Friday, September 16, 2011

You're Allowed a U-turn

I forgot to include one of the best moments in my Cottage Lake Triathlon recap.

As we waited for the age-group award ceremony to start, I chatted with my mom's partner, Don, about the race. Don has been a part of my life since I was about 16, so he's watched me grow up, go off to college, get my first big-girl job and all that fun stuff.

Here's roughly what he said to me:

"You should be really, really proud of yourself. I remember when, not too long ago, your favorite things to do were shopping, watching TV and drinking. Now, you do this stuff. You've changed the course of your whole life."

Don and I have not had the easiest relationship over the years, so it meant a lot for him to say this and let me know he was proud of me.

But on top of that, I got to thinking about what he said about the course of my life. My goals now are incredibly different from what they were during the shopping, TV-watching, drinking-my-face-off period he referred to (also known as college). My entire future is different.

At 22, my only real goal was to get a good job. Once I got that job, I was at a loss for what to do next. I lived at my mom's house (because I was deep in debt) and spent all my time working, commuting (an hour each way), watching TV and sleeping. My weekends were spent drinking with friends. Oh, and my weeknights were spent drinking alone.

I followed the "fill your plate with carbs" eating plan and paired my dinner with a bottomless glass of wine each night. (When your wine comes from a box, it's easy to lose track of how many glasses you've had.)

One night, I had trouble sleeping and woke up the next day feeling like a zombie. I realized that I hadn't had any wine that night. My body wasn't used to falling asleep sober and couldn't relax on its own — a sign of dependence.

This scared the hell out of me.

At the time, I did nothing that gave me personal fulfillment outside of work, so I filled that emptiness with food, TV and booze. I suspect many people do this for years and years. I only did it for a few months.

Then I made a U-turn.

This is actually a sign that I pass on my way to work each day. It got me thinking about what it takes to change your course, whether on the road or in your life. It requires you to admit to yourself that you're headed the wrong way. And oftentimes, your turning around will attract others' attention to that fact.

It's tough to admit that you're not going the direction you'd like to be going. People are ashamed to admit that they're overweight or in debt. They'd rather pretend that everything is just fine than acknowledge that they're unhappy with their job. And many rationalize the path they're on because they've already invested lots of time and/or money into that course and they feel like they have to see it through.

Guess what? You're allowed to make a U-turn.

Think about what you want for your life. Where would you like to be in a few years? Will you get there by continuing to do what you do now?

I made conscious decisions to pay off my debt, get off the couch and quit hitting the box o' wine so hard. To do that, I had to admit to myself that I had screwed up a bit and that my life was headed in a bad direction.

I decided I wanted more for myself than what I was headed toward, which was lifelong debt, misery, poor health and alcoholism. The idea of that tragic future was far worse than the bitter taste of swallowing my pride and starting over in a new direction.

Maybe you've already spent $80,000 earning a degree in X, but now you realize you really want to do Y. Maybe you've spent several years earning promotions and raises at a good job, but you'd really like to leave it all behind to travel. It seems like a shame to give up those money and time investments — to backtrack, in a way — but is it really worth staying on a certain path only to be miserable, wishing you'd done something different?

You can't go back and change what you've done up to this point, but you do have a say in everything from right now on. The course of your life isn't something that's already laid out; you're the one who gets to direct it... and redirect it... and redirect it again, as much as you need to.

Don't be like I was a few years ago, sitting around waiting for something to happen that will change your life. If you are headed in the wrong direction, you're allowed a U-turn.

All you need is the guts to take it.


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  1. What a great post. I think so many of us NEED a U turn (or at least a right angle ;) at some point in our lives.
    Well done on making the changes before things got worse!

  2. Yes, U-turn, right angle, slight path readjustment... there's all sorts of options! Thank you for the nice comment, Kristen!


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