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I Will Never Be Satisfied.

31 October 2017

I had a brief conversation with my sister yesterday after my afternoon run. I had a great run, the hardest I can remember recently. I went 10 miles in 91 minutes, pushing every step of the way. The weather was perfect, I was rested and fed and watered. Everything came together. And so I learned exactly where my fitness is. Last year this time, I managed about the same. I’d like to break 90 minutes again.

But the conversation with my sister was about maybe running an ultramarathon in the 30-40 mile range. Maybe next fall. Maybe the spring after. There are a lot of great races I’d like to try. I’d like to get into more trail running. Trail running requires another level of fitness beyond road running: more core, more stabilizer muscles. I’m happy with my current abilities, but I always want to do more.

And so we started talking about what it would take to be satisfied. And I realized: I will never be satisfied. I’ve done enough cool stuff now – marathons, triathlons, obstacle courses – that if I was going to be satisfied with the experience of being a finisher I already would be. If “enough” existed for me, I’d have already reached it. But I’m an alcoholic. “Enough” isn’t a concept I’m acquainted with.

But here’s the important bit I also realized. I’m deeply satisfied when I look back. I’m not disappointed by a single race I’ve run. There are some I’ve not performed as well as I’d have wished. But there’s nothing I’ve done that I regret or resent. I’m proud of my terrible times and mediocre finishes. Hell, I’m proud of my trail half-marathon where I overheated and twisted my ankle and finished second-from-last. I’m really proud of it: it hurt like hell, and I wasn’t fit enough, and I gutted it out and finished. I’m satisfied.

I have very little fear that when my time is up, I’ll be able to look back and see my life and think, “I did pretty well.” But looking forward? Looking forward I’m not satisfied. There’s more I can do. There’s more I should do. I’ve done about the best I can so far. But in so many ways I want to do more and do better going forward. Professionally, personally, in my relationship, in my life. There’s more to give. More to see. More to seek.

I’ll never be satisfied. But that’s a good thing.

Anxiety and Anticipation.

26 October 2017

As I move forward discussing a new position with a new institution, the practicalities of it become more and more probable. I’ve been where I am now for four and a half years, and I’ve been largely happy. But the last year and a half or so have been more difficult from a professional perspective. The department has a new focus on economics and the dollar value ROI of our work. I find this really depressing. It’s one thing to say, “this institution needs to remain economically viable.” It’s another to say, “every project we do needs to have a specific fiscal return, and that’s the most important part of your work.”

We haven’t transitioned all the way to that second sentence yet, but the senior leadership has been telegraphing that that’s where we’re headed. I loathe the concept of billable hours and justifying my salary with my own specific returns. That needs to be done at the department level.

I also have personal issues about the person I now report to. My boss is overall a pretty good boss, but she’s got me pigeonholed as a middle manager. And not a particularly well-performing one. I’ve gotten the worst performance reviews of my professional career under her. In fact, I’ve gotten the only reviews that aren’t pretty exceptional. It’s ego-bruising, but also it’s dispiriting.

We’re now in a situation where my boss has decided to insert an interstitial layer between herself and the people at my level. So I’m effectively being downgraded. This new person is going to come in, read my last couple of reviews, and perceive me as a mediocre asset. That’s inevitably going to be career limiting.

The truth is I can basically do what I want to do where I am. But I have a ceiling over my head. I have a shifting institutional culture that I’m not fond of. And I may have a real opportunity to step up: to do larger scale institutional efforts, with a larger team reporting to me, and without the pressure to make specific financial contributions, but rather to be a partner with clinical and administrative assets to improve care.

I want to be in a place where the things I’m best at are the things I’m valued for. Where I can design and manage the contribution I make. And increasingly, that looks like it might need to be somewhere else.

Various Thoughts and Imaginings.

23 October 2017

I had a good fitness week. I ran 22 miles, and went to the gym once. The runs were all very good. I did tempo runs for short distances during the week, turning in sub-9 minute miles and feeling pushed but good. Then BB and I did a 10 mile long run on Saturday morning in glorious 55 degree weather at about 10 minutes per mile. Until mile 10, when we torched it for an 8:31. That felt good to be able to do.

On Sunday, BB and I drove out to a local park and went trail running. We did about 4.2 miles on some hilly terrain with a few reasonably technical areas, but for the most part, the tracks were all mountain-bikable, so not too terribly challenging. We could run the whole way, no hiking. Though trail running is always slower than road running, and we took nearly an hour for the four mile run. We climbed more than 620 feet on the run, and went back down just as far.

We learned some cool things about the watches we recently bought. They have very cool internal compass features that will lead you back to the start on a trail run, so it’s harder to get lost. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty good. And it warns you if you get too far off track with a buzz. It’s a nice feature for running in unfamiliar cities as well, which is something we also do.

Speaking of unfamiliar cities, there’s a chance I’ll be moving. An institution in another city is considering making me an offer. If there were a chance for BB and I to be together, I’d jump at it. These things take time though, and I’m hopeful but I’m not making any plans yet. A lot of dominoes would have to fall just right. But I’m very hopeful. I’d love to live with my partner, and get a dog, and not have to travel for six hours of every weekend.

All in all things are looking good but I feel like I’m ready for a change. I’m ready to try cohabitating again. I’m ready to move if that’s what happens. I’m ready to step forward again in my life. And I feel stale in my city and my job.

Is this All I Can Do?

17 October 2017

I am not good at evaluating my accomplishments. Now that the half-Ironman is behind me, and I’ve rested for a month, I’m looking for a new challenge. Looking back, I wonder if the things I’ve done are all that difficult. I worked for nine months to be ready for the half-Ironman. I worked like hell, and I did it. I finished toward the bottom of finishers in my age group, but well ahead of all the men who didn’t start.

I’m a racing tourist. I’m just there for the experience and the finisher’s medal. I’m there to push my sad, soft, metabolically suspect body from the beginning to the end and try to chase a greatness that I will never achieve. I feel compelled to do things that most other people will never even try. I try to do this in most realms of my life. Education, work, travel, even music. And now racing.

So I’m starting to think about the next big thing. I look back: is this all I can do? I have this tendency to down-regulate all of my accomplishments in retrospect. Half-Ironman races aren’t that hard, I don’t think. Easier than the marathon. It seems strange to say that swimming for close to an hour followed by biking for three-and-a-quarter hours is easier than half a marathon. But I think it is.

Running a full marathon is definitely hard. Running a trail half-marathon is definitely hard. And yes, the long triathlons are definitely hard. Even an Olympic triathlon is a long morning of work. But somehow, looking back at all of it, I don’t remember the hard part. I remember the long pain of the Marine Corps Marathon. But the Philadelphia Marathon wasn’t bad at all. Just a long day.

It all comes down to training. Do you put the time in? Then race day won’t be so bad.

So what’s next? I have a couple ideas. I want to do another marathon. I might want to do a full Ironman. And I want to do an ultra marathon. I saw that there’s a 40-mile trail race around Mt. St. Helens, which would be meaningful. I was there when it erupted, and going back to run it might be emotionally meaningful.

I need to find something bigger to do. Because looking back, I still wonder: Is this all I can do?

Weinstein and Trump.

13 October 2017

This kind of thing persists because people protect it. Specifically, because we men protect it. Because, at a deep and important level, many, perhaps most, men admire men like Harvey Weinstein. He had wealth, an eye for film-making, power. He worked hard and rose to the top of an industry. And yes, he was constantly surrounded by (seemingly) fawning beautiful women.

Very, very few men don’t envy and admire that. Most of the men loudly condemning Weinstein today admire that. Most, three weeks ago, would’ve traded places with Harvey in an instant. Not that the average happily married man would necessarily give up what he has now to trade (though many would), but if given the opportunity to go back and take that path? Yeah. The average young man, unattached, starting out? Yeah.

The same is true looking at Trump: a serial sexual abuser, an accused rapist, a disgusting and stupid man, who nevertheless has the thrall of a third of the country. Because he has wealth, power, and spent his life surrounded by beautiful young women. Nothing more. He has no moral center. No ideas. No competence. But he is admired.

Men have basic, base instincts with regard to sex, violence, and power which we almost all share. It’s at a hormonal level. One of the most enlightening things I’ve ever read about it was a first-hand account of a trans-man taking testosterone for the first time. Similarly, the brilliant trans-man comic, Ian Harvie, shares about the experience in his special. Men with normal hormone levels think about sex regularly. We are incapable of sequestering sexual (and other) thoughts to so-called “appropriate” times.

What we are capable of is learning, preferably in late adolescence, to isolate those impulses and thoughts to the background when they are inappropriate. To refuse to act on them. To create a barrier between those thoughts and the resulting actions that we might pursue if we were barbarians.

Being a socially adept male within a community means spending the time to look at ourselves, and the effort to change how we behave. Often this process is very painful for us. Routinely, it involves being physically dominated by other men when we act out. Express too much interest in a woman with a boyfriend? As an adolescent (even later), that will often result in a beating. It is incredibly difficult for us to learn these lessons in a non-violent way.

But it is long past time that we men started having the conversation about how to be men in a constructive way that honors the fundamental nature of manhood without allowing it to be enveloped with victimization. There is nothing wrong, inherently, with male sexual aggression. Many women are highly interested in that*. What is wrong is when male sexual aggression is expressed outside the context of an explicitly consenting interaction.

There is also nothing wrong, inherently, with the male penchant for violence and physical domination. It needs to be put into a proper context. We need a military. We need police. And we need sports. I have channeled that need, the need for physical mastery, into endurance athletics. It’s not violent, how I manifest it. But make no mistake, it’s fueled by a need to express myself as a man. It’s about dominating a challenge.

In order to participate in civilization, men need to teach men not just how not to behave (and we need to start doing that immediately), but also how to channel our base aggression, testosterone, violence, and sexual impulses into productive, positive environments and expressions. This consists of several simple concepts:

  1. The principle challenge in being a good man is in self-mastery.
  2. Conquest is appealing: conquer yourself first, then the world.
  3. Sex drive and aggression are only good things if you use them productively.
  4. Other people are humans. Don’t victimize them.
  5. Stop enabling and covering for men who don’t respect 1-4.

This may seem like an inexpressibly simple list. But they are incredibly difficult, especially for young men, to grasp. Going beyond “I want” to “I am” is a stunningly difficult upheaval in the paradigm we boys are just naturally born with.

Teaching boys to be men, fundamentally, means teaching boys to reframe what feel like external struggles into internal struggles. And internal struggles are astonishingly hard. Confronting them requires the willingness to take ownership of our failures, our wrongdoing, and our outcomes. No externalizing blame. No excuses.

But, when we do that, we find we become what we have always wanted to just take: content, successful, desirable, and accomplished.

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*But the ones who aren’t have the right not to be – and all of them get to choose the situations in which they are or aren’t.

My First Spartan Race.

9 October 2017

Saturday, BB and I joined three members of my work group at MECMC and competed in the Spartan Race up in Philadelphia. Held in the baseball stadium, it was a lot of silly fun and a brutal 90 minute workout. There were 21 or 22 “obstacles” we had to negotiate over the course of about a 3.5 mile “run” which was really a lot of stairs and jogging up and down ramps.

Some of the obstacles were legitimate obstacles: walls anywhere from 4′ to 8′ we had to climb over. A rope climb (I couldn’t do it) and swinging monkey bars (I couldn’t do them). I failed at three obstacles: the above two and the spear throw (I misjudged the length of the cord and came up short). Each obstacle you fail you can circumvent by doing 30 burpees. The first two times on concrete or asphalt, the third time on the outfield grass. I don’t know how fit YOU are, but for me, 30 burpees is a lot and takes a while.

Some of the “obstacles” were really just strength or cardio or endurance challenges. We carried a 40 pound sandbag to the top of the stadium and back down. The same with a 40 pound jug of water. We did 20 box jumps and 20 medicine ball slams with a 25 pound ball. I needed a boost from a teammate to get over the 8′ wall. But I had a fabulous time, and despite being about 15 years older than some of my teammates, I did great and really enjoyed it.

BB had fun too and thinks she’d like to do it again. I would too. I’d like to try one on a course where they get you wet and dirty, which they couldn’t do at the stadium, of course. I need to work on my upper body strength, big time. Rope climbs are crazy hard, and I just couldn’t do it. Not a chance in hell. My arms and shoulders were sore yesterday and still are today, but not awful. I just need to lose weight and increase strength.

A lot of the people there were current or ex-military. There was a team of West Point cadets. My starting line group included a female Marine who looked like she could finish in 30 minutes and not break a sweat. I see the appeal. The course looked and felt like a slightly easier, slightly shorter version of the boot camp you see in movies.

It was a lot of fun and we’ll definitely do it again. But for now, I have to get back to running. Half marathon in six weeks. Time to go get fit.

The Promises.

5 October 2017

Last night in my men’s meeting, the chair talked about the promises. AA has a passage called “The Promises” and they’re among the most widely cited words in all of the program. Even non-alcoholics have often heard of them, or recognize it:

If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through. We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and self pity will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change. Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us. We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.

Are these extravagant promises? We think not. They are being fulfilled among us—sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. They will always materialize if we work for them.

Alcoholics Anonymous, pps 83-84

As I know I have many non-spiritual readers, I always like to remind people reading this that “God” as referenced in AA is always “as you understand him”. Many people in AA are atheists or agnostics – and always have been, going back to the earliest members. “God” is short hand for “a power greater than yourself”. Whatever that means to you.

Talk to anyone with some time in sobriety, working the program, and you will almost certainly find they agree that “the promises come true”. They certainly have for me. There are times I regret the past. There are times I am still baffled. There are times I feel useless. But they are the exceptions now. Most of the time I feel happy and confident, I am not afraid of people. I am able to devote myself to causes that support others. And the things I could never do for myself are somehow being done – I am capable in ways I never was before.

But the promises belong in a specific place in the program, and they’re there for a reason. The promises are introduced in the book during the explanation of how to take step nine. Step nine: “Made direct amends to such people whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.” (“Such people” refers to step 8: Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.)

Step nine is a step that most alcoholics dread. And some few are far too eager for it. Step nine is the last of the action steps prior to the “maintenance” steps of 10-11-12. When you finish step 9, you should be ready to enter into your long-term recovery. But there’s a lot of work to do before you get there.

When we talk about the promises, we should be careful to let those new to sobriety know that this is the result of long and hard work, assiduously done, over months or years. It’s not a quick fix. Yes, when we get sober, most of us see dramatic improvements in our health, wellness, and circumstances rapidly. But not all of us. And not in a complete way.

Walking through the steps – trudging through – is required. We learn how to manage. We learn how to cope. We learn how to help others. And we become people worth trusting and investing in and relying on. I worry sometimes that prematurely introducing newly sober people to the promises without context might discourage them when they don’t see results immediately. Well, results are rarely immediate. They’re the outcome of work, time, and diligence.