Monthly Archives: November 2015

The CrossFit Games

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Sometimes it is difficult for me to wrap my brain around the entity that is CrossFit.  It is definitely not your typical gym, where you pay some kind of monthly fee, and get access to group exercise courses, weight rooms, and the like.  My primary exposure to CrossFit is living on the same block as an affiliate gym.  Nearly every morning, when I would be walking my dog, I would encounter large groups of people running along the sidewalk.  Sometimes they would have something in their hands, like a tire, a medicine ball, or something that just looked like a giant jug.  I would always think to myself about how these people woke up sometime around 5:30 A.M. to come in and do an intense workout, while I was just walking my dog after eating a bagel with creme cheese.

CrossFit is a also completely different philosophy, on exercise, and on life.  Unlike at a typical gym, CrossFit-ters (is that the right way to refer to them, I do not know) do not work out at their own pace.  In fact, the workouts appear intense and competitive, and so does the lifestyle.

It was a mere ten minutes after arriving that I realized that I may have inadvertently brought a contraband item into the gym.  With a bottle of Coca-Cola in front of a sign strongly advocating against the consumption of sugar, I felt quite ridiculous.

For several reasons, I was a little bit hesitant to come to the CrossFit Regional Competition.  The intensity of the workout regiment does not really match my personality.  I have also all but lost interest in “working out”.  This is primarily due to the fact that I now live in Colorado.  I just find it hard to motivate myself to go run on a treadmill and lift weights when there are mountains with trails, ski resorts, rivers with rapids, and endless adventure possibilities so close to home!

Also, Saturday morning was COLD!  Upon arrival, at about 8:20 A.M., the temperature was in the mid-teens.  This was after Denver International Airport (where the official observations taken) recorded an overnight low of 5 degrees.  Before that morning, the last time the temperature in Denver had dropped lower than 20 was the 6th of March, over 8 months ago.  So, not only was it cold, but we were not accustomed to it.

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Despite the cold, and despite the activity being outside the realm of what I would typically attend, I started having fun as soon as I got there.

The first competition I watched was a close race between several competitors.  The competition involved a series of rows, weight lifting, and some series of jumps that I did not really understand.  It was quite exciting!  As the competitors passed through the series of events, some would take leads, some would stage comebacks.  It was like watching another type of race, such as hurdles or horse racing, only with more craziness and variety.

I had came to the CrossFit Regional Competition to support a friend of mine who was competing.  He ended up pulling out a victory in a really close “race”.  In fact, there was an entire group of us that had made the trip up to Broomfield to see him compete.  Towards the end of this close race, we were all yelling, jumping up and down, and cheering him on!  In fact, part of the reason the event was so enjoyable was the group comradery.  I genuinely believe that all events are better when shared with others, even in the cases where solitude is major part of the event (like backpacking).

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There were also a lot of other fun events at the CrossFit games.  In particular, I enjoyed watching the relay races, as they had a crazy arrangement of obstacles that each team of competitors had to overcome.

I saw people who were in crazy good shape.  They all looked quite strong, and they all were capable of quite a lot.  All I could think to myself was that despite my strong lack of desire to spend multiple mornings a week lifting weights and running and such, while also making it into a competition, this program works!  It works for the people involved.  Nearly every CrossFit-ter that I have seen, whether it be here, or on my block, is in ridiculously good shape, exactly the result they set out to get.

I am also glad that once again I personally decided to say yes to life.  Had I chosen to stay home, whether it be because I was deterred by the frigid temperatures, or whether it be out of lack of a strong personal connection to the CrossFit way of life, I would have missed out on something truly beautiful.  In the end, what I appreciated most about this event wasn’t the yelling and jingling my keys for the last 15 seconds of the event, or any of the other excitement one gets when watching a close race and having their preferred participant win.  This event was special because I saw something that represents one of the greatest things we, as a human race, ever experience in life.  It is that moment when you see the positive results of hard work in another human being.  It is knowing that a genuinely decent person has taken part in something to better themselves.

Life is full of tough choices.  One definitely involves how one can best spend their time.  We will all receive a series of invitations (or solicitations), and must chose to say yes to some and no to others.  We all know what we like.  One will nearly always willingly accept invitations to activities they know they enjoy, and approach them with a positive and joyous attitude.  Conversely, one will nearly always turn down invitations to activities they know they are not fond of.

What about those activities that fall somewhere in the middle?  Maybe you are not too familiar with them, or have some kind of mixed emotions.  Ultimately, we all must make a judgement call.  Saturday’s event provided a clear reminder to me that accepting more of these invitations, and approaching them with an open mind and a positive attitude will lead to more positive experiences in life.

 

More Than Just a New Job

The way the world is designed, heck, the way life itself is designed, it is impossible to go through a full lifetime without some major life changes and adjustments.  Regardless of what lifestyle choices we make, we all undergo periodic transformations.  Every one of us transforms from being an infant, to a child, to an adolescent, and to an adult.  Afterwards, most of us will transform to becoming parents ourselves.

Life in the 21st Century requires more personal transformations than ever!  Today nearly all of us go to college.  A life transformation occurs both at the start and the completion of our college education.  Additionally, the world is changing at an ever faster pace.  Gone are the days when one would be able to learn a couple of key skills to use over the course of a 40 year career with the same company.  Recent writing has even suggested that the most effective people reinvent themselves every 3-5 years.  Coincidentally, the current average time that a person stays at a job is 4.6 years.

It is hard for me to pinpoint the exact moment in which I realized that I needed to undergo a significant re-invention.  We often have this notion that ideas just pop into people’s heads out of nowhere.  We have all seen shows where a light bulb suddenly pops upon the screen, indicating that someone has come to a sudden realization.  This is not actually the case.  In reality, ideas are often developed over time, with contributions from multiple people.

For me, it took two separate disappointing experiences in traditionally-structured jobs, a whole bunch of reading, extensive self-reflection, and discussions with plenty of individuals, including some who had undergone a similar transformation themselves.

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Life after college started off really good for me, all things considered.  In Chicago, I had a steady job with a large corporation, where I met a lot of people who were also in their 20s, and had plenty of chances to enjoy big city life.

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It was the life I had imagined for myself at the time, but inevitably, things had to change.

The hardest thing I learned about life working for a large corporation is that a person can put in several good years, and have their work output feel quite well received by those around them, and still have decisions made on their behalf that are not necessarily in their best interest.  Essentially, what I learned, which sounds elementary to me now, is that corporations do not care about people, and that in large structured environments, people are often far removed from people making decisions.  It is common for someone to have decisions being made regarding their career path by people who do not know them much beyond what would be included in a two page resume.

During this time, I did explore a bit about non-traditional work environments, reading books such as The Art of Non-Conformity.  But, I guess I was not ready for it, and so I returned to another traditional structured work environment.

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I have not discussed this much in this blog.  As a matter of fact, I kind of feel like a phony even admitting that while I have been writing this travel blog, documenting the trips I was taking, I spent a good number of days sitting at a desk in an office like this.  Most people would not consider that the lifestyle of a “travel writer”.

I am starting to believe that every life transformation has both externally driven and internally driven components.  What I mean by this is that, the same way rehab programs only work for people who first “admit they have a problem”, someone can only re-invent themselves, when they come to some form of realization that it needs to happen.  However, I do not see situations where someone decides to make major life changes in response to nothing.

Usually, something happens to make one come to the realization that what they are currently doing is not working.  Sometimes, it’s just bad luck, like bad market conditions for a particular industry.

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Other times, it is something more positive, like being introduced to something new, a new idea, a new way of thinking, or a new opportunity.

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For me, it unfortunately took a combination of experiences.  At work, I once again felt that feeling of alienation, as once again decisions were made without my best interests in mind.  It actually lead to a work environment that I found not only non-fulfilling, but also unpleasant.

Through the afore mentioned self-reflection, reading and discussions I had over the course of 2015, I came to several key realizations that go beyond the standard “I need a new job”.  I realized that….

  • I had originally decided to apply for the types of work I had applied for because I had not really considered the alternatives.
  • It is not just the few bold people that work in environments other than office jobs with 9-5-ish hours.
  • With automation, globalization, and other forces, we are going to have to be more creative, self-directed, and individually motivated in order to maintain our current standard of living.
  • In order to get what I want out of life I am going to make some major adjustments myself.

For the last few weeks, I have been transitioning to a new employment situation, as a “consultant”.  This environment is described to me as being halfway between being in a “traditional” structured office environment and being a freelancer.  It requires me to work differently, think differently, and act differently.  As is the case for many that are self-employed, there are some financial risks, but in exchange, there is increased flexibility and autonomy.  With all these changes, who knows what adventures await!

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I am actually quite excited about making these adjustments.

In my new world, there are no more cubicles, and I do not have a permanent office.  This means that both meeting people and finding work will require significantly more individual initiative.  Without having the same people around me every day, I am going to have to determine for myself which people I should be associating with, both in a personal and professional sense.

In my new world, there is significantly less structure.  Nobody is there to tell me what time I should be doing what.  In order to ensure productivity, I will have to create this structure myself, determining each day, week, and month what I need to get done and when I will be doing it.

And, most importantly, my new world requires me to fully embrace thinking of life as a “slalom”.  Just as those that compete in slalom skiing must think several turns ahead of time, I must be prepared to think several moves ahead of time to ensure that I am setting myself up for a successful, and more importantly, enjoyable life both short and long term.

This requires a new me, and hopefully a better me.  It requires me to be more confident, both in what I believe in, as well as what decisions I make and what I believe myself capable of.  It requires me to take initiative without being paralyzed by the fear of failure that causes so many people to not pursue their ideas and passions.  But, most importantly, I believe it requires me to not lose sight of who I am and what makes me a unique individual.  Of late, I have been active in encouraging others as they pursue their individual pursuits.  What I am hoping for, both for myself, and for everybody around me, is that we do not transform ourselves into a completely different person, but that we are able to become what I refer to as the best version of yourself.

 

Tea that Isn’t Really Tea

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Tea is not something I ever give any real thought to.  For me, it is one of those products that has always just been there.  As much as I claim to be a curious-minded person, I had never even sat and pondered who was the first person to come up with the idea to take a bunch of ground up leaves, put it in a tiny little bag and dip it into a cup of hot water.  In fact, if you think about almost every product we use on a regular basis from the standpoint of a culture that has never been introduced to that product, it probably sounds absurd.  As I write this, I am eating a bagel.  Imagine telling someone who has never heard of a bagel that you have an idea to take condensed bread, bake it into a cylindrical shape with a hole in the middle, and maybe put some random seeds on top.

You would have probably been told, by at least some portion of the people around you, that your idea was either absurd, or unnecessary.  If I could, I would communicate this point to an entire generation of aspiring entrepreneurs, as nearly all of them, will at some point receive a similar reaction from people they describe their idea to.  In fact, some will even be turned down and laughed at by potential customers and investors.

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One of the reasons I had never given tea too much thought is that in my mind I had always associated it with things that I do not find too exciting.  Our subconscious minds have this strange ways of synthesizing our experiences, the experiences we hear about, and even some of the media we consume into some general associations.  Whenever anyone mentions tea, the image that naturally pops into my head is a fancy table with fancy chairs on someone’s lawn, in front of a garden on a day with the most pleasant weather imaginable, and people wasting that pleasant afternoon, with so many possibilities to engage in activities and explore what the world has to offer, just sitting around drinking tea.

In fact, I did not even start drinking tea until I got my first job after Graduate School.  It was free at work.  I started drinking it to save both money and calories, particularly on chilly mornings.  The only variety of tea that was free at my job was “black” tea, which is perfect, because, as I learned at the Celestial Seasonings tour, it is one of the most heavily caffeinated teas out there (surpassed only by Oolong tea).  So, I conditioned my taste buds to the rather plain flavor of black tea and did not ponder other options.

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However, Celestial Seasonings is a place that has way more character than the stuffy images I think of when I think of the average “tea time”.  It was started by a bunch of hippies, which should not really surprise me given that it is in Boulder and was started in the late 1960s.  They would gather leaves in the Rocky Mountains outside of Boulder to make their beverages.

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However, the leaves that constitute “tea” come from plants that cannot be grown in this part of the world.  So, the beverages they put together were drinks that could not actually be considered “tea” by the technical definition.  They would have been considered “herbal infusions”.  The phrase “herbal infusion” had a clear association with the hippie movement.  So, to sell these products to the general public, which was (and still is) largely skeptical of the hippie movement, they labeled the beverages “herbal teas”.

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Now nearly a half a century has passed.  A lot has happened.  First, the hippies reached full-fledged adulthood (over 30, is that what they said?), got jobs, bought houses on cul-de-sacs, and, eventually SUVs and mini-vans.  A new generation emerged, powered by a rejuvenated economy, and became Yuppies.  They managed to both continuously enlarge the houses and vehicles in suburbia, while also turning formally blighted neighborhoods in city centers across the country into high-class urban playgrounds.  Many of the areas that were once focal points to the hippie sub-culture, including San Francisco, and even Boulder, are now firmly under the domain of this new urban culture.  Of course, this is all an over simplification, but hippie communes still exist, largely in the same way soda fountains and other relics still exist.  A family will randomly encounter one in an out of the way place on a road trip, and grandma and grandpa will explain to the children what they are/ were all about.

Yet, the label “herbal tea” is still there, both in this tasting room, and in their packaging.  It is still there despite the fact that so much has changed.  Not only does the general public have absolutely nothing to fear from the hippie sub-culture anymore, but, I would argue that many of their ideas have penetrated our mainstream thinking, both “right” and “left”.  We do not wear suits to baseball games anymore.  People aren’t mocked or reprimanded nearly as much when they explore their feelings, and try to find themselves.  There is no more stigma around going to seek therapy, and tons of people participate in yoga classes.  We may largely be in boring cubicles and offices, but it is not unheard of to openly defy the authority structures there.

Despite all of this, people are still drinking “herbal tea” instead of “herbal infusions”.  “Herbal teas” are Celestial Seasoning’s three top selling “teas”.  Is this simply the power of inertia?  Are there still a significant enough number of people that would shy away from drinking something if it was labeled an “herbal infusion”?  Or is something greater at work?  Our world is in a constant state of flux, and that flux includes language, definitions, and standards.  The hippie movement did not survive, but some of the ideas joined the mainstream.  Maybe, although, these “herbal infusions” were not considered “tea” in 1969, they are now.  Very few people, when they buy these products at the store, even ever realize that they are not actually drinking tea.  For all practical purposes, it is tea despite the technical definition.  After all, Colorado is already a major part of a movement that changed the standards for what is considered beer, why not another product?

Hitting Goals

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Some people thrive on goals.  They are always working towards something, and always working towards something that can specifically be measured.  Sometimes it’s something along the lines of a specific marathon time.  Other times it is a major life event, such as earning a promotion, or being able to afford a house. Sometimes it’s even something a bit more unusual, like trying every ice cream flavor at a local ice cream shop.  But, in all cases, there is a goal, and a clear measurement.  At any given time, they know whether or not they have achieved their goal, and, in most cases, how close they are to reaching it.

Sometimes I envy these people.  Being driven by reaching specific, tangible benchmarks like this fits quite nicely into our present day results-driven society.  Tons of people writing about what makes people effective, or successful, stress the importance of making and achieving goals on a regular basis, both from the standpoint of improving your confidence and demonstrating your ability to achieve to others.

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Unfortunately, I tend to be driven by ideas and concepts that are more big-picture and abstract.  I am more interested in knowing that I am generally in good health and feeling energetic than reaching a specific weight target.  As a person who believes in flexibility and individuality, and shuns rigidity, I will often look at something like wanting to buy a house, and say, wait a second, is there some kind of way I could be just as happy in a condo, given certain circumstances?  Do I need to make a specific commitment to some sort of a budget, when circumstances in life often vary, and adhering strictly to a certain number might even cost me opportunities that could go a long way towards some of the most important goals of all, which I see as happiness, purpose, satisfaction and the like?

I do, however, have to acknowledge some of the reasons we operate in this fashion.  After all, we do live in a complicated world where we all have thousands of things competing for our attention at any given time.  The easiest way to grab someone’s attention is to say something specific.  Vail Ski Resort will tell you it has a 3450 foot vertical drop, or that it gets 348 inches of snow per year.  They do not try to get your attention by saying that skiing will provide an exhilarating experience that will often improve one’s happiness as well as physical fitness.

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In 2015, in addition to my big picture goal to “feel more energized and be in better shape”, I attached a specific goal.  I was going to bicycle at least 1500 miles this year.  Now, I do understand that this is not that high of a number.  The most hard-core cyclists will often ride 10,000 miles in one calendar year.  One bike ride across the country is more than 3000 miles. But, 1500 miles would make this my biggest bicycling year yet (2014 was previously my highest at 1385 miles), and it would be an easy number for me to point to as a way to indicate to others how much bicycling I do.

There were a couple of obstacles that got in the way of me reaching this goal.  The first was a wet early season.  In May, Denver recorded measureable precipitation 19 out of 31 days. This was followed by 13 rainy days in June.  Ironically, one of those rainy days included a hailstorm, on bike to work day!

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Later on, job/career related issues took some of my attention away from cycling.  And, finally, although this one is definitely not a bad thing, during the second half of summer and the first half of fall, a lot of my plans took me places where cycling was simply not possible, including travel, visitors, and social events.

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However, despite all of this, on Sunday, November 1st, 2015, I reached my goal, and pedaled my 1500th mile of the year.  And, I decided to do it in style.  I didn’t want to get to this milestone just anywhere, biking on some random road in some neighborhood that doesn’t mean anything to me.  I wanted to go somewhere iconic!  I wanted to go somewhere appropriate, for both the day’s conditions, as well as a place where I had significant experiences during the first 1478 miles I rode this year.  Really, there was only one true choice; Red Rocks amphitheater.  At exactly 22 miles from my home, I would hit that 1500 mile mark somewhere along my final ascent to the top of the road.  Red Rocks is an iconic place, both beautiful and full of memories for mankind.  And, it is a place I have ridden my bike to over half a dozen times on previous rides.  One of my favorite half day rides is to go to Red Rocks, and then into Golden for lunch, followed by a nice quick ride on the Clear Creek Trail back to Denver.

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Yet, the story of me and my bike in 2015 cannot simply be summarized with a number; 1500, or 1600, or whatever I get to in two months when the year is complete.  It is so much more than that.  It is the exhausting three day, 230 mile ride through Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons.  But, it is also the countless treks over the same roads in town, to and from work, and to all of the other places I went to on a regular basis.  It’s the improvements I made in climbing, something I am weak at due to living in Chicago for several years, but also all the flat tires I got and had to change.

Outcomes are best communicated to others when they are demonstrated both qualitatively and quantitatively.  Behind every story, there is a number, probably multiple numbers.  I can say I biked 1500 miles.  I can also figure out how many vertical feet I climbed, how many times I biked certain roads and trails, and even how many tires I changed.  But to just say the number, without answering that all important question, why I am doing what I am doing, would also not be effective.  I bike to improve my health, spend some time outside, visit interesting places, and to save some money on fuel.

More importantly, bicycling contributes to my larger scale goals of being happy, healthy, unique, and true to myself.  How much different would it be to have biked 1475 miles vs. 1525 miles?  Not too much.  The same way a .301 batting average is not too different than a .299 average.  So, I guess while I am happy I reached the mark I set out for at the beginning of the year, I still need to recognize that it is not the end all, be all.  While it is good to have a goal, or a target, to stay on track, and provide a construct for how far one wants to take a certain activity, we all must keep mindful of the big picture. And, if reaching a certain number would cost us more than it is worth, we should be willing to adjust.