Monday, November 29, 2010

Week 10 challenge: Cook dinner 5 nights out of the week

This week I revisited my “things I don’t do list” and I discovered that cooking was at the top of my list.  So I thought to myself, in a very optimistic attitude, I’m going to change that this week.

However, I quickly became very aware of how many people knew I didn’t cook from the uncensored reactions I got from friends and family when I told them about my challenge.

Half of my friends laughed in my face when I told them I was going to cook and the other half expressed genuine surprise and borderline concern.  I thought to myself, well, at least I believe in myself.

But that confidence was quickly shaken on Monday night when I planned on cooking for an impromptu thanksgiving dinner with friends but failed when I realized that leaving thirty minutes to cook any sort of thanksgiving dish- including running to the grocery store to get ingredients- was not only poor time management but also impossible.  So I updated my challenge: cook dinner 5 nights out of the week (is it bad that I find loopholes to my own rules?).

Later on that night I had a mini panic attack while searching the internet for dinner recipes for the remainder of the week.  The ingredients and spices and instructions all looked like a foreign language to me.  One recipe after another I thought to myself, “nope, can’t do that one,” and “definitely can’t do that one”. I felt defeated before my challenge had even began and thought to myself, I don’t cook, I don’t cook, what am I doing?!

But really, I literally have never cooked before. 

Not real cooking anyways.  I boil pasta, I preheat ovens, I toss salads, I can set a microwave to a set amount of time. On occasion I’ll pore a bag of Bertolli frozen pasta into a skillet and pretend like I’m cooking… but I’m not.

And to make matters worse, back when I was feeling confident and giddy about my challenge, I promised this guy I’m dating that I would cook dinner for him on Tuesday night.  So now not only was I feeling discouraged about my challenge but I reluctantly had to kick off my first dinner with someone I was trying to impress.

Talk about a scary experience. 

So when Tuesday night came around my date and I navigated our way through the grocery store collecting all the ingredients I needed for our dinner.  While he set the table and poured the wine I pretended like I knew exactly what I was doing while chopping up the onions, tomatoes, peppers and garlic (secretly I made a phone call to my mom asking her about the garlic mincing).  I carefully read the recipe instructions and step by step, the meal came together.  I was so proud of the outcome I had to take a picture of it before either of us could eat. 

And the best part was it was delicious.

After I told myself (and proved to myself) that “yes, in fact I can cook,” my whole attitude changed for the week.

I looked forward to the opportunity to cook for my family and friends.  I made stir-fry for my family Wednesday night and on Thanksgiving I made a sweet potato casserole that was so yummy it didn’t last long enough for seconds.  On Friday and Saturday my family wanted to go out to eat dinner so I compromised by making grilled chicken and cheese sandwiches for lunch Friday and I repeated the bruschetta I made Tuesday for appetizers Saturday.  And just because I was on a roll, Sunday night I made a tomato, garlic and basil pasta dish for my friends.

I felt ridiculously accomplished at the end of this week.  I thought, “Oh my gosh, I just cooked, I can do this, I can cook!”

And of course I can cook, but to be honest, I never tried to cook before.  Not trying was safe; not trying meant that there would be no opportunity to fail. 

That’s what my “things I don’t do list” consists of: activities or experiences that I don’t try because I’m scared of what will happen if I do. 

But when you push past the irrational expectations you have set for the “things you don’t do” and face the reality of what actually happens when you simply do, everything can change.

It did for me. I am a cook.  I am a runner.  What else can I do? 

Self-talk goes a long way and how you label yourself matters.

So I’m trying this new thing where I eliminate the word don’t from my vocabulary… I’m excited for the limitless opportunities that it will present for me. 

Monday, November 22, 2010

Week 9 Challenge: No make-up, no labels

This week I took a step outside of my comfort zone and went without make-up. The purpose of this week was to go without letting my looks define me, so the other half of this challenge was to go without wearing labels.  I down-graded my wardrobe and wore a lot of leggings, plain t-shirts and scarves.

And as much as I would like to think that make-up and how I dress are trivial things, going without it for a week revealed some underlying issues that I was very startled to find. 

I consider myself confident and strong, I thought no make-up for a week?  No problem.  And at first, there were no problems.  As the week went by, there was no difference in how people treated me.  Most people were surprised when I pointed out to them I wasn’t wearing any make-up.  The majority of the comments I received were people telling me they couldn’t tell the difference.

But as I reflect back on my week now, I realized that I could tell the difference, and unfortunately that’s all it took to make me feel less confident this week. 

For some reason, I thought that without make-up I looked like the sub-par version of myself.  And this attitude transferred into other areas of my life and became slightly detrimental.

I second-guessed myself. When I was talking with people, I was concerned with how I looked to them.  I even received more compliments this week than I ever expected, but instead of accepting those compliments and allowing myself to feel flattered, I brushed the compliments off and assumed my friends and family were just being nice.  I didn’t believe them. 

And when I dug to the core of how I felt this week without make-up, I had a hard time distinguishing which affected me more: how other people perceived me or how I perceived myself.

In theory, I would like to say that how I perceive myself is more important than what others think of me.  I believe that how you perceive and feel about yourself has a larger, more powerful influence on the person you are, more powerful than letting make-up, clothes or other people define you.

However, this week my theory was tested.

Eliminating an important part of my morning routine forced me to reevaluate what exactly makes me feel beautiful.  Getting ready in the morning, taking my time and looking my best makes me feel beautiful to a certain extent.  I realized that being in control of how I look also has a pretty strong influence on how I feel.

I'll be honest, this is difficult to write about.  Beauty should be about who I am on the inside, not what I look like on the outside.  I thought I understood and practiced that but this week I realized this isn't totally the case.  I have always been proud of my healthy self-esteem.  I thought that nothing could faze me.  But this week tripped me up a bit and now I am left with even more questions. Maybe all along I have based some of my self-esteem on how I look on the outside instead of defining my beauty and myself on what's on the inside.  

So this is what I need to work on: defining my beauty and myself on my own terms and asking myself what else I have mistakenly based some of my self-worth on, because I’m sure there is a longer list than I would like to think.

So ask yourself the hard questions, what do you base your self-worth on?  

Monday, November 15, 2010

Week 8 Challenge: Go a week without a car

This week I went without driving. 

To preface, I go to a college with a campus that spans about six blocks.  I live on 15th street and the majority of my classes are only four streets down. And to make my scenario even better this past week, West Michigan was blessed with freakishly warm weather with temperatures in the mid sixties. 

So in reality, this challenge wasn’t difficult.

But of course, I expected and anticipated the worst (funny how expectations and reality don’t always align).

Going into this week I thought this challenge was going to be dreadful.  I thought I was going to waste a lot of time, because usually I run at a pace of about 100mph and I like it that way.  With a car, I can zip around campus, leave my house 2 minutes before class starts and do anything on my own agenda.  Without a car I thought I was going to be limited. Here’s the thing about me, in case you didn’t know, I drive everywhere. I thought that if I had problems with time management and getting to class 10 minutes early before, my problems were only going to increase without a car.

But as the week went by and as I reflected, I realize there were no problems…with the exception of my feet.  Seriously after two days of this challenge I got blisters on my heals and by Thursday my feet ached.  It’s only funny because it’s true.

But this week was interesting because I was on time to every class I had.  I mapped out my days more realistically because I didn’t fall back on the excuse that I could drive and squeeze in more than I could handle.  I felt pretty content without a car.

I’ve never been stumped before writing one of these blogs in the past weeks.  Usually mid week I come to some sort of “ah-ha” moment and voila: lesson learned.  But this week’s challenge didn’t cause me too many problems; in fact, it was totally doable.  And of course it was doable - silly me to think I was going to have a hard time doing something the majority of people have to do on a regular basis: go without a car.

This week, on a superficial level, I learned that my shoes provide terrible support and are not comfortable.  But to dig a little deeper, I realized that I can easily go without something I thought I needed.

So the challenge I had to overcome this week had to do with correcting a false mindset.  I don’t need a car.  I don’t need a lot of things actually, what a ridiculous mindset to have in the first place.  So now I wonder what else I depend on in life that I assume I need but in reality can easily go without.

By the way, there was an ironic twist at the end of this challenge.  Saturday night I discovered my car had a flat tire.  A flat tire?  After a week sitting in my driveway and not being used, my car’s tire decides to give out.  That’s either a blessing or a curse, I haven’t decided which one it is yet.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Week 7: write one letter every day of thanks or appreciation

This week I hand wrote little notes of appreciation and sent them out in the mail.
Snail mail, when was the last time you did that? 

This week and this challenge was inspired by a good friend, who, for as long as I've known her, has had ten pen pals going at once.  In college her friends would joke about her never having homework because she seemed to spend all her time writing letters.  To this day she sends me more things in the mail than even my mother does, and I’ve only sent her one thing back… until this week.

I always justified not writing back because phone calls, texting, emailing or facebooking are my preferred mediums for expressing love.  It takes more energy to intentionally set aside time in my day to hand write a note, which is the point exactly. 

So this week I found myself at the end of each day writing notes in bed because I had run out of time during the day to write my letters (go figure) but the point is I did them.

Late Monday night, after one of the most wonderful nights of my year, I wrote a letter of thanks to Shauna Niequist for coming out of her way to be with my friends and for saying all the things that we really really needed to hear.  Tuesday night I wrote a letter to my mom, explaining to her what I really mean when I say the occasional “thanks” and how that appreciation runs so much deeper and wider than I’ve ever let on.  Wednesday I wrote to my favorite professor at Hope College, I told her she probably didn’t know it but she had a huge influence on my college experience.  Thursday I wrote down every single reason why I love my best friend, something I realized last week I never tell her enough.  Friday I wrote to that good friend I mentioned before, apologizing for the lack of snail mail that comes her way (sorry if you’re reading this before you receive my note).

And each night when I thought about who I was going to write to, a million other people popped into my head.  I came to the conclusion that I want everyone to know how much I appreciate them and the reasons why.  Words are incredibly powerful and I want to use that power to make a difference in the lives of the people I love. 

So I’m extending this challenge until Thanksgiving and I strongly encourage you to join me.  This past week I went out and bought 20 stamps.  Go do the same and challenge yourself to use them all before Thanksgiving.  That’s my new goal.

Write to twenty different people in your life that you love, appreciate, want to get back in touch with, have a crush on or have had a lasting impression on you.  Write to your neighbors, your teachers, you family, your best friends or even to strangers. 

I promise your gift of words will mean more to them than you could ever imagine.