On Becoming Powerful and Empowered

I have been writing a lot recently about the MAIA Impact School and my fight for girls’ education (rights, life – hope!) in Guatemala. Today I am bringing empowerment Stateside.

A couple of years ago, my Rheumatologist recommended adding weight-bearing exercise to my routine. Instead of doing what normal people do, you know, lift some weights here and there at the gym, maybe do the circuit equipment, I joined CrossFit Launchpad (CFLP). My Rheumatologist’s jaw dropped when I told her that. It was pretty funny, actually. I could see the wheels turning in her head, “Crossfit? Really? Do you always have to push the outside edge with this disease?” Why, yes, yes I do.

You see, I know myself, and it’s a fact that I will not pick up a weight unless I am instructed to do so. Accountability counts. Plus, the gym owner, Ronda Rockett, is a Primary Care Physician, so she knows all about body mechanics and physiology. When I told her that I have RA I felt safer knowing that she knew exactly what that meant. Plus, she seriously knows about health and fitness.

Crossfit Coach
Crossfit Coach and Athlete Ronda Rockett

Needless to say, I started showing up to these classes, at first cutting workouts in half and still hobbling around on pulled and tired muscles for days afterwards. I have been going long enough now that not much fazes me, the lingo all sounds familiar, and I have watched our crossfit community grow. The other day it struck me as I watched people moving around the gym, stretching and warming up, gearing up for the workout, asking questions of the coach – this small gym is a microcosm of society, a seemingly ever more rare reflection of what an inclusive, supportive, caring community looks like. The idea is to work hard personally, but not to leave anyone behind (even the family dog).

This tenet applies to everyone who comes to the gym – men, women, and children. People join CFLP for a whole range of reasons, including some who haven’t exercised in a long time; who weren’t “athletes”; who have weight they want to lose that just won’t budge or health issues they can’t shake and are sick of not feeling well. I notice them shyly standing in the corner, hoping to blend into the walls and go unnoticed, deferentially allowing others to go first, reviewing the WOD (Workout of the Day) saying things like, “I don’t think I can do this.” The weekly schedule reflects the scaled workouts and WOD modifications designed for them. I see how hard they work, and how it just wipes them out, sweaty, panting, red-faced, and exhausted at the end.

Over time, I witness a slow evolution brought about by hard work and perseverance. Not only are these budding athletes literally becoming more powerful by lifting ever heavier weights or accomplishing more sets in a workout, but they are also becoming more empowered. Being part of this community ignites a light within. Here, a strong core means much more than six-pack abs – it’s about your spirit and celebrating everything that makes you you. Given the right support and encouragement, it turns out you can do anything – in the gym and outside of it.

Scientific studies suggest that strong, healthy, active parents raise strong, healthy, active kids. According to Dr. Christine Carter, “the first step in the science of raising happy kids is to actually be happy yourself.” Check out this Time magazine article from 2014 about how to raise happy kids (10 steps backed by science). Here’s the summary list:

  1. Get Happy Yourself
  2. Teach Them To Build Relationships
  3. Expect Effort, Not Perfection
  4. Teach Optimism
  5. Teach Emotional Intelligence
  6. Form Happiness Habits
  7. Teach Self-Discipline
  8. More Playtime
  9. Rig Their Environment For Happiness
  10. Eat Dinner Together

At CFLP, Ronda and the other coaches encourage us beyond the amount of weight we can lift. We talk about setting (achievable) goals, forming new habits, nutrition and sitting down for a healthy meal as a family (not in front of the TV!), working hard, and gratitude. We are creating new pathways for ourselves, and also setting an example for our children. We are modeling what it means to be healthy and strong and to expect effort, but not perfection. We are also teaching them about building relationships and how a supportive and caring community behaves. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – no one goes it alone. Everyone needs support and encouragement somewhere along the line.

The other day, we finished the prescribed workout with a little time to spare. One member, the one guy in the room that class, suggested that we add on a little extra to finish out the time. This particular athlete had finished the workout well before the rest of us, and then stood there patiently swigging his water, cheering for each of us, and waiting for us to finish. When the coach asked him what he wanted to do for extra work, he responded, “whatever the team wants.” This is an attitude to emulate. Imagine our world if everyone strove to lift others up versus pushing them down; where unity was sought over division, support given versus criticism; where we meet face to face, put the screens away (for an hour!), and cheer hardest for the one who is coming in last; where our common humanity – our community – is celebrated and flourishes. Go team!

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.” ― Theodore Roosevelt

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Setting Goals and Facing Failure

First of all, please excuse my absence on the blogosphere recently. I have been writing and writing and writing, but I can’t put anything I’ve been working on here because I have submitted it all to various journals and newspapers to try to get it published!!! As a result, much of my allotted writing time has been dedicated to that pursuit. Happily, I just received word this week that a creative nonfiction essay I wrote will be published June 15 in Sky Island Journal! Woohoo!

And, with that, let me write about some of the highlights of what has been in my mind – setting goals, and also failure, rejection, making mistakes, and trying anyway.

For some reason, I have a terrible time setting goals. I know the SMART goal recommendations – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-sensitive. I love the list, but I still can’t come up with a goal.

I took a little online blog branding course several months ago after I started this blog. I was trying to figure out if there was some sort of methodology I should be following so you, dear readers, don’t wonder where on earth my head is every single time you read one of my blog posts. In other words, is there some sort of path or a strategy to building a blog that I have as yet not followed? (Answer: yes; but, see, it requires setting goals and focusing…so please proceed to the next paragraph…).

One of the first exercises was to come up with 3 goals. Oh cripe. My crossfit coach is always encouraging us to come up with goals, too. I have dodged that bullet for two straight years now. Both cases have got me thinking about how really and truly awful I am at setting goals and why that might be. I am 100% not awful at all at achieving things, I am just terrible at setting goals and answering questions like “what would success look like?” I don’t like to be hemmed in. In fact, probably if I set some goals I’d achieve them before I even wrote them down. Start a blog. See? That could have been a goal. But I did it already. Figure out how to pitch for publication. Done. I am a do-er. But I am also a planner, so I am slightly mystified about why this task both eludes me and causes me so much agita.

In the end, I’ve decided that my problem isn’t so much the task itself as the destination. I understand full well that if I knew where I was going and took actual concrete steps (i.e.: goals) to get there I might actually get there (or get there faster). I do get places, it just tends to be a more circuitous, scenic route. I’ll be the first to say that there’s a lot to be learned by not going from point A to point B. But if I am being completely honest, there’s also the reality (which I know is real thanks to decades of journaling because I would never remember this) that I re-learn truths I discovered already over and over again. My cousin wrote this great book called Things I Want to Remember Not to Forget (by Chris Waddell). I so thoroughly relate to that title. Is this life (asking for a friend)?

Anyhoo…I suspect my brain block about goals has at least a little to do with the unpleasantness of failure and rejection. If I set a goal and don’t achieve it, well that’s no good. Who wants that? If I set a goal and fixate on achieving it, that wouldn’t be great either, to be fair. Pitching to journals, even blogging, sets me up to be rejected and to push that old fear-mongering anxiety button that says I am not enough – not good enough, not smart enough, not worthy enough, a failure. Jeez. Tough crowd. But here’s the beauty of getting older – I get now that I am the one telling myself all these horrible untruths. Sure, I was helped along with material by the horror of being a rule-following, nerdy kid in middle school (fact: kids at that age are mean). But, ultimately, it’s down to me to face those negative storylines, check the narrative (“the feelings are real, but is the story they are telling true?”), and strive to make great mistakes. Then try again. This is what my husband and I teach our children. My goal is to be a good example. And, FINE, @crossfitlaunchpad, I’ll get my first strict pull-up, too.

Mountain proverb