How do you know if you are achieving greatly or falling flat on your face without some point of reference? When do you cut yourself some slack and when do you pour gas on the fire? What is good or bad?

My son has been doing a podcast with his friend for quite some time now. They are getting better with each new episode. His latest podcast is How to Handle Criticism. One of his favorite quotes comes from Theodore Roosevelt who delivered a speech in Paris in 1910 at the Sorbonne.

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, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; 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 fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Then there is the whole “comparison is the thief of joy” thing.

We worry a lot about what other people think or do or have or say. We worry that we will be mocked or criticized. Everyone, it seems, is now bullied if they aren’t eternally praised or if their bizarre behavior is in any way questioned.

But there are standards of behavior we all have to agree upon in order to live in society. We all have to at least believe that stopping at red lights is a must. There are a number of people who aren’t paying good enough attention to their driving and run either a stoplight or a stop sign. They know immediately they were in the wrong. This is a communally accepted necessity.

But what about wearing your pajamas to shop at Walmart? Does it matter if it is just Walmart? Can you wear your jammies to the opera?

Daring to step outside the boxes society has built for us means we can achieve more (or sometimes far less) than those who stay inside the proscribed area. It is the people who challenge convention who create the new and different.

But new and different is not necessarily new and improved. I’m reminded of this every time Facebook tries some new crap that makes my experience less. I’m still trying to figure out how to make that box stop appearing when someone replies to a post. I’m scrolling and I will get to that in my own good time. And when I do read and even respond to the damn thing, it’s still active in my notification area. Just stop. Make sure the new is an improvement and not just some flash crap you want to try.

[sorry, rant over]

Living outside the norm is sometimes the best place to live. However, if you start running all the red lights, you not only will get hurt, but you will take some other poor sod with you.

Listening to the critics, real or imagined, external or internal, can rob you of the joy of your pursuits. Looking around and comparing yourself to the masses of other people out there is enough to make us all weep. We simply aren’t able to be all the things all the other people are, that’s why there are so many of us.

Being true to your own goals, being a genuinely nice person, being kind … these are things that matter. Others will always have an opinion about everything.

You can please some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all the people all of the time. Stop trying. Concentrate on being the best version of yourself with all your qualities and limitations and hopes and fears and idiosyncrasies and foibles. But stop at all the red lights.

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I wish I knew. I wish there was someone to just tell me. There isn’t. I have to figure it out on my own. What the hell are my goals?

I write Little Bits of History and publish daily. I took a year off and missed it so I started again. It is a creative outlet and it is a learning experience – at least for me as I write them. I have always been a repository of Mom’s Fast FactsTM and amused or maybe annoyed my kids by spouting off esoteric crap at the slightest provocation. Writing these essays for close to a decade has increased my store of trivia no one will ever ask me about.

I still can’t remember where I put my coffee cup, but I can spout completely inconsequential factoids without warning.

I like writing. It gives me a chance to see what I’m thinking and what appears on the screen before me is often quite surprising. I had no idea I was thinking that stuff until it shows up right there in black and white.

But that is just a small corner of my life. I don’t write all day long. I have other things to do. Most of them equally inconsequential but I’m old and retired and not expected to be of any consequence anymore. I fulfill that ideal.

But then, four to five times a week I step into the expanse of The Box. I don’t know what I want out of that portion of my life. I’ve gained strength and stability. I’ve gained stamina, which is scary when one considers how little I have now and then realizes how much more there is now than when I began.

Each and every time I look at a WOD, I panic. It’s been nearly five years and every single one of them scares me. No one programs for a Little Old Lady and yet, that’s who shows up when I walk in the gym. The young people can do the things so much quicker than me, sitting there box breathing and trying to not have a heart attack and die. I’ve had to promise I won’t have a heart attack and die. So I’m responsible for keeping my heart rate in the “viable” zone.

And then I get cranky. I could have scaled the reps on Monday. I was given the option. I did scale the weight. I stopped working when I was too light headed to do another set up box jumps which aren’t jumped, but still, they make me dizzy especially when my heart rate is high. Rather than die, I quit. But then I was up half the night wishing I hadn’t. I could have sat still for longer and gotten my head straight and my heart rate down and then done the last round. I not only could have, I should have. And then I got all mad at myself for quitting. I was too worried about the time. I’m getting older by the second regardless of the time, so why do I keep selling myself short?

If my goals were clearer, would I stop stopping myself? I don’t honestly know. I do know that I can do many things and I would like to do more and my progress is slower than a herd of turtles moving through peanut butter. But I still progress.

I’m tempted to not listen to the cardiologist and just go for it and see what happens but I’m afraid that could include one of those pesky heart attacks and die things, so I don’t.

I’m so amazed at the people who come to the gym with the goal of getting better and then work on getting better. I’m so waylaid by that damn white board. I need to let the board go.

Maybe my goal should be to improve incrementally. Or maybe just improve mentally.

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What sort of life goals can a retired person have? This has bothered me ever since I gave up my real adult job almost twenty years ago. I’ve done other adult jobs over the years and some of them were even really worth the effort. But my real job, my real calling, was saving lives and conquering disease. It’s what I did and who I was and what I was meant to do.

But now, I’m completely retired and not even doing the menial task of paperwork for the benefit of others. So what sorts of goals can I pursue?

I suppose I want to live healthily as long as possible. But that’s such a stupid underlying thing that all of us want. I wanted that when I had a real goal in life to save other lives, etc. Absent being alive, all other goals are meaningless. I can’t think of a single thing to do with all my time that is beneficial to the real world outside my curtained windows.

I write my histories. I like that. I didn’t like it when I took last year off. It gives me at least a bit of structure to my days. I have a task to complete, something to check off my to do list. Something tangible. I don’t know if it really benefits the world at large. Knowing more stuff is always good. Knowing the problems we face today are not unique to our time may be of some benefit.

I could create of goal of publishing me work for remuneration. I’ve actually thought about it many, many times. But it would be more work than I’m willing to put into it. And right now, I am happy to write with the occasional typo remaining and not feel bad about it. My OCD would be exacerbated by publishing for money. Essentially, this is not a goal I have. It might be a goal I should have, but I don’t think should is part of goal setting.

I know I could set some goals for projects around the house. These are not goals, however, they are to do lists. We have talked about repainting the inside of the house. That’s as far as that particular item has gotten. It might even be a really good idea to repaint. But that’s a not a goal item.

I don’t have a five or ten year plan. It seems entirely pointless. I’m not yet to the point where I won’t buy green bananas, but to plan out something that long term is incredibly ludicrous. I don’t even know what I want to do this weekend and it really doesn’t matter what I choose.

I’m not sure how other retired people manage all their time. I can remember my mother saying how one day, we would look back and wish we had some of the busy stuff to do. She was bored, too. Not all the time and not every single day, but when she was called with a “Do you want to” question she always said yes before the doing part was mentioned. She always had time to do or go or help.

There are myriad books written for the young and middle aged to help them get their lives focused and their chance for happiness increased. I don’t even know if there is any wisdom out there for retired folks. We tell younger people to plan for retirement. What we don’t say is that most of what you have to plan for is boredom.

I’ve been told many negative things about boredom. These are repeated by people who have their days so overscheduled they have to check their calendar for a time to go to the bathroom. When days stretch out endlessly, there is really only whatever it is you can think of to do with yourself. And the less you have to do, the harder it is to find any motivation to do it.

Every motivational book, every motivational talk, tells you to focus on your goals. Determine where you are going and then build a map to get there. I’ve already been there. I’m going home and I know the way. And there is nothing to do when I get there. Just not a real exciting goal.

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This is the day to make resolutions but I don’t really make resolutions. Last year I had one goal and didn’t make it. But I achieved some remarkable things that I dared not even dream 365 days ago. So I suppose it is a toss up whether or not I had a good year. Like everything else, this is a matter of perspective.

One year ago, I was grieving the loss of my son’s family. They were all alive and well, but instead of being a short car ride away, they were a long day’s travel distant. I would no longer be seeing them every couple weeks. My heart ached.

My son’s job has been going well and he bought his first house this past year. He and his children are miraculously okay without me hovering over them. They have extended family there and are doing just fine. All that worry and grief and all I got was tears and a headache. When we did get to see them over the summer, everyone was doing great; happy and healthy.

One year ago, I was working part-time at my office job. Nothing ridiculously stressful, not like when I was dealing with life and death. Just a nice way to spend some of my time and make enough money to buy health insurance. I had the job for years and was comfortable in the routine of my days.

I gave notice of my impending retirement when I made the decision last summer. It is extremely difficult to keep going to work when the other half is retired. Several times in the last three years, it has been mentioned that most wives retire soon after their husbands retire. I know why. It grates on one’s nerves to be still going to work while they are going to the golf course (or perhaps fishing or whatever it is they do when they don’t work). I have two more months to work but since it is part-time, that is only 24 more days. I have been counting down for a long time now, so I know this stuff.

One year ago, I told myself I would be doing a strict pull-up before the year ended. This was my one and only goal for the entire year. I knew there were things I needed to do to get there. I made a half assed effort. Doing reverse pull-ups before the day started meant I was stone cold, not at all warmed up, and usually in the way of the people who were in the middle of their class. At the end of class, I was simply worn out and didn’t have enough strength to work at it. The gym closes for a couple hours after the 6 AM class is over and so waiting around was annoying. And for two of the days each week, I needed to get home and get ready for work. I didn’t put in the work and amazingly enough, didn’t get the results I wanted.

I have been the score keeper for three I CAN Games. I have watched amazing athletes and dreamed that some day, I could play like that. These people are amazing. Competition is amazing. I’m old and totally not amazing. And then, the Masters Garage Games were announced. A scaled version of a gaming event written especially for old farts (and their children, since both of my sons were old enough to participate as well). I was scared half to death and asked my son’s permission so I would be sure not to embarrass him. I have no delusions regarding my ineptitude.

One of the highlights of my year was being able to compete and complete the Masters Garage Games. I had no idea I even could survive such a thing. I was horrible. It was thrilling. I took the mindset of participating. I was going to do something totally outside my comfort zone, I was going to work out in front of people who expected results and all I ever manage it not dying and trying to keep my heart rate compatible with life. I completed the day. Although my scores and times were crappy, just like always, I had so much fun knowing I actually did this.

Family, work, hobby … my year sped by and now I’m faced with another blank calendar. Having separations between that and this makes us (maybe it’s just me) look both backwards and forwards. What did I accomplish? What is left to do?

My goal, which is not a resolution but a goal, is to overcome my fear. That is a huge goal and probably unattainable. I’m afraid of everything. I worry constantly. I’m never good enough. I always want more. I need to be better. What sort of crap is this life I live?

Okay, overcoming my fear isn’t really going to work. I need to learn to effectively live with my fear, not letting it overwhelm me. So far, nothing has ever killed me. I have survived everything I’ve been afraid of. I’m still here. I’m doing okay.

My family is doing fine. There are ups and downs; there are upheavals and successes. My sons turned out to be successful men who are able to wend their way through a minefield existence and thrive. They are capable adults. My grandchildren are safe in their hands.

Work is coming to an end and I must fill my days with something else. This terrifies me. I went out seeking this job because I was bored to tears not working. That was five and a half years ago. Why will it be different now? How will I fill my days? I must find an answer to this one pretty damn soon.

My hobby is CrossFit. My box has limited hours as it is their part-time pursuit. I have to decide how I want to have my days go. I know I’m only able to do this first thing in the morning. My choices for that are 5 AM or 6 AM. I can go to open gym around 9 AM, but why would I pay all this money for no coaching? Next class is at noon and that would just ruin my whole day. And then there are evening classes at 4, 5, 6, and 7 PM and that is simply not me.

So I’m going to be retired and still getting up at 5.15 AM four times a week. And then I will have this entire day with nothing else to do stretching out before me. This is scaring me more than I can state. I’m afraid I will stop the whole CrossFit thing because it is too early to get up or it is too inconvenient to get there.

But if I keep going, I need to do something about my panic there. I am still overwhelmed each time I read a WOD. I can still do exactly nothing. I’m still unable to ever do anything and yet, I’ve been doing stuff for over two years. Of course I can do this. It is all scalable and there is nothing wrong with scaling. In fact, it is mandatory. I’m all good. Unfortunately, I’m still terrorized.

I suppose I’m not really this special and we all need to conquer the person we are in order to become the person we want to be. I’m going to work on that this year.

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Strong is the new skinny.

This is a sports meme and someone took offense to it lately and I’m trying to figure out how I feel about it. I apparently read it differently than the person who was complaining because they were somehow offended and I am not.

I read it with the logic going from what was perceived as desirable then was “skinny” regardless of health consequences. What is desirable now is “strong” and the packaging isn’t important. I don’t remember where the outrage came from in the post I read, but it was there and I find nothing outrageous in the line.

I’ve been working toward “strong” for a while now. I’ve leaned out and actually recaptured some muscle definition. I’m not looking like I did when I was in my thirties and playing racquetball for ten hours a week. I’m not working out ten hours a week. And I’m thirty years older now. But where I once had flab, I’m getting actual muscles.

I want to be able to lift heavier. I want to be able to run farther, too, but there are times when I think my heart rate is just going to be too problematic to allow that to happen. I’m getting stronger in such tiny increments that it is often impossible to see from a day to day perspective. I have to think back to when this started and remember what it was like then compare that state to what I’m doing now.

When I began, I was overweight or at least weighing more than I wanted to weigh and it was one of the prime motivators. What I was doing wasn’t working and I wanted my clothes to fit better. Well, they certainly don’t fit better now. They are all way too big. I worked hard to accomplish the things listed in each WOD and as I grew, I shrank. I also learned I wasn’t eating as clean as I imagined and that much of my diet wasn’t really all that good for me. It wasn’t helping me build muscle and I needed more muscle to lift heavier. The size became unimportant eventually and I’m now worrying about getting too small as I continue to improve.

Yesterday I did 50 pull-ups (half with even less band assist than I have been used to using) and did so in just a few minutes. When I began this nonsense, I could manage a few ring rows at a time and it would have taken me far longer (if it was even possible) to do those than it took me to do 50 actual (band assisted) pull-ups yesterday. And I would have been totally spent and done for the day.

After the 50 pull-ups was 100 wallballs. And I did them. All. Using the RX weight for an old fart. When I started, I was using the kid 4# ball and couldn’t have managed to eke out 100 even with that. My legs would have given up the ghost and I would have simply been in a puddle on the floor disgusted with myself. And that would have been without anything else on the menu.

I want to be strong. I want to be stronger. The only way to get from where I am now to the land of stronger is to keep moving, keep trying, keep being disappointed and yet coming back for more, keep growing. I think it is an admirable goal.

If we held out “strong” as a goal for teenagers rather than “skinny” would it help with body image? Some of the strongest women at my box are not svelte, lean, muscle machines. They have rounder bodies which accomplish many wonderful things that I can only dream of.

We probably should hold out no goal for anybody else. Goals should be internally driven and match the person’s own mindset. But society is good at imposing ideals. Photoshopping is ubiquitous and so to help with this nonsense, “everyone is beautiful” is a meme even though it is patently untrue and you would have to be a moron to buy into it. Besides, beautiful is a superlative and if everyone were beautiful, it would be the average and you have just negated the definition of the word.

It is my belief that goals work better if they are internal things rather than external things. The appearance of the package isn’t nearly as important as what one finds inside. The goal of strong or smart or kind or moral or helpful … any of these seems preferable to skinny or beautiful which is shallow and unimportant.

And so, strong is one of the things I’m striving toward. I want to be better at it than I am now. I may have waited too long and may never be able to recover from the inertia. However, if there are younger people out there who need to choose a goal, let me propose you choose strong. It gives much more satisfaction than skinny. AND it is far more useful. You can open your own jars when you are strong.

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What am I hoping to get out of CrossFit?

At first I just wanted to survive each day and not have to cry over how frail and unfit I was. I wanted to be thirty again because that was a time in my life when I was really fit and active and my body was able to do whatever I asked of it. But then I sat too long and got too fat and turned into an old person. That last part is really galling.

The warm-up would include tossed off phrases like “lunge down the mat” and I would be all panicked because I couldn’t. Now I can. I know I have come light years from where I was when I began this journey. The only time to look behind yourself is when you want to see how far you’ve come. Well, it’s been a long road.

However, most of the road is still in front of me. Some of the road I will never travel. It isn’t my road that leads to the CrossFit Games or even to Garage Games – except as score keeper. Hopefully, this year I won’t make any mistakes. Ha. There is always a first time for everything. But I digress …

What are my goals for this year? If I don’t have any goals, any path will take me where I’m heading. So, where am I heading? What do I want to achieve?

This is so difficult for me. I can’t say I want to RX a WOD because the only time I have been able to do that is when we had to row for years and it just took me forever, but I can in fact, row for years. Any time there is a weight included, it is pretty much beyond me. I’m an old person and none of our WODs are written for scaled. They are written for RX and super RX. There is nothing there for the beginner or the frail, or the less than stellar athlete.

I’m no longer a beginner and I’m as stellar as I can possibly be, but I’m frail. I’m their oldest member and I’m not getting any younger. It is what it is and therefore, RXing a WOD is probably an unrealistic goal.

But what can I list for an achievement hope – or even <gasp> a goal?

I have gotten body weight for a deadlift and who ever thought I could do that? I was tickled pink when I finally got that 42# bar off the ground. Now I can get it overhead – but not very often.

I finally got one, count them – 1- double under but I can’t string them in a row. Is that a goal? Do I become the Count from Sesame Street and get to two, count them -2- double unders?

I know the form with a snatch but can’t get iron over my head. I don’t know if it is coordination or strength that is lacking, but something sure is. Should I make this a goal? 22# snatch!

I used to use the kid 4# med ball for wallballs. I can now manage the 10# ball, but RX for women is 14#. Can I manage to get to the shorter woman line with that? It isn’t as big as the leap from 4 to 10 which was 2.5 times the weight. It isn’t even half again as much. Surely, this is possible.

I started with really crappy and barely discernible ring rows and now I can manage a single blue band for my band assisted pull-ups. Can I get a real pull-up without any bands involved by the end of the year? Kipping allowed. Right? I mean, I’m old and frail and gravity is a bitch.

I began with pushups from my knees like a Little Old Lady and graduated to real boy pushups, but they are wormy. Can I keep a better plank position while doing these? I can now do a clockwise and counter-clockwise plank without falling apart so maybe I’m strong enough for this soon.

I began with box jumps on a single 50# plate which is just a couple inches or so. I hurt myself when I missed a 23″ jump and have gotten myself so scared I can’t jump on anything anymore. I get so fatigued and then I’m terrified I will miss again and it took so long for this old person to heal. What do I do about these? I have been doing step-ups, but is that cheating? I really need to ask Craig about this if I can remember. That old stuff gets me coming and going.

I hate burpees which makes me pretty much like everyone else. I would like to be able to get seven of them in a row – real hopping in and out – without rest. I wanted to put a ten in there where the seven is, but … I really don’t know if my heart rate can take it. I need to experiment with this one.

I have my weights for many of the lifts written down and I would like to PR them this year and get all those numbers higher. I should be able to do that except that we don’t really program for that at my box. We do the same thing all the time. I am so sick of back squats, I could scream. The only PRs I’ve gotten in the last couple months have been on Thursdays when I come to open gym and work on lifts by myself.

I try not to compare, but CrossFit Hilton Head had 111 (they counted them) PRs in December. CrossFit Summerville has maybe a dozen and two of them are mine from my Thursday stuff. Honestly, what is the programming supposed to be doing? I don’t think we have a program, we just have WODs scheduled willy-nilly. But, even with that, I’m stronger and more agile. I’m fitter. I’m leaner. I’m meaner. I’m more confident. I will keep going back.

All I need are some tangible goals.

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Everything I’ve ever done that ultimately was worthwhile … initially scared me to death.  – Betty Bender

I don’t make resolutions and never have. The beginning of a new year so close to my birthday is probably just frosting on the cake, as it were. New beginnings can’t happen only at this time of the year or I have too long to wait before I can take another leap.

Instead, I just make goals and work towards them whenever the chance comes my way.

Some things are dictated by the world at large. I couldn’t wait to start school so I could learn to read like my big sister. I had to wait for September for that to happen despite my wishes. And then they didn’t want to teach me to read. The indignity was too much. My mother bribed me to go to school. If I would go, she would teach me to read in the afternoon. Deal.

Thus began my love affair with words. I have loved fiction, non-fiction, poetry, essays, letters, and anything up to and including the back of cereal boxes. If there are words in front of me, I’m reading them.

I wasn’t scared when I was five. I didn’t know enough. So I might have to disagree with Betty.

But I got older. And the new things I wanted to try did scare me. I wanted to ride a bike and that meant taking off the training wheels. I’m sure I fell over. What kid doesn’t? But I don’t remember the falls. I only know that I can hop on a bike today and ride with the wind in my hair and the sun shining on my face. It is something my mother couldn’t ever do. I’m glad I learned it when it was still safe to fall.

The first time I showed some stranger my writing was very difficult. There could be unfavorable critique and then what would happen to my words. Well, the only way to find out was to show people my writing. Nothing bad happened. I wrote for an ezine and people read and responded to my words. It was safe to do this. I wasn’t the only person to read my words. I lived!

I got braver and braver by taking incremental baby steps. Between my two main blogs, I’ve had over 400,000 hits and written over 2,000 posts. I’ve had writing published in other spaces and places as well. It was getting easy to write. Perhaps I should do something different.

I wasn’t ever the first picked in gym class for anything. I could hold my own reasonably well during a game of kickball, but don’t hand me a bat or expect me to hit a basket. As an adult, I found racquetball and became pretty good at the sport. I was able to win lots of my games although I can’t really guarantee it was most of them. It was if I was playing other women, but I played with the big boys, too.

But then I got older and then I got feeble.

The scariest thing I have ever done was take control of an out of control life and walk into a CrossFit box. I was fat, or at least as fat as I had ever been. I weighed more than I had when I was nine months pregnant. I could walk around the block without passing out, but that was the extent of my expertise. My joints were rusty, my stamina was nonexistent, my flexibility wasn’t as bad as might be expected, but I had no idea what I was doing.

One year later, knowing some of what I was doing, I took another leap. I entered, for no good reason other than frank stupidity, the Whole Life Challenge. In eight weeks I did what I had been unable to do in the previous year. I reached my goal weight and then a smidgeon more. I learned about healthy eating. Even though I had been a nurse for over 20 years, there was much to learn about today’s food supply. I learned about caring for my body even when I’m not at the gym, maybe especially when I’m not at the gym. It was not a pleasant experience, especially as I was first starting. However, by the end of the eight weeks, I was a new me.

So here I sit, writing about diet and exercise. Making a new beginning to a new year. I have no resolutions. I do have a goal. I plan to venture outside my comfort zone as often as I dare. That’s where all the magic happens. Surely, something good will come of this.

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