Grit and Gratitude

20181013_112133Last September, the Corvias Alumni Network gathered in Raleigh, NC.  In addition to our regularly scheduled networking and think-tanking, we were treated to a delightfully honest presentation called “Gettin’ Gritty with Goal Setting,” by Dr. Jermaine Davis.  

With a wide grin and a whirlwind of good vibes, Dr. Davis introduced us to his trademark style of ‘edutainment.’  He asked us what it felt like when we accomplished goals, and he taught us the “good job rap” (Good Job, Good Job.  Good Job, Good Job. G – double O – D- J – O – B. Good Job, Good Job). Grit, tenacity, explained Dr. Davis, the ability to work through adversity, that is what helps us reach success, not natural born talent or perfectionism or reinventing the wheel.  He pointed out that the line between success and everything else is really fine, photofinish type fine, and that we don’t need to barrel across the line to success, we only need to cross it by a hair.

What I appreciated most about Dr. Davis is that he didn’t tell us to go work our fingers raw, hoping and praying to be noticed and promoted.  Instead he gave us real tools, tangible and realistic examples of what we can do to get gritty so we can find success. He began by asking us what was on our plate each week.  Each person, he said, no matter who you are or where you from, only has 168 hours in a week. We spend those hours doing things we must and doing things we want. Between sleep, work, and all of our other basic obligations, there’s not a lot of hours left over to do the things that we love.  Dr. Davis asked us to think about that: does the way that you spend your weekly hours match up with your core values? Are your priorities in order? Are you neglecting something you ought not to?

We talked about emotion management.  Emotions happen, they just do (see: Inside Out), and depending on how you approach those emotions they can be helpful (facilitative) or less helpful (debilitative).  Facilitative emotions help propel you, they push you into new things. Debilitative emotions get us stuck, often in our own heads, unable to make decisive action out of fear or shame.  Jealousy of a colleague’s work can be used to invigorate your own work, or it can make you bitter and resentful. Bad emotions are not always debilitative, often they are just a response to negative stimuli.  Debilitative emotions are notable for their intensity (bitterness) and duration (bitterness over a long period of time). If you find yourself stuck in a cycle of debilitative emotions, Dr. Davis suggests gratitude practices.  Gratitude, he says, is the antidote to negative thoughts. While we often try to bury bad thoughts in positive thoughts, what we ought to do is focus on the things that we already have that we are grateful for.

At times in our lives, each of us will experience debilitative emotions.  The grittiest of us know how to identify those negative reactions and use that energy instead of succumbing to it.  It takes practice to know how to do this, the kind of practice that only comes with having failed enough times to learn to be gritty.  Paradoxically, failure is the only way to succeed. When we fail, it’s hard not to take it personally, especially when we’ve tried with everything we’ve got.   Even though rationally, we often know that circumstances are out of our hands, judges have their own interests, everything is politics, companies hire based on the dollar not on the best qualifications — even though we know that a setback isn’t our own creation, we can still feel like giving up, especially when we get in our own heads.  

But gratitude brings us back down.  It takes us out of our anxious headspace and back into the present moment, whatever that is.  Usually, the present moment isn’t the worst case scenario we’ve imagined. Gratitude helps remind us of the job that still pays, the friends and family that still love us in their own imperfect ways, of good health and of new opportunities — gratitude reminds us of the simple things that make our foundation.  A healthy social network, stressed Dr. Davis, is vital for both gratitude practice and recovering after a setback. Friends and family help us back up — nobody got where they are alone, don’t try to be the first.

There are four types of people, Dr. Davis, explained: Adders, Subtractors, Multipliers, and Dividers.  The Adders are your friends and peers, people who push you forward. The Subtractors are your bullies and adversaries, the people who push you backward.  Multipliers are your mentors, they push you way up. And the Dividers rip your life apart, tear you to pieces, break your heart. Most of us, those of us in school especially, struggle with Subtractors.  They’re everywhere and until you’re really comfortable asserting yourself, their influence can add up quickly. Lord help you if you know you have a Divider in your life; some people, you’ve got to love from a safe distance, but you never stop loving.  For me, I realized I was short on Multipliers and my life felt, subsequently, stagnant. Had I skipped this discussion, who knows how long it would have taken me to identify this easily addressed problem.

It was a pleasure to meet Dr. Davis.  I hardly encapsulated his speech and I definitely lack his eloquence.  I find that wisdom is not something new that I’ve learned, but something old that’s been put in its place.  That’s what “Gettin’ Gritty” felt like: lots of things I already knew being arranged in a way that made sense.  Perhaps you need that in your life; I encourage you to come to the next of these annual summits. If any of these points resonated with you, please leave a comment and let’s talk.  

Running Because I Can

Me, Emily , and Dad near the starting line.

The beginning of this year found me very frustrated.  After six and a half years in graduate school I still wasn’t finished, and the end only seemed to be slipping further away as my time was eaten up by being a teaching assistant and many failed experiments in lab.  The massive amounts of time on task not yielding results had me feeling very down.  I needed a win—something where my time would give the results I was looking for.  At the end of March, my younger sister Emily called me to tell me she had won a spot in the Marine Corps Marathon for this year.  Emily is a middle/high school math teacher in Texas and had taken up running to deal with the stress from work.  Within the past two years she had developed a love for running and had run several half marathons  The MCM 2018 would be her 2nd full marathon.  Emily knew I had been adding running into my exercise routine (I use that word loosely) to prepare for the coming summer hiking and climbing season.  I’m not sure what made her do it, but she invited me to join her for the marathon.

I was on the fence.  My dad was an avid runner when he was in the military, and I could remember when he ran the MCM when I was very little.  I remember riding in the car with my mom to meet him on early morning training runs.  Despite my dad’s influence, running was not something I took to naturally growing up.  I was a chubby kid who preferred to read.  I like playing softball and basketball but hated the running parts.  I was in college before running really attracted my attention.  Thinking about my dad’s accomplishments made me want to be a runner, and I tried many times to make running a regular habit.  Injury and other commitments always got in the way.  At best I was an on-again-off-again jogger with a marathon on her bucket list but no time on her hands.

My dad found out about my sister’s invitation, and then he made me an offer I couldn’t refuse: “If you do it, I’ll do it too”.  After my dad retired from the US Army in 2011, physical conditioning became less of a priority and the comfy retirement pudge had set in.  He had celebrated his 50th by running a half marathon with Emily, but nobody suspected he would want to do a marathon again.  To run this race with my dad would be a once in a lifetime opportunity so I took it.  On April 5, I told Emily and Dad that I was in.

The Marine Corps Marathon is also known as “The People’s Marathon”.  It is the largest race in the world that doesn’t offer cash prizes to top finishers and is a very popular race for non-professional runners.  Participation is capped at 30,000 people each year and most of those spots are given away by lottery.  Dad and I had missed the lottery but could gain entry as charity runners.  This is a common thing for a lot of bigger races.  Charities are given or may purchase so many bibs and then attach a fundraising amount to them.  You coordinate to raise money for a charity, and once your goal is reached, you are allowed to race.  Dad and I spent a few weeks evaluating our options and settled on Team Red White & Blue, an organization whose mission is “To enrich the lives of America’s veterans by connecting them to their community through physical and social activity”.  After my dad retired, my family moved from Fort Bragg, where we had lived since 1999, to Lexington, KY.  I no longer lived at home but still witnessed how tough the transition from military to civilian life and to a new community was for my dad, my mom, and my younger siblings.  My dad appreciated the impact of Team RWB’s mission, and their emphasis on making meaningful connections between people reminded me of the Corvias Foundation.  Choosing to fundraise for Team RWB was an easy decision.

Moments after the starting gun went off for “The People’s Marathon”

We dove into training with the primary goal being to develop a habit of running 3 or 4 times per week and a secondary goal of building mileage without injury.  I took to my books.  As I learned watching School House Rock as a kid, “Knowledge is power!”.  I read everything I could get my hands on to make sure I was going into training the right way to avoid injury, and I went to free seminars at my local running store to learn more about efficient running form.  Slowly as the information built in my brain so did my confidence and my new habit.

The second week of June my official 20-week training program and my summer of firsts began.  I had never in my life ran more than 5 miles so each new distance felt like an accomplishment.  I had only entered in 5K races before so each longer race I did while training was a new experience.  The pains in my hips and knees were new and different.  The hunger for post-run snacks and the post- long run naps were glorious!  Even getting up early to beat the California summer heat was new and enthralling.  Running and the lifestyle that goes with it had me feeling great both physically and mentally.  I was proud of what I was pushing myself to do, and I was proud that I was rising to the challenge.

My dad and I fundraised together as Team Neutron.  By mid-summer the initial excitement on our fundraising page had died down and I was growing concerned that we wouldn’t be able to meet our combined $1600 goal.  Inspired by a friend who was also fundraising as a charity runner, I decided to offer incentives for donors.  For a donation of:

  • $10, you could add a song to my race-day playlist
  • $25, I would dedicate a mile of the race to a service member of your choosing
  • $50, I would send you an autographed post-race photo
  • $100, I would send you batch of homemade cookies
  • $200, I would send you a personalized surprise

These incentives worked in surprising ways.  A cousin donated $50 just because she wanted the photo.  A close friend gave $200 because she knew “a personalized surprise” was code for “I actually don’t know what I’ll do but I’ll come up with something if I need to” and she wanted me to have to come up with something.  People were excited about being able to dedicate a mile and with each donation that came in, it was clear how much thought and care people were putting into their choices.  With each new name to run for, the race became more significant.  No longer was I running for myself but I was running to honor these people too.

Early in the race with the dedication ribbons pinned to my camelback.

By October 28, race day, we had met our fundraising goal, and my mom had embroidered the name of each servicemember on a ribbon for me to carry with me on the course.  There were 25 ribbons, nearly one for every mile.  I had the ribbons pinned in stacks of 5 on my camelback, and with each mile marker my dad and sister alternated reading the name from a new ribbon.  We then took a moment to share whatever we knew about the person and their service.  When the miles were getting tougher and we were getting more tired, reading each new name became a moment of reprieve from the race as we thought about someone else’s experience.  With each new name was one mile less to go.

Dad and me when things were starting to get tough.

Around mile 20 serious muscle cramps set in and we slowed way down.  We walked a mile and surrendered our goal time of 5 hours 30 minutes in order to cross the finish line together.  I hadn’t done any step of this process alone, and I certainly wasn’t going to start at mile 20 of the race!  We crossed the finish line in just over 6 hours and received our medals.  We met our spectating team in the Team RWB charity tent and spent the rest of the day eating and celebrating.  Dad, Emily, and I demolished a tub of Neapolitan ice cream after dinner and strategized on where it was and was not appropriate to wear our medals in the coming days.

The sweet finishers’ medal

Post-race and post-fundraising my life is not very different from how it was back in April when this whole adventure started.  I’m still in graduate school, uncertain when I will finish.  I am teaching a course this quarter, and things in the lab still don’t cooperate the way I’d like them too.  Thank you notes and photos and cookies will probably sit on the back burner until after Thanksgiving, and tomorrow will actually be my first post-race run.  How I feel about all of this is different now though.  I feel more accepting of the challenges in school and lab and feel less like these challenges are the result of some personal inadequacy.  Challenges are just part of a long road, and with a steady pace I can make it to the end.

Me, Emily, and Dad post-race

Corvias Regional Alumni Summit 2018

Somehow it has already been three weeks since our first regional Corvias Alumni Summit! Over the weekend of October 13-14, a small group of Corvias Alumni were able to come together for a weekend of networking and personal, professional, and philanthropic development. It is amazing to think that we could accomplish so much in only 2 days…but I mean, come on – we are Corvias scholars!

Our sessions started on Saturday morning with a group breakfast and our first session with Dr. Jermaine Davis. Our first task was to settle into our seats and get our bag of Grits to inspire us for the session entitled, “Gettin’ Gritty: Finish What You Start”. Prior to our gathering, Melissa sent out a packet for us to fill out that focused on our goals, whether they be personal or professional. Upon starting our conversation, we all went around and explained what goal setting looks like for each of us – and we had a mixture of people who love goal setting and marking things off of their list and people who do not like to set goals (though they ultimately came up with some!). Although all of our goals were different and personal, we were able to recognize similarities in effort, tasks to complete to get us to our end goal, and ways that we could utilize each other to ultimately achieve them.

While it is impossible to give a complete recap of Dr. Davis’ talk with us, I hope to include his main points and a few key quotations that he used to inspire our group. Our first session was focused on goal setting and setting yourself up in the best way possible to achieve your goals. After learning the “Good Job” song (ask a local Corvias member that attended the summit to teach it to you – you won’t regret it), we went straight to work. He stressed three points when setting and achieving your goals – the principle of slight edge, complimenting the effort, and practicing the knowing àdoing gap. In summary, it is important to do what you can to give yourself a competitive advantage, always celebrate reaching the small steps that make up your journey as they are happening, and making sure that we understand the difference between knowing what to do and actually doing what we know. All of these are essential to actually reaching the goals that we set in our lives both short and long term.

One piece of information that Dr. Davis stunned us with was the statistic that we have the majority of our conversations with ourselves, and that 77% of all internal dialogue is negative. This seemed to surprise every one of us – and gave us a realization that we need to change our mindset in order to change our lives. In order to view our goals as realistic and through a positive lens, we must have a greater percentage of positive internal dialogue.

We finished our first session with conversations about things that interfere with our goals and our fears. We have internal and external interferences and we identified some as money, negative relationships, imposter syndrome, and self-sabotage. We continued to talk about imposter syndrome as many of us had felt that in our lives – the feeling that you are where you are by mistake or that it is a fluke, and that you are unworthy of successes or accomplishments in your life. It was amazing to see a group of accomplished individuals identify so strongly at some point or another with this idea. Lastly, we talked about our fears; Dr. Davis put fears into four categories – fear of the unknown, fear of success, fear of rejection, and fear of failure. We all identified where our fears lie and how irrational they can sound when we verbalize them.

Our second session focused on debilitative vs. facilitative emotions, plate management, and the role of other people in your life. Debilitative emotions prevent effective performance and facilitative emotions contribute to effective performance. While debilitative emotions can be helpful in the short term, they become dangerous when they increase in duration and intensity. While we were speaking about this, Dr. Davis asked us to name as many of these emotions as possible – it was amazing how many debilitative emotions we could come up with in comparison to facilitative. When thinking of debilitative emotions, we talked about fear, doubt, disappointment, frustration, anger, etc. When we named facilitative emotions, the only one that came quickly was gratefulness. I guess that shows a little bit of proof for how 77% of our thoughts are negative!

Another topic was plate management – or rather, what do you put on your “plate” and how well do you manage all of your responsibilities. We found that many of us overload our plate to the point where we actually don’t end up doing the things that are actually important, while others don’t place enough on their plates. He asked us to identify 5 core values in life that we would like in order to live a values based life; from there, we identified that we have 168 hours in a week and subtracted our hours of sleep and work from that total. From the amount of hours that we had left, we were able to analyze our own lives and determine if we actually put proper weight on, and allotted appropriate time for, our core values and goals. If we looked at these hours and realized we didn’t place our time in those categories or used our time to reach our goals, we were able to reevaluate how we spend our time. I challenge each of you to do this – it can truly open your eyes to areas of personal improvement and illuminate areas of your life that you can take some hours from to better use for achieving your goals.

Lastly, we talked about how people in our lives can be adders, subtracters, multipliers or dividers. Adders push you forward, subtracters push you down, multipliers push you up, and dividers move you away from your goals. It is extremely important to identify the people in your life who fit in each of these categories. Once you identify who is who, you can re-evaluate your relationships with those who do not push you towards your goals.

Quotes from Dr. Jermaine Davis

  • A goal is a target where you aim your efforts and energy.
  • Information + Application = Transformation!
  • We don’t ask for help because we are weak, we ask because we want to remain strong!
  • Goals – Interferences = Success
  • When you know your why, you can withstand any how.
  • The opposite of motivation is not laziness, it’s complacency.
  • You can live a life by design or default.
  • The antidote to negative thinking is an attitude of gratitude.
  • All dreams and goals have a price tag.

For the rest of the day on Saturday, we spent time creating an agenda to reiterate what we had learned with the current scholars that would be joining us on Sunday, spent time “connecting or disconnecting”, and eating dinner at The Raleigh Times.

Sunday we were able to join together and learn from one of our favorite women, Maria! She led us in a conversation on financial identity and how to determine who we are from a financial standpoint. She stressed that though money isn’t everything, it is important and it is something that we need to think about. We came together and had a great conversation that we always wish could be longer!

One of our favorite events of our time together was our connect time with the current scholars in the Raleigh area. We were able to reiterate the information we learned from Dr. Davis in small groups where we could incorporate the scholars and learn from them while they learned from us. It was a great way for us to continue connecting with each other and show the current scholars what they will be joining when they eventually become alumni. They were inspirational to us and we learned a great deal from their perspective as current students, as many of us have been out of school for a number of years.

Our last group event of the weekend was a conversation about mindfulness and meditation led by our very own Kris Brooks. She led us through a guided meditation, taught us information about mindfulness including tips and tricks and how we could start, and sparked a conversation about how each of us interpreted the provided meditation. We all realized that we could use meditation and mindfulness as a way to center ourselves throughout every experience in our lives that may be stressful or difficult, or simply just to ground ourselves throughout our day.

Overall, our trip to Raleigh, NC and our first regional gathering was a huge success. We were able to chat and network with each other, learn from people who are professionals in their field, and realize just how achievable our goals can be if we continue to appropriately pursue them!