Own Your Stuff

It was a blissful month long celebration of ‘birthday month’, but I was happy to finally sit on the couch with my feet up. It had been an endless month of seeing friends over coffee, lunch, and dinner. I was present to everyone that came my way and proactive about calling old friends and asking them to join me in celebrating. I believed in birthday month like it was a national holiday. One not too be missed. But what I had learned over the years as well was that a celebration of that sort would not simply ‘show up’ in my life, but would have to be created. And so I began the invitations and celebrations and had a month of well needed happy.

Yet as I awoke this morning on the last day of the month, I was caught by surprise by the mirror image in front of me. AKA: me. You’re 47, I said aloud to my reflection as I pretended to do a little fitness pose. 47. You’re almost 50, let’s face it. What I couldn’t believe, was that image staring back at me saying, yea, so what? What does that number even mean?

abs

Yes, some would say I deserved those abs, and the definition in my arms, with all of my swimming, biking and running to prepare for summer triathlons. Some would say, come on, with all that time you spend at the gym, of course you look like that. But to them I say, really?  Really? Because for almost 2 decades I have heard the opposite.

You just wait til your forties…it all goes down hill then. All of it. No matter what you do, they would say, your body has a mind of its own.

While I was skeptical about those words, seeming so unfair, I waited and watched, just to see what all the hubbub was about. Yet as I stood in awe of what seemed magical to me, abs on a 47-year-old body, I knew what had gotten me here. Me. It was not my obsession with food, or no food, working out or not working out, or even my body! No. It was my commitment to balance in my life. I was as committed to my workout days, as I was to my rest days. I was as committed to not withholding the foods I loved, as steering clear of the foods that made me feel sick.  I didn’t give up sugar, carbs, or coffee. I didn’t try on juice cleanses to cleanse myself of the chocolate I ate the night before. I didn’t give up dairy, wheat or gluten or indulge in high protein meals.

Instead, I learned to live in a way that had balance on each corner. I learned what things I felt I needed (or wanted badly) in my life: exercise, being lean, a stomach that didn’t hurt, chocolate, a job that was 5 days/week, a life that allowed me to be present for my teenagers, but without giving up my self and friends that supported my peaceful life. I then took all of those things and made a commitment to myself to have them. Was it easy? Never. Still isn’t. But I don’t let myself off the hook because some days are more challenging than others. I don’t tell myself stories about my age and how it doesn’t matter anymore anyway. I don’t fool myself into thinking that today doesn’t matter, when I know it is ALL that matters and that what I do today is indicative of what my tomorrow looks like.

This year was my 6th summer competing in triathlons. I use the word ‘competing’, but I am clearly my only competition. I have learned to enjoy the challenge of swimming, the feel of the wind on my face while I ride my bike and have learned to push myself (with the help of a trainer) to become a faster runner, pushing through some relentless demons in my head. Demons that tell me I’m too old for this, that swimming in a dark lake is dangerous, that people die in these kind of races, that it is too hot, too humid and just too hard. There are times I can’t make them stop. It seems that often they are so much smarter than I am, and that they are surely louder than I am, which makes me wonder if they are actually right. Yet I participate and race anyway, in spite of those voices.

This year’s race involved my first ever swim in 90-degree lake water. While I didn’t know for a fact, I was pretty sure that was the kind of water people died in. After a very long discussion with myself, I went in anyway and raced…kicking it in to the finish line.

My trainer, who had high hopes for my finishing time, shook his head upon hearing my demon-laced story. I had already beaten myself up the day before though and stood before him in a new light, ready to own my stuff.

“Most women my age, with as many fears as I have, with as many mental demons as I own, would not attempt this kind of race…ever. That’s actually why I do it though and am proud of myself, again, for finishing and not letting my fears, and my life, own me.”

Take your stuff, all of it: the good, the bad, the crazy…and own it like its yours. It is, after all, yours! That job, those kids, the house, that diet, that thing you call exercise…it’s all yours and is exactly the way you have created it. Embrace it if it energizes you, change it if it drains you.  It is that simple.

What is Fear Anyway?

I was merely 5 years old when my family noticed my fear of heights, which probably was a larger aha moment than when they realized I had a fear of the dark. I mean, that is why man created the ‘nightlight’, right? Yet my fear of heights, toppled with carsickness, seasickness, and airsickness would put a damper on anywhere we wanted to go.  While there are new gadgets for that stuff now, back then, the advise was to grab a bag and go anyway, or the route I took: try not to go anywhere!

But did I have a fear of heights? Or was I merely afraid of getting sick?  Perhaps no way to know for sure, but I can tell you that to this day, I still cannot look down into the valley below, or even out the window of a glass elevator.

I had a normal childhood, filled with all normal childhood activities. I went on vacations and sleep-away camps, learned to swim, ride a bike, and even water ski…but all the while, quitting things along the way. I quit softball, because it was too hot, and gymnastics because there was too much ‘upside down’ time.

Let’s just say, I had a lot of ‘stuff’. Though my stuff felt real to me and the longer I stayed away from it, the more justified I felt by my fears. Once I stopped riding a bike, I was pretty sure I was afraid of falling. Once I stopped swimming (as a 10 year old), I was pretty sure I was afraid of the water.

But what is fear really? And do you actually need a hypnotist to get over it?

I think not.

In 2008 I was challenged by a friend to train for a triathlon: a simple swim, bike, run race. At the time I was a fair-weathered runner (running only when it was not too hot, too cold, too humid, etc.), had crossed a few finish lines and did believe that human beings should not be stopped by fears. So sure…a Triathlon? Why not?

Yeah, well there were a million reasons why not…but for starters, I hadn’t been in the water or on a bike since I was ten. Ten years old, that is! I was determined to take on this training, though, much like my life. Stay focused on the task at hand, dig deep and keep doing it until you get it right. The first day in the pool I was able to swim 2 whole laps. TWO. I would have to get that to 60 laps for the race I was competing in that year, as well as get over my so-called fear of being in the dark, dark lake, but that was not the focus. The focus was: Good for you. Two laps. By the end of the week we will have to double that.

Five years later, and 10 triathlon finish lines, I decided it was time to get ‘fast’, which is not an easy thing to get. I was a 9-minute/mile runner. Period. I had a very good reason why I couldn’t go faster though. Fear. Not my fear of speed, heights or water, but my fear…of feeling sick.

I learned (with the help of my trainer) that this was my ongoing roadblock. It was simply my fear of what ‘could’ happen if I continue to push. He quickly saw what my body was capable of, tapped into the fear in my eyes as my body yearned to stop and would push me gently to the other side of my fear. He confirmed for me that the only thing to fear for sure was fear itself. He would not allow me to stop, sometimes letting out a roar as he could sense my body going down, and I finally learned that my mind didn’t have a clue about what my body could do.  It was a fascinating experience to run an 8-minute pace and still feel strong, and to hit the 7:30 pace, feeling almost like a machine. It gave new meaning to the words: fear and strength,  and a new understanding of the controls I hold.

It is amazing what the mind is capable of, though even more amazing what the mind is capable of keeping you from doing. This year will be my fifth summer crossing the  triathlon finish line…a challenge that never gets easy for me. How can it? Each race embraces every fear I own. It wraps tightly around my mind, squeezes deep into my gut and hisses to my body that I’m just not cut out for this kind of thing. But I do it anyway, because my race finish line simply makes my life finish line look easy.

 

It really does mimic life, doesn’t it? Dig deep and when you can’t take one more step, take ten small ones, but keep moving. Focus on the present, and control only what you can, making sure you don’t confuse that, with the things you can’t. Feel like your life has you wrapped around its’ finger? Find a finish line and start training! I promise you, the ‘finish’ will simply be the beginning.