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My friend Kelly (otherwise known as Mrs. Toes) is participating in a “Blog Every Day in May” challenge and asked me to join her. At first, I was a bit hesitant. It’s a goal for me to write more regularly, but I tend to do better when I’m inspired to do so. I find it harder to write in response to a question or a topic and don’t always like the results. After giving it some thought, I’m going to give it a try. If the posts I write aren’t quite up to snuff, I won’t share them with you. How’s that?

Here’s the other catch – today is May 8 … which means I am already more than a week behind. So we’ll do some abbreviated catch-up – blogging in fast-motion, if you will.

DAY ONE – The story of your life in 250 words or less

I started off on a good foot, showing up a day before I was expected for my parents and older brother. Surprisingly, I was a quiet baby, who waited until I could form sentences to speak. Both events marked the last times I’d be early or quiet.
My first 17 years were spent in New York; the next 17, I lived in five different states. I was the last kid in my district to skip a grade (first) and was always one of the smallest in my class. Growing up, I was a tomboy who hated combing her hair and wanted to do everything her brother did. I was the only girl on my little league team. You’d never find me without a book in my hand – I read at the dinner table, in the bathtub and after the lights were out at night.
By high school graduation, I was finally over five feet tall and would wear a dress without kicking and screaming. I went to school in Georgia and majored in advertising because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do and it required minimal math.
Since then, I’ve lived in three more states and forged a colorful career path that only I quite understand. Almost two years ago, my nephew was born and he gives me a reason to smile every day.
Today, I’m in Arizona, missing the ocean, always wondering what’s next. Always thankful for my family, friends and the opportunities I have been given.

I’m going to skip day two (Educate us on something you know a lot about or are good at. Take any approach you’d like (serious and educational or funny and sarcastic) because I honestly can’t think of something to write about. And no, this isn’t me being self-deprecating. I’m knowledgeable about plenty of things; I just don’t think any of them would come across as interesting in this space.

Stay tuned – I’m as curious as you are to see how this blogging experiment will turn out.

blogeverday

Papago Park, yesterday

For years, I’ve been trained to believe that the ability to multi-task is a necessary competency, especially in the workplace. After all, proving that you can simultaneously write an e-mail, immediately respond to another regarding a completely different topic, answer a phone call and edit a document shows that you can manage multiple projects seamlessly. And, more so, you can “shift gears” (more corporate jargon), which politely means, “I can stop working on whatever I’m doing to meet whatever need you have at this exact second.”

My brain is never silent. It’s constantly bouncing between song lyrics, personal reflection, what I have to do that night and what I should be focusing on at that moment. The best description I’ve ever heard is that my brain is like a train station, with a dozen trains all trying to find track space. Without someone to schedule and direct the trains, they likely will all crash in the middle. If I don’t take the time to make painstaking lists, which include very specific tasks like “Empty dishwasher. Dry dishes in rack. Wash dishes in sink,” nothing gets done.

On the other hand, I’ve successfully turned a challenge into a strength. Working in social marketing is ideal for me; it’s fast-paced and requires constant shifting of attention. I’ve come to acknowledge that many people don’t possess the mindset to keep up with a workday like mine. But when you task me with reporting numbers and creating a spreadsheet, I’ll probably end up doing 15 other things while working on it, and drag out an hour-long project to a half-day one.

The positive is that my talent for multi-tasking is essential to my career. The negative is that I am challenged when I have to singularly dedicate my focus. I read while I watch TV. I cook while I talk on the phone. And worst of all, I react as soon as I see a notification on my phone, immediately breaking my concentration.

I’ve recently decided that I need to re-learn how to do one thing at a time. Whether that one thing is reading a book, watching a movie or spending time with friends, my focus needs to be solely on that moment.

Not surprisingly, this is less than simple.

A perfect example – I just stopped writing this post because my friend called. Although I feel I haven’t lost the direction of my thoughts and it was certainly worthwhile to take the call, it’s very easy for me to abandon what I am doing. Or to simply do two (or more) things at the same time.

Due to the nature of my job, I’ve come to accept that I need to know what’s going on at all times. The reality is that this isn’t possible. I sleep. I (rarely but occasionally) am out of cell phone range. And sometimes, I just need a break from seeing everything online in real time.

While I pride myself of being on top of my work, I recognize that the world won’t explode if I don’t see an issue brewing on Facebook within the first 15 minutes that it occurs. I used to think nothing of taking my phone out to check in, almost too often. Then I took a hard look at the people I surrounded myself with, many who work in similar industries. Every dinner involved a table of people scrolling through Twitter, replying to e-mail, answering text messages and checking in on foursquare.

Two realizations: people deserve your attention. Sometimes, it feels good to “check out.”

Now, when I’m with my friends, I’m making a conscious effort to keep my phone in my purse. And if I take it out, I’ll keep it face down, as to not see the flashing notifications. Roughly once an hour, when I get up to use the restroom (or something similar), I’ll quickly scroll through to make sure everything’s under control. I’ve had moments when I’m out, that a work “crisis” has occurred. My friends, thankfully, understand the nature of my job and are polite when I have to step aside and fix something online. And when it comes to the non-work stuff, it can wait.

Many activities I engage in (reading, watching TV shows), I’ve come to see as social experiences. When I read an article, I want to know what other people think about it. When I watch a football game, I want to comment on it. But none of this needs to happen in real time. I need to focus on one thing I am doing, and if that means saying “For one hour, I am going to read this book and do nothing else,” then so be it.

I’m training myself to be a better listener, to not be thinking what I plan to reply before someone is done speaking. I hope to become less anxious by forcing myself to think about fewer things. And I look forward to remembering what life was life before everything sped up, one experience at a time.

I’m not sure how many years I’ve had food allergies. There’s a good chance I developed them in my twenties; there’s a lesser chance that they always existed but worsened as I got older. They were initially diagnosed when I was 26 – corn, soy, barley, peanuts, sesame seeds, sulfites. My first reaction was that corn is in everything … especially the processed garbage that I shape my daily eats around. For a year, I gave up drinking Coke. I gave up eating candy and tortilla chips. (Fun fact: Red Bull and Mentos do not contain corn syrup.)

I still did not feel better. I’d turn bright red and splotchy after eating. I’d cough for hours on end. My chest would tighten up, leaving me feeling like I couldn’t breathe.

Being in New York allowed me access to some of the leading specialists in the field. I made an appointment with a top allergist/immunologist and subjected myself to a full range of tests – eight vials of blood were drawn in one sitting. The results came back a few days later. While I was healthy across the board, my allergies only looked worse. Turns out there are about two things in the world I’m not allergic to – cockroaches and corn.

Yes, corn.

Turns out that the allergy panel (where they inject you with doses of cat/soy/dust/etc. and watch your arm swell to Quasimodo-like proportions) is not entirely accurate. The corn, which I had dutifully avoided for a year, was fine. Eggs were not. Also, add legumes and cherries to the previous no-no list.

Awesome.

I haven’t had eggs in about four years now. I can’t tell you (especially when I’m particularly hungover), how much I crave eggs sunny side up or one of my dad’s amazing omelettes. When it comes to my allergies, I do my best to ask the right questions and to avoid the obvious culprits. For example, “Does this hamburger come on a roll with sesame seeds?” That’s an easy one. “Is this pasta made of egg or wheat?” tends to be a harder one. I asked that a few weeks ago at a conference and received a confused response of “it is pasta.” Did you know candy corn has sesame oil in it? Me neither.

I’m not going to lie. I’ve definitely toed the line, especially when it comes to the following items: Funfetti cake, soy sauce (with sushi), teriyaki (see: soy sauce), Chinese food (see: soy sauce and eggs), beer (copious amounts of barley), grilled cheese (bread = some combination of eggs, barley and soy.)

Then there are the less obvious things – telling a masseuse that they can’t use oils which may contain soy or sesame. Learning that the word “protein” is usually a loosely interpreted word that means “soy.” Sugarfree gum has soy lecithin in it.

Going out to eat flat-out sucks sometimes. I hate playing 20 questions with the server and feel even worse when I forget a detail, such as “don’t sprinkle sesame seeds on my sushi” and I have to give my food back. Appearing that picky feels incredibly awkward.

As I said, I played roulette the past few years. I avoided most of the obvious culprits, but gave in to random cravings and accidental consumption. Some reactions were worse than others, but luckily, I had never landed myself in the emergency room or had to use my EpiPen. (Note: If you’ve ever seen the needle on one of those, you’d think Reese’s Pieces wouldn’t be worth it. Trust me.)

A few months ago, I thought I had an ear infection and went to see a doctor for the first time since I moved to Phoenix. By the end of the visit, she decided that I couldn’t stay on the hardcore (over $600/month without insurance) allergy pills I had been taking for years. Decongestants were jacking up my blood pressure and it wasn’t a risk worth taking.

I’ve felt miserable for months, like I have a cold that won’t disappear. I’m tired, itchy, sneezy, coughy and any other of the dwarves I haven’t named. But what’s worse is the reactions.

I had become brave to a point of foolishness. If a specific allergen wasn’t listed in the first three ingredients, I’d consider it okay to eat. And was left feeling worse and worse each time. Saturday night, I scared myself straight.

Honestly, I’m not really sure what triggered my reaction. I ordered a salad (everything in it should have been fine) with a red wine vinaigrette (possibly sketchy – soy or sulfites), ate a few of my friend’s tots (possible egg wash) and had an Amstel Light. For two hours in bed that night, I felt like I couldn’t breathe. If you’ve never been in this position, you don’t want to experience it firsthand.

And so I made a decision yesterday. It’s time for me to stop messing with foods I can’t eat. I’m tired of feeling like garbage and, likely, few of my food choices are really worth it. The good news is that I have many foods I can eat – seafood, meat, wheat pasta, most fruits and vegetables, cheese. The bad news is that I have to start embracing either gluten-free beer or enjoying the ones that are lowest in barley (Coors Light, Bud) in much smaller quantities. I have to ask all the questions when I go out to eat. I have to make my own salad dressing, like the pioneers surely did. I’m going to have to eat more meals at home (yay, budget) and allot more time for food preparation.

So here’s to hoping I feel significantly better over the next few weeks. Please don’t talk about cake or dark beer in front of me. And if we go out to dinner, please disregard my order of white rice, lettuce and  seasonal fruit.

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