Facing Our Fears

You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. The fearful are caught as often as the bold.” – Helen Keller

In September, I was fortunate to travel out west with my husband Ken. His sister Mary was vacationing in Missoula, Montana for a month, so we started our adventure there. My husband loves going to the mountains. I am less enthusiastic. I fear driving on mountain roads without guard rails and walking on trails that overlook deep drops. Before we went, I told him, “I don’t want to be on the edge of cliffs!” And he respected that. Throughout our trip, we chose paths with lower elevations—maybe a 200-foot rise. Yes, I was within 3 feet of an edge at times, but never closer than that.

What I hadn’t reckoned with was my fear of bears. We hiked in Missoula at Rattlesnake National Recreation Area. Mary had seen a black bear there the week before. “I looked at him, he looked at me, and he walked away.” OK, I could deal with that. We, after all, had three people in our group and made more noise when we hiked. Bears would probably stay away when they heard us.

But when we got to Glacier National Parks, I started seeing these signs:

clear sign about grizzlies

Sign at Glacier National Park

The sign says “Entering Grizzly Country” and warns hikers to carry bear spray and not hike alone. We did not have bear spray—it’s expensive and you can’t bring it home on an airplane. Also the day was breezy. Maybe I’d end up spraying myself instead of the bear. With a little persuasion, I hiked with Mary and Ken in two of these “high frequency bear” areas that first day.

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Glacier National Park – Photo by Ken Ekins

But that night, I could hardly sleep, picturing myself turning a corner and surprising a grizzly. The next morning, I laid down the law, “I am NOT going in any of these high-frequency bear areas! You two can go—leave me in the car and I will happily read.”

That didn’t last long. The bear-warning signs seemed to be everywhere, even posted on short hikes along a lake. So I went in three high-frequency bear areas that next day. Mary and Ken let me take the middle spot most of the time. We figured a bear would be more likely to attack the first person or the last.

glacier national park pic 2 for blog

Hiking behind Mary at Glacier National Park – Photo by Ken Ekins

But I had anxiety and insomnia until we left the mountains several days later.

I don’t know what makes some of us more fearful than others. Neither Mary nor Ken was afraid of heights or bears. And my friend Julie had recently gone to Zion National Park. She climbed up a very steep path, two feet wide, with drop offs on both sides and only a chain to hold onto—and she described her trip as “very relaxing.”

We’re all different. I remember as a kid, driving with my family on mountain roads without guardrails, and my Mom covering her face with a hat. Maybe I developed my fear of heights from her anxiety during such experiences.

We all have different tolerances for fear depending on our histories, and that’s OK. But we can’t be afraid to live. I know people who are afraid to leave their homes. One friend suffers from chronic pain and seldom goes out. I asked her if she goes outside in her yard for fresh air. No, she doesn’t. An acquaintance doesn’t walk, even around the block—she is “more comfortable” at home.

We need to make our own decisions about what fears to confront and what risks to take. I did have options during the trip. I could have been more assertive and refused to enter areas with warning signs about bears. I could have insisted we buy bear spray. However, although we did see a couple of bears from the safety of our car, we never did see any bears as we hiked.

I am not recommending anyone take life-threatening risks. That is not a healthy way to live. But Glacier National Park says this, “Just to keep things in perspective, bear encounters are very rare. Consider that roughly two million people visit Glacier each year, and more than one million venture into the back country. On average, there are only one or two non-lethal bear incidents in a given year. And there have only been 10 bear related fatalities in the history of the park. Only three of those fatalities involved hikers, and at least two of those were solo hikers.” The risk I took was slight.

I am glad I confronted my fears and hiked in the beautiful parks out west. If I had given in to my fears, I would have missed seeing stunning scenery and experiencing fun times with Ken and his sister.

bison pic in front of old faithful

Bison in front of Old Faithful Geyser, Yellowstone National Park – photo by Ken Ekins

What are you afraid of? Are your fears reasonable? Have you faced any fears recently?

Posted in Challenges, Healthy living, Nature, Proactive | Tagged , , , | 9 Comments

Celebrate and Enjoy Life

The more you praise and celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate.” – Oprah Winfrey

If you’re lucky enough to be alive, you should use each birthday to celebrate what your life is about.” – Mary Steenburgen

Each year, my husband Ken and I host Easter and a couple of Marriage Encounter meetings. That’s about all the entertaining we do. But this year we both turn 60, and we decided to throw a party. We are in good health. We’re blessed with beautiful grown children and the ability to travel. Life is good. Why not celebrate?

For a few weeks, the party was our top priority. We spruced up the house and yard and arranged for a tent and for a caterer to bring dinner. We bought decorations and party goods. I made desserts ahead of time, froze them, and picked recipes for appetizers.

I had some anxiety, as I often do. I worried about who to invite—we couldn’t invite everyone we knew. Where would we put everyone if there was a thunderstorm? We’ve lived in the area for decades and are blessed with a lot of family and friends. I was also stressed because we sent out invitations by email, and several people said they never received them. I laid awake at nights worrying.

Then Ken showed me a photo album he had created of our 40th birthday party. So many of our guests at that party are now deceased—all four of our parents and some close friends. Other friends and relatives have moved far away, and we rarely see them. This put the party into perspective. We would celebrate no matter what and enjoy the people who came. I put the party in God’s hands and relaxed.

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We held our party on a beautiful evening in August, and it was nice to see so many friends at a happy event. Ken and I had a lot of fun and were glad we did it.

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Daughter Mel, my sister Mary, daughter Katie, son Jim, me, Ken, my sister Nancy


for sue's blog photo under tent DSCN9056

A couple of other recent incidents helped cement my resolve to enjoy life while I can. An older friend, Carol, passed away a couple of years ago, and her husband recently moved to assisted living. The family held an estate sale. Carol was a great cook and owned a tea shop for many years. I looked at her knick knacks, kitchen goods, and cookbooks priced at 25 cents, and thought, “Is this what life is reduced to when you’re gone? People haggling over your treasures?” This was true when my parents passed away too. We put many of their goods out to the curb when the town had a free pickup day.

But no, the stuff left behind is not all that’s left. What’s left behind, the real treasure, is the love our dear ones had for us and the love we had for them. At the sale, Carol’s daughter had tears in her eyes when we spoke of her mother. And so, when I wear Carol’s scarves and look through her cookbooks, I will think of her smile and how nice she was to me and to everyone. I will remember seeing her at parties, celebrating.

I often run a route along a river with a friend, Kristin. Most days, we see a woman with a rolling walker who struggles to take each step. We run past her with a cheery “Good morning!” I have often remarked that she is a good role model, because walking is difficult for her, yet she keeps at it.

The other day, Kristin spoke with the woman after our run. The woman struggles to speak. She is 80 years old and had a stroke two years ago. She has been working hard to walk and straighten out her arm. She said, “You never know when something might happen. Never give up.”

What inspiring words for us! What inspiration to enjoy our lives now. Run while we can, walk while we can, speak while we can. Celebrate while we can.

What have you celebrated recently? How are you enjoying your life?

Posted in Celebrate, Friendship, Inspiration, Proactive, Running | Tagged , , , , | 13 Comments

Good Enough versus Perfect

Many people think of perfectionism as striving to be your best, but it is not about self-improvement; it’s about earning approval and acceptance.” – Brene Brown

Perfectionism is not a quest for the best. It is a pursuit of the worst in ourselves, the part that tells us that nothing we do will ever be good enough.” – Julia Cameron

I seem to have problems making decisions lately. Even picking a topic for this blog post was difficult. Some of the ideas I had were on subjects I’ve written about recently, like attitude. Or people would know who I meant if I discussed a certain situation. Or . . . .

I couldn’t come up with the perfect topic. However, I’ve made a commitment to write a blog post each month, and this is July 31. I had to tone down my perfectionism and pick a topic that was “good enough.”

In thinking about lessons I’ve learned this month, I realized that word “perfectionism” applies to several of them:

  • My close friend Georgia and I were meeting for lunch and a walk along a river close to where I live. I spent well over an hour trying to pick a restaurant and came up with a list of ten. Even I realized that was a little crazy. Couldn’t we just walk around and see what looked good? Or I could have brought three options. Instead, I had to find the Perfect Place, and if I couldn’t do that, I had to provide several great options.
  • On Saturday afternoon, I went for a run at a forest preserve. The day was warm and the path was not shaded. I walked as much as I ran. I thought, “What is wrong with me? Can’t I motivate myself to run when I’m alone?” But later, I realized this was a back-to-back run—I had run four miles the day before, and on this day, I walked/ran for 3.3 miles. That was nothing to scoff at. It’s being active. I mentioned this incident to a runner-friend and she said, “You ran on that hot afternoon? Wow, you are motivating.” I was grateful for her perspective.
  • My husband and I have been to many concerts this summer, along with a picnic and potlucks. We are making the most of this season. Often, I pack up food to bring to these events. Unless I pick standbys like brownies or fruit salad, I pore over cookbooks deliberating over what to bring. “I’m missing a protein, like chicken. But how do I keep it at the right temperature? And will people like what I bring?” I spend too much time fussing over the food.

And that is the problem with trying to make things perfect. It takes up too much of our time and attention and prevents us from getting things done. Besides, it is stressful. It is better to admit we’re not perfect. We don’t know everything. We make mistakes. And that is OK. It is part of being human.

I hope my reflecting on lessons I’ve learned doesn’t imply that you should be hard on yourself, like I used to be. I’ve always been analytical, and my goal is to learn from my mistakes and to share my lessons learned with you—not to beat myself up. Nowadays, I view my faulty self with more compassion that I used to. I may not be perfect, but I am good enough.

In what ways has perfectionism affected your life? Are you able to view your faults with compassion? What lessons have you learned recently?

Posted in Perfectionism | Tagged | 8 Comments

Adjusting our Attitudes

Watch out for the joy-stealers: gossip, criticism, complaining, faultfinding, and a negative, judgmental attitude.”  Joyce Meyer

In last month’s blog post, we talked about enjoying our lives and appreciating moments of happiness. Sometimes our own attitudes keep us from being happy.

I have rather an ironic example. I’m in a book club in which we read and discuss books for self-improvement. We met a few months ago to discuss the first few chapters of The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. The book describes Ms. Rubin’s yearlong quest to become more happy.

Regrettably, I read the first couple of chapters with a chip on my shoulder. I thought, “This woman is a former lawyer, a published author, in a good marriage with a lawyer husband and two kids. She lives in Manhattan. Why is she not happy enough?”

That chip on my shoulder is especially ironic when you consider that her way of thinking is consistent with the Women Making Strides theme. “A woman who makes strides appreciates being alive and takes active steps to care for her body, mind, and spirit. She accepts challenges along her path and uses her God-given talents to better the world.” I encourage everyone to be the best they can be. That includes happiness.

At the book club meeting, it was obvious everyone had loved the book. We talked about deriving our own personal commandments; for example, Ms. Rubin’s “Act the way I want to feel.” We talked about decluttering as a way to happiness. And what about asking for help instead of being overworked?

I left that evening having resolved to reread those chapters without the chip on my shoulder. Would I enjoy the book more if I read it with a better attitude? I also decided to purchase a copy rather than read a copy from the library. This way I could highlight what I thought was important.

I’ve read through chapter six and attended a second book club meeting based on the book. And guess what? I’m amazed at the wisdom it contains. I find the concept exciting and life-enriching. Think about what makes you happy and what makes you feel bad. Use this information to create resolutions that will help you feel more happy. Keep track of how you do, and periodically check whether you are happier. Genius!

I no longer begrudge Ms. Rubin for seemingly having it all together. After all, who better to teach about happiness than someone who is happy? She comments, “I have such a good life, I want to appreciate it more—and live up to it better.” She also says, “Working on my happiness wouldn’t just make me happier, it would boost the happiness of the people around me.”

Recently I noticed another example of an attitude affecting happiness. My husband and I went to hear music at an outdoor venue. We loved the music and thought the band members were very talented. All four played one or two instruments, and they took turns being lead vocals. After awhile, we saw a couple we know, and the woman said, “This band doesn’t light our fire. We’re leaving.”

For a moment, I almost let that negative comment affect my mood. I thought, “I guess the band did play some songs I didn’t know. . . .” But I decided to ignore the comment and continue to enjoy the music. The couple looked tired that evening, and maybe that affected their enjoyment. I didn’t need to let it affect mine.

I will close by recommending you design your own happiness project. I am doing this also. And I know just the book to help us do that—The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin.

What keeps you from being as happy as possible? If you’ve read The Happiness Project, please share your thoughts about the book.

Posted in Attitude, Happiness, positive-thinking | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

Moments of Happiness

Perfect happiness is a beautiful sunset, the giggle of a grandchild, the first snowfall. It’s the little things that make happy moments, not the grand events. Joy comes in sips, not gulps.”  Sharon Draper

My mother is a big believer in being responsible for your own happiness. She always talked about finding joy in small moments and insisted that we stop and take in the beauty of an ordinary day.” – Jennifer Garner

I have a goal to declutter my life and that includes deleting 100 emails a day. The other day, I spent two hours deleting emails. I felt no satisfaction from doing this task. My husband Ken and I had decided to have a fire outside in our fire pit later that evening. As I sat deleting emails, I was looking forward to getting outside. I had a headache and knew I’d been on the computer too long, but still, I looked at every email before deleting it.

As soon as it got dark, Ken built a fire, and we sat by it with a glass of wine. We talked about the adjustments we’ve made this past year. He is newly retired, we became empty-nesters, and our dog died. But we have been making the best of things. He has been painting rooms in our house. We have been seeking out live music. We have planned some trips. Sitting by the fire and chatting was far more satisfying than deleting emails. I felt relaxed, and my headache disappeared. I felt happy.

The next day, I thought about my goal to delete 100 emails a day. Was I willing to trade another two hours of my life to clear out emails? I wasn’t. Instead I deleted a bunch of emails in a mass delete. In the future, I will be more particular when subscribing to email lists. Frittering away too much time on the computer is frittering away part of my life. I’d rather enjoy life while I can.

I learned that lesson years ago from a coworker, Don. He invited our softball team to his cottage on a lake in Wisconsin, where he owned wooded property. We went out on his boat, sunbathed, barbecued, and enjoyed being with friends. I asked Don if he went out on his boat often, and he said, “No. When I come up here, I’m usually fixing things up. I will enjoy it when I retire.” He was only about 40 at the time, but he knew how many years, months, and days until he would retire. Unfortunately, a couple of years later Don was diagnosed with cancer and subsequently passed away. He never did get to enjoy his retirement in Wisconsin.

Do you enjoy the things you have? If you have a porch, do you sit on it? If you have a fireplace, do you use it? I am guilty of that one. Our house has a fireplace, but we seldom use it.

When we think of the happy moments in our lives, we tend to remember big events—our wedding day, the birth of our children, a graduation. Or we look forward to future events. The day we retire. An upcoming vacation. A holiday.

But what about today? Surely we’ve had moments of happiness. Let’s enjoy the present moment and look for bright spots in our days. Our lives are a gift to enjoy. Yes, we face challenges and dramas and bad times. Life is not 100% joyful. But that is all the more reason to appreciate the happy moments.

I am usually happy when I’m in nature. That crackling fire. A river rushing over rocks. A visit to our arboretum. I am also happy when I’m with family and friends.

The other day, my husband Ken and I enjoyed a 4-mile hike at a forest preserve. We passed a small lake, a creek, and a marsh. Birds were calling and leaves were rustling. And today, Ken and I walked for two miles in a nearby subdivision. It was a beautiful day. We explored and looked at landscaping. These were moments of happiness.

The little moments can make us happy. . . or not. How are we spending our little moments? Are we staring at a computer, TV, or cell phone? Are we fretting over little things—like the fact that it’s raining or too hot? Do we seek out happiness? Let’s try to appreciate small moments rather than always thinking of our do lists.

When have you felt happy recently? What would make you happy this summer?


Posted in Happiness, Nature, Proactive | Tagged , , | 12 Comments

Making Better Choices

Your life is basically a sum of all the choices you make. The better your choices, the better opportunity to lead a happy life.”  Karen Salmansohn

Last fall, low rates were offered for the Naperville Women’s Half Marathon to be held on my father’s birthday, April 23. I signed up for the race on a whim and then forgot about it. But upon the New Year, I realized I’d better start training if I was doing the race. Winter is not a motivating time to run in the Chicago area, but I couldn’t wait until winter was over. Part of me said, “You only paid $30. You’re out of shape. If you don’t do it, it’s no big deal.”

naperville women's half-marathon start

But it was a big deal. Many friends from my running club would be running the race. If I wimped out, how would I feel watching everyone else run the race? And how would I feel if I participated, but wasn’t fit enough to do it properly, struggling to walk it and aching for days afterward? I decided I’d be happier if I trained properly. I could do the race if I worked to lose a little weight and get running-fit.

My first goal was to easily run a local four-mile fun run on February 4. I exercised, but I wasn’t consistent. February 4 was a cold day, and I wasn’t sure I could keep up with the other runners. Besides, I had an opportunity to go out for breakfast. I backed out of the fun run. I had missed my first goal for getting in running condition for the race.

I decided to process this fact without beating myself up. In the afternoon that same day, I ran on my own when it was a little warmer. I ran 3.5 miles, and part of the time I felt I was running smoothly and almost easily. So I wasn’t that far behind where I wanted to be. I decided to push myself to exercise, eat properly, and train seriously. This would be a healthier choice than giving up.

I reflected on the fact that the race was to be held on my father’s birthday. Dad passed away eight years ago from complications due to diabetes and obesity. What would I be saying by running a half-marathon on his birthday? Dad did not want us to follow in his footsteps as far as health. He was very proud of his grandchildren, including their fitness and athletic abilities.

And my parents did things differently from their parents. They both had relatives who drank heavily, and they chose not to do that. They moved out to the suburbs, even though their families lived in the city. They were the first on both sides to send their kids to college. I decided to do the race in honor of Dad’s example of choosing a better way for himself and his family.

I joined a training group and began to train in earnest. I gave up sweets for Lent and made healthier food choices. Our first long run was six miles in early March, and by the end of the training I had done two ten-mile runs. The training presented many challenges. My legs knotted up badly and often ached, and I had plantar fasciitis (pain in my heel). Often, I was the last person back from the runs. At times, I thought I couldn’t do it, but I addressed each challenge as it came along. I used a foam roller, did yoga, and arranged for a deep-tissue massage. I followed suggestions for fueling my runs and told myself it didn’t matter if I was sometimes last. Many of the runners were younger than me, more fit, and had done half-marathons before. I was working as hard as anybody.

My friend Rachell said she would run the race with me. I decided to take her up on her offer. She is a very supportive friend, and it would give us an opportunity to spend time together.

The day before the race, I was extremely nervous, and my legs were aching. I rolled my legs and stretched, then wrote myself a pep talk to get mentally prepared. I knew I had trained hard. I thought of supportive comments made by friends, such as “You’ve got this!” My husband Ken reminded me that I’d done sprint triathlons many years ago. Those required that I learn how to swim. Running a half-marathon just meant I had to put one foot in front of the other and keep going. I said affirmations and visualized myself crossing the finish line, knowing my husband and my sister Mary would be at the race to support me.

And as far as I’m concerned, I did succeed. No, I didn’t have the fastest time, but I ran the race steadily and felt strong throughout. Surprisingly, it was fun. It was a beautiful, sunny day with many spectators and pretty scenery. Rachell and I ran with intervals of 4 minutes running, 1.5 minutes walking. Around the five-mile mark, I saw my oldest daughter, Katie, cheering me on along with Ken and Mary. As I ran, I remembered my Dad and thought, “I’m choosing a better way like Dad did” and, one of his favorite sayings, “Don’t be a chicken all your life!” Rachell and I had a great time and stayed together during the entire race, crossing the finish line together.

rachell and I during the race

Rachell (left) and I during the race

standing on the finisher's podium

On the finisher’s podium

I mentioned in my last blog post that this is a milestone year for me. I will turn 60 in July. Running a half-marathon was my way to mark turning 60. This is my statement of how I plan to be in my sixties—doing my part to be fit and healthy.

Are you making the best decisions for you, regardless of what others have chosen? What are you doing to stay fit and healthy?

Posted in Affirmations, Challenges, Goals, Inspiration, Integrity, Motivation, Running | Tagged , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Coaching Ourselves In Our Journals

Self-coaching is what I teach coaches and clients to do. . . . We each have the ability to learn wisdom, and as we learn wisdom, we become our own counselor.”  Martha Beck, as quoted here.

We’ve talked in this blog about getting support from a counselor, friend, or a life coach. But often the best person to advise us is ourselves. I use my journal as a tool to coach myself.

I journal almost every day. Journals are a place to vent, but last year I became aware of how often I beat myself up in my journal. Complaining about my mistakes or my lack of motivation only reinforces negative thoughts about myself. I have been working to change that. I ask, “Would I talk to a friend this way?” If not, then maybe I shouldn’t write or talk to myself that way either. I still sometimes say I will do something differently next time, but it is more of a note than a criticism.

I try to write something constructive in my journal or to answer journaling prompts. This has made my journaling more relevant and empowering. Here are some prompts that I consider important:

  • If I were confident, how would I talk and act about my goals?”
  • What am I grateful for?”
  • What are my intentions for today?”

And sometimes I use my journal to coach myself about specific goals—most recently for training for a race. I write down when I’ve done well and when something needs changing. One evening early in my training, I realized I hadn’t exercised that day. I wrote, “Oh no, I’m already failing.” But instead of staying in that negative mood, I asked myself if there was anything I could do about it. I decided to go for a walk in the dark and invited my husband to join me. Surprisingly (since it was only 2 degrees outside), he said yes.

Here is additional coaching I’ve given myself about my running:

  • When I’m wondering what to do next, go for a walk. Stretch or use the foam roller. Go for a run.
  • I did not meet an interim goal I had set towards my bigger race goal. Rather than be despondent, I am using that fact to push myself into exercising, eating properly, and training seriously.
  • I am giving up sugar. I’m not going to be ultra strict, but when I want sweets, I will try to choose fruit, yogurt, or a hot chocolate. Food is a fuel. I want to give myself the opportunity to lose a little weight and build muscle.
  • It is difficult for me when there’s a buffet or “free food.” As a kid, I was taught to eat a lot in such situations. As an adult, I need to change that way of thinking. Eat the healthy food and get away from the table. Go socialize instead.
  • It is taking me too long to get ready for 7:00 AM long runs. I will create a checklist of items needed and get ready the night before.
  • When I recieve conflicting advice about my training, I will consider the advice and then do what I think is best.

We can use our journals to coach ourselves about anything. We just need to remember that a coach is supportive. A coach asks questions and pokes about next steps. A coach helps us overcome challenges and improve our lives.

Journaling prompts: Do you speak to yourself like you would to a friend? How have you coached yourself?

This post was written in response to an invitation from Dawn Herring at www.dawnherring.net. Thank you, Dawn. It is part of a #JournalChat Open House on the topic “Your Journaling: The Greatest Relevance.”


Posted in Goals, journaling, Leading Ourselves | Tagged , , | 9 Comments