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After struggling with weight issues for most of my life, I finally made the decision on 16 Sep 2012, that it was time to go on a journey to health rather than just lose weight. That year had been the lowest in my life –filled with deep stress over my job and corresponding bad choices that caused my weight to shoot up to 319.4 pounds, my blood pressure to rocket to 1997/106 (June 2012), my self-esteem reduced to a sliver, and my legs too swollen to move easily without pain some days. Because I have allergies to chemicals additives in medicines and foods (including residues from the manufacturing processes),  I couldn’t even do the medicines that might help with many of the problems I had. But without doing something to remove the stress and promote healing, the medicines are really pretty much useless and can be quite harmful at times. Additionally, at 60 years old, I only have so much time left and I didn’t want to spend it housebound because I couldn’t move. So a lifelong journey to attain and maintain a healthy life style and fitness became the obvious option – but it took about 4 months of sick misery before I finally made the decision to get on with that journey.

Because I’ve had several people ask me how I lost the weight despite health issues, I’m going to outline some basic principles that I have incorporated into this journey. A health journey is unique for each person since we all have different genetics and life experiences. So I’ll try to tell you what worked for me in a way that can help you think about your own journey. And for some facing similar problems such as chemical allergies, perhaps we can share solutions that have helped. I hope to take each of the topics below and write a more detailed post as time permits. And I have many more lessons to learn and challenges to face. I still have about 90 pounds to lose and will need to rebuild muscles weakened by years of inactivity coupled with growing old and a car accident this summer. But it’s just another set of steps in the journey.
1. Always think of your health as a continuous journey – not just a “one and done” fix. Quick fix programs almost always tend to fail (mine did). They can help supplement a long range strategy but should never replace it. Remember that you only have one body and spare parts are still hard to find. And just like getting rid of a bad habit, it takes much longer to fix something that’s broken than it does to break it.
2. The human body is one of the most complex, wonderfully integrated organisms in the world. You must think holistically about every part in your health journey. Understand that your mental, emotional and spiritual health are just as important to your physical health as the food you put in your body.
3. Learn to handle stress. While stress has value in revving up the body, we push it into overload. This causes bad things to happen such as weight gain, high blood pressure and other health problems. If stress is a big problem for you, try to figure out what is causing the stress and look at ways to minimize that stress. Perhaps it’s a self-esteem issue that is eating away at your heart – part of mine was. Or finances,health, child-care, a job and so on. I found online training at Coursera to be very beneficial in restoring my self-esteem. At my doctor’s recommendation, I also learned to use meditation and mindfulness techniques to help control my blood pressure.
4. Document everything and look back to find patterns and trends. I keep a daily health journal where I almost faithfully record things like weight, blood pressure, peak flow (for asthma control), food, problems I am having, exercise, even stressful events or weather which can sometimes cause problems. Although it may seem time consuming, it has helped me pinpoint patterns on problem areas that I would have forgotten (did I have an allergy attack after eating that food; how many times did I have a vertigo attack). It’s especially critical if trying to lose weight – we often are not aware of how much we eat. A journal helps remind us of how much we may be eating.
5. In the beginning, measure everything. Unless you’ve been done the road before and understand what carbs, calories and fats look like on your plate, measure everything – portion size, amount per portion, etc. Once you get a feel for it, you don’t need to do it for long (maybe 1-2 weeks). Take nothing for granted like you’ve done it before. You’ve probably forgotten (I had)
6. Record both your daily weight and then your measurements every two weeks. The daily weight is just for looking at possible problems. Don’t beat yourself up if you’ve gained. But think about why – time of month, weather, ate too much, stress, etc. If it’s something you can control, then fix it. If it’s not, don’t worry about it. Measurements are hugely critical. As we lose fat and gain muscle, we can actually gain weight yet look better and be healthier. So your victories can come from both weight loss and measurement loss. I’ve lost 39.25 inches from my neck to my calves along with the 65 pounds. I went from a 3X (24-26Women’s) to a 0X (14-16 Women’s) with all those inches lost.
7. Don’t be afraid to try new ideas, foods, treatments (unless dangerous at the beginning). Get creative and have fun on the journey. But make sure you document the feedback on how they worked.
8. Enjoy food but go as close to raw as you can. It is critical to eliminate processed foods with preservatives and sugars from your life (you can still cook foods but preferably from scratch or with organic prepared foods). Keep vegetables and fruits raw when possible especially the dark leafy greens. But never hesitate to add additional veggies to soups, stews, smoothies when cooking. They add additional nutrients. Go organic if possible to keep out pesticides and herbicides.
9. Read labels on everything – food, hair/skin care, medicines, etc. Understand what is going into your body. Some of the additives are not on the labels, but the first start is to get the ones that are labeled out of your body. If possible go organic to keep out many of these additives although even organics can contain harmful additives.
10. Planning – planning – planning.
a. Plan your meals and your snacks especially if you work. Cook them ahead and store individual prepared sizes (your own healthy version of fast food meals). Make them up the night before so that you have no excuses forgetting them and having running down for a quick snack in the cafeteria. Always have 1-2 in the freezer for the times you are too tired to cook when getting home late. That will save a stop at the fast food joint just a mile from home
b. Go for big rich tastes – fresh herbs, spices, healthy oils, honey, dark agave syrup (low glycemic index but rich flavor like molasses), lots of vegetables and fruits. Just be careful on the portions since they do contain calories.
c. Savor your first bite. It’s best if you can chew all your bites slowly as our grandmothers used to say, but if you don’t have time then savor the first bite. Taste and smell and feel that bite. The memory of that bite will satisfy your cravings as you inhale the rest.
d. Plan special treats. Don’t deprive yourself needlessly of something you love. Especially if you are going to have cut out something like sugars in the beginning. When I first started, I decided to cook a pan of organic brownies cut into 1/20th serving size and have just 1 per night. Nothing else sweet but that brownie. I froze the bulk of them since 20 brownies would go bad or get eaten in 20 days. I did that for the first 4 months. I craved that brownie and I savored every small bite when I ate it. And I lost 40pounds that first four months eating that brownie.
e. Look for alternatives. Potatoes are delicious but very high carb. Think about cauliflower or sweet potato instead. You can grill/bake both into something like French fries or mash both of them. You can turn the sweet potato savory by adding pepper and chili powder. There are wonderful recipes for anything online. Again get creative – don’t be tied to a recipe. Just make sure you understand the hidden costs of whatever you put together.
f. Put together foods that work for you. I am not really a smoothie fan. I like “CRUNCH” in my food. My crunchy smoothy equivalent might be a small serving of plain Greek yogurt (high protein), 1T honey, and about 6 walnut halves broken into smaller pieces. Crunchy and smooth in one dynamic taste treat. Or celery and walnuts together (very tasty).
g. If you travel, think about portable alternatives. I use organic nuts and dark chocolate for snacks. They go everywhere. But remember balance. A snack might be 4 small pieces of chocolate and 6-7 walnut halves (see picture). DarkChocWalnutSnackSizeIMAG0389-withlabel
11. Forgive the transgressions , delays and setbacks that may occur along the way. Take control of those things you can fix (like stress eating) and look for ways to handle those things you can’t help (how to get through a health crisis).
12. Find an encouraging support network that can help you through the bad times and celebrate your successes with you (mine is on Facebook but it can be anywhere and in multiple locations). This is hugely critical. If anyone is trying to tear you down while on your journey, you need to avoid them or figure out how to make them part of the team. There is no middle ground on this. The journey can be very hard without the strength that comes from this network.
13. Celebrate every victory (no matter how insignificant it may seem) with your support group. Capture the victories in some way like pictures of clothes you’re giving away now because they are too small. I have a photo of the two sales tags for the pair of 3X slacks I bought in August 2012 and the 0X pair I bought in April 2013 (you can see them on my Flickr set http://www.flickr.com/photos/kelcym/sets/72157633425346350/). It’s inspirational to see the change. Periodically celebrate with something special at a key milestone like 10pounds lost or dropped a dress size. While a planned food treat is ok, try to make the celebration a non-food event like a spa visit or something you couldn’t do before like hang gliding or getting a new top in a smaller size. My one year anniversary gift was a pendant on a 19inch chain. I had lost enough weight that my neck was now small enough for the chain to look great while feeling comfortable rather than choking me. And it’s now a constant reminder when I wear it that I have lost all that weight.
14. Build a health team especially if you are seriously overweight or have health issues. My team increased this year and includes my primary care physician (also does acupuncture), a chiropractor, physical therapists, dentist, ENT doctor, regular eye doctor and glaucoma specialist, and a master fitness trainer. I don’t need them all the time but I have professionals that I trust and can work with when needed.
15. Exercise is critical but it doesn’t need to be strenuous especially if you are very out of shape like I am. My exercise plan is coordinated with my health care professionals because of health issues. I found that as I lost weight, I also lost mass. I felt that I should be getting stronger but I was not. My physical therapist reminds me periodically that the weight (the fat) gave me strength. As I lost it the muscles were not yet strong enough to support the weight that still remained. But I can’t exercise at superhuman level to rebuild the muscles yet. It will happen but that will take some time.  One of the worst things you can do is push yourself so hard that you get an injury that sets you back.
16. Get enough sleep. This is critical and something that I have problems with because of an early morning work schedule. If you can’t sleep enough at night, try to take power naps (20-30minutes) during the day. It’s not enough but better than nothing.
17. Don’t set an impossible goal. Setbacks will happen. For me it was two surgeries for sight-threatening glaucoma, severe debilitating vertigo attacks and a car accident. Yet I still managed to lose weight. I just had to slow down my goal of losing 100 pounds in the first year – but I still made it to 65 despite the setbacks. Think about the time delays as a period of healing for your body and as a way to learn to maintain those new healthy habits.
Remember that it’s the journey that’s important.  I’m sure this list will keep growing over time. It will be interesting to look back and see what else I learn along the journey.

I’m creating a new  category called Health Journey where I hope to share some of the struggles and lessons learned from a lifetime of trying to fit in with society’s ideas of beauty.    Just recently, I’ve come to realize that my focus needs to be on the journey to getting  healthy and then maintaining it not on some individual component like the pounds lost or gained.   Because good health isn’t just about weight loss or exercising – it’s about understanding health holistically from physical, spiritual, mental, and emotional realms (and any other I might have left off) and putting together all the parts in a way that contributes to a healthful life no matter how many setbacks may occur along  the way.   I’d also love to hear your stories and your lessons from the journey to better health. Image

I created this memory box in July to commemorate the first 9 months of the journey.  You can find out  more about it in an earlier post so I won’t repeat the explanation.  But I hope to use my artwork to both nourish my soul and share the memories of the journey.

Real vs Computational Art

The past two weeks I started three classes (I am probably certifiably crazy) while experiencing vertigo attacks and working full time. The classes included two MOOCs from Coursera: Intro to Computational Arts (SUNY) and Creativity, Innovation, and Change (CIC) (Penn State) along with Digital Storytelling (DS106) headless version started at Univ of Mary Washington and is now about online learners engaging each other. They are all complementary and I would love to take all three but I realized this past week that I do not have much interest in computational art. I was lucky that one of the exercises this week in CIC was to look at the passions and purposes of your life ring. I have known my driving passion for some years, but I have also found that I misplace or mislabel that passion when something knew comes along. And I think that is what I did when I signed up for computational arts. I wanted to learn and seek out new knowledge and then share it (my driving passion and the reason for the name of this blog). I also wanted to interact with others while attempting to create new art (even if computational). That has been an exciting part of the last two classes – Intro to Art (Penn State) and Art & Inquiry (Museum of Modern Art). But as I looked at the assignments and videos for Intro to Computational Arts, I realized why I do not find it as satisfying to do computational art as I do real art. Real art means that all your senses are involved not just your eyes (your brain is involved no matter what form of art is done). In computational art, I can’t feel the paper – touch its grain or thickness. I can’t smell the pungent turpentine or oils. I can’t taste the glue on my fingers when I accidentally chew on a fingertip while trying to figure out what to do next. I can’t see the textures and colors until the programming code works. As a programmer, I have to imagine the finished artwork and hoping that I make no typos. As an artist, I am also imagining the finished artwork but I am seeing it take shape as I create it. And while it is exciting to “birth” a visual object from code, it’s not near as exciting as seeing the evolution of new artwork into a surrealistic abstract, a funny sculpture or a more traditional portrait of my dog for mail art. So with only a small sense of regret, I’m going to give up computational arts for the time being. Perhaps some day I will find enough time to try it again.

So here it is at the end of the first week when I intended to “kick ds106 butt” and I find myself thinking about 21st century elegance. I think the concept of elegance has changed somewhat from the 1800s. Instead of being tied so much to people and their dress & mannerisms, I find elegance in science and technology – new solutions that let us connect quickly around the world – new robotics that mimic human mannerisms with its own weird grace – new structures that tower above the ancient palaces where elegant couples once tripped a dance. I also see it in new forms of art that weren’t possible before the 21st century where the junk of the past 100 years is being repurposed into something magical like the metal swallows that Jeremy Mayer makes out of typewriter parts. Or installation art like Second Meeting by James Turrell where his skyspace invites you to explore light and color. This is true elegance – simple, graceful, full of impact.

But the task for today’s Daily Create was to take a photograph of something I would consider 21st elegance. I saw so many possibilities but chose a mixed media picture that I created in December 2010. This is shown amidst the chaos of the garage that I have turned into a quasi-art studio.

Through A Plastic Mist - Mixed Media artwork by kelcym

Through A Plastic Mist – Mixed Media artwork by kelcym

This is a mixed media picture with the figure drawn in oil pastels. Other materials include posterboard, plastic bath mat, bottle caps and lids, and beads. I was inspired by a painting of a very elegant kingly figure and wanted to try to create one. Mine took a turn for the absurd and suddenly I knew that this little wannabe was peering through a mist trying to be something he could not be. Ergo the plastic bath mat as the mist and the bottle caps as jewels for wannabes don’t get the real thing. Instead they need to find their own elegance rather than try to emulate someone else’s.

Headless #ds106er Kicks Butt

HeadlessKicksButt-B-8-28-2013A comment on my earlier blog today from Alan Levine inspired me to do this drawing. In part it’s also a response to Jim Groome’s tweet. I may be slow to get going but I plan to kick butt for #ds106. However, animated gifs will have to wait for another day. So what are my goals for #ds106:

1. Have fun
2. Kick butt on digital storytelling (includes learning the apps )
3. Interact with current fraingers and make new ones

Despite 2013 being an apocalyptic year for health issues (glaucoma, vertigo, car accident) for me, I’m learning how to enjoy classes with subpar health. And I’m grateful for the truly creative and fun people that I’m meeting along the way. I may be in overkill but this week I sort of started ( still have to register) a class called Digital Storytelling (DS106) from the Univ of Mary Washington – a “headless” online course where no one and everyone is really in charge. I’m also scheduled to start an online Coursera class on computational arts that is similar in some ways to DS106. And next week I start Penn State’s MOOC on Creativity, Innovation and Change (CIC or PSUCIC). I’ve signed up to work with some fraingers (friends who were strangers and have become friends through online courses) from another course. I’ve also agreed to become part of a quadblog group again for #CIC to help others learn how to blog. It’s great to have an instant audience when you are first learning. You will see others of my CIC quadblog group if you look at the links on the right hand side.

In addition to posting new experiences, I’m hoping get out a set of experiences from the past 3 classes that I have not yet added to the blog: Penn State’s Intro to Art, UPENN’s Growing Old Around the Globe, and MoMA’s Art of Inquiry this summer.

Journey to Health Memory Box

For the Intro to Art class #artmooc, we had to do a personal collections “cabinet of curiosities” or memory box like those created by Joseph Cornell, one of my favorite artists. I’ve written about him in an earlier blog when I submitted a memory box as my photo for another class. The interesting thing about personal collections is that they are so diverse. Not only did Joseph Cornell create boxes but his home became an organized collection of objects that could be used to create other boxes. Andy Warhol kept a cardboard box next to his desk and would drop papers and other things in it. When full it would be labeled and placed with other boxes in storage. I’ve done that at times in my life as a cleaning technique but I doubt anyone would be interested in their contents beyond myself. But because I’ve collected many things and have created memory boxes, I wasn’t sure initially what to do. But the most important thing in my life right now is my journey to better health. It is changing my life style and creating artifacts although many of those are digital like pictures of clothes given away when they became too large.

So I decided to create an emerging memory box since my journey to better health is not finished and not all the artifacts are yet available. The rollercoaster represented in the pictures is the original Mr. Twister from Elitch Gardens that I rode once as a girl. My journey resembles that of a rollercoaster ride right now.

JourneyHealthBox

The Journey Health Box was created using an old makeup box that was labeled INDEED Brush Essentials along with different types of glues and tape. I kept the box intact because I love the silver color, the hardware and the mirror inside. This box contains artifacts that I have begun to gather since I started my journey to better health in September 2012. At that time I weighed 319.4 pounds with a number of health problems. I am aging and was afraid that I would become a physical vegetable unable to enjoy my latter years if I didn’t do something now. For most of my adult life I have been on a rollercoaster of weight loss and fitness programs. They would be effective for a few years and then I would go back to unhealthy living patterns. In September, I felt that this was the last time I had to do this. That it was the end of the rollercoaster – time to stop that ride and get as healthy as I could be as I grow older. Yet in some ways the journey since September has had its own twists and turns and plunges as I ended up with other unexpected health issues like eye surgeries to prevent blindness from glaucoma or severe vertigo that limited my ability to move. Yet through it all I was able to slowly lose weight and start to exercise more effectively two months ago. The journey isn’t finished as I have almost a hundred pounds to go. So this box will not be finished until I can get down to 160 pounds. And at that time I may end up with a cabinet as I have other artifacts that I am keeping like the cane I want to stop using by December 2013 or the pair of very large slacks and shirt I want to compare to my new clothes.

When putting this box together, I searched out pictures of the Mr. Twister rollercoaster from Elitch Gardens in Colorado. I had ridden this coaster as a young girl and it reminded me both of the rollercoaster weight losses of my adult life and the journey that I am now on. The original Mr. Twister is now gone – too big to fit into the new location for Elitch Gardens – just as my old ways are going to be gone to be replaced by a beautiful new vision (see photo of the new Mr.Twister II along the Denver skyline). To the box I added two graphs that show my weight loss of 40 pounds in 2012 – a nice drop followed by the rollercoaster of 2013 of only 22 pounds where other health problems caused twists and turns. I also added in a small section of a Facebook screenshot from comments on Dec 25, 2012. My friends and family on Facebook have been a key part of the encouragement that keeps me going when the rollercoaster seems out of control. I also added in small photos of myself at various points to show the weight loss in my face. Unfortunately, I did not take any full body shots at the beginning to show the 35 inches now lost. I also created a 3D photo insert that is movable and changeable. One side has a “selfie” of me from Friday looking up – looking forward to the next part of the journey. The other parts of the 3d insert (made of styrofoam board) have a picture of the first run of Mr. Twister with a comment that the first step is the hardest coupled with 319.4 pounds (starting weight). Other pictures not seen include small versions of the two size tags and myself in the gym last week. The two size tags show the physical weight loss. I had just purchased 3 pair of slacks in August 2012 in 3X(26-28W). I went back in April 2013 to get the same brand of slacks in 0x (14-16W) – many sizes smaller. Two of the 3X slacks were donated to the thrift shop; the other pair are part of my curiosity cabinet for when I complete this journey and a new me has emerged at 160 pounds.

For those of you wondering what it’s taken, I may write another blog. I have not done anything special except remove processed foods from my lifestyle. I enjoy foods like dark chocolate, coffee, and steak but I couple them with lots of dark greens and almost always organic due to allergies to even small amounts of chemicals. It’s been worth it. I don’t feel deprived and I am getting healthier even if some days the rollercoaster dips and twists a little too quickly for comfort.

Officially I started Howard Rheingold’s class “Think-Know Tools” by attending the second session of the online forum tonight. I was very excited about this opportunity to learn from the man who wrote “Smart Mobs” in 2002 and continues to be a force in thinking and learning. The small group session tonight was great with about 10 of the students attending (the rest participated in the first session the day before). We got to interact through Blackboard and learn how to navigate the different sections of the class website (wiki, forums, lexicon, blogs and mindmaps). The class will have weekly virtual sessions, although I will not be able to participate in many of them because of the time difference. But most of the real work will be done interactively yet asynchronously online. To get familiar with different elements we each volunteered to take on some role contributing to learning like “search jockey” to search out websites for ideas mentioned in the chat. I really enjoyed the session but I came away discouraged. In March I went through two surgeries for glaucoma. I thought that the healing had progressed enough to be able to handle an intensive online class. But I found that wasn’t the case. At the end of an hour and a half, I walked away from the computer almost blinded by weariness and a headache.

In a slow-paced learning environment where you can control the media, it is possible for me to take breaks and resize screens so that I can learn. But in the Blackboard live session, the chat font and the video was very small (no matter how large I sized it). And even the whiteboard began to get blurry toward the end as the topics became smaller as more were dropped onto the mindmap. My physical limitations certainly play a role in the mind map we were building on augmentation where cognition may be limited by problems with perception which could possibly be enhanced or modified by technology.

I’m hoping that I can continue with the asynchronous part of the class but the reading may also defeat me. I have had to limit reading to some extent and go to audio books whenever possible. But I think that I can contribute some unique perspectives for those with disabilities whether old ones or newly acquired regardless of the reason why.

Yesterday I started listening to “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg.  Due to glaucoma,  I now find it easier to listen to audio books than read especially if I have been working on the computer all day.  It takes longer and I have to replay some parts, but I’m enjoying the process.

So far I’m only through Chapter 2  since listening takes much longer than reading (I haven’t yet been able to listen effectively to 1.5 or 2x speed and learn anything).   Much of what Sheryl Sandberg talks about is familiar to me after 38 years in a heavily male dominated workplace like the US Army and Department of Defense.  I plan to do some blogging as I read and will share some of my own personal experiences as I go.  I was partly inspired to write these thoughts by an awesome letter by Phyllis Richman 52 years after the event that changed her career plans.  I would encourage you to take the time to read this letter.

As I listened to Lean In, some key points emerged:

* Chapter 1 – Women have to do better than men in the workplace. Men are promoted based on potential while women are based on performance.  Early in my Army career (started in 1975), it became obvious that women always had to do about 110% whereas men could by with 80%.  I reported to my first assignment with a male counterpart.   I had completed  specialty training by graduating in the top 20% whereas my male colleague had failed the courses once before finally passing.  But that detail didn’t matter – no commander wanted the  female 2nd Lieutenant.  So I was thrown to the least politically astute commander (ultimately to the chagrin of the commander who got the male 1st Lieutenant).   I didn’t know this till about a year afterward when the other commander apologized for his biased mindset.  The lesson learned here is that you never know when your performance can change someone’s mind.

* Chapter 2 – Getting ahead in your career requires taking risks and advocating for oneself – both traits that women are not encouraged to learn. I think this is partly true – women are encouraged to take risks for the family but are expected to be self-sacrificing with no need for the skill to advocate for oneself.     Women are willing to take risks but sometimes get locked into a mental model that says they can’t without upsetting the family.  I think that Phyllis Richman’s letter highlights that even in a family setting, women can take risks to have a rich career and still maintain a great home life.   However, I totally agree with the lack of skill or experience to advocate for oneself.  I have seen this so often with many extremely competent women and experienced it myself.   This is a rich topic worth exploring more later so I’m not going to say much now.   However, about three years ago there was a lot of discussion on Twitter as to why there were more men than women speakers at conferences (especially technical conferences). Many factors played into that but one of the key areas of consensus was that women didn’t advocate for themselves as speakers.  And in most cases they weren’t aware that they needed to or how to acquire the experience to do that.  I know from personal experience that I don’t advocate for myself as I should.  I know my abilities and potential and expect that others should be able to see them without trying to sell myself.  Yet I can recognize when I see women who do it gracefully.  Perhaps this is something where mentors can help.

At the end of 2012, there was a call in our community to write about what individuals learned in 2012 and share it using the hashtag #learn2012. I started thinking about that a lot and put together a draft which I’m just now publishing. I’m not sure the answers are yet clear but here’s my initial draft for #learn2012. Please note that I am not sure if there will be a final draft. My lessons learned may evolve into other lessons that are less temporal.

I would call the first 8 months of 2012 a blur of overwork and stress followed by grieving as changes were made in the summer that stripped away all the activities that I had been engaged in. While there were bright new promises starting in January 2012, they quickly turned sour as expectations were improperly communicated or understood. During this time I put my personal life on hold (more so than usual) and attempted to meet those expectations based on my current strengths. As I have since learned, I needed to stop and question whether those expectations were realistic for my current skill set or needed to be modified. I also needed to determine if I would need to change or grow or learn in order to handle them if they remained unchanged. As a result, I came out of the experience with an evaluation of “minimally successful”. While no one likes being treated as a failure, perhaps I needed that evaluation to shake up my thinking.

At the same time, stress had taken its toll on my health and I was literally falling apart physically. My blood pressure was through the roof and I had gained 30 pounds on top of my other weight. I was constantly sick and finding myself housebound when I went home because I had no energy to do anything or go anywhere. The best I could do was continue to search the internet for new knowledge and engage with communities on Facebook and Twitter. But even the search for new knowledge was no longer satisfying as it didn’t seem to be needed (or wanted?) in the workplace.

Sometimes in order to take actions for new growth or learning, you need to move on. That might be through a new job, new activities or new connections. I chose not to go for the new job which might have even more stress because of new expectations. Since my activities were restricted to the mundane in the current workplace, I looked outside to find new challenges. My first focus was my health and surprisingly my second focus became elearning. Both of these activities would have benefits if I were successful and I would be able to juggle them while still carrying a full work load.

In September, I started on a new lifestyle health plan that meant building up a team of health professionals to assist me. I still have a long way to go but so far I have lost 55 pounds and almost 28 inches while growing stronger and able to handle stress more effectively. Unfortunately, I also discovered problems with my eyesight that resulted in two laser surgeries in March 2013 for glaucoma and continued problems even after the surgeries. I am continuing my quest for health but it is tempered with the knowledge that I may have further challenges ahead.

Elearning would not have been my first choice for an alternative activity, although I do thrive on learning from others in my social media networks like Facebook, G+  and Twitter. But in August, I joined a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) in machine learning that others in the community were taking. While it brought back some good memories of monitoring research efforts in the early 2000’s, I was not able to wrap my mind around linear algebra. I tried several other MOOC classes but linear algebra or the need to learn a new programming language kept defeating me. Then I started the Gamification course taught by Kevin Werbach at the Wharton School/UPenn. It was challenging with an element of creativity that drew me in. The same thing happened with the Design: Artifacts course by Karl Ulrich also at Wharton School/UPenn. These two classes engaged both my critical and creative thinking. I’ve written a bit about my experiences with MOOCs on this site, but the one thought that I walked away from all the early MOOC classes was that I hadn’t fully engaged with the collaborative communities that were available. I may explore the possible reasons why in later posts. But as Thanksgiving approached, I received an email from the instructors for the e-Learning and Digital Cultures (EDC) course taught by the University of Edinburgh. They encouraged us to gain familiarity with various collaborative tools prior to the start of the course and use the hashtag #EDCMOOC to acknowledge that use. One of the students established a closed Facebook group and G+ community which enabled small groups to connect and interact before the course started sharing knowledge on tools, techniques, cultural insights, tradecraft on elearning and getting to know each other as “fraingers” (strangers who met online and became friends without ever having met in person). It reminded me of the early days between 2005-2008 when the same could be said for the virtual community that was being formed in our community.

So what did I learn:
1. Continually being a change agent is exhausting. Sometimes you need a break to recharge and maybe reinvent yourself.
2. Collaboration is time-consuming.   As a mindset, collaboration is sorely underutilized in our community – even by those who may be natural collaborators. Most of the focus is on the tools rather than on the mindset that makes collaboration successful.
3. Collaboration is the foundation for digital learning. If you walk away from a MOOC having only watched the videos and completed the assignments/tests, then you have achieved only half the learning that is possible
4. Leaders and managers need to be involved in collaboration

I have no earthly idea where these lessons learned will take me. I find myself sadly bored these days in the workplace as I see the same problems still unsolved after 10-20 years. And chaos masquerading as change. So I doubt that these lessons will have value there. I think my best value will be to continue to work broaden my horizons through my health journey and working on elearning as time and eyesight permit. The idea of broadening my horizons is summarized in a great tweet that I forgot to write down attribution: “ Creativity shouldn’t be focused in one area for too long. Just as runners need to cross-train, people need to broaden creative horizons”

Jabulani Does CIC

Creativity, Innovation, and Change

My MOOC experiences

conversations and learning in the digital world

Gather with Purpose

intersection of community, learning and technology

Teaching 'E-learning and Digital Cultures'

thoughts and reflections on the EDC MOOC

Digital Cultures

Digital cultures, e-learning, and humanity

Taxipediography

Travel::Kids::Tech::Foreign Service

RecoveringFed

I know it's hard to believe, but we're citizens just like you!!

What's The Big Data?

The evolving IT landscape

Shepherd's Pi

A fuzzy technologist carves up facts & figures