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It Was Written!

When I was 7 years old, I had a school teacher called Mrs. Cronin. I remember at the time thinking she was absolutely ancient. (My parents were very young, so it distorted my views about the age of others.) Looking back, I imagine she must have been about 40. During the course of the year, Mrs. Cronin had given the class a writing assignment, a short story, I think. I distinctly recall how impressed she was with my work and her telling me that I should go into journalism. Of course, that was crazy, 7 year old Arwen was set on becoming a surgeon!

I did not become a doctor in the end, numerous distractions and a spotty academic record put a stop to that. I have, however, tried out lots of other “careers.” I have waited tables, worked in McDonald’s, put in time in a call centre, etc., before eventually deciding to go down the route of accountancy.

Let me tell you a little bit about that decision making process. I was 24 or so, and working a customer service job. We were about to buy our first house, and I realised that I needed to be earning more money. That would mean going back to college, as my English degree didn’t qualify me for a whole lot. I needed a course that I could do part time, as full time education was out of the question. I went through my choices, of which there were all too few, and figured accountancy was as good an option as any. It pays well and I had always been reasonably okay with numbers, so why not?

Fast forward a dozen years, and I find myself fully qualified, and yet struggling to find a job which is the right fit. I had started to ask myself if this was really the right career for me. Shouldn’t I try to spend my days doing something which makes me as happy and fulfilled as teaching Zumba or writing?

Last Thursday night I attended the Blog Awards Ireland. I had entered the competition and miraculously made it to the final. To be 100% honest, having had a tough week, I didn’t really feel like it, but I had bought my costume, so I figured I would go. I figured I would stick around until my category was announced, smile graciously and applaud the winner, before sneaking out the back door.

There were ten bloggers in the final of my category. I didn’t check out the competition, because let’s face it, I didn’t need any more reason to doubt myself. They announced the bronze and silver awards for each category before calling the winner up to the stage. When they announced bronze and silver in Health and Wellness and it wasn’t me, any bit of hope I had drained away, and I started looking towards next year. Imagine my surprise when they announced the winner and it was me.

You could have blown me over with a feather. I was shaking so hard, I could barely walk to the stage. I felt amazing. It was one of the happiest and proudest moments of my life. Now, I just need to figure out if the universe is trying to tell me something. Was Mrs. Cronin right thirty years ago? Was it written? Who knows, but I intend to have fun finding out. Be well xxx

Ps. I didn’t make it to the end of Sober October. I caved on the 24th. I will be starting a 21 Day Sugar Detox in early November so there will be more sobriety then.

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100 Lessons, What Have I Learned?

I started teaching Zumba a little over a year ago, and since then I have taught over 100 classes.  That’s over 100 times that I have had the privilege to do something I had wanted to do for a long time, but I thought was beyond my reach.  It is over 100 times that students have come to me, given me their money and their trust, and allowed me to share with them something I am truly passionate about.  I have always loved dancing, but am not “professional” by any stretch of the imagination.  Standing in front of people was a giant leap outside my comfort zone and for the first few weeks, I felt sure the adrenaline would completely overwhelm me.

Gradually I relaxed in to it and began to enjoy it more and more.  I love teaching and it never feels like work.  No matter how tired and sore I am, or how much of a crappy day I have had, as soon as the music comes on, a new energy starts flowing through me.  It has been such an amazing experience so far, and I have learned so much.  I wanted to take a moment to reflect on this and share with you a few of the lessons I have learned.

Expect The Unexpected:  I am a classic over thinker.  In the weeks leading up to my first class, I must have run through a million different scenarios in my mind, desperately trying to anticipate every eventuality.  At one stage I had myself in a state worrying about not having enough €2 coins to give people their change.  I mentioned this to my husband and he said “I can’t believe this is what you’re worrying about,” to which I replied “I think I have already worried about everything else!”

The truth of it is, as much anxiety as I caused myself, you simply cannot be prepared for everything life, or teaching, can throw at you.  All you can do is be ready with your brightest smile if/when disaster strikes.  Laugh it off, even if inside you’re screaming at the universe “why are you doing this to me?”  Over the past year some crazy things have happened, none of which I had mentally run through, but I lived to tell the tale!  I never did run out of €2.  In fact, I am inundated with them and every time I bag them up I am reminded of my own silliness.

Ego is Not Your Amigo: I have read enough philosophy, both ancient and modern, to understand intellectually that Ego is The Enemy (thank you Ryan Holiday) however, that doesn’t stop me getting caught up with it in the heat of the moment.

I wasn’t teaching long when a new student came to my class.  She was a German girl, and I asked her, like I ask all new students, if she had done Zumba before.  I wasn’t at all prepared for her to say, “Yes, I’m a Zumba instructor.”  I can’t begin to describe to you the level of panic I experienced in that moment.  I was convinced she would judge me and worse yet, find me wanting.  In reality, this lady just wanted to come and dance.  She was very sweet and after a little while my nerves subsided.

A couple of weeks later, she was in class and we were dancing to Tip Toe by Jason Derulo.  She was getting really into it and clearly enjoying herself.  I found myself almost competing with her, as irrational as that is.  The more energetic she got, the more intensity I put into my own moves.  I ended up tweaking my calf and having to disguise my discomfort for the rest of the class.  It was a painful reminder of the damage that ego can do!

Don’t Take It Personally:  This particular lesson has been hard learned.  Sometimes people come to class once and never return.  In fact this happens quite a lot.  In the beginning I was convinced that this was some failure on my part.  Truthfully, it is still very tempting to think this way.  When I look at it objectively though, it is easy to see that there are a million reasons people stop coming.  They get busy.  The time doesn’t suit them anymore.  Their friend stops coming and they don’t want to come alone.  Maybe they can’t afford it, or maybe Zumba just isn’t for them?   None of these reasons have anything to do with me or any other instructor.  Simply put, I am not that important!  Ego, again!  All I can do it create a safe environment so people know they are welcome to return anytime.

Some students find it easier to watch another student than the instructor.  This can be because they have positioned themselves in such a way that they don’t have a clear view.  It can also be because the instructor generally faces the class to teach and the students mirror him/her.  Some people just have a hard time following this.  Again, this is absolutely nothing to do with the teacher.  The first time I noticed this happening, I was highly put out!  But I quickly got a grip.  Seriously Arwen, as long as the students are moving, sweating and having fun, it doesn’t matter if they are looking at you, each other or their own feet!

There’s No Way to Speed Up Experience:  I am a very impatient person, especially with myself.  I want to be an expert at everything I attempt straight away.  I don’t have time for the whole learning thing!  When I first began teaching, just remembering the steps was about all I could manage.  Any little thing could distract me and throw me off.  It didn’t matter if it was someone walking in late or people laughing (or grimacing,) it would immediately make me forget where I was.  This frustrated me so much.  I just wanted to get to the stage where it all at least appeared to be effortless, even if it really wasn’t.

As I got more experience under my belt, these interruptions fazed me less and less.  I am now at the stage where I can dance, sing, smile, cue and count all at the same time.  Just last night I had a lady straight up free styling in class, and I was able to appreciate how brilliant this was, and laugh with her, without missing a beat.  I promise you, if you are struggling with something now, as long as it’s something you actually want to do it, stick with it.  It will get easier.  It will happen so gradually, you may not even notice it, but then one day you will be screaming “look Ma, no hands!

Mistakes are a Part of The Process:  There’s a saying in our industry “There are no mistakes in Zumba, just unexpected solos,” and it’s very true.  In the beginning of my teaching career, I was terrified of making mistakes.  When I missed a step or lost my place, I would berate myself, convinced that the students would A. Notice and B. Care.  When, in fact, most times, they do neither.  When I look back on classes I attended as a student, I don’t remember the instructor making a mistake that anyone talked about.

I still don’t like making mistakes, obviously, and I do everything I can to avoid them.  However, just like in all other aspects of life, they happen.  The best thing to do is just to try to get over it as quickly as possible.  Take whatever learnings there are from it and move on.  Nobody is perfect in this world, and I think sometimes it can even help students to see their instructor make the odd mistake.  It takes the pressure of them to try to be perfect.

I have learned so much about myself in the past year, I really can’t put it all into words.  I want to say a huge thank you to everyone who has supported me, either by attending a class or by giving advice and encouragement.  It means the world to me.  I have so much more to learn and I am still excited to see where this adventure will lead me.  Be well xxx

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No Half Measures

So folks, here we are, October 15th and half way through Sober October.  I wanted to give you all a little update on how the last two weeks of clean living have gone.  Full disclosure, I did not really expect to be writing this post, as I felt sure I would cave before the first weekend was out.  However, it hasn’t actually been too bad (so far.)

The first weekend of sobriety did feel a little odd.  I honestly can’t remember the last time I had gone a full week without any alcohol.  Which is probably a sure sign that a detox was long overdue.  Even when I am sick, hot whiskey is my go to, so it was definitely alien.  We were staying in on the Saturday night, as I had a busy day planned for Sunday, and usually we would be having a few beers or a bottle of wine as we plough through some box set or other.  Imbibing on sparkling water instead, left a lot to be desired.  I really did feel like I was missing something.  However, a late night dash to McDonald’s for ice-cream satisfied my craving.

The second weekend was a little less weird.  I was out with a friend Saturday night and I was perfectly happy to drive and for her to have a few drinks.  I enjoyed my night just as much as I would have had I been drinking, and it was so nice waking up the next morning/afternoon feeling fresh.  Last night I made another trip through the Drive Thru in my pj’s for McFlurries to enjoy while we watched a movie.  Normally I could take or leave ice-cream, but I seem to be doing more taking lately!

Like a lot of habits, my alcohol intake has a lot to do with association.  I enjoy nothing more at the end of a tough week than a couple of cold beers.  I tell myself that I work hard, and so I deserve it.  It helps me to relax, I assure myself.  The truth is, when I am very tired, alcohol makes me feel even more exhausted.  So instead of being able to stay up a little later catching up with my husband, I end up wanting to fall into bed at the same time as I do on a school night.  I also find that even one or two drinks affects my sleep quality, and makes me dehydrated the following day.  Not an ideal start to the weekend, especially when I am teaching a class on a Saturday morning!

So, what’s the upside to all this?

Firstly, I feel better.  Not like I could leap tall buildings in a single bound or anything, but I definitely have more clarity of mind, and more energy.  I have been struggling with insomnia the past few months, and I am finding that without the alcohol my sleep seems to be better quality.  Even if I am still not getting enough.

Secondly, my health markers are improving.  My weight has crept up quite a bit this year, and although it’s not bothering me overly at the moment, it is in the back of my mind that I should think about tackling it at some stage.  Obviously enough, drinking thousands of calories every weekend is not helping.  Since the beginning of month my scale weight has slowly started to come down.  My tummy is looking less bloated and I am generally feeling more positive about myself.  As well as this, my resting heart rate has reduced and is back below 60bpm for the first time in a good while.

My recovery has improved.  Alcohol is a diuretic and makes you dehydrated, this is absolutely terrible for your body when it is trying to recover from exercise.  In the last couple of weeks, even though I am teaching more often, I feel like it is taking less out of me, which can only be good news.

I have more money in purse.  It turns out that two ice-creams costs a lot less than a couple of nights of drinking!

I get to enjoy a movie without having to get up to pee 37 times!

There are loads of other health benefits associated with reducing your alcohol intake, but these are the ones I am seeing and feeling after a mere 14 days.  I have no doubt that when the month is over, I will enjoy a drink or two.  It is my birthday and wedding anniversary that weekend, after all.  But I am seriously thinking about making it a much less significant part of my life in the future.

Let me know how you have been getting on.  Be well xxx

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Donegal Revisited

Some of you might remember that last year I was in Donegal, with my husband and our German Shepherd, Annie.  We had an amazing time.  So good, in fact, that we booked the same house for the same week this year.  I couldn’t wait to get back there.  I spent the weeks running up to it day dreaming about all the lovely, long walks we would take, and reminiscing about the bright blue skies we had had.  I found myself buying the same wine we had last year, and planning to hit up the same eateries.  I was essentially trying to recreate what had been a truly fabulous few days.

I should know better.  I should know by now that when you try to recreate an experience it never really works out.  It’s like when you have a great meal in a restaurant, and when you go back the chef is out sick and you end up with cold beans on toast!  I am so familiar with this recreation disappointment that I normally try to avoid encountering it.  However, where Donegal was concerned we decided to take the risk, and I am glad we did.

We loaded up the car, popped the puppy (all 40kgs of her) into the back seat and off we went.  With a stop for a bite of lunch, the drive took about 6 hours.  We arrived in the early evening and got settled in right away.  We sent out for pizza, the same one we’d had last year, naturally, and set about the serious business of relaxing.  Annie was so much more chilled out this time.  Last year she insisted on walking backwards around the place for the first day or two.  There was no moon walking this time and she seemed right at home.

The next day, in much the same fashion as last year, we set out for a long walk along the beach.  The humans hit 10,000 steps with ease, and the dog must have clocked up about 50,000!  She even had a little tussle with another dog at one stage.  When we got back to the house we were all worn out but happy.  It’s amazing the restorative effect the sea air can have on the soul.  That night, however, we noticed that Annie was limping a little.  She had no doubt overdone it, so we resigned ourselves to taking it a little easier.

As it happened, the weather was pretty miserable for the rest of our stay, so were we not anywhere near as active as we had been last year.  Initially I was a bit upset about it.  This wasn’t the plan.  I wanted to whine about how it wasn’t “the same,” but I didn’t.  I decided to re-frame it.  If I spent all my time thinking about what the trip wasn’t, I would be missing out on what it was.  I won’t be getting another break for ages and I didn’t want to waste it, even if it wasn’t going exactly to plan.  Just because it wasn’t the same, didn’t mean it couldn’t be great.  In the end, it turned out to be just what we needed.  A few quiet days away to rest and spend some quality time with our furry baby.

I am sure we all have a tendency to succumb to this way of thinking.  Our plan hasn’t worked out exactly as we wanted it to, so it’s all ruined.  We get so caught up with chasing the fantasy, that we risk throwing the baby out with the bath water.  Sometimes, as Ryan Holiday says in his brilliant book, “The Obstacle is The Way.”

I will give you an example.  My sister and I started recording a Podcast a few weeks back.  My younger brother is acting as producer, editor and general “making it all happen guy.”  None of us have a notion of what we are doing, but when has that ever stopped me!  We were pretty happy with how the first few episodes went, but there was an issue with the sound, that we couldn’t quite get to the bottom of.  It was really irritating, as it was making the Podcast seem less polished than we wanted.  We sat down last week to record and my poor brother’s computer decided to have a complete melt down.  No amount of ctrl+alt+delete could persuade it to cooperate.

Eventually we decided to fly up to my sister’s house and get her computer to use instead.  Of course her machine didn’t have the software we had been using, and we when tried to install it, we got nowhere.  At this stage we were all getting tired and more than a little frustrated.  We managed to find different software, downloaded it and praise the seven, it actually worked!  What’s more, we didn’t have the issues with the sound anymore.

The problem had been with the software all along, but of course we just assumed it was something we were doing wrong due to our lack of expertise.  If we hadn’t had the computer malfunction, we might never have figured it out.  What seemed like a complete disaster at the time, ended up being a big help.  Proving that good can come from just about any situation if you allow yourself to be open to it.  Be well xxx

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Sober October!

So long Scroll Free September, make way for Sober October!  I have been looking for a playful euphemism or a colourful metaphor to dress this up, but the truth of it is, for the last while I have been drinking too much.  Not in the “drinking problem” sense but simply in the “this is not good for my overall health” sense.  My husband and I have been planning to take a break from alcohol for ages now, but there was always some reason (read excuse) why it wasn’t a good time.  There was always a wedding, holiday or other occasion on the horizon, which made the idea of going tee total a daunting prospect.  We now find ourselves at the closing of the year.  Christmas is fast approaching and party season will be here before we know it, so it was pretty much now or never.

Those of you who are regular readers will know that 2018 has been a bit of a roller coaster for me.   Between my full time job, of which I have had three, and my side projects, I can end up feeling like I am working all the time.  There have been a lot of changes and often by the time the weekend comes along, I am too exhausted to attempt anything more energetic than binge watching Netflix in my pjs with a glass of wine or a nice cold beer.   Alcohol became a way to differentiate weekend nights from week nights!  I wouldn’t describe myself as a binge drinker, I rarely, if ever get drunk.  However, two or three drinks, a few nights a week quickly adds up to way more than the 11 unit safe drinking limit (17 for men.)

These habits crept in over the space of about a year.  What had once been limited to Friday and Saturday started creeping into some of the other evenings too.  I was definitely starting to feel the effect on my energy levels.  It’s never as easy getting up in the morning after even a couple of drinks.  As well as that, I am not getting any younger.  I will be turning 37 next month and it’s time to stop taking my health completely for granted.  I am well aware of the health risks associated with excessive alcohol consumption, especially for women, and I am not arrogant enough to think I should be lucky enough to escape them.  From this week I will be teaching an extra Zumba class.  This brings the total to 4 per week, and with the stress this will put on my body, I need to do all I can to mind it.  Alcohol certainly will not help with that!

I am sure there will be lots of other benefits of having a dry month.  I am looking forward to having more energy and to waking up refreshed on the weekends.  I am also looking forward to having a little more money in my purse.  But mostly I am looking forward to the challenge.  I am sure the first weekend will be difficult.  We Irish are notorious for having our social lives revolving almost entirely around a pint!  Like many Irish families, ours has not escaped the effects alcoholism.  I am acutely aware of this, and of its tendency towards heredity.  This makes it even more important for me to get my drinking under control before it actually does become a problem!  Who knows, it might become a permanent change.

As always, feel free to join me in my latest challenge.  Wish me luck (and please send cinema recommendations) I will keep you posted on my progress.  Be well xxx