This isn’t the typical kind of blog post for this blog, and me but then again I’m not quite sure what kind of blog this is. I don’t really write music reviews any more, so it’s not a music blog, and I won’t be travelling forever so despite the recent streak of travelogues, I can’t say this is solely a travel blog. I don’t share a ton of personal information about myself (despite being fairly open in what I do write), so I guess it’s hard to call it a typical personal blog. In the end, it’s whatever seems to come to mind and I put up for all or none of the interwebs to read.
So let’s start with that. It will take a bit of meandering to get to the heart of what I’m trying to say, but you’ll allow that because this is free and you haven’t paid any money to expect things like editing and proper grammar or structure.
One of the reasons that I even bother with writing (however infrequently) this blog is that it is writing. I do it because I enjoy the written word. I enjoy expressing myself. I like being able to share my thoughts with as many or as few people care to read it. In fact, it should come as no surprise to many of you that I would love to make a career of writing. I honestly don’t think that my blog is going to be the breadwinner for me, but as a side hobby that I can share with interested people for free, it’s a neat venue and a way to blow off a bit of steam, without having to conform to anyone’s standards (take that, “The Man”).
It’s also a way for me to practice. Sure, I don’t necessarily spend as much time worrying about editing as much as I do in other forms, but I rarely just post these things on a whim. I try to put in some time and create words and phrases that might look and sound interesting. Having said that, I realise that I am coming across dull, so let’s move on.
The point is that in my pursuit of writing, I have set personal goals and there are methods and smaller objectives along the way that I believe will lead to me achieving my goals. I want to be a professional writer and that means putting in time (like an apprentice) writing as many words in as many hours as possible, without any or much support. If you follow Malcolm Gladwell you’ll be familiar with the concept of putting in 10,000 hours towards mastering anything. It sounds simple and easy enough, but when you crunch the numbers that 10,000 hours is a long ways away for someone just starting out.
To put that into perspective, let me just say that when I am writing at a decent pace, I can put up 1,000 words in one hour. This is just a first draft and obviously revisions are necessary to clean it up, make it tighter, have it fit and flow, etc. You get the point, though, that in order to put in 10,000 hours of writing means me having to write one million words. Now that does begin to sound staggering, doesn’t it?
But it is possible to keep chipping away at it. That’s the point. The long game is to reach 10,000 hours or one million words, but the short game is trying to find an hour in the morning before work when you can or getting in two thousand words in the evening before you go to bed. It’s that kind of mentality that will eventually lead to spending enough time with the craft of writing to achieve master’s capabilities.
I don’t manage to do that every day, but I consciously try to fit in whatever time I can, as often as I can to try and reach those goals. I set benchmarks for myself; targets to hit that keep me motivated. For example, while I’ve been travelling through Europe these past two months, I came up with a goal of writing 5,000 words a day, or roughly five hours. I figured that would be a good way to make a dent. I would spend part of that time working on a new novel, part of it on blogs, and part of it writing short stories. To tell you the truth, I’ve only made that target about half of the days I’ve been over here. There have been some days where I’ve done even better and flown past 6,000 words (and usually in fewer hours!) and there have been days where I haven’t written a single word. Overall, though, despite realising that I am not going to come anywhere near my initial goal of 300,000 words in Europe, I’ve got to sit back and take pride in the fact that as of today, I’ve written over 130,000 words on this trip, which is nothing to be ashamed of.
To put that into perspective, back in November I participated in the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) where the challenge was to write a 50,000-word novel in a month. I completed that novel in 25 days. Essentially, I’ve managed to out-do that pace throughout this trip, so I should be proud of myself for that.
That’s just the thing that I’ve come to realise in this current phase in my life and something that I don’t think I would have figured out before this current phase in my life. I should be proud of my accomplishments, as they happen. I have done a lot of things. Even though I sometimes become frustrated by thinking of other things I could do (there is always more) and could have done by now, I need to keep a clear head and realise that I am not superhuman. I also need to realise that at 26 years old, life is still all out in front of me. I used to feel like it was all slipping away and that it was passing by too quick, but now I don’t. I come to savour these moments. I am young and I actually feel like it for once.
Writing is just one goal of many for me. I won’t share all of them, because I believe that sometimes the best motivation to achieving something is keeping it to yourself. Other times, though, telling others is the best way to keep you accountable and keep with it.
A major goal of mine is to get “in shape”. It’s a typical goal that many people have, and it usually comes across as vague desires that often lead to hazy results. I’ve made my goal a tangible one that takes into account several different factors. The best part is that when I meet these goals, I know that I’ve met them.
Let me first give you a bit of an account of my struggles with weight/fitness then I’ll move onto my goals and finally, I’ll end with a progress report (accountability).
Like many people, I have been involved in sports for almost my entire life, playing t-ball when I was five and progressing to play baseball until I was fifteen. I had an undistinguished basketball career from grades four to seven (I may have scored a couple baskets total in that period. I’d like to think that I was a great team player and passer). It was only when I started playing rugby at thirteen that I really started to hit my stride and found a sport where I could be an average to above average player. By the time I was fifteen it had turned into a year-round sport (such is the climate of the Lower Mainland), with opportunities to play club rugby in the fall, high school rugby in the spring and regional representative rugby and sevens in the summer. With all that activity, it should come as no surprise that I stayed in pretty decent shape. I wasn’t a pin-up model, but I was a lean athlete who could keep up with the best of them (indeed several former teammates have gone on to play at the highest levels, including playing for Canada).
The problem came with the end of high school/year-round rugby. I went to university and developed (or continued, depending on perspective) bad habits, such as drinking excessively, eating crap food, avoiding the gym and ultimately just not taking care of the body that I had. When they say that youth is wasted on the young, I can definitely appreciate the sentiment now. I had arrived at BU that first fall weighing in at 190lbs (which laughably in retrospect, I had struggled to get up to all through high school). When the school year was over, I weighed 220lbs. Part of the blame could come from a devastating ankle injury suffered three weeks into the fall rugby season, but when I wasn’t really committed to going to a gym anyways, it’s hard to blame an injury from impeding my being able to train. In any case that set the stage for basically the next four years of my life. I would yo-yo with weight throughout this time, though never really getting below 210 lbs consistently and basically buying into the old adage that our metabolism slows down with age (I had thought, somewhat foolishly that it went like a light switch at 18 years old).
Anyone who knows anything about metabolism and weight gain knows that you have the ability to get your metabolism going at any time. It takes a combination of exercise and proper diet. Magic. I began working out a bit when I returned to BC for grad school and living with my parents, found a gym buddy in my Dad. With the help of a workout designed by a friend of mine who is a trainer, I spent the 18 months that I lived at home in a much better shape of 205 lbs and played rugby with my old club, an experience that I loved and rejuvenated my appreciation for the game. Having the occasional home-cooked meal was a help to nutrition, but probably offset by the grad student lifestyle of coffee all day long and not much else.
When I moved to Ottawa, the first year I was there, I pretty much reverted to the same lifestyle I had in college, only having my own money to waste on poutine and beer, instead of student loans and grants from the bank of Mom and Dad. Unsurprisingly for anyone who sees patterns, I popped back up to 220lbs in no time. Those nice suits that I had tailored at 205lbs didn’t feel so great anymore. That year I didn’t play rugby at all, but did play indoor soccer once a week, which for anyone who is wondering, is definitely not enough exercise.
That fall, I had the realisation that I was going to be turning 25 in the spring and certainly didn’t want this to be how I was going to spend my adult life. Revelations are good things, aren’t they? I made a goal of activity. The idea wasn’t that I had to reach any particular weight; because I still bought that fallacy that I wasn’t able to control my metabolism. Instead I wanted to spend one hour per day until that birthday exercising. If that sounds like a crazy idea for a lazy person who enjoys poutine and beer, then yes, it was crazy. I had no follow-through. I maybe found enough time to get in three hours per week, but not the seven I had thought, and I still didn’t change my lifestyle.
Along comes birthday number 25 and there I was, 220lbs and figuratively treading water. I decided that rugby needed to be a part of my life as the three days a week of training and games would at the very least give me some structured exercise. So, I joined a club and played summer rugby every weekend for the first time ever, an awful experience for anyone, and even worse if you’re out of shape. Photos of me from that season confirm everything I had thought about myself. I look worn out and tired, and not the young man of 25 I ought to be. Once again, the lifestyle didn’t change, and in fact, due to the very social nature of rugby probably was aggravated, having me actually gain weight.
That fall, I decided I needed to get serious if I wanted to get in shape as three days of rugby and two nights of indoor soccer wasn’t doing it! So, I started going to the gym occasionally (still not regularly) and I started to change some of the food I ate (though not all of it). The tipping point came at Christmas when I went home to visit my family and I had a health scare. I prefer not to get into the details on that part, but it became apparent to me that I needed to actually take control of my life because I didn’t like the way it was heading. On Christmas Day 2010, I weighed 230lbs.
So, after years of wanting to lose weight, and having numerous stop-start fitness benders (I think every summer I returned from university I may have gone on three or four runs total), I took things into my own hands. I did what anyone who has been trained in analytical thinking does: I thought about it. I researched everything I could about fitness workouts, about nutrition, about metabolism, about body mass indices, about body fat percentages: everything. Looking at all of this made me come to the conclusion that I could be the person that I wanted. I don’t just meant in a physical way, but also mentally. This was about taking control. It was about having the mental fortitude to follow through, something that may have been harder for me in my youth, but now as someone who has other goals in life and the mindset to follow through with them (e.g. writing), it was now the time I was equipped to handle the challenge.
So, what exactly are my goals that I am working towards? Like I said earlier, they needed to be tangible to motivate me. First off, I want to play first team club rugby. I feel confident in my skills to play that level, but my body needs to get to that level. I had previously thought that three days a week of rugby would get me in shape, but that’s not the point of those days and it’s selfish of me to use it that way. The goal of rugby practices is to work on rugby skills, not fitness. The goal of rugby games is to win. In order to do those things at an appropriate level I have to take care of myself on my own time. The men that play at that level take care of themselves and have earned their way. I need to put in my time and get myself to a level playing field so that I can have a chance to play with/against them. Tangible goal. It’s easy to check that off when I am consistently selected to play in those games.
Another goal is to feel healthier. Because that is less tangible, I had to come up with a weight/body fat combination that is a goal to reach that I thought I’d feel healthy at. Remembering that for most of my last two years in high school I had ranged from 180 to 190lbs, I decided at the time that 180lbs should be my long term goal, which would likely mean me having a body fat percentage between “athlete” and “fitness”, which would be fantastic. Knowing that I was planning to lose 50lbs, I realistically aimed to split it over two years. My goal was to reach 200lbs by Christmas 2011 and 180lbs by Christmas 2012.
So, how was I going to do it? Well, as they say it’s not rocket science, it’s just hard work and smart decisions. My diet had to have an overhaul. Out went the crap food. Potato chips, chocolate, poutine, pizza, etc. had to go. Because I’m not superhuman (established fact) and because I knew that I would crave these things, I decided that I would allow myself to a periodic treat, but not so often that it becomes a detriment to my goals. If you’re going to crack sometime, you might as well schedule it in. Also, carbohydrates needed to be reduced. Pasta is cheap, but it also can be an enemy. It was downgraded to an occasional food instead of staple. Insert more vegetables, fruits, and alternatives to grains like quinoa. I began to cook a lot more for myself because sticking a Delissio pizza in the oven wasn’t giving the desired results (and I don’t mean that it wasn’t delivery). On the hard work front, well, it’s exactly what you think it is. It meant going to the gym and running my ass off on a treadmill in the winter and running my ass off in the blazing sun in the late spring. It meant lifting weights (small weights at high reps, for definition) and well, lifting more weights. Finally, in terms of the place that it hurt the most at first, it meant limiting how many beers I drank. I was by no means an alcoholic, but if a social get-together usually featured a six-pack, I was now drinking two beers instead. On my own, it meant just having that one beer on a hot day, instead of two or three.
Now, after reading all this, I bet you want a progress report, right? Okay. In one week’s time it will be the six-month mark from the health scare that really tipped this thing off. At that time I was 230lbs and feeling awful. Today I weigh in at 190lbs and feel terrific. I actually feel like my body is getting to where it ought to be and that I really do feel like the young man that I actually am at 26. So, forty pounds lighter and well ahead of my goals in terms of timing. Am I overachieving? Maybe, I don’t know. Let’s just check back in at Christmas 2012. If this is a change in lifestyle I should be in great shape then.
After all this rambling about writing and weight, I just want to leave you, the reader, with one final thought. I am just an average person who sets goals and tries his best to work towards them. What do you want in your life and what are you doing each day to work towards it? I believe in you.