“Real” Friends

Not only was the subject of friendship a WordPress Daily Prompt today, but it’s something that I’ve been mulling over the past few weeks. Last weekend I had the pleasure of running a 5-miler with a dear friend who I haven’t seen outside of cyberspace in 6 months – entirely too long! Catching up with her was such a gift and 5 miles never flew by so fast! We chatted about all things parenting and motherhood; how the house is never as clean as we’d like, the differences between racing pre-kids and post-kids, lack of time, how it takes longer than one might expect to find your ‘new normal’ as a mother, breastfeeding woes, and how everyone else seems to be doing it better. I mentioned that if someone cares more about how your place looks when they come to visit, perhaps they should be shown the door.  She looked at me as we were running and said, “Thank you for being a REAL friend. I don’t have to pretend with you.”

That sentiment was probably one of the most touching compliments I have ever received in my life.

Honestly, I just don’t have time to be anything but real. What you see is what you get. Most days, I don’t wear make up. I love yoga pants and workout clothes. I love to laugh, really laugh – guffaw and bend over and let ‘er rip!  When I cry – it’s usually of the full-on ugly, soul cleansing variety. My hair is in a pony/bun conglomeration more often than not. I love all things touchy-feely, emotional, self-improvement, empowering and fist-pumping. The real stuff of life.

I have been blessed by wonderful friendships, mostly due to our military life. The friends you make while moving every few years aren’t like any other friendships. No one in your life, try as they might, can truly understand it’s like, what is required, and what kind of support is needed, than a fellow milspouse.

It’s hard, to be sure. If you’re leaving in two to three years, why be real? Why let your guard down? Why get invested when you know it’s only temporary? We hate the inevitable “fair winds, following seas/goodbyes/see you laters”. We all hope to stay connected, but in the back of our mind we understand that some relationships are for a specific time, even if that’s not by choice or how we’d like it to go down, sometimes it just does. It’s hard to maintain true intimacy over the miles. The web makes it easier – but we kid ourselves to believe it’s the same. We miss the day-to-day details of life. Instead we have to be content with the highlight reels until we meet again.  If making friends as an adult is like dating, saying goodbye is the worst kind of breakup.

Why risk being real?

Because it’s worth it. Even though your heart breaks, it’s always worth it. To the degree that saying goodbye sucks, it is to the same degree that being authentic and truly yourself is a breathtakingly beautiful experience.  I would not be the person I am today were it not for the real and honest friendships made along the way.

Reach out. Take the risk. Show up. Be kind. Be real.

It’s always worth it.

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Fitness as a Vehicle

I love working out.

Okay, maybe that’s an over-statement. I love the way I feel after I workout. I love the way I can keep up with my kids, I like the strength, and the energy that being fit and pursuing fitness affords. I am clear-headed and more me when I run and workout consistently. It also provides creative inspiration for my work as a writer; a benefit I never saw coming!

Over the last 3 months, I broadened my workout group from 2 people to roughly 20-25 on a regular basis. We are an accountability group. I design and lead workouts, but they continue to show up. They keep coming back for more. Sure, the group is free, but they are willing to be my experiment as I study for my certifications.

During this short time, I have been shocked, floored, and humbled by the comments, kind words, and crazy hard work by these fit friends. I recently received a message that a person was hesitant to join us because she didn’t want to feel weird because she wouldn’t know anyone.

I wanted to reach through the computer and hug her.

Seriously. It was like a window to my thoughts 3 years ago. I was afraid. Of everything. Fear of looking foolish, being out of my comfort zone, fear of what other people would think of me, and fear of failure. It’s so prevalent. We are afraid to reach out to our neighbors. We hesitate to chat up the other mom at the playground. We sit in the same place at church every week because sitting in a spot other than “ours” would mean we may have to meet someone new. It’s scary. Rejection hurts. It’s so much easier to just stay in our own little world and not risk anything.

What I have discovered, in part, over the course of the last 3-4 years is that being brave and stepping out is not only worth it, but it breeds just a tiny bit of confidence to do it again. And again. And again. Until it becomes who you are. What if I had never reached out to my neighbor across the street? What if I had declined invitations to parties and get togethers? What if my then aquaintence chose not to pursue a deeper friendship with me? What if she had never invited me to to join a crazy bootcamp workout class she’d heard about? What if another friend didn’t have the courage to ask if she could join us as we were sweating in my driveway? What if I had been too afraid to ask our community center if we could use the gym through the winter? What if?

The last 3 years would have been entirely different.

When people ask me, “I can’t seem to find the time/motivation to workout. What motivates you to keep working out?” I simply say that exercise and fitness has been the vehicle to so much more than I ever imagined. So much more than just physical. More than just being fit.

It has been the vehicle to cherished friendships, bravery, courage, risk, deep joy, true confidence, the desire to learn and grow, and more. It has changed me for the better. The ability to be in a position to share that gift with someone on their own path is something that overwhelms me.

It is a gift for which I will be forever grateful.

Being Open

Three years living in Hawaii encompassed a large amount of sun, beaches, getting fit, and personal growth more than anything. Lessons that I think I have mastered, and then something will come up from behind and smack me upside the head.

Recently I was asked to “friend” someone on social media that I’d met a few weeks ago. She seemed nice and was very enthusiastic. But I didn’t know her that well. What was my hesitation? Why be cynical? Why be so guarded? This person thought enough of me that she wanted us to get to know each other better.  It didn’t matter that I will be moving in a few months. Or that I will likely never see her again after.

I have the same issues with investing in friendships and meeting people at church. Why chit chat with people I will likely never see again since we are due to leave? Perhaps borderline anti-social, I remember the meet and greet portion of services attended as a kid with a special kind of uncomfortableness. I would often make that the exact moment to head for the ladies room, conveniently returning to my seat when that part concluded.

I have this other friend who is an open person. Until someone shows their crazy, she welcomes them with open arms. I, on the other hand, tend to be more closed off. Not as a defensive posture, but more from a self-protective nature. I tend to want to make sure someone isn’t crazy BEFORE letting them into my personal world. I often ask myself in situations what would she do?

So I thought about my Open Friend and how she would handle this. There’s a reason she has a billion virtual friends that she ACTUALLY knows. She’s open to it. By clicking a little button, I made the decision to be less guarded, and more accepting…more open and less closed off.

While silly and trivial in the big scheme of things, I’ve found that it’s the little things that all add up to the bigger picture of our nature. I want to be less like my closed off, fearful, self-protective by nature, and more open to people and new experiences.

All it took was the metaphorical click of a button to choose:

acceptance

graciousness

bravery

honesty

openness

risk

love.

And I chose to chat with a lovely couple at church. (Even though it was initiated by my daughter’s insistence that she have a cookie.) I have never once regretted being open to new people, even if I forget that at times.

What about you? Are you a naturally open person or self protective?

Daring Greatly

I’ve mentioned before how much I admire, and have learned from, the author of Daring Greatly, Brene Brown. I am watching her on an episode of Lifeclass and am reminded again about the power of vulnerability.

After receiving a call to interview for a Spin Instructor position at a local gym, I did my requisite freak out-happy-dance-squeal-high-five-my-friend-who-happened-to-be-here-when-the-call-came thing. But shortly after that, I began having the same doubts and negative thoughts, “Can I do this?”

In her book, Brene calls them shame gremlins. And oh boy, do they rear their heads at me when I’m scared, trying something new, or putting myself out there – as in getting up in front of people to lead them in a class.

Always, always I have to remind myself that every single time I’ve been vulnerable it has never returned void. Whether it is the creativity in my writing, opening up to new people, or teaching – it never returns void when I remember the following:

1. I have to be authentic. When I stop emulating others or putting on the “armor” of what I think people want – it works. And contrary to the gremlins, the world does not, in fact, end.

2. When people continually encourage you, it’s really good to start believing them. I’m not talking about flattery and “rah, rah you got this”-type cheerleading. It’s in the trenches, empathy, gut-wrenching, hand-gripping, awe-inspiring moments when people take the time to tell you how they really feel and what they really think about you. It’s thoughtful, true constructive criticism with a whole lotta love.

3. I can’t be comfortable and courageous at the same time. Brene spoke about the moment when our hand is on the arena door, we are about to step into some hard-core vulnerability by putting ourselves out there and being seen, and all the self doubt comes rolling. It’s uncomfortable, it’s gut-churning, I call it the “transitions”. I’m the type of person that just likes to know things before I know them. A to Z without the yucky uncomfortable process of the other letters.

The thing of it is, if I skip the transitions, shy away from the door, and decide to stay where I’m at, I never get to feel the joy, the exhilaration, and the victory of the arena. I’ll stay comfortable. It would be easier. It wouldn’t be so terrifying. (Read: vomit-inducing).

My hand is on the door. I’m walking through it. It’s scary to be sure. I will likely get my butt kicked in the transition-yucky-learning curve arena. But I’m going to get up and keep walking through that door.

It’s never returned void.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” – Theodore Roosevelt

“Vulnerability is our most accurate measurement of courage.”
― Brené Brown

“I can’t be paralyzed anymore by the critics. My new mantra is, if you’re not in the arena getting your ass kicked on occasion, then I’m not interested in your feedback. You don’t get to sit in the cheat seat and criticize my appearance or my work with mean-spiritedness if you’re also not in the arena. Now, if you’re also in the arena and you’re putting your ideas out and you’re owning them and you’re saying “I disagree with you about this and that, I think you’ve got this wrong” — then not only do I invite that, I freaking love that. I love that. I’m an academic. I’m hardwired for a good debate.”― Brené Brown