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Cue the Parade, It's the 2nd Anniversary of Beginning My Journey

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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Err on the Side of Success

It’s not very often that I want to jump off a cliff, but sometimes people say things that make me contemplate it.

One of my fitness mademoiselles was texting with me to make sure she was doing things correctly. Long story short, she wasn’t. After explaining what she should do, I received the response, “Eh, screw it, whatever!”

I face-palmed.

Everywhere you look you’re bombarded by ads that say that healthy food is too expensive, too hard to make, too lame, too boring, too inconvenient. And the funny thing is all of those are both completely true and utterly false.

But YOU have to decide which one it is.

If you think it’s too difficult or inconvenient or expensive, it doesn’t have to be. And I’m living proof that it isn’t. But I’m not here to argue against you because we’d be wasting both of our time.

I’m here to represent the people who realize that healthy living doesn’t have to be hard but might not know how to incorporate it into their life. Yes, it will require adjustments, but you and I both know that it’s possible. And not only is it possible, it’s easy, delicious, inexpensive, and, dare I say it, FUN.

I stand for the woman who is taking charge of her life. She realizes she isn’t where she wants to be. But she knows that it’s up to her to make a change. And she knows that taking an attitude of “screw it, whatever!” just doesn’t cut it for her.

She and I have something in common: we err on the side of success.

The phrase “err on the side of caution” is an ok starting point for most when it comes to diet and exercise, but I want to take it a step further.

When you err on the side of caution, you might be hesitant to try something new, thinking that a change may be harmful to the status quo. But if you want to be healthier, OF COURSE YOU WILL HAVE TO CHANGE!!

That’s why erring on the side of caution doesn’t quite do it for me. It lacks the boldness, the vision, the confidence to go out and show the world that you are a force to be reckoned with. It lacks the spirit of adventure and gumption and grace and courage and humility it takes to make a change. And most importantly, it lacks the heart behind knowing you CAN improve to be your best self.

“Whoa there, Gen,” you’re probably thinking. “This isn’t like your usual posts! What’s up?”

In the spirit of full transparency, I’m starting contest prep this upcoming week.

Contest prep, for the unfamiliar, is the process where I get ready for a figure competition. It is a few months long and requires extreme dedication to diet and exercise. Every little bit of sleep, stress, nutrient timing, food composition, and supplement intake matters. In short, basically your entire life gets shifted so you look your best in the show.

When you’re up on stage, every little thing counts. You’re putting your body up for comparison to lots of other women who have been dialing in their lifestyle to present the best package they can. And if they’re doing the details correctly, you’d better bet your ass that I’ll be right alongside them, monitoring everything so that I can bring my best package to the show.

This is where I am erring on the side of success.

There will always be temptation to cheat. There will be birthday parties, bar hopping with friends, invitations to gatherings. And yes, the temptation to say “whatever, one little slice of cake won’t matter!” will definitely come up.

But at those moments, I will remind myself of my commitment to err on the side of success. I’ll remember that this prep isn’t forever and there will be more celebrations later where I can indulge. But for right now, it’s more important for me to feel good onstage and know without a shred of doubt that I did everything I could to succeed. And that slice of cake just isn’t worth it to me.

So when you’re weighing your choices next time, I invite you to stop and think for a second.

Ask yourself, “Will this make it easier or harder to achieve my goals?”

Make the choice that errs on the side of success.

It might not be easy, but I bet it will be worth it.


What are you doing to err on the side of success? Leave a comment below to share your wisdom!

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