspired by true events at my gym.

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Wearing a push-up bra on the treadmill is like putting Shaquille O’Neal on the foul line; no matter how hard they try to pull themselves together, the situation will likely result in choking.

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Every gym has a member who notoriously doesn’t wear enough deodorant.  If you don’t know who it is at your gym, then I’ll let you in on a secret…it may be time for you to apply some more Secret.

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Headphones are to gyms as wedding rings are to dating websites.  Even if you all pay to be there, you probably shouldn’t talk to the people wearing them.

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They say, “Abs are made in the kitchen, not the gym.”  But I’m like, “Then where will I make my midnight snacks?”

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Gotta run!

A Lesson from 2015

Imagine yourself standing in an open field on a warm, sunny day.  Off in the distance, a candle is lit.  Though you know it’s out there, the light it produces is unremarkable in contrast to the radiance of the sun.  You’re sure you could find more candles in the field, but you don’t take time to look for them, nor do you experience the palpable warmth of the flames they yield because you are immersed in daylight.

Now imagine standing in that field on a cold, dark night.  A single candle glows in the distance.  Though it’s a small source of light, it vividly pierces the pervasive darkness.  As you look around, you notice many candles have ignited around you.  Each candle shines with clarity and intensity, allowing you to easily distinguish their sources while collectively feeling their warmth.  Distance doesn’t seem to make a difference either, as even the candles placed considerably outside your reach help to break apart the shadows.  Eventually, you realize that even though darkness is still present, enough light surrounds you to guide you back to your path.  As you move forward, you have a newfound appreciation that if you don’t take time to fan the flames of those candles, you may eventually lose your way again.

In 2015, I learned that sometimes we need to endure periods of darkness to remind us to take stock of the powerful sources of light in our lives.  To my family and friends:

You are the candles that help me find my bearings when I’m alone in a dark field.

You are the fog lights that elucidate the limitless potential that exists on the far side of a storm so that I can keep driving forward.

You are the cigarette lighters that feed my addiction to personal growth so that I may become a better friend, sister, daughter, and partner to each of you.

You are the dazzling, irreplaceable diamonds that money could never buy.

You are the bolts of lightning that electrify my spirit with side-splitting laughter.

You are the LED bulbs that make me look good after I say something unflattering.

You are the green traffic signals that give me permission to unapologetically be myself.

You are the stars in my sky that remind me that from anywhere in the world, I can always depend on you to shine brightly in the dark.

There are no metaphors or analogies to adequately express my gratitude for the light you each bring to my life.  Thank you for being who you are; no one holds a candle to you.