• Category Archives Writing
  • How to chase dreams and fight the fear of failure

    I’ve been doing a lot — and, boy, do I mean a lot — of self-analysis lately. Who am I, where am I going, where do I want to be going, and why am I not there yet? Additionally, when did I start becoming more cynical, more narrow-minded, and less determined but at the same time more rigid?

    I don’t have all the answers yet, but I do know that at least I’m making a little progress by asking them and confronting myself. I also know that it’s been almost four years since I upended my life because I was stuck in a rut that I did not like. I was stuck in an increasingly unhappy job with no opportunities to move up, I was stuck in a relationship that was destroying my self-esteem, and then I suffered a stress fracture that dashed all running dreams for the next several months. So I set out to find myself.

    Four years later, I’ve both succeeded and failed. For a while, I was much happier. I traveled more (Alaska, Ireland, Colorado, New York, Chicago, Hawaii). I ran more (an ultra-marathon, faster times). I explored my new town. I began to dream again.

    But somewhere along the way, I got lost again. Some of it started last October, when another injury sidelined all of my running goals, which had gotten bigger and bolder (qualify for Boston). Some of it started this year, when I tried to follow another dream and was repeatedly shot down, sending my self-esteem plummeting. However, I suspect most of it is because I have lifelong dreams that have gone unfulfilled. They eat at me until I’m convinced I’m not good enough, and that if I try to reach them, I’ll fail.

    Some of those dreams I cannot reach on my own, but some of them are all up to me. So, how do I make myself pursue them? Yesterday evening, instead of googling for inspirational quotes, I turned instead to Facebook and asked: “What mantras, quotes, rules or experiences do you use to try to better yourself and chase away the ‘I’m afraid I’ll fail’ demons?” As an example, I gave this quote from George Eliot: “It’s never too late to become who you might have been.” I knew that many of my Facebook friends wouldn’t see the post, due to timing and algorithms that limit which posts people see. But in the 10 hours since, I’ve received a number of great quotes.

    A good friend texted her response: “Jump and the net will appear.”

    Another friend messaged his response, which he’d seen on a poster that same day: “To be a consistent winner means preparing not just one day, one month or even one year – but for a lifetime.” The quote was from legendary runner and author Bill Rodgers, and my friend pointed out that it doesn’t just apply to running. This is so true: It’s the big picture of life. If I’ve got these life dreams, each day should prepare me for them, because they won’t suddenly happen immediately.

    “Life’s battles don’t always go to the bigger or faster man…but sooner or later, the fellow who wins, is the man who thinks he can.” This was offered by a friend and former colleague, Rick, who is deaf and has faced more than his share of battles. The key there is to think I can do it.

    Another former journalist-turned-runner (turned Ironman, which is a whole other level, if you ask me), Theresa, offered this line from a sports journalism professor of hers: “The only way out is through.” Yes, if I want to reach the goals, I have to push through everything standing between me and them.

    “I like to tell myself that I’ll definitely fail if I don’t try,” said another writer. I really admire her, because she has worked hard to get to a career she wanted. If she hadn’t tried, she never would have gotten there.

    Then there is this Wayne Gretzky quote, offered by an old friend, Dave: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

    Audrey pointed out that, even if you don’t make that shot, you learn along the way. As another saying goes, practice makes perfect. Similarly, Pam offered this advice: “My dad always has told me that if you fail, pick yourself up and try again. Never give up until you succeed.”

    And from another Ironman, Stuart: “You only regret the things you didn’t do.” This resonated, because often I ask myself, when trying to make a decision or do something that’s hard, which option I would regret more. Would I regret trying and not making it, or would I regret never trying at all? That answer is obvious.

    Similarly, Brandon offered a line from a Shinedown song: “Long live the day that I decided to fly.” It’s a decision, and I have to truly make that decision before I can go anywhere.

    My friend Marc turned it around back at me, with the advice I gave him the day before he ran his first marathon: “One that sticks with me is something a really great friend told me on January 11 of this year. She said there will be a point where I will realize “this is the farthest I’ve ever gone.” And that’s true for everything. It’s not the destination. It’s the journey.” He’s right (which I guess means that I was right). I still remember the point when I passed mile 22 of the Tucscon Marathon in December 2008. There, on an Arizona highway, I realized that was the farthest I had even run — and at the same time I realized I was actually going to run a marathon. I did finish that marathon, and then I kept on going to more goals and milestones. The journey continued, and it was a good journey.

    And then there was this, from Linda: “Shan’t I be good to thee self, I shan’t be good to another.” She didn’t know it, but that one hit home more than all the rest. I love people, I love helping them and making them happy, and some of my biggest dreams require other people. But I can’t be good for them and help them unless I also do that for myself. That’s actually a realization I reached last week, so Linda’s timing was perfect. I have to be strong enough to stand on my own.

    Where does all of this advice go? How do I actually retain it, rather than dumping it all into a blog post and then moving on? Well, one way is through sheer determination, which I’m already working on. I don’t like the way I give up on things I want, just because they’re hard or there are huge obstacles in the way. I fear that I’ll fail, so I stop trying — and that’s no way to live my life.

    So I’m going to keep re-reading the quotes offered from friends who have clearly had the strength to keep fighting, and who also took the time to give me some advice. I’m going to try to stand up tall and keep fighting my doubts and insecurity. I’m going to try to be a better, stronger, supportive person to those I care about. And I’m going to tell myself over and over again that I AM good enough to chase my dreams.

    After all, as Darleen advised, “If you do what you always did, you will get what you always got.” I want more, so I have to do more.

  • 2014 goal check-in: January

    Somehow, it’s February 6, already?! Huh. Anyway, without further ado, I decided to document how badly I have failed so far in my 2014 goals.

    1. Qualify for the Boston Marathon: I’m on the injury list with an angry IT band, and a doctor ordered me to rest it. In the midst of my full-blown endorphin withdrawal, I mentally (and on Twitter, so that counts?) removed this goal from my list. That was a relief.
    2. Set a new personal record in the marathon: That wasn’t planned for January anyway, so no further comments.
    3. Run sub-1:45 in a half-marathon: See above.
    4. Do a century bike ride: I had a spectacular failure of a planned outside ride, in which I gave up less than two miles into the ride and poor Kimra had to do the rest of it by herself. I owe her a drink. However, I did do a 22.8-mile ride outside with Kristen and didn’t fall over, so there’s hope for this goal.
    5. Driest California January on record = outside biking.
    6. Run 1,500 miles: Since I ran a whopping 10.5 miles in January (see number 1), I really doubt I’ll reach the goal this year.
    7. Bike at least 700 miles: Finally! A goal in which I am not failing! I biked 201 miles in January! 174 of those were inside, but that’s fair game in my rules.
    8. Go to the gym at least 150 times this year: I went to the gym 12 times in January, so I’m barely on track.
    9. Read at least one book a month: Fail! I used to read a book a week! Argh.
    10. This book, given to me in early February, is an inspiration for many reasons. And it's definitely one of the most thoughtful, appropriate gifts I've ever received.
    11. Cook dinner more often: I still haven’t settled on a way to quantify this one, though some of you had great ideas. I think “cook a full meal once a week” is certainly reasonable, along with “try two new recipes a month.” I also think this was sort of a fail in January.
    12. Wine in the best glass ever, along with stir-fry.
    13. Go to bed at 10 p.m.: Hahaha! The running failures had a valid explanation, but this one has NO EXCUSE. I even moved my phone’s “do not disturb” mode to 9:30 p.m., but I think I went to bed at 10 p.m. once in all of January. Why?!
    14. Get down to XXX amount of pounds: Umm, let’s just say that I moved in the opposite direction.
    15. Blog an average of twice a week: I wrote seven blog posts in January. Most were simple Tuesday Time-Waster posts, but hey, it’s my blog so that’s OK. At least my “Finding happiness” blog post was thoughtful and made me actually write something of substance.
    16. Find a cheaper place to live: That didn’t happen, but I didn’t plan on it in January, anyway. I did, however, see this list of the 25 most expensive cities in America and found myself thinking of nearly each one, “Hey, that’s not so bad.” Yeah, this is what happens when I live near the second most expensive city in the U.S.

  • Tuesday Time-Waster: The Con Man

    Today’s Tuesday Time-Waster harkens back to my journalism days. I once wrote about a few people who led a couple shady organizations that stole money from people under the guise of investments (pyramid schemes). Then, after the legal matters and press coverage died down, a couple years later I came across those same organization leaders. They were forming new corporations, and it sure looked to me that the swindling was going to start happening all over again. I ran past one of the guy’s homes (bonus of being a runner — perfect incognito disguise), confirmed that his car was the same one I’d seen on Google maps, then later that week showed up with my press badge at his office where the same car/license plate was parked. He kicked me out immediately.

    Due to downsizing at my newspaper and being given the health care beat along with my courts and crime reporting, I wasn’t allowed the time to dig into the matter, so my notes did not become a newspaper investigation. That is one of a few storiesI really wanted to dig into, and which I regret not pursuing on my own, because I’m convinced people are being victimized all over again.

    But I’ve rambled enough about myself and should get to today’s real matter. I happened to see an ABC News story about a guy who built up a huge veterans charity, got $100 million in donations, rubbed shoulders with the likes of former President Bush, but faked the whole thing. It turns out he was a military spy turned eccentric attorney, who had been on the lam for 25 years. As happens more often than most people realize, the initial investigation was started not by ABC News nor by the FBI — it was the St. Petersburg Times (now Tampa Bay Times) in 2009. They spent six months trying to track down all 85 of the veterans charity’s officers, and found none of them. They went around in circles with the charity’s founder. They kept digging, and in March 2010 published a report (first partsecond part, sidebar that debunks many of the charity’s claims, an interview with a California man whose identity was stolen, political matters, etc). My nerdy self particularly loved the copies of letters from the charity’s lawyer, trying to defend the organization and blast the reporter.

    Because of the newspaper’s investigation and report, Florida officials opened an official investigation. The charity kept denying that it was phony, but two months later the state ordered it to stop fundraising. Then the feds came in and seized computers and documents. The charity’s leader soon disappeared. More than a year after the newspaper’s report, a woman went to prison for five years due to her role in the scam.

    In April, two years after the Times’ report, officials finally caught up to and arrested the charity’s creator in Portland, Ore. — which caught my attention because I love the city. (That’s a fun story to read, by the way.) The story is ongoing, and authorities only just finally figured out the guy’s true identity — which is why he is in the news and caught my attention. I have a feeling many more stories will come out before the case is done.

    Anyway, this is a long, link-heavy post that I’m sure will appeal to 0.2 percent of my readers. But if you want to read more, check out The Times’ special investigation page on this guy.

  • Tuesday Time-Waster: Letter to oneself

    Did you ever write a letter or a journal entry to yourself to read in the future? I can’t be the only one, I’m sure. In fact, a year-and-a-half ago I actually bought and started filling up a book that has pages full of questions about your current life, so you can look back on it later. (And, um, I didn’t finish it. A lot has already changed since I started it. Oops.)

    But you can also write to your past self — yourself as a teen, yourself at age 20, etc. This kind of writing is best shared with those at that age because they’re the ones who might benefit from it. Or, as in the case of today’s Tuesday Time-Waster, you can share it with the Internet so that everyone can realize, “Life actually is pretty cool, huh?” So, go read this letter from 40-year-old self-made success story Peter Shankman to his 15-year-old self.

  • 2012 goals (woefully) revisited

    It’s been more than six months since I publicly posted my goals for the year. There were only four. And I’ve only met one of them, which was the most realistic and which also happened the very first day of 2012. It has been, truthfully, all downhill from there. Since I am apparently in a self-torture mood, here’s how the goals are going:

    1. Break four hours in a marathon. This is the only one I’ve accomplished.

    2. Beat my half-marathon time. I was on track to do this in August, and was also on track to beat my 5K time in July. Then I wiped out on my bike. My knee was the only thing injured but, four weeks later, it still hurts every day. I’ve run 1.5 miles in four weeks, as opposed to 120-150 miles. The only highlight is that, now that it’s been four weeks, the doctor will do an MRI.

    3. That undisclosed goal, which understandably frustrates people with its vagueness. I was making a couple strides toward this, and then I undid it all. I’m slightly trying again, but who knows.

    4. Start on one of two book ideas. When it comes down to it, there’s one book I’ve wanted to write. I’ve known that for years, though the magnitude of it has scared me. It had been several years since I actually looked to see what had been written on the topic, so I finally got up the nerve to search Amazon the other night. The result? Well, let’s put it this way: If I’d tried to start this back when I first got the idea, I would have been far ahead of anyone else. But in 2006, someone published a similar book. In 2008, another such book was published. Those authors had more resources than I, and one of them is co-authored by experts in the field who got a professional writer to help them with the book.

    I’ve since thought about it, and I don’t think the topic isn’t dead. I think I could put my own spin on it. Both books happen to be written by people based in Arizona, and it looks like their books focus on Arizona, a state I’ve visited once and to which I have no connection. I haven’t actually bought and read the other books. Both are sitting in my online shopping cart, but I guess I don’t like the idea of buying books that are, essentially, written by my possible competition. I also fear that my vague ideas would be skewed by theirs, and the last thing I want to do is accidentally plagiarize someone. However, I also realize that I have to know what I’m up against, and if I have any chance at all. What is left in this topic? Can my own spin be enough for another book?

    When it comes down to it, I know the odds are slim that I’d ever get a book contract. I know that I’d be rejected a bunch of times, and that I’d wind up having to foot my own research, travel, time-off-work expenses. And I know that I’d likely have to self-publish if I actually wanted to fulfill my lifelong dream of seeing my name on the spine of a book. That opens up other challenges, because my book would involve interviews and others’ stories, and who wants to talk to some random writer who has no contract and would pay out of her own pocket for 100 copies to be printed from an Internet site?

    I’ve spent years dodging and ignoring this dream, and convincing myself that I cannot do it. Now I’ve found proof that others have beaten me to it. I keep telling myself that it’s too late, that I need to move on.

    And yet, despite my best attempts, the dream still won’t die. Maybe that means something.

  • Defining 2012

    Before the dead rat and the angry goose and the wayward fence distracted me, I was mentally composing a blog post while running before dawn this morning.

    How’s that for an opening sentence? In the journalism world, that’s called a “lead.” Now you know.

    Anyway, I’m hopefully rebounding from knee issues (that originated in the hip, apparently), which means I can run again. I’m not quite gasping for air as much, which means I’m getting back in shape. And THAT means I’m not thinking as much about running while I am running. This is especially possible in the morning, when it’s dark and quiet outside.

    Today I was thinking about years, and how the last few have each been strongly defined for me.

    • 2008 was the year of running. I joined a running club, made a whole bunch of new friends, then ran my first half-marathon and first full marathon that year.
    • 2009 was the year of witnessing. I witnessed a judge nearly get murdered and her attacker get killed. Three months later, I witnessed a horrific car wreck that killed a couple.
    • 2010 was the year of changing. I made some personal changes, quit my job, went on a road trip and set out to find a new life.
    • 2011 was the year of beginning. I started full-time at a new job, I moved, I traveled, I was in my best friend’s wedding and watched her start a new life, I became closer friends with people who were previously acquaintances, and I met a lot of new people along the way.

    Then I thought about how 2007 had a fairly significant (in retrospect) relationship start, and 2006 involved some huge national attention. The previous couple years also have some defining moments and themes. While I sit here now, even without consulting various blogs and journals, I can think of big themes in almost every year.

    So, how will I define 2012? Somewhere in the crisp morning air, I realized that two months of 2012 have already passed. The third month is moving rapidly along. Before we know it, a quarter of the year will be gone.

    When it comes down to it, I want 2012 to be the year of writing. I have publicly stated that a very clear goal of mine is to write a book. In making so many changes over the last couple years, I’ve gotten closer to the point where I really, truly want to write. Yesterday evening, I was writing something for some friends, and I found myself back in that “zone” of writing. It was one page and the zone part itself only lasted for a couple paragraphs, but I felt it.

    This morning, while out on the roads with a headlamp that needed new batteries, I pondered the last few years. And I knew what theme 2012 needs. To make that possible, I need to clear out some time. Running won’t suffer because it’s my outlet (and a way to stay in shape), but I need to make some changes and set my priorities straight.

    And right around the time I was starting to think of how to make this happen, I nearly stepped on a rather large, very dead rat that was lying horizontally across the sidewalk.

    I stopped thinking about lofty 2012 dreams and instead began wondering how the rat got there, why it was dead and whether it had rabies. It was right near a Starbucks, at the edge between a commercial area and some nice homes, not far from one of the Shamrock-decorated trash cans the city installed all over town. This was a couple miles after I found myself running across chain-link fence that was lying across a sidewalk.

    A mile later, at the end of my run, a Canada Goose decided that hissing wasn’t enough, and it briefly chased me through my neighborhood.

    Maybe 2012 will be the year of wild animals.

  • 2012 goals

    It’s common to make New Year’s resolutions. “I’m going to lose 30 pounds, get more sleep and drink less alcohol.” “I’m going to be nicer to my mom, get good grades and get a part-time job.” “I’m going to spend less time at the office, learn to make cheesecake and read 30 books.”

    But the word “resolution” has always intimidated me. Saying that I “resolve” to do something means that I WILL do it. What if I try and fail? What if life gets in the way and I can’t get it done? I prefer to set goals. I try to work toward them, and if I can make some progress, then it means I’m on the right path. For instance, this year I set the goal of beating my previous times in as many running distances as possible. I did it in both the half-marathon and marathon, so I met part of that goal. I had the same goal last year, which I did in the half-marathon but not the marathon — partly because an injury ruined my plans and took me out for four months. I didn’t break a resolution in 2010; rather, I tried to reach a goal but didn’t quite get there.

    It’s a small difference, but I guess a “goal” sounds more positive to me than a “resolution.” Considering how tumultuous my life has been lately, I’m desperately clinging to every positive bit I can find. So, here we go: my goals for 2012. They are few, and are unintentionally listed in order of difficulty, starting with the easiest.

    1. Break four hours in the marathon. I’m actually hoping to do this on January 1 (as in, next Sunday?!), so it sure would be nice to meet that goal on the first day of 2012. If I don’t, I doubt I’ll have another chance until next fall.

    2. Beat my half-marathon time. I’ve made, and reached, this goal each year since I ran my first half-marathon in 2008. However, now it’s getting harder because I’ve gotten faster. At some point I will stop getting faster, and I’ll have to change my goal. See why it’s a goal rather than a resolution?

    3. Undisclosed goal. (Yes, you may die of curiosity now.)

    4. The doozy: Start on one of two book ideas. This is the truly scary one, even though the undisclosed No. 3 is pretty freaking scary. For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to write a book. I’ve made it my goal for years. Many of my friends know and encourage me to start writing already. It actually haunts me more than anything else in my life. It scares the heck out of me, because I don’t know what I’ll do if I fail. Back when I started running, I set a far-off goal to run one half-marathon. I never, ever thought that 2011 would find me on the brink of my sixth full marathon and five weeks away from my first ultra-marathon — and without a book to my name.

    Saying “one of two book ideas” means that I’ve narrowed it down. I, the always indecisive one, have actually ruled out all other options. The fiction attempt from last year, which ended in 5,000 words, is gone. A couple admittedly easier ideas are also gone. When it comes down to it, there are two ideas that refuse to leave. One is perhaps slightly easier, because it would involve less outside research and interviewing, though it would still be far from “easy.” The other is the monster of an idea I’ve had for years, and which I keep shooting down — I know that others have written similar books, it would require interviewing and traveling to be done right (on what budget?), and it could fail in spectacular, horrific fashion that would devastate me.

    I know I’m being vague. That’s how it goes in the area of unpublished, uncopyrighted ideas (though I’ve bounced ideas off a few people, and want to do more of it). That’s also how it goes when I’m a bit freaked out by the fact that I’m putting this goal in solid words — actually, in multiple paragraphs.

    I’ve had a very rough couple of weeks, and it seems that every time I start to rebound, something happens again. Today was another day of ups and downs, and I almost deleted this whole nearly-finished post. But I’ve been clinging to every bit of hope and happiness that I can find, and somewhere in today’s waves of chaos and calm, I decided that this post would be a good thing. Maybe these few goals will give me something to hold onto until the storm waves subside.

  • Thanks for the memories

    I’ve had bittersweet emotions lately. I’ve been on some fun adventures in the last few months, today is Thanksgiving and I even have a couple family members in town. In other words, life is good.

    But at the back of my mind, I keep thinking of a friend. He’s also been on some fun adventures in the last few months, and he’s with family for Thanksgiving. The difference is that he’s battling inoperable cancer and last week started hospice care. He’s young, he’s had a good attitude about it, he’s tried to find cures, he’s prayed. It hasn’t worked. He’s a good guy who works for the Red Cross, takes photos, plays music. But that’s not enough.

    I’ve lost a couple friends to cancer, and I was able to publish articles about them. One was Arcelia, who I remember every Thanksgiving: Back when I was a young-20-something with no family nearby, she insisted that I spend the holiday with her family. Another was Andy, an Internet friend I’d met in person, and whose death came so very quickly after his unexpected cancer diagnosis.

    Now there’s Jim, who is just about the same age Andy was when we lost him so suddenly in 2006. Jim’s diagnosis also didn’t come long ago. And he is also an Internet friend. He found me through my work and liked my writing, so he’d periodically visit my former employer’s website and catch up on my articles. (Come to think of it, I don’t know if he’s read those two articles I linked). I didn’t even know him until after I left my job; he noticed my lack of articles, then found me on facebook. I suppose the story sounds odd to those not in the “internet world,” but I’ve been in it for a dozen years and can distinguish the frauds from the legitimate people. Jim is legit.

    In the last week, I have found myself repeatedly checking Jim’s facebook wall for any updates. On Thanksgiving, when I’m hanging out with my family, I’m still going to be checking. I can’t help it, and it’s nice to see people posting comments of cheer.

    In the last few days, I’ve gone to a couple websites where a bunch of us posted messages when Andy died. More than five years later, I saw that someone last posted a message two weeks ago. I smiled, because it means that Andy hasn’t been forgotten. And then I smiled again, because I love the fact that memories of Andy make me smile. That’s the best legacy to leave.

    Today, when so many people are giving thanks, I’m thankful that I’ve met so many amazing friends. To all my friends and family, both here and gone: I’m thankful that you’ve left lasting impressions and memories. I’m thankful that you’ve supported me and encouraged me. And I’m thankful that you’ve unknowingly put life into perspective and inspired me to live it to the fullest.

    For those still in this world, know that when you do leave, I will not forget you.

  • Two lives

    Sometimes it seems
    That I lead separate lives.
    One with laughter and roses
    The other with sharp unseen knives.

    Most of the time I laugh
    I text and chat with friends on the phone
    But when the phone goes silent
    I’m once again alone.

    Most of the time I love life.
    I relish in the world around me.
    I watch and listen and take it all in.
    And try to just be.

    Most of the time that works.
    But when all is said and done
    I don’t know where I’m going.
    So I head out for a run.

    I pound the pavement
    And try to leave behind the doubt.
    But I just don’t know
    When both lives will be sorted out.

  • One job I turned down

    It’s been 10 months since I launched the overhaul of my life. No, that upheaval was not a haircut (yet). In fact, a haircut would have been quite minor compared to the upheaval to which I subjected myself. Rather than going for an a la carte menu item, I opted for the full, five-course dinner of change. It included work, relationships, priorities, philosophy of life, location.

    I’d spent a decade in newspaper journalism, a career that came so naturally to me, I didn’t even realize I had chosen a career. I got paid to talk to people, research and write about it all. Even the writing style suited me — get to the point and move on, rather than fussing with those “rough draft” things. (True story: As far back as elementary school, when we had to turn in both rough and final drafts, I had to go back and create a rough draft after the fact.)

    Last year, after a lot of unrest, I quit my job. I went on a road trip, and then I sat down to search for a new career. A lot of amazing people began giving me tips on possible job leads. One of them was at an Internet journalism conglomerate, and I could have been employed immediately. Since I’d been making so little money previously, this would have been a slight step up the pay scale. But I knew I wouldn’t be happy.

    I was right. If I’d taken that gig, here’s where I would be now: back at the starting point, writing a piece about “AOL Hell.”

    Instead, I refused to settle. I refused to go back down the path that had led me to the breaking point last August. That “AOL Hell” article was published two weeks ago, when I was in the middle of a trip to Alaska — an amazing, fun trip that in all likelihood would not have been possible if I’d taken the AOL reporting gig.

    Since I began redefining my life 10 months ago, I’ve never once had any regrets. Life is too short for you to be miserable; if you’re not happy, start making changes. But don’t do it simply by shifting from standing on one foot to the other, as I would have done if I’d taken the AOL gig. Take a step forward. Then, when you realize that you’re still standing, take another step.

    And then take a flying leap with both feet. You’ll land with your head up.