Course Correction

Weight Loss Graph
Animated graph over 4 days of smart eating and running 5.2 miles.

With the perpetually delayed upswing that I’ve been constantly seeking for over 8 months now underway, I’ve been really pushing myself to get back on track with all of my projects. As demonstrated above, I’ve been unable to undo almost all of the 10 lbs (I weighed 195 in December ’13) I gained over 2 sedentary and gluttonous winter months. I managed to complete a 20 mile week in four days, in spite of being sick since Tuesday the 18th. I broke the chain yesterday because the chest and sinus congestion coupled with the muscle soreness demanded I rest. I’m putting off actively engaging in strength building and weight lifting/body weight exercises, since I’m more focused on burning fat and recovery days for muscle growth are days without cardio. As a compromise, I’ve been doing it lightly to encourage some muscle growth and toning while consciously trying to stay in a running-capable state.

I find this progress very motivational. In spite of my physiological circumstances, I invented a figurative “warrior” mentality for myself to adopt, and I’ve been sticking to it. What I thought was going to take four weeks to accomplish I did in only one, which excites me to see the difference in where I actually find myself in a month from now keeping at this pace. Physically, I haven’t noticed a visual difference in my form below the waist, but I can definitely say it feels different down there. Where before my legs felt like giant flesh stumps I had to fight to get to work together and serve their purpose, now I feel like they’re always ready and willing to get moving.

As much as I look forward to the end goal, the form that I end up carving out of my current self through hard work and physical training, I admit I’m enjoying the journey itself. It’s the part that people generally hate, the part where the actual work has to be done. However, right the right mental outlook, it can be so liberating and empowering it becomes a need that demands to be satisfied with the intensity of an addiction.

Admissions

A few confessions:

Writing

I’ve been purposely writing in an “unattractive” format — long rambling paragraphs with extremely sparing use of media — because of how much I’ve resented my recent circumstances for being my reality. I made myself write about them in order to flex the writing muscles fired up and get back in the habit, but being stuck in a repeating loop of dire financial circumstance limited my written output (and life experiences) in a corresponding fashion. It’s demoralizing to decide to start writing about yourself, only to find yourself having the same pitiful story to tell month after month. So, I’ve been making the effort to capture pieces of it for practice, but have been purposely neglecting to put any real efforts towards readability and aesthetics. Now that that narrative is finally seeing a change, I find myself thinking of great writing ideas and creative projects that I’d like to start turning into something tangible.

Smoking

In spite of all the running that I do, I’ve long-maintained a very unhealthy smoking habit. I tried curbing it in an effort to whittle it down and phase it out last year, but when the car problems started raining on me, the subsequent stress drove me head first back into the habit. My consumption rate is higher than it ever has been, and maybe it’s age but I’m starting to feel the physiological consequences more and more, and the more I align and commit myself to my goals, the more I resent myself for maintaining the habit. Self-inflicted cancer inducing guilt.

Weight Loss Updates

I haven’t been updating, due to the circumstances covered in detail in my recent post. As with my writing, the coming change in personal circumstances is going to allow for a lot more progress on this front.

Reempowered

After a week away from “life” and enjoying this year’s birthday celebrations, I return to my writing another year older and freshly inspired in all my endeavors.

In the time since my last entry, things have improved greatly. I’ve managed to knock out a good share of outstanding financial liabilities, and thankfully no new ones have cropped up to replace those settled. The days are getting longer and the weather warmer, so everything is lining up for me to actively start pushing myself back to where I was at the end of December in regard to fitness, and to keep making progress on my other personal projects.

Now that I can see the light at the end of what’s been an eight-month-long tunnel, I find myself amazed and excited at the shift in perspective that has come with it. Throughout these past months, I’ve been living a very meager life (one that I’ve captured in detail throughout previous entries). In that time, I’ve had a very mechanical and enthused perspective on life. The stresses of having to exert extreme financial restraint in order to make bill payments and other basic life necessities. When I assessed my situation throughout that time period, I always came out feeling trapped and helpless to enact any change in the matter. All I could see were all my rotating debts and circumstances binding me to my current arrangement out of necessity. I’ve been stretching an income stream that’s smaller than it should be for someone of my accomplishments and capabilities, and in the process was rendered a zombie-like drone — fulfilling the daily responsibilities, and waiting for nothing other than the start of a new day to do it all over, one step closer to a pre-spent paycheck.

It’s here that I wish I could offer up some useful tips on dealing with that particular situation, which I find myself hard pressed to come up with considering I didn’t conquer it. If I found myself back at that point in time again and had to do it all over, I would have made a stronger effort to hold to the personal affirmations I would come up with for myself. I’d think things along the lines of “I’m paying my dues in life and struggling at the outset of the journey like everyone else does” and “It’s just one of life’s tests of character, and I’m not going to be broken so easily”. I would muster up an unyielding determination and evoke the inner warrior, but only so long as needed to see it through extremely trying times. Once things got to a sufficient level of “less crappy”, I checked into complacency and lamented what wasn’t instead of continuing to focus on what is.

Over the past week, I’ve had a vastly improved take on my days. With the finish line finally coming within reach and a mini-vacation away from work spent reconnecting with friends and celebrating another birthday, I feel reinvigorated and back in control of my life. Even sitting down to write, just two weeks ago, would have felt like a resented chore. Now, it’s something that I feel an earnest desire to allocate a part of my day to. I’m going to be trained on real estate loan dislcosures at work over the coming weeks, and my studies in my downtime in programming Python are moving along well. While I know things are going to continue to stay on the “hard” side of things for the next few months, I also have so much moving through the pipelines that I expect to be in a much better situation in the not-so-distant future.

Having endured not only the financial hardship, but also the debilitating feelings that come along with it, my heart goes out to all the people out there who are struggling with finding employment in the current economic climate. I recently spent a day at work having my computer read me articles from Gawker’s unemployment story archive that made me feel lucky to have the problems I’ve been contending with. For me, my personal narrative is that of the lower-middle class born self-made man who achieves success without having been able to afford a college degree (despite my personal goal to earn one regardless of my circumstances), working whatever jobs along the way necessary to fund those goals. Simply put, I expect fiercer competition and having to work harder to compensate. Yet, for so many others out there, the narrative one of living at home with relatives, unemployed and hounded by the debts incurred by their continued education. So much time, work, and money invested, and worse off than the guy in San Diego who’s only been able to afford a couple semesters at community college. Despite the feelings of inadequacy that come from comparing my life now to how I envisioned it, the fact that I have a full-time job and don’t have mountains of student loan debt puts me in a far more advantageous position than those who’ve sacrificed so much. As a result, I feel an added pressure to pick up the pace and start meeting all of my goals. My ultimate self-plotted destination is a position in life where I’m not only doing well for myself, but am also leading projects/teams that will hopefully create a few jobs and help independent & small businesses grow.

The storm has been weathered, and now I can start to truly settle back into my life. Knowing that I’ll soon be able to afford to start partaking in social outings, paying credit card debt, saving money, buying new clothes, I now feel completely engaged with daily life, with the same vivacity and promise of bounty that I used to have throughout my childhood years.

Rain and No Running

Water is falling from the sky. Puts a damper on my exercise plans, but the whole drought thing considered, I can’t be upset. Guess I’ll try to compensate with yoga and weights.

Disempowered

It’s been a long unplanned absence from updates. I’m surprised by how quickly January has passed and given way to a new month. I’m sad to say that last year’s car repair cycle has continued to persist into the new year. When I bought my car in 2011, I got it for a very modest asking price of $1500 as-was. It needed a replacement engine control module in order to get it smog tested and registered, pushing it up to little over $2000. For the first year that I owned it, things were nice and easy. Then early last year, it started systematically breaking down and requiring frequent repair. Out of curiosity, I tallied the totals of my service invoices in a spreadsheet and found that I’ve invested almost $2500 in auto repairs over the past six months.

AUto Service Repair Log

As a result, I’ve spent this entire time period in a rolling state of debt, regularly drawing on future income through direct deposit advances and payday loans. Since my vehicle is the household car and how my roommate and I get to and from work, keeping it up and running takes top priority along with rent and core utilities. This means that I’ve been through spells where I’ve had to forego other basic expenses such as groceries and mobile phone service, and am currently in the middle of one as I try to compensate for the recent wave of repairs, which like those that have come before it cropped up right before the end of the month when rent is due.

Mentally Weakened…

Being in a constant state of financial hardship because of these car repairs has not only been mentally demotivating because of the obvious reasons, but also because of the feelings of self-resentment that those circumstances stir up. The ultimate fix to these issues would be the ability generate more income. I’m currently still working the temporary contractor job I picked up last Spring with Union Bank via a local staffing agency. It pays less than I was making at my previous job and the responsibilities of the position don’t come anywhere near fully utilizing my professional capabilities, but I stick with it because it makes giving the roommate an 11 mile ride to his workplace in the morning easy when mine is only two blocks down the way. Ideally, this wouldn’t be an issue because I’d be able to leverage my down-time to freelance and make money on the side doing content generation and web development. However, since my skills on those fronts aren’t up to present-day standards & requirements, I instead use my time to self-study and acquire the skills that would allow for that to become a viable prospect (as well as allow me to land a better paying day job). Time investment on that front and household chores are what have kept me from seeking out a second job.

All of that together has culminated in a back-to-the-wall and trapped feeling, one that wouldn’t even be an issue if I’d spent my 20’s like most do, studying and training for expertise in a particular discipline and forming the foundation of a career. Instead, I’ve spent mine experimenting with different team environments and working jobs to cover basic living costs while I sorted myself out. Since one of the resolutions that came out of that effort was refusing to place further blame on circumstances in life, the only place to direct the resulting resentment is towards myself.

And Physically Too…

At the end of December, I was doing really well on the exercise front. I was regularly running my 5+ mile route, and had built up the stamina to complete the entire jaunt without having to slow down or stop. Then things fell apart during the first week of January. On my last run on [date], I broke my running armband. I went to change the playing tracked, and my hand slipped, pushing the phone away from the armband with just enough force to snap the plastic clip on the rear plate of the case that joins it to the band. When I got home, I noticed my heart rate monitor stopped piping information along to my phone. I assumed it was due to the battery needing to be replaced, which I couldn’t afford at the time. When I went to take a shower, I hopped on the scale to get a reading, and was greeted with a dead battery notification. Something else that needed maintenance, and something else that I couldn’t afford to fix.

The following week, the polar vortex hit the US. Even though I was comparatively unaffected living in “Sunny San Diego”, I am a born and raised desert boy with a sensitivity to cold, and temperatures still dropped enough here to render the and I only two pairs of workout shorts & tees insufficient for the climate change, especially with early winter nights being well settled in. And because of all the financial hurdles, my kitchen’s been largely empty throughout the month. When you’re making it through on random free food at work and cheap (read: unhealthy), burning off calories and working up an appetite when you know you have nothing to come home to becomes an impossible sell to make to yourself. In fact, I willingly allowed myself to neglect my exercise efforts. I was doing so well that the few clothes that I do have were starting to fit too loosely, and since I don’t have money to invest into new & smaller clothes, I had to make do with the few outfits I already own. One month of sloth and careless indulgence later, and I find myself 3lbs heavier.

Recovery

The first half of the month, I spent largely in a drone-like zombie mode, waking up and going through my days doing the minimum, waiting out my next paychecks to be able to start taking action on some of my problems. After some careful budgeting and a generous amount of overtime at work, I was expecting to be caught up and current last Friday. Then the car broke down again. That issue was dealt with, and this week’s challenge is going to be working on a $0 budget after paying rent. As long as the car doesn’t break down again, I should be out of the rolling-debt-hole in two weeks. In preparation, I’ve started ramping up activity on the fitness front again. I ran my route a couple times at the start of the week, and was disappointed to find that my three-week hiatus undermined most of my previous work — my stamina has dropped back down to a pitiful level, and the two days after my second run, I felt sore and wrecked as if I were doing it for the first time all over again.

Somewhere in between the first two weeks of the month and the car failure last week, I got all the necessary repairs made to my phone. All my fitness sensors are back up and running again, so now I just need to work myself back to the place where I was at the end of December when I was rapidly shedding off the pounds. I’m hesitant to say that after x number of weeks I’ll be back on track financially, since I realized that the opening sentence to this post is one that I’ve written at the start of each post I’ve drafted after a lack of updates throughout the course of the past six months. I’ve been operationally confined by circumstances, and I’ve had my fill of yielding to them. I’ll admit, a large part of me has felt an obligation to endure the struggle, paying my “dues” to the the universe and handling all these problems on my own. I suppose that’s part of why I haven’t been writing much — all I’ve known for the past few months is a repeating cycle of hardship. But I’ve grown tired of simply surviving; I want to feel like I’m once again thriving.

To that end, I’ve been fiercely attacking my computer programming lessons. Once I get this introductory course out of the way, I’m going to move on to web coding and server-side scripting, and with the proper knowledge under my command, set out to start doing what I really want to be doing in life. In the mean time, lots of running, more frugality, and higher writing output is the name of the game.