I don’t really “do” New Year’s Resolutions.

That’s why you’re getting this post today – two years ago, on 9/22/2014, I started the journey that led me to where I am right now.

You know the photos on the front cover of me? The “before shot”? Yeah, that was two years ago.

Every time I look at those pictures I can’t help but cringe. I viscerally feel the emotions that were running through me at that moment. I mean, look at my face – I’m not even trying to hide them.

Unhappiness – I had just moved back to Indiana after years in Vegas that had not been kind to me, either physically or mentally.

Embarrassment – How did I get to 190-ish pounds? For crying out loud, I was an ATHLETE. I had competed with the best in the country just a few years prior – and now, I didn’t recognize myself in the mirror.

Exhaustion – More than anything, I was tired. Tired of feeling like going back to bed as soon as I woke up. Tired of exercising more and more just to see no impact on the scale. Tired of not owning myself. Allowing other people and events steer me instead of me choosing my own path.

Hope – Ah yes, hope. You can’t see it in my face, but I had the tiniest sliver of hope that I clung to. It said that maybe, just maybe, I’d be able to do this. And I wouldn’t know if I didn’t try.

While I had a lot of negativity running through me, I never lost hope. I chose to recognize my doubts and fears but not let them dictate my actions. I clung to that little spark of hope; I let my imagination take hold. I steadied myself as I started walking down an unfamiliar path.

In my imagination, I saw myself as the fittest version of myself. I had no idea what I would look like but I thought I knew what I would FEEL like.

Confident. Graceful. Strong. Poised. Composed.

Unstoppable.

As the days and weeks went by, the physical changes started to appear. And I began to dream bigger. What if I could do what I’d dreamed of… what if I competed in a figure competition? Could I do it? Well, I figured, why the hell not.

After three months of accumulating confidence and audacity, I set my sights on training for a figure competition. Stepping onstage at my first figure competition several months later was a rush of emotion and euphoria like I’d never experienced.

My outward appearance was a direct representation of what I’d worked hardest to conquer – not my body, but my mind.

I didn’t need to say a word as I posed in front of the judges and the crowd. I let my flexed muscles and stupid-wide smile do the talking for me. The quiet hopes and dreams of that unhappy woman shone through.

I’d done it.

Sometimes it’s best to take a pause and look back to where you started. It’s easy to lose track of how far you’ve come when you focus on putting one foot ahead of the other and making sure you’re doing the little things right, consistently.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. How everyone has a story. Everyone has a path. Everyone is somewhere in the middle of what we call life – struggling, succeeding, failing, thriving, flailing – all at once.

I’m no exception.

But if you’ll allow me, I’d like to share some lessons I’ve learned along the way.

1. Being scared to try something doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it.

My Mom has a saying – you should do things that make you nervous, but not things that depress you. Though I don’t do New Year’s Resolutions, I make it a goal to do one thing each year that scares the shit out of me. Last year’s goal was the figure competitions.

Being scared or nervous is common. But it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do something. If it makes you nervous, examine what kind of nervous it is.

Are you afraid of failure? Or of success?

What’s the absolute WORST that will happen – a non-exaggerated version that weighs the real-life pros and cons. We tend to take the worst-case scenario of an event that makes us uneasy. Is the doomsday prediction accurate, or is it your mind keeping you safe and sound by drowning out the flipside: the joy of success?

Pause and reflect before you decide. Too often we kill our own dreams before anyone else does.

Don’t let your future be a casualty. 

2. Choose who to ignore.

This sounds mean. Sometimes, it is mean. People will always have an opinion about what you should do or say or think. But we all have the precious gift to act and speak and think for ourselves.

People often have the best intentions for you, but it will never fully take your life into account. But you are the person who is the most interested party in your future. And you have the final say.

Sometimes you need to listen for the signal amid the noise and cling to that beacon. Choose to listen to the people who empower you, who cheer you on. Listen to the people who pick you up when you are down. Listen to those who give you courage to keep fighting when your intentions waver, and ignore everyone else, no matter how good their intention.

When you stand up for your dream and achieve it…. That’s the sweetest victory of all.  

3. I can’t be a perfectionist.

There is nothing more harrowing than putting yourself on a stage clearly intending to be judged by your looks. No one, except perhaps a few select people sitting in the audience, has seen you bleed, sweat, and cry for months in preparation. They just see you flex for 17 seconds, turn you around a couple of times and make you switch positions with a few other women, and then award trophies based on semi-arbitrary guidelines.

It’s gratifying to win trophies and have tangible markers of success. I’d be lying if I said I’d be incredibly disappointed if I hadn’t placed.
But I also know that a trophy doesn’t make me a winner, just like not placing wouldn’t have made me a loser. Every competitor on that stage deserved the biggest fucking trophy for slogging through the same shit for the past few months and being brave enough to stand alongside me. 

Every. Single. One.

Walking home with hardware didn’t make me better than anyone. But I had to remember that not placing higher didn’t make me worse than anyone, either.

Those expensive moments cost me literal blood, sweat and tears. I couldn’t let that price include my mental health.

Fighting the mental battle afterward took a lot of energy. Did I not place higher because of my posing? Were my shoulders too narrow? I had the best abs out there, why didn’t they see that? Did I include too much cardio the last few weeks? Shit, I had pumped up too early before judging – maybe that’s why I didn’t do better.

Those thoughts, and more, flew through my brain in rapid succession. Playing whack-a-mole to beat them back and not let them dictate my self-worth exhausted me.

I realized that by coming as close to “perfection” (whatever the hell that looked like for me) as I could and having it nearly destroy my self-esteem wasn’t worth it.

There are all different flavors of awesome, and perfection isn’t one of them.

Revisiting those memories is tough. Those lessons came at a high price. However, those experiences showed me my strength in the rawest form.

It takes a tremendous amount of heat and pressure to create a diamond.

My initials spell GEM.

Coincidence?

Absolutely, but I think in this case it fits quite well. 

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