The Power of Our Network by Laurie Berry

laurie berry

Laurie Berry is the Director of Housing and Residence Life at the University of Southern Indiana.  Laurie has a Bachelor’s degree in English Literature and her Master’s degree in Student Personnel Services from Western Kentucky University.  She is a doctoral candidate at Indiana State University and plans to complete her Ph.D. in Educational Leadership 2014.  Laurie is exploring the positive power of networks.  Her doctoral work centers on a study of a twitter hashtag community.  The picture above is one of many she has taken over the years with two of her most active supporters, Julie Payne-Kirchmeier and Ann Marie Klotz.  Laurie encourages others to embrace the power of their networks.  You can follow Laurie on twitter @LaurieABerry.

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For the past several years, I have spent the month of November in thankfulness.  As I began to sketch out this post, I realized the genesis of the idea I want to write about today is rooted in a discovery I made years ago.  I am thankful for technology and the ability to be connected in ways I never dreamed of when I first sat down at a computer in middle school.  Who knew that the blinking orange cursor of those monochrome monitors would be a gateway to a network that would help challenge me to be the best version of myself? 

Christakis and Fowler (2009) found that “Social networks spread, happiness, generosity, and love.  They are always there, exerting both subtle and more dramatic influence over our choices, actions, thoughts, feelings, even our desires.  Beyond our own social horizons, friends of friends of friends can start chain reactions that eventually reach us, like waves from distant lands that wash up on our shores.” (Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives, page 7).

I was not always like I am today.  I struggle with my weight and have for the latter part of my life.  I was once an athlete who enjoyed competitive sports.  When I wasn’t playing soccer or basketball, I was coaching, and officiating in our local community leagues.  I was a passionate player and I enjoyed coaching and officiating.  Like many of us as I grew older, I became less active.  I played intramurals with our hall teams in college, but as the years passed, I became less active.  And so the slow decline in activity lead to what became a sedentary lifestyle.

When I was in my twenties, I could do anything or so I thought. When my body was stretched physically, I was able to recover quickly.  Now in my later forties, I have learned to listen to my body’s not-so-subtle signals to slow down.  My knees crack when I overexert myself and my ankle aches when the temperature changes.  I have pulled my back a few times this year.  I am getting older and add to it the fact that I am over weight then I have some challenges when it comes to my lifestyle and health.  The good news in all of this is that despite what appears to be a downhill slide, I feel optimistic about my health. I am making positive changes.  My progress is slow and mostly steady.  Every day is a new day to do better with exercise and make wiser choices with my nutrition.  Most days, I do well with both.  Some days, I do not.  When I feel up to it, I walk the stairs rather than taking the elevator.  Between meetings on campus, I will walk to other offices or do a lap around the University Center.  I lift weights every other day and I find myself finding more time to “Just Dance” with my daughter.  I am now in the habit of making healthier choices.  When I eat on campus, I always get steamed broccoli and when there is not another vegetable I like, I get a double order.  I have learned to share desserts so I get a taste.

While I must do the work to get healthier, I am not in this alone.  I find inspiration from my network.  I need not look much farther than Facebook or Twitter to see what others are doing to stay fit.  We profess that we want to model fitness to those around us.  Many set, share and exceed those challenging fitness goals.  We share our triumphs, our challenges and our vulnerabilities.  It is one of the many reasons I love the #safit community.  I share I am pumped to be up and ready to work out as I drag myself from the bed.  I tweet my best version of myself knowing that once I am into the music on my headphones and working out, I become that person… sweating all the way.

It is in those vulnerable moments, when we share how we struggle to get a run or work out in that I connect in a real way with someone facing a similar circumstance.  When I see a post that moves me, I often comment to offer support and understanding.  Other times the best I can do if give a “like” to show support.  Currently, I do not know what it feels like to complete a 5K or half marathon.  I am not a runner…yet.  I may get there or I may find my exercise routine in other ways.  I know I did not enjoy running when I was younger.  I saw running as a necessary component to the sports I liked to play but not an activity in and of itself.  I also did not like mushrooms when I was younger.  We change and evolve.  I will leave my mind and body open to jogging or running in the future.  My point is I can support and share in the celebrations of those who run.  It is the person, commitment and accomplishment I am celebrating as much as the actual activity.

Here are four things I have learned in my fitness journey:

  • Listen and learn from others.  There is much wisdom in the #safit community.  We are all at different levels and commitment in our fitness lifestyle.  There is much we can learn from each other through direct conversation as well as observation from afar.  Be open to what you will discover.
  • Share triumphs and struggles.  There is power in sharing our stories.  I have found some of my strongest connections are made when I am vulnerable with others.  I do not need to connect with everyone.  I relate with different people at different points in time.  I have learned to reach out when I feel that connection.  When I have reached out and connected, I have been inspired.
  • Embrace the messiness of the journey.  There will be setbacks as well as triumphs in your fitness journey.  Learn from each.  I have good days, no-so-good days, great days, and bad days.  It is the same with weeks and months.  There is never a bad time to start over or do better.  Each decision can reinforce where you want to go.  All we do contributes to our well-being. 
  • Be sure to use your network.  Your network is the people you are around.  I have lots of support from my family and those in our office.  We share what we are trying to accomplish and we find way to support each other.  For example, when I am limiting the intake of carbs, my colleagues will be less likely to snack in my office at a meeting or we will have healthy snacks.  I also get support from my long-time friends.  Julie Payne-Kirchmeier has been an accountability buddy of mine for years.  We share goals and hold each other accountable to those stated goals with a quick conversation, text or Facebook message.  I also find inspiration from my social media network.  Kelley McCarthy, Julie Leos and Jeannette Passmore check in with me and inspire me with their healthy efforts.  Each of us has different people with whom we can rely upon for support.  I am starting to work with a former colleague who is a fitness coach.  There is no doubt Matt Gregory will challenge and support the goals I set.  All of these folks give me the space and support I need to move forward and challenge me when I need it.

I believe together we will continue to become and evolve into the best versions of ourselves.  I look forward to learning and being inspired from you along the way.  After all we can all use more happiness, generosity, healthy habits and love in our lives.

 

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