Tag Archives: self improvement

Waiting for the Ski Lift

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Remember the first time? Perhaps you were a young kid, or perhaps you were a teenager first learning how to ski or snowboard. Already uncomfortable, taking part in an activity that is kind of dangerous. This chair is coming around to lift you to the top of the mountain, or at least quite a bit higher. Will you push forward at the right time? Will your transition onto the chair be smooth? What about getting off the chair when the ride is done?

As an experienced skier, taking on some of Copper Mountain’s more challenging terrain, I take for granted the ease at which I hop on and off of ski lifts.

However, that wasn’t always so. I recall my first day skiing, when I was 14, how I felt as I gradually moved up in line to, for the first time in my life, allow a pulley-based mechanical device to lift me up in the air while I was wearing skis. Right in front of me was a prime example of the rewards the come from overcoming anxiety, pushing through discomfort and opening ourselves to new experiences. Winter would not be nearly as enjoyable without this temporarily stressful experience.

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Life is full of things we anticipate, get anxious or even fearful about, but chose to push through in order to expand our horizons. These events could be as trivial as trying a new food, or changing in a gym locker room alone for the first time (as a child). They can be as major as a first date, job interviews, or starting a business. In all cases, we start out anxious or afraid, or, at the very least, highly uncomfortable. We emerge on the other side a more capable human being. If we continue to take part in the activity, like riding the ski lift, what was once a source of terror becomes something we are comfortable with and do with ease.

In a lot of these situations, there is some degree of flexibility with regards to the timing at which we overcome our nerves. A high schooler can loose their nerve and decide to wait another day or two to ask out the classmate they have a crush on. An aspiring musician at an open mic night can elect to let a few people go before them. Someone feeling anxious about boarding a ski lift cannot slow down the inevitable. The chairs are going to come, one by one, picking up people. The line will move as the anxious new skier inevitably reaches boarding position. The clock is ticking!

The course of life will bring more significant situations that require overcoming our nerves; marriage, children, business decisions that affect many, as well as the many times we need to assert ourselves or allow ourselves to be vulnerable. As I face a situation of my own that’s making me nervous, it helps to have a reminder, here on the slopes, of a time I overcame my nerves and created something beautiful.

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Leaving it in the 2010s

12 Things I’m Letting go of for a New Decade

Note: This is the first entry in a three part series about the dawn of a new decade. These entries are not about travel or destinations, but about life’s journey during a period of reflection.

1. Worrying about how people are perceiving me

If anything, this is a sign of maturity. High Schoolers are constantly worried about how they’re being judged by their peers, often based on things like fashion and entertainment. Maturity means first understanding that differences with respect to these surface level preferences are not that important. Next comes eliminating the fear of what is different with respect to more significant things like values and lifestyle.

The next step in the process involves managing the reactions of others. Many have not, and some never will, reach a point where they no longer fear those that are significantly different from them. Ironcially, it is often the people who go around claiming to be “accepting” or “open-minded”, and constantly contrast themselves with the xenophobes of the world that are least capable of dealing with those who see the world in fundamentally different matter. The truth is that a person’s reaction to someone else, or someone else’s ideas, is often more a reflection of themselves than the person they are responding to.

2. Guilt about anything that isn’t specifically my fault

It’s great to care, and it is great to want to help. But, feeling guilty about it and letting it get in the way of life’s other pursuits is a complete waste of time.

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3. Underestimating my value

Low self-esteem is so rampant in our culture that those with a healthy sense of self worth are often perceived as arrogant or full of themselves. Sure, there are people out there that are too full of themselves. Those are the people who will honestly defend holding others to a double standard, or showboat about skills they do not actually have. Still, many more are unnecessarily humble and don’t understand their true value, due to some combination of societal conditioning or having struggled in the past. Many struggles in life, including jobs and relationships are not the fault of the specific people involved. Rather, they are just the wrong fit.

4. Not believing in myself

Even worse than settling for less is not even trying!

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5. The easy way

This was discussed in a previous blog. Many of life’s choices involve a path that is easier vs. a path that is more challenging. The more challenging path is almost always the one that leads to a better long-term result. Taking the easy way means avoiding those difficult conversations that need to be had, finding a short cut to get something done rather than learning a new skill, and sticking to the same places and activities without expanding one’s comfort zone.

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6. Waiting for that perfect timing

This is a big one, especially with respect to major life moves such as marriage, children, getting another degree or starting a new business. At any moment in time, there is always something wrong with the specific situation: “The Economy is a little shaky.” “After I get this promotion.” “I need to lose 10 pounds.” And, the list goes on. The idea that some better moment in time is gonna come along can be crippling. In most situations, there’s no time like the present.

7. Indecisiveness

This is the era of analysis paralysis and FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). With more access to information that ever before, it is difficult to make a choice or commit to anything. The idea that something better will come along is not only out there, but it is now on everyone’s social media feeds. The same way waiting for the perfect time to do something will results in it never getting done, always waiting around for what is prefect will result in, well, a lot of waiting.

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8. Those that have treated me unfairly

There were plenty of those this decade. Those experiences are now all over and cannot be changed. It is impossible to get the proper closure to every situation in life. Time to focus on the future.

9. My past mistakes

There were also plenty of these in the 2010s. They also can’t be changed. Some of them can be atoned for, others, well, unfortunately never will. All that can be done is to let them go, and focus on the future (as well as the present).

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10. Picking up my phone without a specific reason

It’s time to do things intentionally. Phones will always be there, to alert their holders to life’s important developments. Everything else can wait. Seriously, despite being less than average – this is still too much time!

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11. Putting things off

Obviously, there are times when something comes up and cannot be dealt with right away. However, when there is time and something needs to get done, well, it should get done.

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12. Blaming others

This has been a horrible practice for many years. When there is always someone or something to blame, the uncomfortable feeling of having done something wrong does not need to be dealt with. Unfortunately, blame also comes at the cost of growth opportunities. It is also, like the other items on this list, as symptom of one of the things that holds us back the most … fear.

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Gratitude and Atonement

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I suck at gratitude. Forever thinking about the future and how to correct wrongs, both in my life specifically and with society as a whole, I often neglect to be grateful for what I do have.

The problem is not isolated to myself, or any specific subset of society. I can think of several people in my life that are great at showing gratitude. They make people feel good about themselves by giving compliments, and sounding grateful for anything anyone does for them. More importantly, they sound grateful to people just for being who they are and being in their lives. They are the ones that will occasionally just thank me for the way my mind works after I make some kind of comment.

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This is the exception rather than the rule. I have encountered far more people who are fixated on what they don’t have or what’s wrong. If I had to express my behavior with respect to being thankful vs. resentful, I would put myself somewhere in the middle of the curve. That is, however, not good enough. A lot of people recognize this as a problem. It’s now commonly recommend that people keep a gratitude journal in order to alter their focus.

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A decade is coming to an end. A decade full of ups and downs. A decade full of experiences. A decade full of joy and pain.

Throughout the decade, I can point to times when my behavior was positive, selfless and encouraging. I can also point to plenty of times when my behavior was erratic, self-destructive and not exactly fair to the people around me.

In the new decade, I am done with the tyranny of expectations, the fear of letting people down and the need for approval from others; especially authority figures. However, there are people in my life who genuinely helped me, were there for me during some rough times, encouraged me, and enriched my life just by being a part of it.

This Thanksgiving, it is time to

  1. Show people that I am grateful for them being in my life
  2. Tell them why I am grateful for them, and tell them that I care
  3. Show remorse for those who I have treated unfairly or taken for granted
  4. Truly let go of some things I am still holding onto

What I did can be thought of as trying to cram multiple years worth of gratitude into a single month.

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I decided to write notes to people who impacted my life in a significant way over the course of the decade. I’m sure I still left some people out. It was a list I agonized over. In the end, I wrote about 85 letters.

I spent two weeks writing what I should have been telling the people around me all decade. The notes mention specific qualities about people I enjoy. They express gratitude for shared experiences. They described the positive impacts certain people have had on my life. They express remorse for the situations I did not handle well.

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Writing the letters was quite emotional. In some cases, it felt like reliving the ups and the downs, the moments I am proud of and the ones that make me cringe. Overall, writing these notes made me feel better.

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Bringing these notes to the Post Office turned out to be even more emotional than writing them. There was something amazing about the act of dropping all these letters into the mail slot. At that specific moment, a giant weight lifted from me. I had finally done the right thing. The past could be put behind me. This season of reflection, gratitude and atonement makes me ready for life’s next chapter.

I’m not sure how anyone is going to respond to these Thanksgiving notes. Some people, especially those I have not talked to the last few years, may even be a bit bewildered.

While I am sure I will hear from some people when these notes are received in the mail, I am not anticipating anything specific. That’s not the point. I wasn’t doing this to have anyone tell me how great it is that I am finally showing some gratitude or hear from people who have not been in my life for years. The point was to tell people they matter. Assuming nothing goes terribly wrong at the Post Office, that mission is accomplished.

In Between Seasons

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The first few days of November in Colorado’s high terrain is the quintessential example of an in-between season. The first few storms of the year have removed all the colorful leaves from the trees. All of the “leaf peepers” have gone home. Snow covers the ground, but not in a manner that is deep and consistent enough to enable many of the activities associated with the winter season. Some of the ski resorts have opened, but likely have only one or two lifts operating.

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Almost everything, from the sounds of nature to the volume of traffic along the highways, is much quieter than usual.

It is a familiar place for most, and not just with respect to seasons and outdoor activities. It is present in all cycles of life. No matter how hard some may try to remain consistently occupied, there will always be that time period, when one activity is done and the next has yet to begin.

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This has become even more prevalent in the 21st Century. The world is changing faster. Gone are the days of having one job or one main activity for nearly the entire duration of adulthood. Nearly all people must periodically learn new tools and expand their knowledge base on a regular basis. The average job tenure is now 4.2 years, and it is now common for people to switch to a completely different line of work from time to time.

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Olympic Gold medalist Lindsay Vonn discussing her new line of makeup at Denver Startup Week 2019

It’s long past time people stop asking those they meet for the first time “What do you do?”  This question needs to be replaced with something more appropriate for the current reality, such as “What are you up to?” One’s tenure at a specific job, like raising a child starting a bueiness or renovating a home is a project with a finite beginning and ending.

Early November in the mountains is that time period between one ending and the next beginning. What to do?

This in-between time represents an opportunity that the manager of six groups raising two children caring for an elderly family member and building a new garage does not have. For someone accustomed to being constantly on the move, this in-between time can be confusing and even disorienting. Whether expected, like the time between fall and winter, or unexpected, like a project cancellation, in-between seasons are a great time for what often gets neglected in typical daily life.

The most important things to do during in-between seasons are…

Rest

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While it is certainly possible to rest too much, periodic rest is important to meet all of our physical and spiritual needs. Much has been written recently about the importance of getting good sleep. This is something few people prioritize.

Learn

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Learning is commonly a part of everyday life. However, learning is typically dictated by demands related to jobs or other responsibilities. During this quieter time, there is the freedom to learn anything that actually pokes one’s curiosity. Many, including Google, understand the value of self-directed pursuits.

Improve

“Be better than you were yesterday” is a common mantra. Many people, especially those that are the most successful, are constantly working on themselves. The time between the ending of one activity and the beginning of another can be a unique opportunity to give some form of self-improvement the focus it needs to guarantee it come to fruition.

Work on Relationships

It is hard to imagine something more neglected by modern society than the need for human connection. Some believe that this neglect is behind most mental health problems. Relationships of all kinds need attention in order to thrive. Breakups and explosive fights between best friends and family members garner a lot of attention. However, people lose far more relationships due to neglect, when both parties cease making an effort.

Re-evaluate

Perhaps most importably, a life that is constantly busy provides little opportunity for re-evaluation of things like time use, spending habits and priorities. During times like these, more people have the ability to clear their heads of things like daily task lists and ask themselves what really matters. This will inform things like which relationships are the most important ones to working on, what to learn, what improvements to make and what the next beginning should be.

It won’t be long before the next season is underway.

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The odds of that next season being successful is improved when individuals improve, are well rested, and have the right priorities and relationships. While this can be done in many different settings, it is often done most effectively in places like these, where there are far fewer distractions.

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Off-Seasons and Wanderlust

We dream of adventures in far away places. The majesty of watching the sun set over an endless ocean from a tucked away campground.

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Of endless forests, whose trees stretch endlessly up towards the heavens…

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Of the quiet lake tucked away in the mountains…

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The wide open rugged terrain of Earth’s most pristine mountain ranges…

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Adventures on both land and water…

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And, in my case, the continuous smell of fresh air from the comfort of a bicycle seat!

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Sometimes, however, life, as in some combination of events both major and minor, forces our attention elsewhere. By elsewhere, I mean to other aspects of our lives.

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Springtime can actually be that time of year for a lot of people. The most common activities people take part in tend to either be winter activities, such as skiing, or summer activities that require consistent relatively pleasant weather. Springtime can be pleasant, but can also produce weather that is quite volatile.

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Our most precious resources can be crudely generalized as time and money. It has often been said that a person’s values and priorities can be revealed not through their words, but their actions, in the form of how they chose to spend their time and money. Travel, at lest the kind of travel featured in blogs, magazines, and on TV shows, tends to be quite exhaustive of both time and money.

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While there are people who value travel and people who don’t, even amongst people who value travel, there are times when these resources simply have to go elsewhere. I am in the midst of one of those time periods, where the large sums of money, and the large blocks of time just need to be used in other capacities.

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Fortunately, not all experiences require large sums of money and large amounts of time. While not everybody is lucky enough to live within a 45 minute bike ride of a place that can feel majestic on a warm spring day.

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There is something picturesque about everyone’s home town.

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Wherever you live, there is something to be admired, there is an experience to savor and a scene to soak in, at the right time, from the right vantage point, so long as we all stay mindful.

My “offseason” consisted of activities that are less exhaustive of both time and money.

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Some were bike rides to nearby places that had become so familiar, their beauty had become almost lost. Two years ago I had said that no matter how many times I ride the route 36 bike trail between Denver and Boulder, I would always stop at the Davidson Mesa overlook, even if I am not in need of rest. I broke that policy last week, which would later serve to me as a reminder that the familiar does not cease to be wonderful!

Others were trips to state parks within 60 miles, an hour’s drive or a three hour bike ride, of Denver.

On a day with unpleasant weather, I checked out the Dead Sea Scroll exhibit at the Museum of Nature and Science, technically walking distance from my home.

Nicer days brought me to places like the Cheyenne Botanical Gardens…

Or even just to my own back yard to plant a garden.

All, this, along with the other random activities I took part in around town

was certainly not enough to fend off the wanderlust, the ever present desire to get out and, see more places, witness more events, and travel somewhere new. However, an off-season, a change of pace of sorts, from time to time, might not necessarily be a bad thing.

According to Tony Robbins, there are six basic human needs.

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Travel is a great way to meet some of these needs, particularly variety, growth, and connection to nature. However, with the exception of the few people who travel for a living happily, some of us need to stick closer to home to meet the rest.

In particular, I can see how consistently being in a different place can actually be a hindrance, or an additional challenge, when it comes to making an nourishing friendships.

As well as growing professionally.

And, well, when it comes to developing a career (if travel itself is not the career that is), accomplishing something.

I can’t say I welcomed this season of my life, needing to direct my energies towards pursuits that feel less exciting and unique, and more like everyday life. However, after a couple of months, I now see why it is periodically necessary. The wanderlust isn’t gone. On the contrary, it probably gets worse every day. However, life is about balance, and when we get out of balance, bad things can occur. Just because I feel like far too many people have settled for the mundane, and less than I feel they are worth, does not mean it isn’t possible to fall out of balance in the other direction.

Five Years in Denver

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A personal narrative..

I cannot believe it has been five years since I moved to Denver, and I cannot believe that 2017 is already half over. I’d say “time flies”, but that is kind of a cliché. Time does not really “fly”, or even go by rapidly. It just appears as such when we think about time in larger chunks. In the past five years, I can think of plenty of Tuesday afternoons where it certainly did not feel as if time were “flying” by.

Okay, enough random psychological ramblings. However, I do want to point out that unlike most social media content these days, I do plan to be forthcoming with my own weaknesses and struggles. Hopefully that is refreshing.

My first five years in Colorado can be thought of as anywhere from a complete success to a total failure depending on how it is looked upon. By the traditional definition of “success”, I guess I am mostly successful. I make good money, live in a good place, and am healthy. By a more modern, and more millennial version of “success”, I’m kind of a failure. This is because I am haven’t gotten to the point where I am using my strengths to impact the world in a positive and meaningful way. I hope my writing encourages others to believe in themselves, find adventure and live better lives. However, life on an average day feels pretty empty. What I do to earn a living is quite insignificant, and has been for almost the entire five years I have been living here.

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When I first moved to Denver, I attempted to recreate what I had in Chicago, particularly the social situation, which I really enjoyed.

This proved challenging for three reasons…

  1. You cannot recreate the past. There will always be something different. Denver is a different place than Chicago, with different people, who have different priorities and expectations. It’s also a different time, and a different phase of life.
  2. Call me spoiled, but this was the first time in my life I have ever had to really try to meet new people. In Chicago, I worked with a ton of fun people around the same age as me. Before that I was in Graduate School, College, High School, etc. People were always right there.
  3. I was not at my best when I moved, due to a really disappointing work situation. Making friends is a bit harder when you’re not in a great place spiritually.

My first year or so here I probably spiraled out of control more than I realized at the time.

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I quit my job out of frustration, and became disenchanted with the working world, a feeling that mostly persists today. Maybe it was my own experiences, the move to Colorado, or even that December 21, 2012 stuff (not scientific, but who knows). I just started getting this feeling that the 9-to-5 lifestyle, the one I had lived for five years in Chicago happily, was outdated, and that there was more to life than corporate structures, office politics, and spending eight hours a day in front of a computer.

I adapted. In place of the late night parties came outdoor activities for all seasons, travel and adventure. The past five years have been more adventurous than I had ever imagined. I ski better than I ever thought I would. I took part in the long distance bike rides I had always dreamed about, and traveled to some remote places!

Day-to-day life, though, remained a challenge. Finding a new job ended up being challenging. Being “rejected” time and time again took its toll on my sense of self-worth, and confidence. I spent a lot of time inside my own head, oscillating back and forth between blaming society’s outdated structure, and blaming myself for my own misfortunes in this department.

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These misfortunes continued. The job I eventually found went relatively well at first, but took a turn for the worse when I asked to report to quite possibly the most selfish and judgmental person I had ever met. I’d be hard pressed to find a stronger de-motivator, at work, than having a boss that makes everything about himself. I got out of that situation, but still haven’t found something that gets me excited to get out of bed in the morning.

I put myself out there, and, through various means, met a lot of people, some of them really good people that I have come to really enjoy hanging out with.

 

However, due to some combination of different social styles in Colorado, being a little bit older, and how the digital age has impacted society as a whole, I never reached the status, socially, that I had in my life’s previous “chapters”. People observing my life would probably think I have done extremely well in this category. However, I do have a yearning, at times, for more social activities and more meaningful connections.

This is related to quite possibly my biggest struggle of all … “adulthood”. Where does my life go from here? This is the fear that keeps me up at night, as the average life of a full-fledged adult (as opposed to an “emerging adult” which generally refers to the late teens and 20-something lifestyle), as I observe it, to be honest, doesn’t interest me. I just feel like life, just being alive and human on planet Earth, is a blessing in many ways. With so many amazing places, and so many amazing people, I don’t want to spend my life keeping up with TV show characters, and working extra to accumulate money so I can remodel my kitchen (you know, because those cabinets look so 1980s) and spend weekends at shopping malls accumulating more material possessions.

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This is probably the best reason to be in Colorado. This state feels like it was designed for people who feel exactly the way I feel about life.

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Which is the main reason that, despite the previously mentioned struggles and knowing that there are other places with better career prospects, I really hope to make my life work here in Colorado. While I cannot describe my first five years in Colorado as a complete “success”, I am happy with a lot of what I have done, and feel good about recent personal growth. Life is a journey, with many chapters, plots and sub-plots, destinations, and, unfortunately, also some detours. Finding your true purpose, the role you were meant to play in 21st Century society, is not a trivial endeavor. It can be quite challenging, and can take many years. It feels worthwhile though, and almost necessary for a life that is truly fulfilling.

The Cherry Creek Farmer’s Market

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What does it mean to have a “healthy community”?  I am encouraged to see more and more people actively consider their life choices, their environment, associations and just put more thought in general to how they spend their time, energy, and money.  This feels like a dramatic shift from, say, ten years ago.  However, embedded in some of the most high profile public improvement related pursuits in the modern era is an unfortunate residual strand of laziness.  After all, we do want something for nothing.

This often manifests itself in buzz phrases that people use to not-so subtly indicate some form of association with a popular present-day initiative.  Perhaps the one that bugs me the most is the term “sustainability”.  In many of its common present-day uses, the definition of this term “sustainability” has been narrowed to only mean sustainability in the environmental sense, short-changing the term of its full definition, and shortchanging discussions of “sustainability” of their full impact.

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Whenever I ride a bicycle to a Farmer’s Market, I feel as if I suddenly become the personification of the term “healthy community”.  It’s the standard image, embedded in every montage that any health or parks department has put together to promote some kind of health/ community initiative in the past six years.  People riding their bikes to buy pesticide-free produce and meat products from local farmers and ranchers.

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And there are a few booths that sell those products, including one with that cow diagram that just always confuses me.  Why are there like 50 types of beef?.  However, most of the booths at this Farmer’s Market are not vendors selling food.  In fact, I saw a somewhat random assortment of products that made me curious as to how one goes about determining what is appropriate for a Farmer’s Market.

And, as is the case with any other Farmer’s Market I have been to, there were plenty of booths where one can get food that is, well, not healthy.

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In Wisconsin, any Farmer’s Market I would attend would have a good number of booths selling cheese curds.  If the country ever breaks up into its 50 states, and Wisconsin becomes its own country, it would probably stock pile cheese as a strategic reserve, much the same way Canada stock piles maple syrup.

I would say a majority of the food vendors at this Farmer’s Market offer food that is not typically considered healthy; including many different varieties of baked goods, food trucks, and a bunch of stands that sell items like tamales and burritos.

Interestingly, several booths at this Farmer’s Market are operated by Local civic organizations advising residents on how to effectively garden and compost.  This gives this Farmer’s Market somewhat of a unique touch, that contributes to the health and sustainability of the community in a different way.

But, the same way being a successful person is about more than simply becoming “goal oriented”, eating well is about more than just buying things that are “organic”, and having a productive work team is about more than just “synergy”, having a healthy community is not just about initiatives like this.  There are a lot of other factors, culturally, near and far, that make this place what it is.

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Regardless of what we are trying to achieve, it takes time, effort and active participation.  We all want something for nothing.  We want to be able to claim some sort of accomplishment, moral validation, status or belonging by claiming association with some positively viewed buzzword, and maybe taking part in a token activity like going to a Farmer’s Market.  But, to really live healthy takes a much bigger commitment.  And there is more to having a “healthy community” than a video montage showing people like me bicycling to Farmer’s Markets.

What we do every day can be healthy, or it can be not.  For most of us, it is both, depending on the situation.  The intellectual rigor we need to truly evaluate our lives, the journey we are on and the communities we live in, involves respecting the complexity that is ourselves, our surroundings, and even places with divergent outcomes like the Cherry Creek Farmer’s Market.  It is at that point, with the understanding of places, activities and concepts beyond buzzwords and vague terms, we complete this transition, elevating our level of intellectual discourse and giving ourselves the tools we need to make the best of our lives and communities.