Don’t Give Up Too Soon
Tuesday December 03rd 2013, 3:08 pm
Filed under: Main
After I moved to Manhattan in 2011, I discovered I simply HAD to stop buying my favorite vegetable (or perhaps, fruit), the tomato. It took me a long time to get the message. For six months I tried - the local supermarket, the suburban one, Costco, street vendors, you name it, and I ended up with a red piece of cardboard mush that tasted like straw. I assumed that it would get better in the summer or fall, but no. It didn’t matter where I went, I just couldn’t find a decent tomato.
So in the fall that year I stopped buying tomatoes altogether. And I had enough fibrous, tasteless, chunks of tomato-like-substances in store-bought salads to convince me it was the right decision.
I don’t think this a New York thing. Commercial/industrial/factory farming has led to the production of zillions of perfect-looking, round, red spheres that are hardy enough to withstand machinery, packaging, transport and long term storage. Taste and texture of the eaten product is given short shrift. I blame agri-business in part, and people like me in part (for continuing to buy that crap for too long).
That’s why I was so shocked a few weeks ago, in the bitter cold of (then) November to be walking on the Upper West Side and see tomatoes on a farmers market table. As you know, the rules of a farmers market is that produce has to be local. Sometimes organic, sometimes not, but almost always from a family-owned and operated farm.
I walked past, skeptically. But the next week (when it was even colder– 25 degrees), I saw that same table. I stopped and, shaking my head, bought two tomatoes. Considering myself a fool of course, because I assumed they’d be frozen through after sitting outside all day.
In fact, I waited two days before cutting into the first one, as I imagined I would just be tossing it into the garbage. But you could have knocked me over with a feather. Cutting it open, I could smell the aroma of a tomato, and popping a piece in my mouth it had that unmistakably sweet-salty-liquidy taste of the REAL thing.
Last Sunday, I went back eagerly to buy a few more. Handing both a yellow and a red one to the farmer to weigh, I told him I was shocked at how good they were. He replied that they had harvested all of their tomatoes prior to the first killing frost, and were storing them in a greenhouse. “But,” he said happily, “this is my last week out here, next week I’m sleeping in!”
I guess it’s a bit much to expect to find fresh, locally-grown field tomatoes in the NorthEast in the middle of December.
Now obviously these delicious tomatoes have been all around me at farmers markets the whole time I have lived out here. But unlike California and Wisconsin, where I frequented those markets as often as possible, here in NY I have always confined my shopping trips to an individual store. When you walk everywhere and carry everything with you, it takes an extra effort to stop somewhere and only buy a few things, potentially having to schlepp them around all day before getting home.
It seems much simpler to get the car out (or my granny cart) and do just one big shopping on Sunday at an actual supermarket.
Of course, I should also give a shout out to the produce cart vendors that sit on the street corners of Manhattan. Although their tomatoes suck, I almost always buy my fresh fruit from them. It’s not organic or local, but they tend to have the best quality stuff and it’s always at a rock-bottom price.
This morning I was able to dash across the street and grab two plastic boxes of strawberries for five bucks! Half the price of the supermarket one across the street, and they’re not mushy, or stale, or moldy.
Just goes to show you that sometimes you gotta keep looking.
Monday December 02nd 2013, 3:44 pm
Filed under: Main
After a nearly-got-it experience in my job hunt this summer, I started keeping a spreadsheet of all the new companies I was contacting about openings they had. (My usual approach is to reach out to individuals, not to use the online application systems, which are highly flawed).
Today I got my 51st rejection since June 1st.
Now, I’m not being ridiculous and applying for jobs outside my field or expertise. I’m not blanketing people with my unasked-for resume. I’m crafting a careful, customized approach to each actual hiring opportunity that I find, and I’m always checking to see if I have some kind of connection to the organization already through friends and colleagues.
The majority of these places reject me out of hand (either by telling me or not responding). A few of them exchange an e-mail or two before rejecting me. Some of them have phone-screened me before rejecting me. And a half-dozen have interviewed me extensively in person before rejecting me.
My favorite thing is when my friends say “Oh Jonathan, don’t take it personally!”
If I weren’t putting some serious effort into this, I wouldn’t be getting any traction at all (one company had me fill out an 18-page essay/questionnaire, merely to qualify for the phone screen, which I got, but then flunked). But because the economy has been so bad for so long (esp. in California) there are too many candidates for them to make a wise selection. So it becomes pretty arbitrary in the end.
Yet the fact that I’m being passed over for reasons that I can’t control doesn’t make it feel any less difficult, painful, and frustrating.
It won’t surprise you to learn that I have frequently considered giving up. For the past few weeks I’ve been wondering if my goal (”finding a good job in California) is simply unrealistic. It’s very hard to be logical and practical about this.
Yet I think it’s significant that I have recently seemed to “find myself” in regard to healthy eating and weight management, and I can tell you I had ALL of the same negative feelings about *that* over the past year.
So many times I thought “this isn’t worth it, I’ll never succeed, it’s pointless to keep trying.” But I had a strategy: I got support, I embraced some difficult life truths, I forgave myself for not being perfect, and I never completely lost faith.
The optimistic, Suzy Sunshine personality has never been my style. I’m also not one who thinks that “everything happens for a reason” either. But empirical evidence seems to point to one conclusion: HAVE A GOAL. ASSESS. KEEP AT IT. (repeat)
Friday November 29th 2013, 3:12 pm
Filed under: Main
My personal spirituality is such that I do not believe in a supreme individual living up in the sky with magical powers to plan and manipulate the forces shaping all human lives. Rather, my faith is based on the idea that there is a directional flow to the universe, and it takes a lot of work to figure out how to let it guide my actions.
Particularly now as I find myself at a major crossroads in life, it’s hard to understand whether I’m in synch with the principles of the universe or whether I’m just kidding myself. As I approach my 50th job rejection in six months I have to ask “Am I tenacious? Or just a fool?”
One thing guiding me in my job search is extreme caution about whether any position is a good and realistic fit for me. I don’t contact people about openings if I don’t have the skills and ability they’re looking for. Similarly, I don’t contact them if the nature of the job or organization is not in synch with my core values.
In this sense, my goal is to work with the directional flow of the universe, rather than trying to fight it. Some people say to me “I know the right job is out there for you” and I guess that’s my way of thinking about it.
Strangely enough, all of this applies to my healthy eating and weight management approach as well. It always seemed “natural” to me to overeat, and I’ve experienced the majority of my time on Earth as an overweight person. But when I got to my goal weight in a smart and healthy way in 2002, it struck me that I had it backwards. Being overweight and eating the wrong way wasn’t my destiny. Rather, it was me fighting against my fears with the only weapon I had (eating).
Losing 50 pounds freed up my body’s natural mechanisms to work more safely and efficiently, and cleared my head and body of a lot of chemicals that had been fogging things up. As I’ve written before, getting to goal was less of a “eureka!” moment and more of a “finally!” feeling.
The human brain and psyche are marvelous things, but my intuition is that we aren’t really as smart as we might imagine. I think the reason people struggle over theology and core beliefs is that we’re looking for simple, straightforward, rational principles to guide us. But instead, all we really have are the foundational structures of the universe, and we are left to try and navigate this maze ourselves, through trial and error.
I’m just glad I made it this far.
Wednesday November 27th 2013, 3:04 pm
Filed under: Main
It’s fashionable to hate social media, but it’s been a life-saver for me. Many of my friendships and acquaintanceships have survived my long-distance moves because of Facebook and Twitter.
For example, a former colleague of mine, Beth, got me into trying mini-meditation this fall by just suggesting it through her FB feed. She just put it out there in the universe, and gave some very basic suggestions on how to go about it.
Today, she posted something that really spoke to me:
Imagine ways to stay just close enough to the heart that you know it’s there, it’s present, it’s where your longings take refuge. Imagine it’s nothing more than a few seconds, every waking day. Just a few seconds. During those few seconds there is complete openness, which keeps all judgment at bay. However you make space for this precious connection every day, that is your practice.
Now I have no idea what’s going on in her mind and her life (haven’t seen or talked to her in years), but this visualization was magical for me. What I got from it was this: I can take my wildest hopes and dreams and tuck them inside my heart, where they will find refuge. And by checking in with my heart, even briefly, I can know that they’re alive.
Another important piece of this was the lack of judgment. No worries about whether I “deserve” to achieve these goals, or whether they are even likely to occur.
How perfect for me at this stage of my life to have an opportunity, even if only for a few seconds, to believe.
Tuesday November 26th 2013, 4:55 pm
Filed under: Main
I’m tired. It’s the holidays. They’re here and, once again, I don’t want to face them. And for the first time in forever, this year I’m “not facing them” alone.
For many years before I was married, I managed to put the period from Halloween to January 1st in a little mental box that I sealed off carefully. I had never enjoyed that time as a young adult –neither with family nor with friends– so over the years I developed a habit of doing my own thing at each particular holiday.
When I became part of a couple I was more than happy to discover that neither of us really had any attachment to this stretch of the calendar, so we gladly did fun and outrageous things like fly to China for four days, or spend a long weekend seeing shows in New York (before we actually LIVED in New York). It took the psychological pressure off and we had a lot of fun.
But I know from a very early experience that there is no use in pretending a holiday is not a holiday. That it’s “just another day on the calendar” and attempt to go about business as usual.
Trying that once in my early 20s, I spent an entire December 25th alone in my apartment crying my eyes out. That’s not the way to handle it.
So this year I’m back to tiptoeing around. Making just enough plans so that people don’t feel compelled to express “how sorry” they are for me, but staying just free enough that I don’t feel trapped.
The very last time I spent a holiday with my family (long before I joined WeightWatchers), I was so stressed out the entire trip that I literally ate sweets until I was sick. My memories of that vacation are of feeling bloated and not fitting into any of the clothes that I had brought along. Yet still I returned to the cookie bin, over and over and over again. It was a dark, difficult, and frustrating time.
So this year, as that season of forced merriment descends upon us, I’ll be extra careful to smile when appropriate, participate in social events when it’s necessary, do the “Secret Santa” exhange at work, and side-step any discussion of “my plans.”
For fun, I’ll attend a couple of concerts, pay visits on a few friends, and get in as much exercise as the weather permits. I plan on eating healthy, and preparing myself for New Year in my own way.
And one thing is for damn sure. I won’t be sitting in my apartment crying, and I won’t be stuffing my face with cookies.
Pictured here is my blinking LED running jacket. All the “holiday lights” I need!
Saturday November 23rd 2013, 11:31 pm
Filed under: Main
Over the years, many people have told me that a hard thing about holidays and family celebrations is that sometimes they simply MUST eat what’s put in front of them. Either to keep the peace, to please someone, or to not come across as the bad guy/difficult one. Food is “social glue” and to reject it can seem like an act of selfish disloyalty.
With Thanksgiving coming up next week, the drumbeat of this message has been getting louder in recent days. “Grandmother will be insulted if I don’t eat her stuffing. There’s no way I can avoid eating mom’s special pie. My sister slaves all week long over this meal, I can’t say no to anything.” Etc., etc.
In my professional capacity as a meeting facilitator, I work hard not to inject my own personal values in group conversations. So usually when these things about being “required to eat” are said, I simply allow the conversation to flow and to let other group members comment and make suggestions (or simply empathize).
But if you think about it, how could it be that people who truly loved us, who truly cared about us, and who truly had our best interests in mind could be so hard and demanding that they would insist on making us do something we don’t want to do? When I’m in a meeting sitting in the chair as a member, what I usually relate it to is alcohol. “I don’t drink, and there is nothing that you, a family member, or anyone else can ever say that’s going to convince me to imbibe. And yet, I seem to have the same number of friends and family members as people who DO drink.”
Now, there’s no getting around the fact that if we want to be eaters of healthy food and we are surrounded by people for whom that is an anathema, it’s a hard thing. I’m sure there will be many Thanksgiving tables across the country with either no vegetables at all, or only lip service paid to them (a few celery sticks next to the spinach dip, for example).
One thought that comes to mind is a baby shower that I went to many years ago. At it were mostly very slender, fashionable women. When a large cake was served, I observed how everyone oohed and aahed over it, and scrambled to get a piece and to make a big deal over their first taste of it. Later on, however, I went to the kitchen to get some water, and I saw 20 plates of cake with just 2 or 3 bites out of them. That scene always springs to mind because if I had never seen those plates, I would have assumed that all of those people were cake addicts with “fast metabolisms.”
I’m not saying we can all adopt this strategy, but it’s instructive to realize that eating in a healthier way doesn’t necessarily involve stamping our feet on the ground and declaring loudly our objections to American excess. Maybe, just maybe, by arriving at these eating opportunities in the right frame of mind (and with plenty of healthy food in our system), we can be those skinny oohers and aahers.
Hey, I’ve been the object of observation and conversation for not having eaten like everyone else. I know that there are times when people are going to point out that we are not team players because we aren’t working on a third piece of pie. I get that it’s not about hunger as much as it is about the heart.
But is it possible that by down-playing and side-stepping, we can get what we want out of life and not be “forced” to eat what we don’t want to, and not make enemies? I’m not so sure.
Is it worth trying at least?
It’s About Time
Thursday November 21st 2013, 5:38 pm
Filed under: Main
When I really love a particular food, I tend to gobble it down quickly. Which really makes no sense since there are no taste buds in the throat and stomach! Perhaps this is some weird evolutionary thing –maybe our cavepeople ancestors had to eat fast whenever they found something good…
Regardless, I know from experience that taking time to savor food is a very useful tool. This month the “routine” for WeightWatchers is to put the fork down and sip water between bites. (Truth: Not something I would ever do, but it’s a nice concept.)
Instead, I have been focusing on lingering over the food rather than scarfing it. In particular, this strategy works really well for any kind of hard chocolate. As any fan of the stuff would tell you, if you hold it on your tongue long enough for it to dissolve (which takes some time), the flavor and the sensation just get better and better.
I guess people in caves didn’t have ready access to Ghirardelli.
The last couple of days I’ve been thinking over how this could apply to my regular (non-eating life). What comes to mind is that I’ve been so focused on both the future and the past that I just never seem to be in the moment. I never linger in the subway, that’s for sure.
But I definitely get obsessed with planning out the future and imaging all kinds of different scenarios (usually bad, scary, or depressing ones). As I tell people (only half jokingly), my primary vision of the future is me living under a highway overpass in raggedy clothes, scrounging in garbage for something to eat.
I tried to practice this “enjoying the moment” thing and it’s hard. I began by reminding myself that I have food, shelter, clothing and money — enough for today, enough for tomorrow. But my practical mind starts shouting “What about January? What about a job? Where will you live? How will you keep from ending up homeless?” So annoying.
Maybe only thinking of today makes me feel somehow irresponsible, which is why I resist it. I mean, if I live for the day, shouldn’t I max out my credit cards and eat an entire cake?
But the chocolate lesson sticks with me. If I can stop from gobbling up time, I’m guessing there’s a payoff. I’m not so sure I can figure this one out. But I’ll give it a shot.
Je Ne Regrette Rien
Tuesday November 19th 2013, 3:17 pm
Filed under: Main
This year for the first time in my life I began to experience a serious and lasting amount of regret. Regret had never really been more than a fleeting emotion for me in the past. But all year long I kept thinking, “If only in 2009 I had stayed in San Francisco and never left. If only.” How could I have been so short-sighted (foolish, uninformed, rash, fatalistic, etc. etc.)?
[And let me just state here that I understand regret is a feeling and is not logical or particularly helpful. I know that.]
Recently, however, I have faced an extraordinary amount of rejection in my job search, including a real “smack-down” over the phone by one crazy HR lady. This has made me question my abilities, to wonder if I’ll ever be able to get a job in California, to think that perhaps I’ve run out of chances and choices.
And you know what? I realized that is *EXACTLY* how I felt in 2009. I’d been laid off from a job I loved, I’d had no success looking for work, my financial situation was bleak, and the overwhelming thought in my mind was “I love San Francisco, but it just doesn’t love me back.”
So when my then-husband asked me to leave, I made a decision based on the reality of that moment. And it was off to Wisconsin we went.
This puts me in mind of my weight management experience. Having just gotten back to my healthy weight, I’ve thought about what a waste it was to have spent the prior 18 months making (repeatedly) poor choices and overeating. All the hard work of losing weight seemed to go out the window.
But again, this week as I’m feeling very discouraged and hopeless, as I’m experiencing a lot of emotional upheaval and an uncertain future… I get it. I understand exactly how natural it is to buy a box of cookies and eat it in one sitting, and then to go out for more. I understand the sense of comfort that can come from an old habit like eating to excess. It’s understandable to me that I could fold up and put away my clothes and start buying bigger ones.
Not because I’m weak, or stupid, or defenseless or bad. Rather, because I’m human.
And during a long walk I took at lunch time today I came to believe that really what I am learning at this moment in my life is that sometimes choices that turn out to be disastrous are made with the best of intentions. It’s not sabotage or defeatedness that causes me to choose unwisely.
So while there’s nothing I can do to change my situation in this immediate moment, I know that giving up on my job search won’t work, and giving up on my healthy habits won’t help either.
The only thing I’m throwing the towel in on? REGRET.
(With apologies to the copyright owner)
Saturday November 16th 2013, 9:31 am
Filed under: Main
Like every human being, I have good days and bad days. Sometimes you wake up with a smile and all is right with the world. Other days you step in a puddle and your shoes are wet all day. As grown-ups we learn to deal with this and not worry too much.
But I have to admit that when I was in my 20s and 30s I always assumed that if only I were slender, all of my problems would be solved. I wouldn’t mind the problems at my job, the situations that arose with friends and family, the ups and downs of dating — if only I had a 30″ waist. Everything would be four leaf clovers and sunshine!
Well, they say “the truth will set you free”, but I’ll be honest, the reality isn’t so pretty.
Being at my goal weight is pretty awesome, but it cures nothing. My personality is the same, the petty annoyances of life are the same, and all of the little experiences that happen in the course of the day are pretty much the same. Same ol’, same ol’.
Since I’m about to lose the spouse discount from my ex-husband’s employer, I’ve been trying to find a good time to hit the clothing chain where he worked. I went earlier in the week but was pressed for time and came out with socks and undershirts. But I knew I would have time later on so I put it into my schedule for yesterday.
Problem was, I had a mediocre day at work, it was cold outside, I was feeling grumpy and curmudgeonly, and I was tired. So I trudged up to the store not in the best mood for shopping.
As you can imagine, it’s not that much fun to shop during the evening rush hour in the middle of November in downtown Manhattan. Everything I tried on seemed either boring or ill fitting. Ironically, although I now have a 30″ waist, the style in hip mens clothing is for pants legs that are so unbelievably narrow that it’s actually painful for me to pull them over my thick runner’s calves.
In the end, I got through it with some very nice things and walked out of the store satisfied. I know you want me to tell you that it felt glorious and wonderful and magical to have these great new skinny-guy clothes.
But really nothing was different about my evening. I was just a HEALTHY, grumpy, tired guy, carrying shopping bags on the long walk home.
Scaling new heights
Thursday November 14th 2013, 9:30 pm
Filed under: Main
Over the years of maintaining (and getting back to) my healthy weight, I’ve thought a lot about the difference between focusing on scarcity vs. focusing on abundance. Everyone has their own way of relating to the world, but for me at least, diets were always about deprivation and denial. About parceling out scarce resources and feeling hungry.
One way that WeightWatchers helped me in the beginning was to introduce me to the magic of vegetables. They are pretty amazing, and you really don’t have to sautee them in butter, soak them in brine, cover them with cheese or consume them with disdain (as I used to). I learned that when I just wanted the feeling of fullness, I could turn to vegetables of various kinds.
Of course there’s no getting around the fact that losing/maintaining requires being on a budget. I found that keeping a food diary actually felt better to me if I ADDED UP my expenditures all day, rather than starting with the total amount and then subtracting all day. WeightWatchers uses a point system, so I would rather see “30 points used” at the end of my day than “O points left”. Still, my focus was on using as few points as possible.
Something I knew over the past year as I was working through the issues that kept my eating patterns in an ever upward spiral, was that I really didn’t want my special foods to be taken away from me. Even if I was doing the taking. My inner 5 year-old was screaming “gimme, gimme, gimme” every day as I consumed cookies and chocolate and carbs. The simple thought that I would have to cut back seemed completely impossible to embrace. And I let that go on because I want to help that little kid inside me, not hurt him.
Ultimately, however, when I struck a match and caught fire (metaphorically) this summer, the answer started with getting back to some basic habits. One of the first was maintaining an honest and clear food journal. But more important than that was another lapsed routine: weighing and measuring.
To be honest, I had gotten out of the habit of measuring portions intentionally. (Again, my 5 year old). I didn’t want to have to eat less. But what I started to do was weigh and measure mostly healthy foods. It became interesting and even fun to try and guess what a 1/2 cup of something looked like, or a teaspoon.
Eventually, I ended up getting a tiny digital scale that my weight loss buddy Cassandra had been raving about (for many months… I’m a slow learner). It was eye opening. Whereas volume measuring seemed to rely on a certain amount of guessing, having the weight (in ounces or grams) felt a lot more real.
By the time I really got into the digital food scale, I was already well on the way to goal, and had set aside a lot of the psychological barriers I’d previously had to smarter eating. I began weighing not just chicken and bread, but cheese and chocolate. And the good news? Most often, the “correct” portion size was so satisfying that I wasn’t left wanting more.
In the end, however, this scarcity vs. abundance question is not resolved in my mind. I’ll be working on it. And hopefully posting about it, too.