Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Mental Toughness

Today was an interesting workout.  There were six people I knew who showed up at Dunbar at some point in time this morning.  I mostly ran with one person, but we had at least one other join us on multiple intervals.

The workout was 400M, 800M, 1200M, 1600M, 1200M, 800M, and 400M.  This is a very familiar ladder.  I have done it a bunch of times.  And if I had a bit more leeway, I would have loved to run a second 1600M at the top, although perhaps not on a morning as sticky (with humidity) as today was.

What is interesting is that the goal pace was 6:05.  First quarter we did in 91 seconds.  Right on.  The 800 we did in about 3:02.  Right on.  The 1200 on the way up we did in 4:27.  Getting a bit fast.  The 1600 we did in about 6:03.  Could not ask for much better than that.  And that was with a fast quarter followed by a slower quarter followed by two at just about 90 seconds each.  Nothing better.

Then I forgot to reset my watch.  So, when I looked at my next split I lost my concentration.  And my legs (still a tiny bit tight from Sunday's 18 miles) didn't feel like they had much left to give.  So I ran a 4:56.  Horrid compared wo goal time!

However, as my friend pointed out neither one of us did that 1200M on the way down the ladder well and we came back to run 2:57 and 83 seconds--both faster than on the way up.  So, we obviously had some reserve to give.  My high school outdoor track and cross country coach would undoubtedly have told me I had something left to give or that I left something on the track for the 1200 on the way down.

What was interesting was that we traded leads throughout the other intervals.  But on that 1200, my friend pulled ahead, opened up a lead, and, as he put it, probably served neither of us well.

But this is a common thing for me.  Somewhere a little over half-way through but before I can see the "finish line" (although some might not consider 3/4 mile to go anywhere near the finish line), I just have a mental break.

What life lessons does this give?  I have been trying to think of whether there are other things that I let lag once I get nearly done but then put in a lot of effort to complete at the end.  It actually sounds like a lot of life projects.  Problem with life projects when you do that is that the quality can suffer too.  

Certainly something to think about as I move forward in my management career.  I don't want any projects I manage to end up like this.

Perhaps if I can find a way to get past this in my running, I will figure out how to avoid it in management.  Or perhaps even vice versa.

I love how management and running match up. 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

What Does the Term Recreational Running Really Mean?

A bit of time ago a running friend of mine suggested that after the latest injury this person had suffered, the future might only hold recreational running.  I thought this was an interesting concept--what is recreational running compared with any other type of running.

So, I went to dictionary-dot-com and looked up recreational.  Of course, it reads something like "of or having to do with recreation."  So, I look up recreation and we find that it has to do with something yielding relaxation and enjoyment.

By that definition, I'm a recreational runner.

Do I have goals?  Yes, but that doesn't make it any less relaxing or enjoyable.

Do I sometimes run pretty hard?  Sure, but that doesn't mean it is not enjoyable and it is still a way to relax some parts of my life.

Do I race and intend to continue racing?  Sure--still enjoyable.

If I was told I had to run slower or less frequently would that change any of this?  As long as I could run injury-free, I think that the answer is no.  I would still find it relaxing and enjoyable.

An injury could make it not so relaxing or enjoyable.  But if I were injured and could return from the injury at any level of running, I would still find it fulfilling and I would adjust my goals.  Disappointed--sure.  But I don't see much difference in whether it would be recreational or not.

One other thing that I recognize is how much the recreation (enjoyability and relaxation) does require at least a little diversification compared with what I had been doing for quite some time.  I enjoy having a core set of runners with whom I work out.  A core set who can push me to run my strongest--as that is such an important component of what makes running enjoyable for me.

But over the past two weekends, I have run distances (3.5 miles in one case and 18 in another) with individuals with whom I either had not run anything close to that before or at least had not run with for a couple years.  

What that has led me to realize is how much diversification can help.  Different speeds.  Different styles.  Different goals.  Different perspectives.  Different stories to share.  Each of those adds to the value in terms of relaxation and enjoyment.  

One friend I passed this morning pointed out how "late" (it wasn't even 8:30 yet when we passed) it was for me.  Yes, I will have to adjust my running once the fall arrives as my youngest will have ice hockey and I teach Sunday school at 9:15.  That is true.

However, the more people I can choose from to run with, the easier it will be to find someone with whom to go on a run at any start time (at least in the AM) on any day.  And enjoy all the stories, perspectives, styles, and paces that may come my way.

And if I look around, I have several groups to link with.  Some more formally than others.  Some more frequently than others.  And some that I have been in touch with more recently than others.  But when all is said and done, I have a wide variety of individuals with whom I can run a wide variety of distances with different goals in mind.

That is one of the other beauties of what running means for me right now.  Since I have achieved most of the "big" goals (getting to Boston and running it), I now am not "goal-less" but sort of in between as I wait to determine what my next "big goal" if any should be. I can always run faster.  I can continue to improve. Or I can just continue to use running as a creative and exciting way to have an excuse to eat the bread and cheese I love, to make friends, to keep my cardio in health check, and to clear my mind.

I just hope the people I run with feel the same. 

Friday, August 23, 2013

I Love You More Today than Yesterday

There was a song by a band called the Spiral Staircase in 1969 "More Today than Yesterday".  The whole refrain line is "I love you more today than yesterday."  When Sherry and I got married we got the first letters of this phrase (ILYMTTY) engraved on the inside of our wedding bands--along with our anniversary date.  Now, 21 years later much of the design on the outside of our wedding bands has worn off but the engravings on the inside of our wedding bands are still there very clearly.  A reminder of something we were willing to put inside the symbol of our marriage.  Permanently.

What is interesting for me is to think about what it means.  "I love you more today than yesterday--but not as much as tomorrow."  What a great and uplifting phrase to try to live up to.  In other words, I will love you more and more every day.

What I find fascinating about this is that the line in the song did not say, "I like you more today than yesterday."  It did not say, "I like everything about you more today than yesterday."  That would be very hard to live up to.  In nearly every married relationship there are things about the partner that are not liked.  No relationship that I know of is perfect.

What I think it really means is that "I find it more and more difficult to imagine that I could spend the rest of my life without you intricately involved in it as each day passes.  As each day passes, I cannot imagine ever leaving you.  I cannot imagine ever not having you by my side.  I cannot imagine not having you to wake up next to each day.  I cannot imagine not sleeping by your side each night.  As every day passes, I want to be with you more than yesterday."  But somehow, I think that if the song had been written with this as the lyric, it would not have made it up the charts in 1969.

The other things is whether to interpret more today than yesterday every day literally.  I think that to take it literally would be very difficult.  However, we could talk about most days of this week compared with last week.  Or most days of this month compared with last month.  But every day is hard.  And probably nearly impossible to live up to.

So, I still believe in the concept of ILYMTTY--even when marriage is not perfect.  But I would say that as every month passes, I find it more and more difficult to imagine not having Sherry as the most important person in the remaining months of my life.  An acronym for that would not fit well inside a wedding band.  But that is what I think ILYMTTY really means.  

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Because I Can

"Because I can" is a phrase that I mentioned in yesterday's blog entry, and it is a wonderful thing to be able to say.

Does it need to be tempered?  Of course.  It needs to be tempered with a moral compass.  It needs to be tempered with a sense of what can be balanced in my life.  It needs to be tempered by a lot of things.

But when it comes to running that is part of my exercise routine (as long it does not interfere with work and family), it is an absolutely great thing to be able to say.

I run--because I can.

I run a great distance--because I can.

I run relatively (and it is all relative after all) fast--because I can.

I cross the finish line--because I can.

I run races--because I can.

I train for very long distance races--because I can.

Is it always best to run as far as I can or as hard and fast as I can?  Just about every assessment of training that I have ever read says "no".  Does that change my behavior?  A little.

I will occasionally take a day off.

If there are days on which my body really only can go at a slower pace, I don't stress any more.

And if a race isn't perfect--I've had enough good races that I may fuss about money spent to register for a race that didn't go so well, but I don't really worry about it any more.  Still, that doesn't prevent the butterflies before each race that I mentioned yesterday.

But the "because I can" attitude makes the end of each run great.  And it means that I can continue to set goals around how fast and how far and not just "let me get out and see what I can do."  It helps to give me a sense of why I run.

Not everyone needs to have goals about times and distances and races.  Some people can just enjoy running for the sake of running.  I admire those people.

Not everyone needs to build a social life around their running.  I admire those people as well, and I personally have a mixture of social and individual experiences while running that is just fine.

Not everyone who runs needs to run to feel like they are fulfilled in life.  That is fine.  But that is not me.

Are all my characteristics the right ones?  For me--yes.  For everyone else--I'll leave that for everyone else to decide.

What I focus on is the fact that everyone probably has a "because I can" thing for themselves.  Something that they do and when asked why they simply answer "because I can".  I haven't asked others about this.  But I do wonder how much each person gets from something like this.  And whether each person feels that the "because I can" activity helps them to be the best person they can be.  Certainly my running helps me be the best me that I can be.

And if someday I can't, then I am sure that at first I will be disappointed.  And right now I cannot imagine not being able to say that I am running because I can.

But I am adaptable and I will find a new activity if and when that time ever comes that helps to continue to define who I am, help me achieve self actualization, and move ahead.  And why is that?

Because I can.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Each Time is Special

A friend of mine suggested that I follow a blog from another local runner.  The blog can be found at http://sowhatirun.com/. It is the story of someone much newer to running than I am.  The author of the blog did not run as a teenager.  In fact, the author of the blog did not run a race until the local Celtic Solstice run in 2011 and has run only one marathon so far.  And this is her first blog about running.

Reading blogs from experienced runners is fun.  There are plenty of insights and it is sort of like soldiers sharing war stories.

However, I have been fascinated by the early insights that someone has.  The entire set of ideas that comes up when a person is new to running is different.  The questions.  The concerns.  The issues.  The worries.

It reminds me how special each run is.  Each time I lace up the shoes and get ready to go out, I get a thrill from the preparation and the running.  Each race I prepare for is meaningful in terms of all the thinking and all the preparation.  Each time I line up at the start of a race--even a local 5K--I still get butterflies.  And each time I finish--a workout or a race--I can say that I have done it just because I can.

I will elaborate on the "because I can" theme in a later blog entry.  For right now, I would just comment on sharing the feeling of, "So What?  I Run" with the other blog's author.  It is fun.  It is a part of me.  I like to share elements of it with others--regardless of whether they run or not.  But it doesn't make me any more special than anyone else.  It just makes me feel more me.  Like the best me I can be.  And I love that feeling.

And for anyone who reads my blog to find out about running (or life), I would suggest you check out So What?  I Run.  

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Comfortable Miles

This morning I slept "in" (not getting up till 5:30) and then got out to run just before 6 AM for what turned out to be just four comfortable miles.  The paces were 8:46, 8:24, 8:18, 7:55.  Those are much slower than the first four miles I ran yesterday (7:22, 7:19, 6:56, 7:06) on my way to a 7:07 pace (a correction from what I thought was 7:03 yesterday).  But that is okay, today was a "recovery" run and yesterday turned out to be more of a tempo run than a long slow run anyway.

While I commented in yesterday's entry that I was working hard enough not to be thinking very hard about anything other than "keep going at this pace," I would still call the pace "comfortably hard".  That is a term that I borrow from one of the Charm City Run coaches.  When I crossed paths with the training group yesterday, I believe that the coach for this season is Marie but another long-time participant and coach (John) was leading the run yesterday.  He told everyone to just take it easy yesterday (I did my run beforehand and had already completely ignored the advice).  But John is the coach who used to suggest that we seek a pace that was "comfortably hard" for our tempo runs.

Today was just comfortable--rather than comfortably hard.  After the fast/easy/medium paces I ran yesterday, my legs were tight and then slowly came to life as I continued to run.  Each of the four miles this morning was comfortable as I went from my neighborhood around the Cedarcroft and then back around my own neighborhood again.

The key lesson for today is there is a lot to say about using comfortable pace as a guide.  It is a guide to running.  If I am running at a pace that is comfortable I don't tend to get injured.  Injuries happen when I push too hard.  And comfortable can range from comfortably hard to just plain comfortable for me to comfortable for someone with whom I am pacing.  Each has its role.

But the idea of a comfortable pace applies to other things in life as well.  Am I working at a comfortable pace at work?  I'd say it is usually comfortably hard rather than just comfortable.  When I push too hard I do not get "injured" but I am much more likely to make errors in judgment.

The development of interpersonal relationships is another great example of something for which comfortable pace can be important.  Even in friendship there is a pace at which sharing develops and with which individuals can be comfortable.  Sometimes too much information too quickly can make the pace uncomfortable.  Then there can be misinterpretation.

Learning a musical instrument (like my approach to bass as an adult) is another thing where comfortable pace can be important.  Too fast can lead to frustration.

For each of these the definition of what is "comfortable" and how "pace" is measured is different.  But each part of my life can be guided by trying to figure out how to proceed with confidence and in a way that promotes ideal progression without missteps that can lead to injury, errors in judgment, misinterpretation, or frustration.  All of which lead to poor outcomes.  None of which are ideal.  

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Running Camaraderie

Today, I had a wonderful run that was divided into three sections--eight miles alone at a 7:03 pace during which I saw many other runners on the trail including some I had known through previous participation in training groups with Charm City Run and two neighbors.  This gave me little time to think to clear my brain--as when I keep this pace, I am mostly thinking about one thing.  KEEP RUNNING HARD.  This turned out to be like my tempo workout for the week.  When I am "only" training for a half marathon, I do need to do tempo runs, but I don't need quite as far long runs since I only need to race 13.1 rather than 26.2.

After I finished the first eight, I came upon the rather large half and full marathon training groups for CCR this summer/fall.  I had a chance to catch up with some runners I had not seen in a very long time.  But other than saying "Wow, it has been a while, how are you doing?" it was just like I had been there since my last official training season with CCR that ended with the Baltimore Running Festival in 2011.

Then, I did 3.5 miles with a friend whom I did not run with often when I was part of a CCR training group.  A much slower pace, but there was nothing wrong with that.  It was the right pace for my friend as we could carry on a reasonable conversation and my first CCR coach always used to say that was a good way to determine if you were running the right pace for a Saturday long run.

After that, I left my friend to complete her 16 and I ran back to my car a bit harder so that I would be home to participate in other family activities for the day.

Other than simply reporting on the run, what is my bigger lesson for today?  First, sometimes even in one morning, I can experience three different levels of running--all of which mean different things.  First, just the freedom to go.  Second, sharing the joy of running with another--no matter how far apart we may be in any race.  I try to share the long run every week, but I haven't shared with this particular friend in a long, long time.  Third, showing myself that I could pick up the pace again after a slower section of the run.

And the other thing that I was reminded of today after months of running mostly either in very small groups or with one individual at a time, I found myself as part of a very large group.  Yes, because I have been away from CCR for a while, I didn't recognize all the faces.  But it was just amazing to feel the energy.  The camaraderie.  The shared sense of purpose.  A very spiritual experience.  I would be tempted to say a "religious" experience but that would imply rules and structure.  There was no need for rules and structure.  There was only a need for that feeling of shared purpose, shared interest, and a shared outlook on a key part of our lives.  Having been so long since I was part of a large group, I had forgotten just how amazing this could be.  I won't officially rejoin a training group any time soon as my schedule would not allow me to part of the group frequently enough.  But I may try to find ways to tap into that feeling at least once in a while moving ahead.  

Thursday, August 15, 2013

An Exhilarating 10K on a Cool Morning and Life Lessons

As I look at my blog entries since my mental recovery after the Boston marathon, I note that there have been only a few that talk much about running.  Kind of ironic since that is where my blogging all began--with running.  With a focus on the spirituality of running.

Well, this morning was a beautiful weather morning.  I had missed running yesterday morning with some equally beautiful weather--and this was something not to miss two days in a row.  I had a Skype call at 5 AM my time (7 PM for my colleague in Australia), walked the dog at 6, and had a tight schedule to be back home by 7.  

50 minutes and I wanted to run a 10K.  Very doable for me (and yes, for that I am still blessed at age 43 to be able to do that).

I started with an 8:00.  Not a bad warmup mile (for me). I then ran, 7:29, 7:21, 6:59, 6:51, and 6:40 without losing speed for the last 0.2 miles.  The terrain in Cedarcroft, Rodgers Forge, Stoneleigh, Anneslie, Idlewilde, and Lake Walker varies quite a bit.  So, some of those were up and some of those were down, but each became progressively more intense.  And by engaging in greater intensity as I went along, I just felt so alive.  So empowered.  And so much able to follow where my legs took me as a function of my own choice.

What is interesting is thinking about how running relates to the rest of my life.  There are multiple phases.  Undergrad.  Grad school.  Early career as faculty.  Later career as faculty.  And now, at age 43, high level administration already.  

As I have entered each new phase, the intensity has increased.  Along with this Sherry and I went from dating as undergrads, to marriage in and a kid at the end of grad school, to parenting during early career, to even more intense parenting (with three kids with tons of activities) in later career as faculty, to now managing two school choices (one high school and one college) and a rambunctious third grader to be during the first year of a new job.  So, the intensity of a variety of issues in home life also increased  

Put all this together and what do you have?  Either a recipe for disaster as the intensity gets out of control and the risk of injury (or disaster in relationships at home) increases.  Or an amazing combination of events that offer challenge.  Challenge for concentration. Challenge for self-control.  Challenge to maintain the drive.  Challenge to stick with things.  Challenge to live up to commitments.  Just as I challenge myself when I run at an increasing pace over six miles, I continue to challenge myself (and those around me) by increasing the intensity in life outside of running at every step along the way.  

What I have to remember is that there are long slow days, recovery days, and days off in running.  That is a lesson I should bring into my life outside running as well. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Work-Life Balance

Usually when people talk about work-life balance, they are talking about the need to make sure that work does not interfere with the rest of your life outside the office and vice-versa.  Today, I want to address a different type of work-life balance.  Balancing the lessons I learn in one with the needs I have in the other.

What exactly do I mean?  During the leadership coaching that I received between the time just before I officially started my new job full time on April 1 and earlier this month, my coach provided me with a lot of food for thought.  In so many ways, things about communication, figuring out what is important, and relationship building are key both in the workplace (for which she was coaching me) and at home for which I can often use some help.  My leadership coach didn't necessarily give me things to read or think about that everyone would see as applying to the rest of life as well as to work, but I always was looking for connections.  And finding them.

Today, I began reading yet another book this colleague had recommended.  This book is called, "What Got You Here Won't Get You There".  It is a book about behavioral issues that people have that may actually have helped them earlier in their careers as they advanced but that actually hinder them from moving forward any further.  And this time, I didn't even need to look for connections.  Instead, the book came right out and said that the same behaviors can be problems at home.

Overcommitment has been, is, and will likely (to some degree although I hope less) be one of these issues.  I think that my oldest inherited this tendency a bit.  However, during the course of this summer I have witnessed him pulling back from two things that lead me to believe there may be hope for him.

I have mentioned it before, but the intertwining of work and the rest of life is something I find fascinating.  

Monday, August 12, 2013

Fear is Learned

Yesterday, at St Pius X in Towson, MD, we had Father Jim who handles health care for northern Baltimore county and whom I expect we will see again in the future.  He smiled during mass.  He was great with the kids who went to the Children's Liturgy of the Word, and he involved the kids who were still in the pews in the homily.

He said something that I thought was profound: when we are born all we know is love--we have to learn fear.  He went on for several minutes about how learned fear leads us to consume many things in our society today.  It was great food for thought.

But I kept thinking about the homily for a long time afterward yesterday and this morning while I was running.  Yesterday while I was running I had my insight for yesterday's blog entry.  Today--another run, another entry.

What I realized is that fear is learned in a lot of relationships that start off with love--or at least with support (if not love) only.  Friendships can start that way.  Marriage can start that way.  Even certain work environments can start that way.  Everything is positive.  Everything is supportive.  A friend, a spouse, a boss give no real reason to think that there will be anything other than support.

But then doubt creeps in.  Worry creeps in.  Fear creeps in.  We worry that the support will go away.  We worry that something will break the friendship.  We worry that we somehow will not measure up in a marriage.  We worry that we won't succeed in a workplace.  Even though no one has ever said straight out--you have to succeed or else.

In reality if we just kept on trusting and did what we were asked to and supposed to do, everything would work itself out.  Things almost always do.

And if a person has spent most of their lives building relationships based on mutual respect, mutual support, and mutual love (or at least positive affection if not love), then a person is likely to have a support network with a pretty deep bench to help pick up the pieces on the occasions when things do not go quite right.

The fear that is learned can be what destroys rather than helping a person to protect.

That was part of the take away message from Fr. Jim.  And it is something that sticks with me for my relationships moving forward.  

Connecting the Dots & Nourishing Souls--writ large

Yesterday while I was out for my "second" run of the morning, I had the good fortune of meeting up with a colleague of many years whom I don't often get to see these days.  I put my "second" run in quotes as I began the day with a slow jog with my eight year old--3 miles.  I then went back out for a much faster four mile run of my own before getting on with other activities.  On the second run as I was running up Charles St, north of Northern Parkway, I saw someone whom I did not immediately recognize turn from a side street onto Charles.  As I caught up and passed, I gave a clear "good morning" to the other runner, as I would to almost any runner I was passing at a fairly faster speed.  The other runner gave a brief response, but then made an additional comment calling me by name.  I turned back to find a colleague from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health where I'd spent 16+ years before moving to the Carey Business School within Johns Hopkins. I'd known this particular colleague first as a student and then as a colleague for almost the entire time.  Her kids' ages are between my first two and my second and third.  We chatted for a bit.

I found myself once again talking about how much I enjoy the new challenges of my position at present compared with what I had been doing.  Some in academia find it difficult to fathom since many in academia are not interested in high level administrative positions and are not necessarily good "people people".  Perhaps I am.  Perhaps I am not.

Regardless, something occurred to me later in the day, long after my colleague and I had parted ways after about seven minutes of an overlapping route.  The very title of this blog is about connecting dots and nourishing the soul.  When I came up with the title, I was really focused on the dots as abstract things in my own life and my own soul.  However, the management style that is encouraged at the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School includes thinking about team members strengths, weaknesses, and aspirations as individuals.  The strengths and weaknesses can then be extended to the team as a whole.  The team is "connecting the dots" in which the dots are individuals who make up the teams as we try to construct the best teams for getting the jobs that are important done.  While not everyone on the team may even believe in souls, the fact that we are seeking to find ways to help individuals reach aspirations and grow personally and professionally is key.  This demonstrates a key overlap between what I think of for myself and what I now am called upon to think of for others as I grow in my own leadership.  It is another wonderful case of how I am able to fit everything in my life together in a way that makes sense.

Is everyone lucky enough to be able to make sense of their lives?  No.

Does everyone seek to make sense of their lives in the same way?  I doubt it.

But it works for me and it helps me to see my life as one big adventure that fits together in the workplace and outside in ways that complement each other.

Moving ahead, one of the biggest challenges will be to assure that the inside the workplace part of my life and outside the workplace part of my life not only fit together conceptually but also fit together in terms of getting things done and focusing on both parts.  If I work too hard and don't focus on life outside that will bring issues outside the workplace that I do not want to face.  If I focus too much on things outside the workplace and do not get done important tasks inside, that will bring its own set of challenges.

Balance is as important as parallel alignment.  That is a real challenge.   

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Relationship Building

So, today was the last formal meeting I am scheduled to have with a staff member within the university whose job is to worry about organizational development and leadership coaching.  After first meeting the coach in March (more or less just before taking my new administrative position on a full time basis), I have met with the coach probably a half dozen times or so.  My progression from the first meeting--in which I was asked to tell my story and I spent much of the 90 minutes talking about how I had gotten to where I was, what I was focused on, and the thoughts I had of what the position was--to this meeting--in which my coach pointed out that I spent an hour talking about relationship building--has been an interesting one.

When I took the position of Vice Dean for Education, I was thinking that the biggest challenges would be coordinating programs, building an online educational effort, and working with scheduling.  What I forgot when I talked to people about the position before I started full time was that none of that happens without relationships.

So, today, I spent all my time talking about the importance of relationships.  Relationships being built between me and the rest of the staff within the the Office of Education.  Relationships between other individuals in the Office of Education.  Relationships I am building with other units within the school.  The importance of each relationship.  The importance of walking around the floor that contains most of the administrative offices.  The importance of traveling between floors that will house administrative offices once we move to two floors.  The importance of relationships with students.  And how to build those relationships.

Following on my comments yesterday about idealism, intimacy, and depth, what this reflects is the desire to engage (intimacy) and at more than a surface level (depth).  I noted in conversation with the coach that even little changes make a difference.  One example--changing from staying mostly in my office to walking around my group and others.  I have noticed that I have shifted from just saying "hi" to saying "hi" or "good morning" or "how are you" and addressing people by name.  This is the type of activity that starts the relationship building process.  I will continue to do so by not rushing lunch while sitting at my computer ever day but using it (at least some days) as a time to meet, chat, and continue to build relationships that need to be nourished for things to get done.

If you had asked me when I was trying to get tenure in my last job within the university whether I would ever have pictured myself spending an hour talking about ways to build and strengthen relationships, I would have said no.  But, now this is what I realize I have to do as a lead up to getting the work done.  Without positive relationships, the work will not get done.  Positive relationships are not all that is needed but they lay the groundwork for what needs to be done.  And as a person in a leadership role, I spend a lot of time thinking about relationships.

And the importance of relationships in the real world has spilled over into the rest of my life.  Of course, relationships are key in marriage.  Spouses with each other.  Each with kids.  Along kids.

I have shifted to less Facebook posting.  More time talking with my kids.  More time going for dessert together over the past several weeks.  More time walking the dog--seeing who is around--stopping to say hello.

I continue to be amazed at how my work life themes and personal life themes tie together.

And relationships are key throughout.  

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The "Intimacy" of Making Soft Pretzels from Scratch

Someone at work recommended I read a book with the curious title, The Answer to How is Yes.  With the subtitle, "Acting on What Matters".

With that in mind, I have been reading the book here and there and it talks about need to have a sense of idealism, a sense of intimacy, and a sense of depth in our relationships and in what we do to really figure out what matters in shaping our world.

So, when this author uses intimacy, and the intimacy that I refer to in the title of today's blog entry has nothing to do with physical passion.  Rather, the author, Peter Block, describes it as being about "the quality of contact we make.  It values direct experience over electronic or virtual experience.  It is immersion into the world of feelings, connection with the senses, and vulnerability..."

Well, I'm not sure that in this case I have immersion in the world of feelings about my pretzels (although they do certainly satisfy hunger).  And, I don't have a sense of vulnerability about my pretzels.  But making homemade soft pretzels is all about engaging the senses.

I could just make homemade bread and have engagement of the sense of smell while it is baking and taste when it is done.  But when you make them from scratch and hand knead it, it totally adds to the sense of how the senses are used in baking.

The dough has a certain feel.  And after having done this a sufficient number of times you just know how the dough is supposed to feel to be done.

The dough has a certain look.  Again, after having made yeast-based doughs so many times, I just know how it is supposed to look when it is done. And it is fantastic to watch the dough go from the small mixture when you mix all the ingredients together to when it has risen.

The smell--as mentioned already and something you can get with a bread machine--is amazing.

And finally, even the sound that it makes during the kneading process.  The rhythm.  The way it comes together.

It is soothing because it gives the baker who bakes from scratch a sense of knowing that something is happening.  Something is being accomplished.  And, I am responsible for making it happen.

That is a sense of intimacy using it as Peter Block defines it.  It is a sense of being in touch with the world around me.  And having something that I can make happen in the world.  Even though I know that it is nature and the wonder of what God created to see how the whole process fits together.  The yeast that brings the dough "to life".  The butter that gets mixed in when I make soft pretzels. The sugar that goes in while the yeast proofs.  The salt that gives the dough a little contrast in flavor in addition to whatever role it serves in the chemical process.  And the flour that makes it all stick together.

It is simply amazing.