Hey nonprofit pros...get a hobby! Musings on how Weightlifting has saved my sanity.

Today marks 10 days out before I compete in my first national-level Olympic Weightlifting competition (cue the Macaulay Culkin Home Alone face). I'm a bit terrified, but I'm also excited, and I feel as prepared as I could be for this event. I started weightlifting just about a year and a half ago, and going from not knowing the movements at all to competing at the American Open within that timeframe is--insane.

The short version of my journey to becoming an athlete is: 3 years ago I switched to a Ketogenic lifestyle & lost a bunch of weight, 2 years ago I decided to start strength training to continue to improve my health, 6 months in I saw the folks in my gym having lots of fun doing Oly & decided to give it a whirl--I got addicted immediately, competed in local meets held by my gym, and a couple of months ago I decided to give the AO a shot, since it'll be held in Las Vegas and I just barely squeaked out a qualifying total to enter the meet.

Weightlifting has become a surprisingly necessary outlet for me in the very short time I've been doing it. The reasons I love it are plentiful: It takes thousands upon thousands of repetitions and long, long, LONG periods of training to improve significantly in both technique and strength, I'm constantly battling myself mentally & physically, as well as battling gravity & physics (fun!), my only competition is myself, and it demands utter focus and concentration (lifting literally drives out all other thought--turning my brain off is one of the best outcomes of training for me). It also doesn't hurt that the gym I train at is filled with wonderful, supportive, kind, funny, smart, wickedly cool people with whom it is a pleasure to spend many hours a week training. 

For me, weightlifting provides some essential self-care: it allows me to set goals for myself and then put the work in towards achieving them, it forces all of the noise and frustration of the day out of my head each time I train, it consistently reminds me that perfection is unattainable but I should strive for improvement, it teaches me to work through small problems like minor twinges and address bigger ones like injuries, and it helps me prove to myself again and again that I possess more grit and determination than I ever realized before. 

I have other self-care practices that facilitate balance, growth, and sanity in my life, but I have never been an athlete--by any stretch of the imagination--before finding weightlifting. This sport has helped me to grow personally, and it has also provided an outlet for me overall--I can channel my energy and frustration in ways I couldn't before. 

My point is: find yourself a hobby. It's cliche, but it's true. I firmly believe that we each need to find the activities or practices that allow us to keep going in the face of difficult circumstances and challenges, manage our stress, and help us to keep showing up to do the important work we do. There's a mindset in the nonprofit sector that self-care is self-indulgent, or that the importance of the work we're doing should outweigh our own needs, which is damaging and untrue. It's a lesson I've learned the hard way many times throughout my career: I need to be actively doing things for myself in all areas of my life to help avoid burnout, bolster my resources, and recommit to the work I deeply believe in. Find your thing! Do your thing! 

Lifting baby weight in my first local meet :)  Image © Crystal Kreutz 2017, Stronger Than Yesterday, https://www.strongerthanyesterday.com/

Lifting baby weight in my first local meet :)

Image © Crystal Kreutz 2017, Stronger Than Yesterday, https://www.strongerthanyesterday.com/

The Scarf Store

I've been a nonprofit/public sector professional for my entire career, beginning 16 years ago in college as an unpaid intern at a non-public school for children with ADD/ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorders. Over the years, I've worked in direct service in a variety of functions, on fundraising teams, as a development shop of one, in nonprofit senior management, for public and quasi-governmental agencies, as a consultant, as a university professor & instructor, and as a speaker. I have seen and experienced a lot throughout my career, much of it fascinating, inspiring, and uplifting, but also frustrating, challenging, and agonizing. As I have moved through each phase of my career, my motivation and passion has grown and changed. I'm now solidly and confidently mid-career, at a phase where I know enough to be dangerous; but I also recognize that there's far more that I have yet to discover. A side effect of growing out of Impostor Syndrome & caring less about what others think as you grow into experience and wisdom *(ahem, aka aging) is that illusions tend to fall away also. Long gone are my Pollyanna days where I believed everyone always acted from pure intentions and wanted the best for our organizations, our clients, and our communities. These realizations have been difficult at times, but they have also been instructive and powerful.

Facing mediocrity head-on is it's own unique challenge that comes with a huge energy drain. On occasions when I feel particularly flattened by the realities and disappointments of my sector, I find myself dreaming of an escape to an easier path, one with less complexity and lower stakes. Enter, the concept of The Scarf Store. One day, while discussing our annoyance at some inane leadership decision or bureaucratic nightmare with my girl tribe, I hit my limit of exasperation, and proclaimed "That's it! This is insanity! I'm quitting all of this! I'm just going to open....a....scarf store, or something!" (Now: caveat that I fully understand that running a small business is no joke, and this wouldn't be a realistic escape from the frustrations of Interacting With Other Humans, but, the fantasy of a simpler life is appealing.) The concept of Scarf Store has now become shorthand among some of my friends--a recognition that at times, this work is so intricate, infused with power dynamics, and frustratingly layered with divergent motivations that it can feel like no forward progress can be made. Sometimes you just have to throw up your hands and mentally escape for a minute. #nonprofitselfcare

The Scarf Store will not ever likely be a reality, at least not in my world. I'm too committed to the field, to advancing progress and justice in any small way that I can. This work is difficult, infuriating, heartbreaking, inspiring, joyful, transformative, crazy, and weird. I love it.