Rant 56 April 2010: What to Expect When You’re Expecting

April 5th, 2010  |  Published in 2010 rants, Rants, Stumpblog  |  25 Comments

It’s been a while since I ranted, but rest assured I’m still as crankypants as ever.

Recently I’ve been checking my head a lot and having what the self-helpies call “breakthroughs” or what stoners might call “Like, wow, man”. It all started with a trip to Hawai’i. Boy did I need a vacation at that point. Now, my life’s been a whole lot more chill since I dumped the rat race (and by the way, happy second second birthday to me!) so I was just busy, not the teeth-jangling stressed I used to be. But nevertheless, I’m a busy bee, so I was, well, busy.

First couple of days in Hawai’i were tough. No, wait, bear with me.

We were on Kauai, at the very north end, near the terminus of the only road in the area, which pretty much ended in a cliff. This is a rural, fairly isolated area. The road washes out periodically. There are only a handful of locals, some taro farmers, and a few mainland escapees who probably don’t want to be found. Plus Pierce Brosnan, so the locals said.

hawaii ukelele

Oh, and this guy, who walked around the local town with about 9 tiny dogs dressed in grass skirts.

Anyway, there’s nothing to do there except sit on the empty beach. Great, in theory.

But for the first couple of days, I couldn’t hack it. I had to be, I felt, doing something. I had to be productive.

The funny thing about places like Kauai, where Nature is large and in charge, is that modern conveniences are present but feel largely irrelevant and idiotic. I had internet but Facebook seemed even more pointless and stupid than ever, although I half-heartedly uploaded a few photos. I tried watching TV a couple of evenings while flash rainstorms lashed the cottage, but in the context of such dramatically diva-esque Ma Nature, its tinny banality was intolerable.

One is, in short, forced to confront the reality of one’s existence. And slow the fuck down.

I adjusted. In the mornings I got up and sat on a log for half an hour to watch the sun come up as I drank Kona. At night I sat in a lawnchair and watched the glittering stars appear. I got acquainted with the kind of patient do-nothingness that shapes the lives of people who are truly content.

I walked the abandoned beach barefoot, foraging coconuts, which I then smashed open on rocks, in true Paleo style.

Behold! I have slain the mighty coconut with my pointed stick and smashy rock! Also notice my squat depth!

Behold! I have slain the mighty coconut with my pointed stick and smashy rock! Also notice my squat depth! And scary mean face!

And I started to realize that perhaps I was, in my “other life”, at times still shoveling to nowhere — being busy and “productive” for the sake of being busy and “productive”, while not actually producing anything valuable.  Now, obviously, it’s good to be busy and productive sometimes… but not all the time.

I had forgotten how to do nothing.

Peter Gibbons: What would you do if you had a million dollars?
Lawrence: I’ll tell you what I’d do, man: two chicks at the same time, man.
Peter Gibbons: That’s it? If you had a million dollars, you’d do two chicks at the same time?
Lawrence: Damn straight. I always wanted to do that, man. And I think if I were a millionaire I could hook that up, too; ’cause chicks dig dudes with money.
Peter Gibbons: Well, not all chicks.
Lawrence: Well, the type of chicks that’d double up on a dude like me do.
Peter Gibbons: Good point.
Lawrence: Well, what about you now? what would you do?
Peter Gibbons: Besides two chicks at the same time?
Lawrence: Well, yeah.
Peter Gibbons: Nothing.
Lawrence: Nothing, huh?
Peter Gibbons: I would relax… I would sit on my ass all day… I would do nothing.
Lawrence: Well, you don’t need a million dollars to do nothing, man. Take a look at my cousin: he’s broke, don’t do shit.
Office Space

This might seem silly, but ask yourself: How often are you simply alone with yourself? No TeeVee, no interwebs, no music, no distractions? Simply present with yourself? Aware?

For some people, such a reality is simply too distressing to contemplate, and thus they self-medicate with food, addictive behaviours, and other distractions or emotional anesthetics. And busy-ness.

Which brings me to the subject of expectations.

I’m in the business of expectations these days as a nutrition and fitness coach. People come to me expecting that I will help them get in shape and feel better. And I do.

But what is interesting is how people conceptualize this project, and the expectations they have for themselves.

For one thing, it seems like everyone can quantify their expectations.

  • They know what % body fat they want.
  • They know how much they want to bench press.
  • They know what size pants they want to wear.
  • They know the number of their “pack” as in, “I want 6-pack abs” or (modestly) “A 4-pack would be fine”.

They also know the time frame in which this will occur. 4 weeks. 8 weeks. 12 weeks. It’s almost always “weeks”, not “months” or “years” or “I don’t know; I assume time will unfold as it should”. Sometimes it is days or even hours: “I weighed myself tonight and I was 1 lb heavier than this morning! Am I broken?” (No, you just ate food.)

Yet folks do not seem to have clear expectations of how they will accomplish this magical number, nor what they need to confront in themselves in order to do so. They rarely expect life’s obstacles, which are generally quite expectable considering that most of them happen to us with striking regularity: kids, job, commute, weather, having PMS, and so forth. Nor do they expect their own habits, most of which happen every single day. They’re probably not even sure what to expect once they have achieved this special number.

They do not expect, in other words, reality.

Perhaps more distressing is that folks are marinating in expectations of another sort. These expectations are almost always imaginary but no less real. These are the dreaded “shoulds”.

Ask yourself if this sounds familiar.

  • You worry. A lot. About what? Whatever. Will you get a good job? Will you get a better job? Does X like you? Do you look fat in these pants? Anything and everything is fair game for worry.
  • You find yourself saying, “I’m stressed out”. But you don’t live in a war zone; you aren’t getting beaten up by street thugs; your roof hasn’t caved in lately. You’re just… stressed. About… whatever. (See bullet 1.)
  • You lie awake at night thinking of things you haven’t done.
  • You lie awake at night thinking of things you have done, but wishing you’d done them better.
  • You feel like one mistake equals big disaster. You ate a cookie? Idiot! What a screwup!
  • You pick apart everything, especially your body. Too thin. Too fat. Stupid nose. Straight hair. Hair too curly. Etc. You can diagnose the 101 ways in which you do not look like a cover model. In excruciating detail.
  • You use words like “grotesque”, “horrible”, “disgusting”, and the like to describe your body.
  • You know exactly what you think you should look like — what weight, what height, what perfect boob circumference. And you don’t look like that.
  • Did you go to the gym yesterday? You didn’t? You loser! You really should!
  • Did you go to the gym yesterday? You did? Did you beat the living shit out of yourself? I hope so! You have to batter that body into whimpering submission. This is Sparta! Better skip breakfast just in case.
  • How much protein did you eat yesterday? Enough? Can you tell me down to the gram? I hope so because you should be logging that shit, along with every gram of carbohydrate you were piggish enough to plow into your gob.
  • Phew. You’re wiped. How about a coffee and a fatburner pill? A Ritalin? Prozac? Effexor? Crap, now you can’t sleep. Have an Imovane or Ambien.
  • Why aren’t you there yet? Why aren’t you CEO? Married? A perfect mother? Where are your balloon tits and shiny Chiclet teeth? You’re 25; shouldn’t you speak three languages? You’re 45; shouldn’t you keep that perky ass like Demi Moore?

Ask yourself: Do I even know what the hell “OK” looks like? Or am I drowing in fear, worry, anxiety, and “shoulds”?

I look around me now and see a lot of women who are driven as hell. They don’t know where they are going exactly, because the destination is largely fictitious. They are out of fuel and running on fumes; their bodies are crying out in distress with adrenal dysfunction, chronic fatigue, disordered eating, and stress-related illnesses. Nevertheless they are determined to white-knuckle the steering wheel of that bus right over the cliff.

If they’re fit women they have a very clear idea of how they should look, and most of them don’t look like that. They probably look like lovely, normal women but that ain’t good enough. I heard an elite athlete recently say that she had always hated her legs. Her legs were stupendous. Her quads could crush carbon into diamonds. But her legs did not look like some imaginary starved sylph, so in her mind they were a testament to failure.

All or nothing, baby! If it’s not Scottish, it’s crap!

I know these feelings, because I was once there too. The more you “screw up”, the more rigid your rules for yourself become. The more you worry, the more you try to impose order on the world. Of course, the more you do this, the worse it gets. Rules and expectations. Defeat and failure. More rules and expectations. Worse defeat and failure. Lather, rinse, repeat until everyone hates being around you and you are a crashing bore.

The expectations of “fitness” are more insidious than the simple expectation to be skinny. Being skinny is pretty straightforward. You’re just skinny. End of story.

But with modern fitness-industrial culture, “fitness” is very, very complicated and specific. You can’t just enjoy “going outside for some fresh air” or “throwing a ball around”. You have to focus on body parts and stand on a vibration plate and “bring up your medial delts”.

Funny thing is, this world is mostly imaginary.

Look around you. What do you see? Do you know any women who are actually 12% body fat? Do you know any women who’d leap on stage in a bikini and high heels? Do you know any of these legendary creatures who are amazing mothers, driven career women, lusciously taut and muscular, perfectly pleasing daughters and BFFs — and not insane or heading for a nervous breakdown? Sure, they probably exist… somewhere.

Yet it’s not as if you’re surrounded by the Next Stage in Evolution — you’re probably surrounded by normal, statistically likely out of shape people, so frankly, even engaging in regular activity of any kind already puts you ahead of the pack.

Have you ever noticed that images of commercial fitness models rarely look all that fun? And how many of them seem to be shot in skeezy hotel rooms? Or how often a “come hither” pout strays into “I’m feeling constipated” in the visual lexicon?

ronnie coleman oxygen

Bodybuilder Ronnie Coleman is given oxygen backstage during final judging rounds at the Mr. Olympia, to combat the effects of severe dieting and dehydration. Photo by Zed Nelson from the Love Me series (www.zednelson.com).

Is that what you want? Is that your dream?

Purposeless self-punishment is not productive discipline any more than self-flagellation and shame brings you closer to God.

Ask yourself: What would “pretty good” look like? What would “slow down” look like? Who expects you to do all this shit? To be all this shit? Who is, in other words, The Expecter?

  • Your friends? They’re probably thinking about themselves.
  • Your coworkers? They’re probably thinking about fantasy football and stealing pens from the supply cabinet.
  • Your partner? S/he probably (hopefully) thinks you’re awesome the way you are. And s/he wishes you would see that in yourself.
  • Your kids? Depends. If they’re under 10, they probably think you’re God. If they’re 10-20, they probably think you’re an idiot. If they’re 21 and need help setting up a mortgage, they probably think that you’re not so stupid after all. In any case, they don’t notice your abs.

The Expecter is you.

A narcissistic, self-focused you. Yeah, beating yourself up is still pretty self-centred, even if it gets disguised as a public service.

What do they think of ME? What if someone sees ME like this? What should I be doing? I am so bad! I hate ME! Me, me, me!

Pull your head out of your ass and get over yourself. So let’s say you get those abs or that bench press. Let’s say that magical number appears. Then what?

Are you going to be happier than some nutty guy with a ukelele and 9 small dogs in grass skirts? Ask the Magic 8 Ball… signs point to “no”.

Let’s say you don’t measure up. Then what?

Someone who may be paying attention (probably not) may be slightly disappointed for a microsecond. There may be mild inconvenience. Or not. Probably not. Ouch! Your abundant and highly specific self-loathing didn’t change the universe! That hurts!

The sun still came up regardless of whether you made partner at 35… and if you allow yourself to do so, why not sit on a log with a nice warm mug and simply enjoy a moment with the real you?

How to get off the hamster wheel? Why, the Fuck It Way, of course!

There are two ways to get rich:

1. Make more money.
2. Desire less.

–Tshirt seen in Hawai’i

Responses

  1. RW says:

    April 6th, 2010at 4:43 am(#)

    I admire your rant, I applaud your rant, but:

    “How about a coffee and a fatburner pill? A Ritalin? Prozac? Effexor? Crap, now you can’t sleep.”

    As a practical point, antidepressants like Prozac and Effexor aren’t pills you “pop” because you’re feeling tired; if you don’t taking them consistently, they don’t work.

    And a lot of us take them not because we like pill-popping or are looking for a quick fix (which they aren’t), but because we have severe mental illnesses and without the antidepressants our brains implode.

    If I don’t take my meds, I end up in hospital, begging to die.

    If I take my meds, I can rock-climb, read books, lift heavy things, meditate, do nothing, dance around the room, and subvert the dominant paradigm.

    So … it’s rather painful to see psych meds dismissed as part of the hamster wheel culture. End of my rant.

  2. Mistress Krista says:

    April 6th, 2010at 5:50 am(#)

    I am not critiquing legitimate use of any of these things. I am drinking coffee and have had a half-hit of ephedrine (aka “fat burner”) this morning (it’s a great decongestant and I was enough of a dumbass last night to have gluten, so I’m paying for it this AM). I love better living through chemistry. I’m not saying we should all return to some mystical woo-woo state of nature that actually never existed.

    What I’m critiquing is the widespread self-medication — of any type, including “busyness” — that is actually a means to punish and/or distract oneself… and more importantly, self-medication as a social phenomenon (rather than an individual one).

    Out of 100 people who are self-medicating (again, with anything — literal or metaphorical), what proportion of those people are fundamentally fixing or appropriately managing a real problem… and what proportion are simply being exploited by a culture that uses self-medication to conceal existential erosion? Metaphorically speaking, are we taking an antibiotic to kill a real bacterial threat or are we blitzing the world with strawberry-scented hand sanitizer just in case an errant germ pokes its head up — or because we fear it will? Or because the “germs will kill us all dead so I have to Lysol my child” paranoia actually signifies the terror of looking into the void and confronting the inherent uncertainty of existence (and then said terror is a convenient opening for the production of need)?

    I have been in this position. The threat may be imaginary but the pain, the fear, the anxiety, etc. is real. It’s no wonder people want to make it go away.

    If you truly need to be busy, or drink coffee, or take Ritalin, then stop reading now and go about your business, content in the knowledge that you have used modern conveniences appropriately. However, if your busy-ness, your venti, or your medicine cabinet is a band-aid that barely holds together a never-healing wound; a wound that is actually your life choices and agency in the world… then yeah, hamster wheel.

  3. Jessica says:

    April 6th, 2010at 6:25 am(#)

    Thank you for this.

    I’ve recently (November) begun the task of trying to “get fit”. And I’ve run into that ubiquitous wall – being busy and having so much to do and OH MY GOSH… and I came out the other side having gone to do my squats and such, and feeling down because I gained a pound…

    and I just read this and it rang a bell so strongly in my mind. I forget how much I am loving this journey. I forget how much I love seeing how strong I’m becoming. How much fitter. How much better I feel. I am not on this path for a number. Hell, I don’t even know what that number is – or when I’ll get there… and there’s not a damn thing wrong with that.

    Thank you for reminding me of these things. You’re an inspiration. (again)

  4. Sasha says:

    April 6th, 2010at 6:46 am(#)

    Krista,

    Having gone full circle from hamster wheel (in fitness/nutrition and life in general) to a very intuitive, happy, goalless process-driven spiral, I think for most people with not-so-great parents it’s almost a necessary step. I have this inner freedom today in big part due to the fact that I’ve been so rigid on my own terms. My ego expanded enourmously before it shrank almost to zero and now I can breath and enjoy life. Now the I don’t care about working out, making sure I lift “heavy” weights and counting protein grams and thinking in terms of macros. Now I can have my 15-minute work-out in the back of the plane on a 6-hour flight or bang out 100 push-up in 3-4 sets when I feel like it. Now I care about food texture and pairings, its temperature, it’s presentation on a plate and portion control- I care no longer about stuffing myself with just a little bit more of that cottage cheese in order to gain thait extra muscle.

    Sometimes a way to kill one’s addiction (and ego) is to over-feed it. It’s an effective way – with tons of side-effects. And I feel that it’s people with lots of passion and intensity with life who end up using this path – not necessarily choosing it conciously though. And it’s this seasoned “tested” passion of theirs that allows them to later in life to by intuition, not rules.

  5. Sharon says:

    April 6th, 2010at 7:16 am(#)

    Whew! I guess I needed to read that, since I revealed my penchant for self-flagellation in the comments the other day. Thanks, Krista for helping us put things back into perspective.
    Big hug to you!

  6. darryn says:

    April 6th, 2010at 11:35 am(#)

    Thanks for posting this.

    Seriously, it’s a reminder that way too many of us need these days. Lately I’ve become more conscious of my sub-conscious (and yet often intentional) attempts to become “perfect” – and I think you hit the nail on the head with this article in pointing out that, well, it (“perfection”) doesn’t really exist, at least not the way we imagine it to be, and when it does, it lasts for nanoseconds in the grand scheme of things.

    So yeah… time to start thinking about enjoying the ride for all the good that it is instead of thinking about all the little bits that it isn’t.

  7. JT says:

    April 6th, 2010at 12:56 pm(#)

    Well said. I’ve said many similar things often enough that it has become a meme in my community… and I’m okay with that. “‘Should’ is awful strong language.” “Quit ‘should’ing all over each other.”

    Nice piece. Thanks for putting it together!

  8. pahapillon says:

    April 6th, 2010at 12:58 pm(#)

    Awesome piece, thank you so much!
    I wish reading and understanding this once would be sufficient, but I need to “get it” again and again .. old habits (esp thinking patterns!) die hard.

  9. Nicole says:

    April 6th, 2010at 2:13 pm(#)

    “The more you “screw up”, the more rigid your rules for yourself become. The more you worry, the more you try to impose order on the world. Of course, the more you do this, the worse it gets. Rules and expectations. Defeat and failure. More rules and expectations. Worse defeat and failure. Lather, rinse, repeat until everyone hates being around you and you are a crashing bore.”

    Yep, that about sums it up.

    I just experienced the “worst defeat & failure” part. Having used a coach + diet & training plan for the last 5 years to avoid my disordered eating issues, I recently lived 4 weeks OFF PLAN during which I ate everything I saw. 70,000 extra calories worth — 15 lbs in just one month. Yes, it was disappointing, but I was at the same time struck by how happy and friendly I was the whole time, compared to the socially awkward and depressing bitch I’ve been in the last couple years spent dieting the bodybuilder way. I started to think in the last few years that I had some serious psych issues, social anxiety or something that made it hard for me to be a happy, social person. No – more like the world and everyone in it’s inability to fit into my rule book.

    I did some serious damage to my body in the short-term, but I also gained some serious perspective. Normally I would be obsessing about the fact that I am wearing my fat pants once again, but now I am simply going about my diet and training, making progress, yet maintaining a life outside of it too. Miraculous!

  10. Marlin Schmidt says:

    April 6th, 2010at 2:20 pm(#)

    Krista:

    Just a note – “Fuck It” only works when followed by “let’s go bowling”.

    At least according to the Big Lebowski.

  11. braidwood says:

    April 6th, 2010at 5:29 pm(#)

    Totally check out Sumbling on Happiness if you get a chance. Based on this rant, I think you’ll like it.

  12. LVM says:

    April 6th, 2010at 9:53 pm(#)

    Very nice rant. By the way, the “quit should’ing all over yourself and relax!” idea is not at all incompatible with achievement, being busy, or working hard. In fact, it makes working hard and achievement a lot easier. When I realized that I really didn’t need to keep beating myself up in order to work hard, and that I really didn’t need that “should’ing” voice in my head, my productivity went up by 100%.

    Not all of us are happy lazing about on tropical islands indefinitely; my personal tolerance for tropical vacations is about 2 weeks. After that, I get bored and start looking for things to do. But even if one is working, and working hard – in fact, especially if one is working hard – the extra weight of expectations is something that one really doesn’t need.

  13. felipe says:

    April 7th, 2010at 5:35 am(#)

    Like dem dogs …

  14. Stephanie Vincent says:

    April 7th, 2010at 11:17 am(#)

    Love it :-)

  15. Chris says:

    April 7th, 2010at 6:41 pm(#)

    I have been to Kauai every summer for the past six years, and the years I have the least fun are the times I go with all these expectations, like taking my bike when I raced and planning to do all these miles, or planning x number of workouts etc etc. The best times I have there are when I eat, lay around, surf when I want to, and generally just do nothing. Read books, go off the grid, cook out, paddle board.. Take sandbags and do some sandbag workouts on the beach. Sometimes you have to leave all of these plans, goals, expectations on the mainland and take a real break.

  16. kimmygirl says:

    April 10th, 2010at 7:36 am(#)

    Between you and Beth Moore, I’m getting a really serious reality smackdown about insecurity. I’ve overcome so much of it over the last 10 years, I guess I thought I was done! Silly me… and thanks for the Office Space reference and “If it’s not Scottish, it’s crap”– a couple of things that make me laugh, but few of my friends seem to have seen. I’m going to get off the computer now and just simply enjoy my 3-year-old running around in a cape and bucket hat, being “Super-Duper Rhys, Hero of the Whole World”. Thanks!

  17. Tracy says:

    April 14th, 2010at 10:31 am(#)

    Another thank you for this post.

    As a perfectionist, brand new mom, and person trying to get back her pre-prego fitness I really needed to read this.

    Cheers!

  18. Andrea says:

    May 3rd, 2010at 8:10 pm(#)

    Krista,
    Love you. :-)

  19. Asdfg says:

    May 6th, 2010at 7:28 am(#)

    To chime in with the first person–You can abuse something like Adderall, but you can’t do that with drugs like Prozac. If you pop a Prozac, nothing will happen. Weeks of consistent usage may result in side affects (like nausea or decreased sexual appetite, but it won’t give a non-depressed person an edge. It either works, is unpleasant, or does nothing. Just a technical note.

  20. Great links for the weekend! says:

    May 7th, 2010at 2:05 pm(#)

    [...] we are all so busy with our lives that we are no longer able to just sit and relax and enjoy the simple art of existing.  It’s a good reminder that we should all put our feet up sometimes and practise this dying [...]

  21. Johnny at The Lean Saloon says:

    May 20th, 2010at 12:45 am(#)

    This ought to bring clarity to a great many.

    Great piece.

    Glad I discovered this site (again — it’s been years).

    Best,
    Johnny

  22. Juicy Lifter says:

    July 2nd, 2010at 2:53 am(#)

    So what I needed to read right here, right now tonight…

    Thank you, and thank you to my dear friend who introduced me to your site.

    The amount of times I have finished reading something on your site and felt completely uplifted is staggering. Never have I come across such great work. I hope you know the difference you are making to peoples lives. You are truly….TRULY awesome.

    I wish you had more that I could read…I’ve nearly read everything and am on my second round soon!

  23. KimberlySteele says:

    July 4th, 2010at 12:24 pm(#)

    “You have to batter that body into whimpering submission. This is Sparta! Better skip breakfast just in case.”

    So funny!! Thanks for making me laugh today.

  24. Nicola Plenderleith says:

    September 29th, 2010at 8:32 pm(#)

    Thank you for the best advice and words of wisdom I have had in years – your an inspiration xx

  25. DrGibbs says:

    March 27th, 2012at 8:25 pm(#)

    The “This is Sparta” part made me laugh my ass off (:

    Now… You’re beating the crap out of bodybuilders. And in fact, of any athlete. And then… Why do we do anything anyway ? Why be the best ? Why be the first ? Why try to transplant hearts ? Why research ? Why science ? Why special relativity ? Why fucking metaphysics ? Why think of ethics ?

    Why rant ?

    One can’t just be. The answer is purpose.


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