i am afraid of my own success

It’s seven-thirty in the morning. It has been one month – approximately – since I’ve made a post.

For some of you who know me personally, you know that this blog is only one of many projects I’ve decided to catch under my self-described Activism ADD umbrella. I want so desperately to enact positive change after seeking solace in negativity for so long. Eight months ago, I found myself committing to every volunteer opportunity that crossed my path. Seven months ago, I added this blog to the already blustery landscape, convinced that I would make time for it – just like I was “making time” for everything else – because I felt obligated, somehow, to share what I’d learned about bicycling and personal health to the world. It is incredibly important to me to be able to describe the lifestyle changes I’ve made, will make, and am making, in the knowledge that they’ve helped me positively transform my worldview. I want the possibility to exist that someone might read this blog and my words will click with them, and the roadblocks that previously prevented that person from living at full capacity will slowly melt away, as mine are doing.

So why haven’t I been writing? Where are these inspirational words – the jewels of my experience, the stones collected on the long, hard road of existence?

It isn’t that I’m not learning enough to write about. I’m learning plenty. I have a long list of topics that send excited shivers down my spine whenever I so much as think about writing them.

It seems I’m afraid of my own success.

This is an old habit of mine that tends to resurface right after I’ve felt the high that comes from breaking through one of my barriers. I’m feeling good about myself. I’m motivated. I’m getting things accomplished for myself and others at the same time. I have multiple functional projects, each receiving a responsible amount of attention. I’m talking to strangers and “putting myself out there,” something I’ve never thought myself capable of doing. Then, like the spin on Wheel of Fortune that teeters on the grand prize winnings before flopping over to bankrupt, I stop. I just. Stop. Everything.

I start to panic. Who are you to claim you can take this on? What was that? There are so many others with so much more experience than you have. Give it up. You’re making a fool out of yourself. Huh? People are tired of hearing you talk about gardens and bicycles. It’s been long enough since you worked on it that you may as well just write it off. Why are you asking for help on a project that will probably fizzle out anyway, like all the others you started? Have you forgotten that you wanted to be a veterinarian neuroscientist shipwreck scavenger astrobiologist forensic pathologist actress musician, too? Why do you think you have the capability to do these things? Just stop now and you won’t be embarrassed when you inevitably fail.

This line of thought used to cut short any real ambition I had, dissolving my confidence at the root: Failure is possible. Failure is embarrassing. Don’t try and you won’t fail.

I’m breaking that thought off right now.

Here’s my counterargument, self. I’m not on anyone’s schedule besides my own. I choose when I have meetings, the words I put down on paper, the people I connect with, and the knowledge I share. I also choose when I will share that knowledge. If I took a break from any of my projects, it’s because something else needed my attention. If that something else was me, and I wanted to be selfish for a while, then I have the right to devote as much time to me as I desire. I am passionate about everything I take time to do, and when I work on something, my love for it and natural inclination toward it will show. Which brings me to my next issue with your persuasion, o self, ego, ye of little faith: failure is the best part of an idea that has no limit.

Yeah, you heard me. Failure is the absolute best thing that can happen to an unlimited idea.

It makes sense. If I had only one, concrete goal, then failure could devastate the possibility of that goal being accomplished. My greatest strength lies in the fact that I have no idea what I’m doing. I have no idea where any of this is going. I know what I’d like to see, but by keeping my options open and only striving to be better, not best, I completely remove failure from the equation. I can’t fail in blogging because I plan to write more posts. I can’t, technically, fail at anything.

If I tell myself, “I would like to be a celebrated internet presence, achieve enlightenment, save the world, and be loved and admired by all,” then I have set myself up for failure because really, dude. Really.

Goals are great if they don’t actually put a cap on your aptitude and capability. I’m finished with letting my goals determine whether or not I have succeeded or failed – it’s time to let my goals be landmarks, not limits.

I have no idea what I’m capable of, but I’m finally ready to find out.


free and quick fitness! or: where did my get up and go … go?

“Exercise is so boring and repetitive. Maybe if I could take a dance or yoga class, it would be easier to stay in shape.”

“I’d go to the gym to get fit, but I can’t afford it.”

“I don’t have time to work out.”

Like, almost everybody, everywhere.

Guys! Hey guys! Let me tell you a secret: my brain is the biggest junkie in the world.

You’d never know it from glancing at me – paragon of self-control as I am (why is everyone laughing?). It craves fun things – all. The. Time. It likes to be entertained twenty-four hours a day. If something is boring, it will withhold a bunch of awesome chemicals I need to feel good – like dopamine. Since dopamine is key to nearly every awesome feeling ever, this is basically the molecular equivalent of a small child folding her arms, stamping her foot, and pouting – “no, this isn’t fun, why are you doing this. FINE, here’s a song you loathe on repeat for eight hours. Didn’t know you knew ALL the lyrics, did you, punk?

Our wonderful society, thanks to various forms of science, has developed a near-endless repository of entertainment possibilities that are so much easier for our brains to get a fix from than getting up and moving around. What’s even more ridiculous? Some of those activities are among those we wouldn’t normally associate with being entertaining. Ever been bored enough with an assignment at an office job that you decide to “check Facebook”? Well, maybe if your boss sprinkled more dopamine precursor chemicals on top of those TPS reports, you might be more motivated to get them done.

What’s often the case, sadly, is that we’ve made some of the more potent “fixes” easier and easier to obtain. Take the teenage gamer stereotype, for instance – one I have witnessed with my own eyes. School’s out – cripes, what a day. Time to switch on the Xbox. The television goes boom! Crash! Rat-tat-tat-tat! Oh crap, what do you mean the enemy has a predator missile?  The teenage gamer, rushing on adrenaline, takes a pull off a 20 oz. bottle of Mountain Dew (with extra caffeine, natch, and a whopping 77 grams of sugar) and finally gets the game-winning kill for his side. Bam! Reward system activated! YEAAAAH!

I forget. Why is it so difficult to get kids to play outside again?

Speaking of, how about the instance of the harried working mother of three who, on a miraculous weekend, finally gets some time to herself? “I’ve worked enough,” she sighs, and goes shopping instead; then, on the way home, she picks up fast food for dinner, along with a bottle of wine.

Sure, you could get the same amount of reward chemicals from working out – if you did it constantly. No wonder no one has time to stay in shape any more – your brain has discovered far more efficient ways of getting its dopamine on.

Not only that, but fitness is something that is constantly sold to us – sold, not told. You need workout clothes. How about an iPod? Your shoes suck; how do you expect to walk in those, let alone run? Why are you running? Gym memberships are better; our machines are more efficient. No, ours are. You should buy one. Our instructors are offering classes, too, but you need to pay for those separately.

You can see how this might lead to all kinds of creative excuses about not having enough time or money for fitness.

Coming from a poor family (I’m talking four people crammed into a 500-sq-ft apartment kinda po’, occasional homelessness po’), I know what it’s like to fall into a reward-seeking mindset. You’re so busy surviving that you forget you need to live. Cue emotional eating. Sugars! Fats! Salts! How about booze? Booze can be cheap, right? God, I wish my life were better. I could use a cigarette.

I also know that exercise can be free, have effects on dopamine that last way longer than any of the above fixes, and doesn’t throw your body into a self-destructive hate spiral. Here are a few quick, fun, and inexpensive ways to incorporate working out into your life:

1) Just dance.  “But I can’t dance.” Cool! Neither can I! Whether or not you have rhythm or a celebrity dancing partner has no bearing on the fact that you have a body that was designed to move. So, next time there’s a break in your day, even for only five minutes – switch on the radio, close the drapes, tell everyone to leave you alone for a few (whatever it takes!) and get down. Pretend your weird arrhythmic lunges are part of some amazing new interpretive dance that the invisible audience in front of you has paid hundreds of dollars to appreciate. Jump up and down, do some twists and twirls, shake your magnificent buttocks. If you’re breathing hard when the song’s over – success! (Not to mention the obvious benefits of acting like a child for a little while – that’s right, it makes you feel youthful.)

2) Fidget with everything. Remember that annoying guy who always made the tables shake because his knee was bouncing up and down? And he said he couldn’t stop it because it was just the way his body wanted to move? Be that guy.

3) Physicaaaallll challennnnnge! I’ve said it before, but setting even the smallest goals and busting them down like you’re the Kool-Aid Man does wonders for your reward system. You don’t even have to tell anyone. Race yourself to the top of the stairs. See how long it takes you to walk from one place to another, then try to beat that goal. There’s a reason competition winners are so happy, y’know.

4) Free classes for everything online. If you’re reading this, you probably have the Internet in some form. I love free internet classes. While nothing can beat getting one-on-one help from an instructor, the truth is, you can learn a lot on your own. The one I like the most is YogaYak, which is basically a collection of hundreds of free yoga classes. I’d recommend yoga to anyone, personally, but if yoga isn’t your thing, you can punch “free ____ classes online” into YouTube or Google and get a lot of videos to choose from. And while it may not provide all the features of a live class, it’s definitely a start if you’ve been really interested in something for years but never could afford classes. Another great thing about videos is that you can pause them if life interferes. You can’t pause a yogi. (A yogi would probably be quick to point out that they pause themselves, thank you.)

5) Go biking! I’m so predictable sometimes.

Any other suggestions? What do you do for free fun and fitness?