A peak a week

Thursday, July 2nd, 2009

I live in a region of the country where outdoor recreational activities abound. Last night I overheard a couple of young men standing behind me at an open-air concert discussing their hiking plans for the summer. Not wanting to turn around and stare, I could just imagine two strapping, healthy youths sporting robust backpacks and hiking boots. One was telling the other, “It’s my plan to hike one new peak every weekend.” He began mentioning the names of various local mountains. I could just imagine the breathtaking vistas to which he would treat himself along the way.

Even in my younger years I was not a mountain goat, so scaling peaks is not in my game plan. Negotiating the cable car hills of San Francisco when I lived there a few years ago was a good enough challenge at sea level.  I am still proud to say I succeeded at climbing some hill or other each week when I belonged to a city hiking group. I still do a 3-mile walk occasionally, up and down the hills of my current neighborhood nestled in the Sierra Nevadas.

These days my real challenges are more sedate, but nonetheless steep. The hills and valleys of writing a novel keep me fretting over whether I “can make it.” When the terrain gets a bit rugged and I can’t catch my breath, I sometimes stop to rest and to consider my next step carefully.  Turning back before I reach the pinnacle, however, is seldom an option. I know it’s too beautiful to miss the view at every milestone of the climb, and if the interim vistas are this good, I can’t wait to see the view from the top.

I’m glad I overheard that hiker’s declaration last night. It encouraged me, too, to set my goals “a peak a week.”

Time for you, yet?

Wednesday, August 13th, 2008

Everyone used to tell me to take more time for myself, but I was on the proverbial treadmill, doing for my bosses and always being available to my loved ones when I wasn’t at the office. Time for myself was out of the question. I became so compulsive about doing for others that when I didn’t have anything to do for anyone else, instead of enjoying an activity of my own choosing—something that nurtured the things that I’d always claimed were important to me—I would pick up the phone and call a friend to find out what was important in her life.

I seem to have equated my self-worth with how perfectly I could serve the needs of others. I thought by so doing I could prove I was not self-centered and self-absorbed. I was so wedded to this concept of serving others that I couldn’t conceive of letting go and noticing all the large and small ways I was not serving numero uno. A voice inside often reminded me that taking precious time to consider my own needs was selfish, even though my childrearing days were long over.

Then, one day after I’d studied coaching, it struck me that I was giving away my priceless life in service to others who were using it to pursue their own dreams. At my job I was getting paid well, but I was not spending any of my time practicing or pursuing activities that nourished and supported me in ways other than financially. For me, the only way to overcome this inequity was to do something radical. I quit ignoring my needs cold turkey. I left my job, retreated to relative seclusion far from family members, and got a friend to pay back a loan I’d made to her by covering my living expenses for the year.

I have spent the past year being completely self-absorbed—and learned to love it! I’ve devoted myself solely to examining who I am and what my purpose is, and to acquiring some of the skills I need to live a fulfilling life. My loved ones (none of whom really needed my attention 24/7 anyway, since they are all adults) survived well enough. I seem to have defined new boundaries for myself in the process. I realized that I’d actually been resentful of all that I did for them, so I was constantly reminding them of what a huge sacrifice I was making on their behalf. That was tantamount to holding them emotionally hostage, which is what my slavish devotion to them actually was doing to myself!

On a recent airline flight I was reminded of the common sense logic of all this, as the flight attendant went through the familiar litany of instructions in the event that the oxygen masks drop. Put on your mask first before helping others. Helloooooo.

If you aren’t breathing, it’s awfully hard to help anyone else!