failure is a possibility

“You must accept that you might fail; then, if you do your best and still don’t win, at least you can be satisfied that you’ve tried. If you don’t accept failure as a possibility, you don’t set high goals, you don’t branch out, you don’t try – you don’t take the risk.”
-Rosalynn Carter

I’ve been posting all kinds of stuff on my instagram feed about this upcoming marathon I’m running in South Africa. While running a half marathon in Burma last November, I overheard a number of people talking about it and that it was super hard. I’m not sure why I didn’t actually look at the elevation graphic before agreeing to run this thing. Or, you know, before three weeks ago. But I didn’t. I wasn’t overly worried about it either because, I thought, “I know I’m not fast, but I have endurance and strength on my side.” Well, endurance and strength are great things…but when there’s a time limit, they may not be enough.

big_5_elevationOver the past three weeks, since discovering both the difficulty and the time limit, I’ve seriously contemplated just running the half marathon. And please let me be clear when I use the term “just” accompanied by the words “half marathon.” I realize that a half marathon is still a long distance and I am both blessed and amazed that my body (a body that I often dislike, sometimes loathe, and is between 60 and 80 lbs overweight, depending on the chart you consult) can complete a half marathon. In fact, during the Tokyo Marathon, the body carried me, running, the entire first half without a single walking break. But, the point is, I signed up for a marathon. I set out to run this marathon. So, it would feel like a “just” to me.

But here’s the thing. I do not like to fail. Well, nobody likes to fail. I suppose that’s not news. But I rarely do. And you want to know why? (That’s rhetorical. I don’t actually care if you want to know. I’m going to tell you.) Because I rarely (and I mean, I can probably count on one hand the number of times) try to do anything if I’m not 95% confident that I will be successful.

I was much better about trying things when I was younger, not because I wasn’t afraid to fail, but because I had a mother who would say, in response to my fear, “Well, if you don’t try, you definitely won’t make it (in reference to cheer tryouts, choir auditions, etc), so why not try. Worst case? The outcome is the same as if you hadn’t have tried. Best case? You make it.” This little thought got me to audition for one of my college choirs and I’m so glad I did (incidentally, I almost failed…I have serious audition anxiety), because I made it. But it hasn’t always worked that way. And while my mother was absolutely right, there is pain in failure. More pain, sometimes, than not trying. There’s embarrassment. There’s shame. There’s disappointment. It is not fun.

And the risk, with this marathon, if I can’t finish under the time limit, is that I will not be a “Finisher” of anything. Doesn’t matter that I will have completed at least the half marathon in the process. There’s no medal at the end. And there will be massive amounts of disappointment. So, you can see why the half marathon is tempting. It still is.

In an effort to prepare in what little time we have left before this race, my friend, Anne, and I took to the mountains outside of Tokyo to do some hiking. (For a minute, we thought about “running”…and then we started up the mountain…and laughed heartily at the thought.) It took us 6 hours to go 10 miles. To be fair, we were not racing and we made three longish pitstops. But still. 6 hours. I have 7 to complete 26.2 in Africa. At elevation. With almost a mile long hill (a full mile!) at a 22.3% grade. And before we got up that hill, we have to come down it, which, while easier on the heart, is killer on the knees, ankles, quads, and toes. If you aren’t sure what 22.3% means, to put it in context, most gym treadmills max out at 15%. This is not minor.

Am I building the case for why I should probably opt for the half marathon? Yep. Am I crafting my defense in case of the very real possibility that I don’t finish? You better believe it.

But I am determined to try. I might fail. I really and truly might. And I do not like failing. And I’m actually pretty scared. Everyone I know (basically), knows that I’m going to Africa to run a marathon because I’m completely addicted to social media (I like to justify that it’s how I stay connected to America and my former life, which is true, but I was pretty addicted before I moved to Japan) and have posted a gazillion things about bit. (I’m sorry to those of you who are not at all interested.) And as a slow runner, it’s really hard to know that there are people I know (not talking elite athletes, but people from my normal life whose job is not running) who can finish a marathon in HALF that time, and that I might not make it in 7 hours. Never mind that I’ve not once worried that I couldn’t finish the distance without stopping (which is pretty incredible). The point is, I have a choice.

As I said in an email to my running buddy for this race (race against the clock, that is) in an email last week:

“I’m trying to not be too stressed about this marathon, but I’ve realized that what I decide is really a commentary on the person I want to be…and I want to be the person that’s willing to take the risk when there’s a possibility of failure vs. playing it safe and always wondering. So I’m planning to go for it with this marathon.”

Here’s hoping. Well, more than hoping. In my fear, I’ve created a pretty solid race strategy and, if I can follow it (which is a big “if”), I think I might make it. But if I don’t, I can always try again.

unnamedWill it suck if I don’t finish in time? Yes. But not as much as wondering if I could have finished in time.

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”
-T.S. Eliot


When I was a little girl, I spent a lot of time with my grandparents. My mom was pretty sick and in and out of the hospital and so, before I started school, I would spend most weeks at her house about an hour south of my hometown with my little brother. 

The two of us would play in the backyard and go for adventures down to the creek with our grandpa. We’d go for walks with the dogs, play with trucks in the playroom, hide in the storage room, ride the big, red tricycle, and pedal the “surrey with the fringe on top” around the neighborhood. We picked tangerines off of the tree next door, went on trips to the dump with our grandpa, slid down the slide and swung on the bars on the play-set in the backyard. Besides the fact that our mom was sick and we weren’t in our own home, it was pretty idyllic.

Easter in my grandparents’ living room.

I also have memories of my grandparents’ formal living and dining rooms; rooms we weren’t allowed to play in, but that I absolutely loved. Besides the pink settee that I still love, my grandma made these amazing flower arrangements and I have vivid memories of the beautiful birds-of-paradise and calla lilies she would cut from the plants in the backyard and subsequently turn into beautiful works of art using one of her many bowls and a little needle covered block called a frog. These arrangements stayed in the living room where they would not be destroyed by busy children with lots of energy.
Sydne, Ashley, me, and Daphne at JFK as I was heading to Switzerland for my mission.
This was the beginning of my love of flowers. And then my mom’s best friend in the world, Sydne, was an incredible florist (still is, in fact), which only added to it. A little later on in my life, when my mother was healthier and Justin and I had returned home for good, I would often spend late nights and early mornings with my mom over at Sydne’s. I would get to help her daughters put pearl pins in stephanotis or peel damaged petals off of roses in preparation for one of the many weddings she would be doing during any given week. It was so fun to be part of creating something so beautiful for such a special occasion. 
One of the last memories I have of my mom was of her and Sydne making these flower crowns for my senior year Homecoming game. I kept that crown in my closet for years afterward, hanging onto one of the last things I had that my mother had created for me.
Anyway, I share all of this to paint a picture for you. I know there are people out there who think flowers are kind of a waste, and I can understand that point of view. Clearly, though, I don’t share it. So, when I was home last month and made my 23-hour visit to Utah, mostly to see my grandma, I was thrilled when she gave me one of her ikebana books, some money to take a class, and the promise that I would inherit her containers and frogs. (Cousins, I hope you are committing what I just wrote to memory. 🙂 ) 
Since moving to Japan I have been wanting to take an ikebana class. This is the type of flower arranging my grandma has always done and she learned while she was living here in Japan in the early 70s. The book she gave me had a letter in it, written to her by a woman who I can only assume was one of her instructors. A letter dated 1983 and that cost 480 yen to send (the dollar was so much stronger then…). 
So, with a little research on the web, I found an introductory class in English that wasn’t ridiculously expensive. After a few emails back and forth, I scheduled my lesson for this past Saturday. It was everything I was hoping for and more. It started with a couple of demonstrations while my darling instructor, Reiko, explained some of the history behind the art of ikebana and and the different formal styles, including the type of ikebana she practices: Sogetsu. 
She also taught me about the use of different plants and flowers and how each one is said to contain a deity, and so each one represents something different. When I was looking through my grandma’s book, as well as the one Reiko had, I found a number of arrangements that I did not find especially aesthetically pleasing, but after Reiko gave me this part of the lesson, I could see that the beauty of these arrangements was to be found in what they represented.

Reiko first demonstrated the basic upright style arranged in Nageire. To say I was enthralled would be an understatement. She showed me how to make supports in the container in order to position the flowers exactly where they should be. She explained the importance of space and density, angles and lines, colors and lengths.


She then demonstrated a more modern or freestyle arrangement; the type of arrangement you can do one you have mastered the basics.

Reiko’s example: Moribana

And then it was my turn. Well, almost. First she demonstrated the most basic style, basic upright arranged in Moribana, using the same flowers I would be using. While I would have loved to have arranged it in Nagiere (seriously, creating supports from stems is just cool), I was so excited to finally be playing with a frog (aka kenzan in Japanese) having seen them so often during my childhood. And I was thrilled about the irises. I love irises.

My first try at ikebana: Moribana
It was so fun to being arranging flowers and to have to think about space and lines. Once I was done, we moved the arrangement from one container to the next, experimenting with different colors. I started with a navy blue container, then tried white, and finally decided this was my favorite, even though I didn’t think the colors would look good together, it just felt the best. And that was the end of my first class. 
In case it wasn’t obvious, there will be more. And, on top of having this awesome experience, I got to take all of the flowers we used home with me. Once back in my apartment, I pulled out my little vase and went to work. It’s amazing how just one lesson in ikebana helped me so much in my western style of arranging flowers. I used space and variety more. I thought about angles and lines. And I was pretty pleased with the finished product.
Of course I like to find metaphors in art whenever possible and I think ikebana, when compared with western flower arranging, is a perfect representation of how my life in Japan feels versus my life in New York. My life in New York was beautiful because it was full and I carefully fit as much into my days as I possibly could, ensuring I could see everyone I wanted to see and do everything I wanted to do and not miss out on anything. Like a western arrangement, it was about being full. And, as I said, it was beautiful. 
My life in Japan, on the other hand, is not as full of people or activities. I am much more thoughtful about what I want to do and everything requires a little more effort because the culture and language are not native to me. I have to think more and do less. It is also beautiful, but it’s a beauty that is as much a result of what is there as what is not there.
And if I take this idea to its logical conclusion, the end result will be that, when I return to my New York City lifestyle, it will as one who has seen a different way and will be able to take the lessons learned from my life here to make my life there that much better, easier, and more beautiful. Kind of great, right?

happy birthday to my mom

So, my goal is to update my blog more regularly (especially with this move to Tokyo), and why not start now? Today would have been my mom’s 65th birthday. I’ve been thinking about her a lot as I get ready to embark on this new adventure. I’ve also been thinking a lot about who I am and how I am and my desire to embrace every exciting opportunity that comes my way (even when it scares the crap out of me). I have decided that I learned this from my mother.

The example she set for me at a very young age was that of “doing”. Even as a mother of five, she would go on great adventures with her girlfriends, traveling around Europe and Asia. She took up new hobbies. She got us involved in the things she loved so that she could be a great mom AND follow her own dreams.

Side note: one of my favorite memories from childhood was when she returned from Asia, having gone there with my grandparents to revisit Japan (they lived there for a while…another reason I’m so excited that I’m heading to Tokyo). She came back with beautiful earrings for each of her three girls, and they were pierced earrings. The rule in my family had always been that we could get our ears pierced at the age of 16 (I was 8 at the time), but when she came home with these earrings for each of us, she decided we could all get our ears pierced, and so we did.

Anyway, my point in all of this is that I watched my mom, even with her health issues and her five kids, totally embrace life. She camped with us. She went on trips to exotic and exciting places. She took us on trips. She allowed me, at the age of 14, to go live in a foreign country with a foreign family because it was a dream of mine. I wonder if she had any idea at that point in time how such a decision would shape my life. Probably not, but I think she knew that allowing her children to chase their dreams was important.

And so, 20 years after leaving to live in Belgium for six months, I am heading off to live in Tokyo for six months. There are some similar feelings. I am excited to do something different. I am excited for the opportunity to get to know a different culture first hand. I’m nervous about the language and different customs. And I think I’ve realized that maybe this is such a big deal to me because it’s something my mom would have just loved for me to do. And she would have been on a plane as soon as possible to come see me. And even though she won’t be able to visit me physically, I know she’ll be there with me because she is a part of me.

I love that even after 16 years without her here physically, I can still feel her influence in my life. She is still helping me make decisions and the loudest voice in my head (besides my own) driving me to push through whatever fears I have because “if you don’t try, you’ll never know”. And she’s the voice that calms me in those crazy moments (like right now) and reminds me “it always works out”.

So, as I think about her on her birthday and how much I miss her, I am also so very grateful for the 18 years I had with her and for the memories (both my own and those shared by others) that continue to shape my life.

ETA: I posted a little blurb on FB today and it was so nice to get comments from some of my mother’s friends (the parents of my childhood friends) and my siblings friends, as well as my own, about my mom. Technology truly is fantastic!

soccer moms (and dads)

I met the girls for dinner tonight all dolled up in my soccer uniform (I’m not going to lie…I look pretty hot). Rachel asked how my ankle was. Maria made a comment about my dedication after I commented that it still wasn’t 100%. And that was the end of the soccer discussion. I took off a little early so I could make it to my 10 pm semi-finals game and subsequently played the entire thing (we had no female subs) and we lost by 1 point (4-5) to the team that damaged my ankle five weeks ago (who beat us 7-0 that time). Probably not a bad thing considering there’s no way we would have all lasted for the finals which were to be played right after.

Moving on. As I was riding the subway home I was thinking about Maria’s comment. I am dedicated to soccer. But I’m also dedicated to just about everything I commit to. I have been that way from a very young age. Sure, sometimes I have to cancel plans, but if I’ve made a commitment to something (or more importantly someone) and I know that someone is counting on me, you better believe I’m going to follow through.

It’s funny that a comment about soccer is what made me think about this because, really, I think soccer is probably where this commitment started. I had a super mom who had us all in soccer and swimming from the time we could walk/swim (I think I started soccer at age 3 and swimming at 4). Every Saturday we went from game to game to game (she coached most of our teams at various points in time) or meet to meet to meet. All summer long we got up early for swim practice. All fall we spent at least one afternoon a week at soccer practice. For a kid, this was a big commitment.

There were times I really didn’t want to play. I was tired. I didn’t want to get up early. I just wanted to watch cartoons like other kids I knew. I didn’t want to be picked up early from sleepovers. I didn’t want to miss out on afternoon play dates. But my mom always reminded me that I had made a commitment to the team and that I needed to be there. And that has stuck with me.

Tonight, I really was not in the mood to play at all. I was exhausted having gotten very little sleep the past two nights…on the tails of a red eye and trying to get over a cold. I haven’t played (or exercised at all because of my lame ankle) in five weeks. I wanted to just hang out with my friends after dinner. But if I didn’t go to the game, we would have been a woman short and that would have severely handicapped my team. Sure, it’s just a recreational soccer league. There are no trophies or prizes at the end. No fans are counting on you to win. There are no endorsement deals waiting to be signed. It’s just a fun game. But I made a commitment to my team and I was not going to let them down.

I say all this not to toot my own horn, but to share with you (specifically you soccer moms and dads who spend so much time chauffeuring your kids to games and practices and stressing over how they play) that what you’re doing is so important. Your willingness to support your children in their commitments and help them see the value of keeping those commitments will make a big difference in their lives. At least it has in mine and I love that I have become someone people can count on. And that’s what you’re doing for your kids. Your not just helping them play soccer and have fun. You are helping them become reliable, committed adults. (Okay, maybe I’m overstating, but you know, I feel strongly about this). So, pat yourselves on the back and when you don’t want to get out of bed on Saturday mornings to get your kid to soccer, just remind yourself how much they are learning in the process.

Now if someone would just teach me how to make fewer commitments… 🙂

And now I must sleep so I can keep the rest of the commitments I’ve made this weekend.

working it out

So appropriate that Mother’s Day is this week. As mentioned in the last post, I’ve been having a bit of a rough go of things. And this bit has kind of lasted a little longer than a bit. And I was starting to worry. Which obviously wasn’t going to help. You never solve a problem through worrying. So, life kept going. I tried not to worry. I let myself cry. I knew it would eventually get better. I started running in the mornings with the lovely and talented Jenna. I tried to get more sleep. I tried not to eat my way into feeling better. All of this helped, but then tonight, I feel as if a switch was flipped…

Once upon a time I was a little girl with a very active mother. She had always been pretty athletic and she decided to pass that along to us; swimming, softball, tennis, soccer, basketball…the list goes on. During my MBA program, I thought about taking a soccer class to refresh the skills, but I was a little intimidated as one can only be by zoobie undergrads and their overachieving, still youthful ways. So I didn’t. I wanted to play on an intramural team, but also didn’t because I wasn’t sure if I’d be good anymore. And we all know I’m just a wee bit competitive. 

A couple of months ago, when I was in a better place (mentally). I found this coed adult recreational soccer league. I was too intimidated to try and join a team, but I put myself on the mailing list for the next time they held classes because I was feeling adventurous and pretty fearless. And then last week, in the depths of my despair (don’t I sound dramatic), I get a little email from NY Coed Soccer informing me that new classes would be starting this week. While the actual thought of taking the class with a bunch of strangers scared the crap out of me, there was this little voice inside me that told me to just do it. This would be exactly what I needed.

There were two classes offered. One was very basic: passing and receiving. The other was more advanced: aggressive ball handling or something. My uber competitive self would not allow me to sign up for both for fear I’d suck it up the first hour and then not want to be there for the second, so I didn’t. 
Yeah…not so brand loyal, am I?
Tonight was the first class. To say I was a little nervous would be a bit of an understatement. But, I’ve done scary things often enough to know that after the first few minutes, life goes on, I start breathing normally again, and no one will have actually tried to make me feel like an idiot. And tonight was no exception. In fact, about 10 minutes in I was already wishing I’d signed up for the second class. It was so fun! And I met some new people. And I had more soccer experience than anyone which meant I didn’t feel like a total loser. And I didn’t worry about how good anyone else was or when I messed up because we really were all there to learn. 
On the way home from Brooklyn (yes, I haul my arse all the way to Brooklyn for this class), as I was cooling off from our little passing game, I realized that not once during that hour had I worried about my “problems” or felt even an inkling of depression. I was so focused on the technique and the drills and the game that there was no room in my brain for anything else. And I had all those endorphins pumping through me…which I’m sure didn’t hurt.
While, during these down moments, there is really nothing I would like more than to have my mom around to tell me everything is going to be all right, “it always works out,” it sure was nice to at least have her influence pushing me to do the things that she knew would make for a happy child. I’m still her kid, after all.
P.S. If anyone in NYC is interested in joining me on a coed team this summer, I’d love to have at least one person join me. Just let me know!