I was recently lucky enough to go on a two-week road trip up all over California. The vacation was once-in-a-lifetime, but I’m determined to keep its spirit with me for years to come.
The weeks leading up to this trip were filled with stress and fatigue. It seemed I made the same mistake I’d made in the past; I took on more responsibilities than I felt mentally equipped to handle. The amount of work I needed to accomplish in order to reach my short term goals seemed impossible, which in turn made my long term goals seem foolish. I allowed myself to feel overwhelmed.
It felt like a tremendous step backward. Here I’d taken all of my exciting endeavors and compounded them into one paralyzing fear that crowded my head and stalled my ability to get anything done: What if I failed?
That fear of failure impacted nearly every area of my life and sent me spiraling back to behaviours and demons I thought I’d long since learned to control. I made the misguided decision to go down a weight class for my upcoming powerlifting meet and my past issues with disordered eating reemerged as a coping mechanism.
Here, I thought, within all of this self-created chaos, was something I could control.
Unfortunately I found the opposite to be true. That decision created more chaos, made me feel even less in control, and resulted in the majority of my thoughts being occupied by food: When would I eat next? What would I eat? Would it be enough?
In an attempt to force myself to work harder, I scheduled an important test for a few days before my vacation. I was sure passing this test would relieve a lot of anxiety and therefor help me regain control of my thoughts. I desperately craved a clear mind with less to worry about.
So I spent months studying. I took a practice exam the morning of and scored a 95%. I walked in feeling confident, prepared, and sure that I would pass.
The next day I competed at my meet. I’d successfully dropped my weight class, but I lost something very dear to me in the process: presence of mind.
Two days later we flew out to California. I was excited for the trip, but disappointed I’d failed the test. I felt like I was walking through quicksand and I wasn’t sure how to move forward.
Taking a break from my routine enabled me to embrace failure, reset my eating patterns, and recenter my intentions. This is what I learned:
1. There’s No Need To Fear Failure
I was truly terrified of what would happen if I failed. What would I tell my friends and family? What would they think? I spent so much time worrying about what would happen if I failed that I didn’t rationally consider what did actually happen:
Nothing happened. I wasn’t tarred and feathered. I wasn’t shunned by society. Everything, it turns out, is fine.
Now, however, I am able to take a step back and realize: This fear and this anxiety was completely my own creation. It seems so obvious now. I created a problem when there was none.
How much more time could I have spent studying if I would have done so with a clear mind? What else could I have managed to learn in that time frame if I hadn’t allowed myself to be bogged down by a hindrance of my own creation?
Don’t fear failure. Don’t fear something that hasn’t happened yet. Do your best and deal with whatever the outcome is with grace. Chances are you can learn from anything if you try.
2. Relinquishing Control Can Actually Grant You Control
We did little to no planning for our vacation. It was a road trip, and we simply knew there were certain areas we wanted to see within a set time frame. For two weeks we went where we wanted, when we wanted, based solely on our intuition and our desire in the moment. It seemed only natural then that this would be the perfect opportunity for me to “quit” counting calories and practice intuitive eating.
Intuitive eating is as simple as eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you’re full. Anyone with any type of eating disorder knows how difficult that can truly be. If you’ve spent years counting calories and meal planning, you may have spent years telling your body when it should be hungry and for how much food. Sometimes this results in losing the ability to feel hunger or feel satiated. You can no longer rely on normal hunger signals from the body because they simply aren’t there.
The fifth day of our trip, we drove from Yosemite up towards Lake Tahoe. Unpredictable weather means the long and winding mountainous roads of California’s National Parks are often closed with little to no warning. Several hours down one road we reached a sign: Road Closed. There were no turn offs, no short cuts. We’d simply lost those hours driving. We turned and drove back along the steep cliffs again. We tried another road. Again, several hours later we reached an identical road block: Road Closed. Instead of becoming frustrated or angry, we laughed. It was absurd but out of our control. There was nothing we could do but turn around and continue to try and find the right way.
When I gave up control of my food, I gained control of my mind. Suddenly, when no longer preoccupied by thoughts of food, my mind was free to think about… anything. Gone was the weighing of each gram, the careful tracking of each calorie. That whole section of my brain (along with the accompanying worry, fear, and stress) was now a blank canvas.
This freedom resulted in my hunger and satiety signals being “reset.” I can once again feel what my body needs. I regained control of my thoughts and I’m so excited to move forward and put my energy and mind towards something greater than what I’ll eat for dinner.
If you’ve been trying to gain control over some area of your life but are repeatedly hitting the same road block, turn around, double back, and try another path.
3. The Importance Of Finding Meaning In The Seemingly Mundane
This is the most crucial lesson of all.
On our road trip, I woke up every day filled with the determination to make the day count.
In Yosemite National Park, at over 7,000 feet of elevation, there is a breathtaking view of the valley below and Glacier Point. After driving up steep cliffs through the fog and rain, losing daylight, we reached the top only to find the view completed obstructed by fog. Several park visitors stood disappointed, looking around in hopes of seeing the beauty that was promised.
Then as it started to rain, the crowd slowly left the peak. When it began to hail, we found ourselves alone on the top, laughing as little chunks of ice pounded down around us, falling from the sky.
Then the weather shifted. As the hail slowly ceased, so did the rain. And then so did the fog. We stood mesmerized as the valley opened up slowly before us, as if someone was drawing back a curtain to reveal the scene just for us.
I do not think that moment would have been as meaningful were it not for the rain, fog, and hail that preceded it. It was like being cleansed. My mind was suddenly clear – my eyes were suddenly open.
When I got back to New York City, I was left with several questions to consider.
Are meaning and clarity only found following a profound experience? And if so, is the meaning lost when the experience is over?
Can I then work to find the profound in the seemingly mundane?
Am I living in this city, or am I living in this apartment? Am I hiding behind the work I need to get done, the books I’d like to read, or the idea that I’m too tired, too broke, too busy to make sure every day “counts”?
If I realize in these profound moments on vacation that most of my worries are self created and self fulfilled, how can I make the mundane tasks in life seem profound to circumvent that cycle? What is it that permitted me that clarity, and why is it missing from my day-to-day experience?
I believe now that it’s a choice. We see what we choose to see.
“Vacation is good because it gives you perspective, but then it’s back to reality,” someone said to me a week after I returned. My whole life can be a vacation then, I thought, since reality is nothing more than our current perspective on whatever moment we are living in.
If something shifted while I was away, it didn’t need to shift back when I returned.