On Wanting To Become Someone Different, And Actually Becoming Her
As of today, it is officially two months that I have been “a person who works out nearly every day,” which is someone I absolutely never anticipated I could have been, even a month before I began. I was fairly active between the ages 17 and 21 because of partner dancing (mostly swing), but dance never felt quite like “working out,” both because it felt like as much entertainment as it was exercise, and because the naturally-malleable life of a student lent itself to throwing myself into projects and passions (like dance), which I now have very little time for. When I say “a person who works out,” I mean a person who takes dedicated, serious time out of their day-to-day life to work on the health and capabilities of their body.
For years, I skated by on being a city-dweller who naturally walked about ten thousand steps a day and peppered her life with dance classes, convincing myself that this was enough for my body, when I knew that it wasn’t. There came a point towards the end of last year where I started to feel actively angry at myself, resentful of the fact that I could be so honest with myself about certain things, and yet so self-deceptive about others. I knew that I got winded much more than I wanted to, that I had the lowest endurance of any period of my life I can remember, and that I felt, in a word, weak. I am hurtling towards 30, and I felt incredibly sure that I did not want to hit that number in a body I felt I was letting down. I wanted to go into that decade strong, balanced, and sure of my body in the same way I’m sure of my mind. And more importantly, I wanted to prove to myself that I could have some kind of physical consistency. Running TFD has forced me to confront my professional and intellectual shortcomings, and do what I can to counteract or at least avoid them — and that has demonstrated that there is no reason I can’t do the same thing for other parts of my life. So I decided to start working out, seriously.
But I fully admit that I went into this decision with a good amount of fear, and a serious expectation of failure. Not only was I starting around the dreaded New Year’s Resolution Rush (though I started just before the New Year, I think in some kind of subconscious attempt to avoid the dismal statistics that follow personal life changes made at that time), I was also someone who had started and promptly quit more personal exercise commitments than I could count. I have paid for memberships at expensive gyms, only to stop going after a few sessions and then spend more time fighting to get my account cancelled than I ever spent on a machine. I’ve embarrassed myself in group classes, and resolved never to return so that I did not have to bathe in the shame of the first session. I have downloaded countless fitness apps — including ones promising to be accessible even to the laziest and most inconsistent bodies — and promptly deleted them when it became apparent that I couldn’t hold myself accountable. Working out always felt like a chore, and one that was spectacularly easy to avoid when the only person who will ever know is you and your increasingly achy body.
I decided to start Pilates because a) I had heard it was incredibly good for the body, both from a strength-building perspective, and a posture/alignment perspective, which is deeply important to someone who works hunched over a computer all day, and b) because it is supposed to be accessible to people with experience in dance. I may not have a lot going for me, body-wise, but I still have pretty good flexibility and balance, which meant that I might have even the slightest edge going in, staving off the immediate failure and embarrassment I’d experienced in so many other classes. If I’m being honest with myself, I’ve always been pretty decent at staying strong with something once I’ve gotten over a certain hump, but I am a profound Early Quitter when it comes to things that are new, scary, potentially embarrassing, or out of my skill set. I didn’t want that to happen to me this time — I had decided that I was going to give it the best possible shot I could, and that meant going in prepared.
To that end, I decided to spring for the new client special package at my studio of three private sessions for $200 to get started. And yes, that is a lot of money. But I can say without hesitation that not only did those lessons give me the basic understanding required to follow the (much more cost-effective) group classes, it allowed me to ask all the stupid questions and make the obvious mistakes I would have otherwise done in a much less safe space, therefore embarrassing myself and (almost certainly) quitting before I’d given it a meaningful shot. But after my three private lessons, I felt empowered and ready to build on what I’d accomplished. The only hangup was that, unfortunately, shortly after I started this new exercise regime, I was leaving for two and a half weeks on the West Coast. That meant the general fatigue of travel, plus the intimidation of doing classes as a serious beginner in various cities I’d never worked out in, including ones (Los Angeles) full of notoriously fit and beautiful people.
But — and this actually happened — I had a serious conversation with myself in the mirror before I left, where I promised myself that I would keep up my momentum while traveling, if not increase it. If I let the inconvenience of travel become an excuse not to stay strong with something meaningful to me, I would let anything become an excuse. I would slip right back into the pattern I most hate about myself (if I’m being honest), the pattern of only throwing myself into things when they are at their most convenient and understandable, and when I feel most comfortable. My body wouldn’t just be condemned to a life of underperformance and phantom aches if I continued, my entire life would start to feel like a series of missed opportunities and doors not opened because I was either too lazy or too inconsistent to follow through with what was behind them.
So I kept up with it. In Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sonoma, and Seattle, I went to classes at least twice per city, even in situations that felt wildly intimidating or unfamiliar, and even on days when I’d been out drinking wine and eating heavy foods until 1 AM the night before. And by the time I came back to New York, I didn’t just feel deeply motivated to continue with the workout I now genuinely loved, but I felt incredibly proud of myself for having done something I never thought I could do. That momentum didn’t just keep me going to class when I came back, it continues to propel me each time I’m feeling a bit tired or itching to do something else when staring down a 50-minute session. If I could do it then, I can do it now, and I will always feel better for having done it.
Of course, in the interest of financial transparency, it’s not without cost. At one session per week at the fancy, machine-based studio where I first learned and an unlimited membership to the much more accessible mat-based studio, the cost is about $60 a week, or about $240 a month. That’s a sizable expense I never had before, and one that I have to weigh against a lot of other things in my life — especially as I look to expand my work in the discipline. But I can say without hesitation that I do not regret a dollar of this, because (and I know this is corny and probably cloying) what they say about getting very regular exercise is true: it makes every other aspect of your life feel easier and more manageable. You sleep better, you have more energy, you feel happier, and you generally feel more in control of yourself. It’s a feeling I wouldn’t trade for anything now, and one I can’t wait to get more of.
But the feeling of exercise is almost separate from the more important feeling of wanting to have been someone else, and actually willing myself into becoming her. And while there isn’t a perfect recipe to accomplish this, I can say that the most key element to making that change was a very simple one: being ruthlessly, coldly honest with yourself about where you actually are, and where you are lying to yourself (or at least blurring the edges of the truth with yourself). It’s incredibly easy to pretend that we’re someone we’re not, even with ourselves. Without trying, we can mentally sidestep the truths that we don’t want to acknowledge and give ourselves permission to underperform in areas where we’re very capable of doing much more. I am a 29-year-old with no serious injuries or illnesses, already starting at a “normal” BMI and light activity level: if I could not get my shit together to actually start exercising, basically no one could. And confronting myself with the reality of my laziness was the first step in overcoming it.
There’s a lot of talk out there about self-care, and I often cringe at how much that language tends to focus on care in the form of indulgence, rather than care in the form of effort, diligence, and triumph. Pushing yourself to do things you didn’t think were possible yesterday is a form of self-care. Holding yourself accountable to the way you want to feel and the way you want your days to look is self-care. Deciding you want to be someone different — that you deserve to be her — and actually taking the steps to become her is self-care. And none of that precludes the candle-lined bubble bath or plate of cookies on a Friday night: you can still very much have that part of your life, and of your care routine. But it’s up to us to decide that our boundaries today do not have to be our boundaries tomorrow, and only we are capable of looking in the mirror and resolving ourselves to change them. It might be painful at first, but like a good workout, it’s most definitely fucking worth it.
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