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Before & After

I used to read fitness magazines all the time in my twenties and thirties. I was convinced they held all of life’s secrets for getting fit, getting thin, and feeling good about myself, once and for all. I especially loved the “Before & After” stories. They would generally show two photos of a reader, one before massive weight loss and another afterwards. More often than not, the “before” picture showed someone looking frumpy and unhappy in ill-fitting clothing. The “after” shot showed them smiling, all done up, in the world’s tightest outfits. This photographic evidence was meant (I hope) to encourage readers to believe that no matter where they were starting, they could get where they wanted to go, and the companion one-page story explained how the person did it (so much lean protein, so much working out, so very little pasta, bread, and dessert).

I don’t diminish the successes of these women, and I hope they still feel strong and powerful all these years later, regardless of what their bodies look like now. I learned a thing or two from those stories, and I did come to believe that you can start from anywhere, although my own journey has proved that more than any magazine article could.  

My concern, and it took me years of reading those magazines and stories to realize it, is that every before is also an after. And, of course, every after is also a before. No one just ended up at the Before part with no context, and no one had an amazing After, and that was the end of the story, goodnight and goodbye.

There’s more to every picture than what you see (remember this always when looking at social media), and there is more than one way to think about a photo, even when you know the whole story. Look at any picture of yourself from any moment in time: there was joy and pain in there somewhere, and you can choose which one stands out to you.

I don’t know if those magazines still do Before & After pieces as I don’t pick them up anymore, but I do see a lot of stuff on social media showing people before and after they did whatever plan, program, or 6 easy steps the original poster is promoting. Just like their analog predecessors, these photos show a moment in time. But that Before photo is an After photo of whatever got that person there. And that After moment, whether the person is aware of it or not, is Before something else. Before a job change, before a family transformation, before a financial shift, before a move, before a new season of life, before an injury or illness, before a disruption of some sort. Will the thing the OP is pushing get them through that shake up? I hope so, but experience tells me that it won’t.

Learning to trust yourself and your body to guide you through disruptions is tough. It means letting go of all those voices in your head that are telling you what you “should” be doing to get to and maintain the body that can do all the things you need and want it to. It’s easy enough to follow someone else’s plan, but can you make your own and adapt it no matter what comes down the pike? If the answer is anything other than, “Hell, yes!” let’s talk.

Rocky Training In Siberia

Lines from and references to movies from the 70s and 80s are practically a second language for me. Most of the time, people know what I am talking about, especially when I say, “Rocky training in Siberia.” If you have seen one Rocky movie, you have seen a fabulous “getting in shape” montage, and Rocky IV really is the best of the breed.  Watch for yourself, then read on.

Since Texas is currently hellfire hot, no matter what time of day you get out the door to walk or run or do yard work or tennis or whatever, it is like an oven, which I would argue is sub-optimal. Thus, extreme conditions have been on my mind a lot as a reminder that, “Hey! If you can do it in this heat, imagine how great it will feel when the weather is nice!” Also, it is nice to think about places that are not hellfire hot all the time, even if they are Siberia.

When things you cannot control go haywire, it’s great to remember that Rocky training in sub-optimal conditions gave him an advantage – it is precisely why he won. Even beyond the cold and snow, he is training with precious little boxing-specific equipment. By design, the Soviets have cleverly sent him off to an unheated cabin, knowing that Drago, his opponent, is working out in a fancy gym with the finest gizmos 1982 had to offer. How could Rocky possibly win against all that? Oh, but American ingenuity is not to be underestimated! Rocky fells trees! He chops wood! He piles rocks on a cart! He helps right an overturned sleigh! And… he beats Drago, the entire USSR, and all doubts anyone had that he was too old or too soft to still kick ass.

Rocky IV is surely a jingoistic piece of weirdness straight out of Reagan’s America, and yet the idea that someone can get amazingly strong and powerful with so little is oddly appealing.

Just to clarify, I do not recommend pulling your brother-in-law on a sled in the snow (unless you want to). When conditions are rough, not just weather, but job, family, or whatever, think about Rocky and do something. Get moving in some way, even if it means going shorter and slower than you would like. Waiting for the perfect conditions or for the day you have all the best gear is a stalling tactic. Just go. Just move. The Soviets aren’t going to give you perfect conditions and neither is anyone else. You have to decide you have the conditions you have and get going anyway.

If your conditions seem insurmountable, let’s talk! You can sign up for a free consultation here.

Weight Loss: Tool Of The Patriarchy?

Everybody knows the patriarchy sucks. That’s just fact. If you don’t agree with that sentiment, please go find yourself another blog. I am not your person.

Still here? Then you can probably agree that the patriarchy has put forth lots of unrealistic messages about what women should look like, what they need to do to look like that, and how they should act once they look like that. Top that shit off with a healthy dose of not being uppity while doing it. “Uppity is the worst,” said Patriarchy spokesman Randy “Dick” Duschmann.

Here’s where it gets complicated: sometimes, women want to lose weight. After putting on some pounds due to whatever reason (babies, job, stress, feelings, pandemic, menopause….), you lament your tight clothes and changing body. Here comes the voice of Betty Friedan streaming into your head: “The patriarchy just wants you to look hot! Don’t fall for it! Diet culture is crap!” Betty Friedan is not wrong, especially about that last one. And so, in honor of the progressive woman you know yourself to be, you say, “I know I don’t want to diet, and I don’t want to be objectified, so I guess feeling icky about myself is part of being progressive.” The patriarchy has won again. Not because you didn’t lose the weight or because you can’t wear those two (or more) skirts anymore, but because you still feel crummy. What else does the patriarchy want, other than for you to feel less than your most fabulous self?

So, does wanting to lose weight make you a shill for the patriarchy? Not necessarily. The question to ask yourself is why you want to lose weight. Be honest with yourself by saying, “I want to be thinner so that ___________.” What’s in that blank? Is it because some external factor has informed your idea of what you should be? Or is it something you want for yourself? Consider these options:

  • So I will start being seen (judged) in a favorable way (or stop being judged as “bad”)
  • So that I will get something I want from someone else (promotion, compliments, date, love, etc.)
  • So that I look like an ideal I have seen somewhere/so that I will fit in

I guarantee nearly 100% of all women have had some or all of those reasons rattling around in their heads. You are not alone!

Consider these reasons, which are less familiar but also feel important:

  • So that I can have more energy to get things done
  • So that I feel more comfortable in my body
  • So that I have the strength to take care of myself
  • So that I have the confidence to do / wear / be all the things I dream of

With the first set of reasons, the onus lies on someone or something outside of you to notice and validate the results. With the second set, you get to notice and validate the results. You also get to tweak the strategy to get there based on how it all works for you. Which one feels more empowering? The latter, right? You also get to notice your own energy, your own comfort, your own strength, and your own confidence as soon as you decide to. No waiting on anyone else!

Remember Patriarchy spokesperson Randy “Dick” Duschmann? I asked him which strategy he supported, and he launched into an explanation about how women are naturally weak and shouldn’t try to feel strong because it will just backfire. Ick.

So what’s the answer? Is wanting to lose weight the same as being a shill for the patriarchy? No. Wanting and owning the desire to feel strong, confident, independent, and powerful are exactly the opposite of what the patriarchy wants for you. But here’s the secret: you don’t have to lose weight to feel any of those things. You can start right now by doing the things that you already know make you feel fabulous, that allow you to unleash your most inner you-ness, whether that’s singing “Dance The Night Away” at the top of your lungs in the car, wearing FU socks under your boots to a boring meeting, or even ordering the toppings you want on the pizza (you’ve picked off olives for long enough, haven’t you?).

Don’t know how or where to start? Book a consultation with me now!

Photo of one part of Mark Manders’ “Room With Broken Sentence” installation at the 2013 Venice Biennale, photo by Frances Zopp

Different But Equal: A Book Review

Unless you have been asleep or willfully ignorant the last few years (decades?), you are probably aware that women in the workplace often face an uneven playing field, are rewarded with less for the same or more work, and are often mistreated by male supervisors. Athletics is no different which, like a lot of workplaces, started as a man’s world where women entered under the expectation that they effectively would be treated the same as men. You want to be equal? Then you get equal treatment. But in the same way that a unisex t-shirt looks and feels awful on some people, one size does not fit all. Two elite runners have recently written (and read for the listeners) memoirs of their time running as kids, college athletes, and then as professionals with sponsorships, coaches, and paychecks coming in “just” for getting out there and competing. Both books present a compelling argument for recognizing that women are both equal and different, and that acknowledging just that would benefit the industry as a whole.

The Longest Race, by Kara Goucher, is a deep dive into her running career, and especially her time running for Nike’s elite Oregon Project under now-disgraced coach Alberto Salazar. Goucher’s story brings out not only how challenging it was for her to run for an abusive, manipulative coach, as she depicts Salazar, but also how Nike, profit-driven to the end, treated her more like a commodity than a human being. We see her evolve from a shy midwestern girl-next-door to a woman willing to risk her career by blowing the whistle on Nike, Salazar, and what she knew was going on behind the scenes.

Lauren Fleshman came up a few years behind Goucher on the running scene. She, too, ran for Nike, though not for the Oregon Project or for Salazar. Her memoir, Good For A Girl, dives more into how running and athletics at large are still trying to shoehorn female athletes into strategies and techniques that are made for men and by men, and so do not take into account how things like hormones and diet affect women differently. The result? Female athletes get hurt or don’t see improvements and thus get branded as weak. Again, as much as it sounds like a book for runners, it really depicts the sports world as a microcosm of the larger world, where women are systemically expected to respond to the same culture and training as men, but then biases are confirmed when they get hurt or don’t perform up to expectations. Fleshman argues that  women are both different and equal and that acknowledging such a thing is even possible is the first step to improvement, for female athletes, for sports, and for the multi-billion dollar sports industry.

What I find interesting beyond the main storyline in either book, however, is that both runners talk about how women, including they themselves, are often silent supporters of the very causes that work against them, believing the stereotypes until or even after they find themselves on the wrong side of them. In the context of diet culture and disordered eating, toxic leaders, body image, clothing, and more, they acknowledge where they have been the problem and how they have learned to do better.

They also talk about the importance of a social support system, and how when it is absent or withheld (as it was in Goucher’s case), they and other female athletes don’t perform as well.

Most women I know can relate to the need for a support system. And sadly, most women can recall a time or place when they could have been more supportive of another woman, where they could have been a better friend or colleague in the face of a messed up situation. Due to lack of knowledge or fear of repercussions, however, they stood silently by. So it is refreshing to hear two elite athletes who rose to the top of their sport acknowledge not only that this problem exists, but also that any of us can take a moment to self-reflect and find an opportunity to be a part of the support system. It is not too late to recognize the areas in which we intellectually understand the concept of “equal and different” but also struggle to support each other wholly. Whether it’s thinking thoughts about women who don’t fit a certain body type or believing a narrative of another woman’s weakness when you don’t know the whole story or some other moment where your entrenched thoughts override what your enlightened brain knows to be true, we can all stop ourselves and say, “Wait… I can do better.”

Changes are underfoot in exercise science (women are actually included in studies now!) and coaches are increasingly becoming aware of how being female and being athletic work together. But it’s going to take more than just the changes from others for this important work to take hold. We all have a responsibility to support each other, acknowledge when something is not right, and help each other get through the tough times. Because we are different, we need each other. That’s what makes us stronger.

Your Fitness Tracker Is A Mansplaining Jerk

Is your fitness tracker gaslighting you?

“Whether you’re training for a marathon or just trying to up your daily steps – a fitness tracker can motivate you and help optimize your overall wellbeing, health, and fitness!”

consumertestedreviews.org

“Bullshit.”

Coach Frances Zopp

Fitness trackers allow you to track how far you ran or how many steps you took. They can track your heart rate, your sleep, and more. You will never have to assess how you feel ever again, because the fitness tracker is here to tell you! That workout was exhilarating? Too bad. Your fitness tracker says you didn’t really work that hard. Are you tired this morning? Are you sure? Because your fitness tracker says you slept well. Did your workout stay in the aerobic zone? Thanks to that extra cup of coffee, your heart rate soared, even though you barely got past a slow walk. Nice work!

Gadgets that evaluate your workout for you serve to further disconnect you from yourself. They explain things to you that contradict how you know you feel. They can also get you to obsess unnecessarily about whether you closed your rings, whether you burned enough calories, and whether what you did was “enough.” And let’s be realistic. Unless you are an elite athlete training for high performance, you likely don’t even go back and look at progress over time. You look at how the device is telling you today went.

If your fitness tracker were a person, you’d rage against his patriarchal dicta about how you feel and how you are performing. You would flip him a big bird when he called you out for failing to meet some criteria he set up. Yeah, I know, he probably allowed you input at the beginning, setting parameters for yourself based on his suggestions (“Oh, you’re in your 50s? Better slow it down a notch!”). But now you feel worse, pushing yourself to do things you don’t want to do so that you get a little shot of validation from his praise. You need him to hold you accountable! You need him to tell you, “Good job!” You beat yourself up for a bad night’s sleep, ramping up your anxiety which leads to another night of bad sleep. How is that beneficial?

I invite you to say a big FU to your mansplaining fitness tracker and try one of the following options to get back in touch with how you really feel. You can hold yourself accountable. You can get that shot of dopamine from yourself. You don’t need some stinkin’ overpriced gadget to do it for you.

For Summer 2023, here are the Top 5 Best Fitness Trackers. The good news is that you probably already have all of them. If you don’t, you won’t have to spend more than $5, because only one costs money.

RPE: A rate of perceived exertion chart is a great way to evaluate how your workout is going from a physical perspective. On a scale of 0-10, how do you feel? 0 is lying on the couch. 10 is calling the ambulance because you’ll die if you keep going. If you are not used to checking in with yourself this way, it can take some practice, but it sure eliminates the cognitive dissonance of being told the metric should be X and you sure feel like Y. You get to decide what you feel like and whether that’s good or bad. Heart rate can be useful, and should be measured if your doctor says it is required for your health. For most people, though, the heart rate only tells you what you already know (this workout was hard!) except when it’s affected by outside factors (e.g. stress, caffeine, temperature), in which case it can make you think you are doing more or less than your body is equipped to do.

Feelings wheel: For those of us who never learned to identify our feelings because feelings are messy, this chart is invaluable. Any workout is going to bring up thoughts and feelings, and sometimes the latter are hard to pinpoint. A good feelings wheel will allow you to identify a broad feeling, and then, if needed, narrow it down to a more specific one. What do emotions have to do with workouts? Ev.Er.Y.Thing. How you feel going in vs. how you feel coming out of it. How you feel when a particular challenge comes up. Your electronic devices are incapable of telling you how you feel. Seriously. Those things have no empathy.

Notebook: This low-tech gadget is easy to use. Write the date at the top of the page and include anything you want about your workout. Time, what you did, what you wore, how you felt physically, how you felt emotionally, what the weather and temperature were like, who was with you, and any other factors you want to note. You can include all of these points, or only one or two. It’s your notebook, and you get to decide what you put in it. You can decide what means something and what doesn’t. Maybe you notice that every time it rains, you feel refreshed. Maybe you notice that every time you wear a particular pair of socks, you get a blister. Maybe you just like to see your progress over time. Use different colored pens if that soothes your inner soul. Put stickers on it. Make it yours and own it!

Spreadsheet: An Excel or Google Sheets tracker that you put together yourself is the high-tech version of the notebook. If you feel peace and calm from organizing things into a spreadsheet (Sort A-Z? Oh, that feels good…), this is your place to go. You can color code, you can organize it any way you want, column widths and heights customized. Oh, my. Excuse me a moment. It’s getting a little warm in here (or is that a hot flash?). Sorry. You can make a column or tab for just about anything listed under Notebook and more.

Friend: You probably already have one or two of these. Maybe you already do something active with them. A good friend can help you sort out how something went without being judgey. They can hold you accountable, and they can help you see things from another perspective (“I really didn’t need to hear the instructor yell ‘push it’ one more time!”). Human interaction is a real need, and you aren’t ever going to get it from a device.

Some of you may have a healthy relationship with your fitness tracker, and if so, more power to you. A wide variety of apps (many free) are available to help you track mileage/pace if you are training for a race or reps/weight to track your progress over time. Using trackers to keep up with external metrics can be very useful. Using trackers to tell you how you feel about your workout, either physically or emotionally, can be a drag and ultimately can demotivate you. Learn to listen to yourself, not your device. And if all that sounds overwhelming, let’s talk.

Why We Don’t Workout While Traveling… Even When We Really Mean To

There are few things more soul-sucking in this world than the hotel fitness room. Depending on where you are in your travels, you may find this particular amenity is no more than a dimly lit closet with a squeaky treadmill and a vague smell of mold. Or, in the case of one hotel in Waco, an overwhelmingly strong smell of mold indicative of what I could only imagine was a solid layer of black fuzz beneath the wallpaper. Ew.

Some hotel fitness rooms, however, have equipment you could only dream of having in your own home: items neatly organized, walls brightly colored, and windows looking out over the pool or some other lovely view. Yet I imagine few people think, “I can’t wait to go to the hotel fitness room!”

Whether your travels are for business or pleasure, you might dutifully pack your workout clothes, assuring yourself with the best of intentions that you will log some miles on the treadmill or the elliptical. Or the ancient bike that doesn’t exactly add resistance smoothly. Why is it so hard to get it done once you arrive?

The soul-sucking nature of the hotel fitness room is only part of the problem. You can blame it all you want, but the truth is a little closer to home.

Figuring out why you intend to workout when you travel is the key. Which of these reasons sound familiar?

I am going to workout because I know I am going to eat and drink a lot more than usual.

Great plan! You intend to punish yourself for enjoying yourself. Got it. If you’re traveling for pleasure, you’re probably not interested in doing anything other than enjoying yourself. If you’re traveling for work, there’s a good chance you already feel punished enough by the boring meetings, mandatory fun, and the selection of mediocre sandwiches at lunch. So, you talk yourself out of the workout, then feel guilty for enjoying yourself.

I will be out of my routine, so this is the perfect time to start working out.

Good thinking! You are also totally going to visit more art museums, read more, look at your phone less, smell the roses, and wash your sheets more regularly because if Housekeeping can do it, why can’t you? When you return home, there’s your routine, waiting for you. It does not include more art museums, does it? Why would it suddenly include more working out?

I have an upcoming race, wedding, class reunion, etc. and I absolutely have to stay on my plan or the world will collapse around me.

It’s practically science that the world will collapse if you don’t keep a tight grip on it, right? See the above point. You are out of your routine. Maybe you have an itinerary packed with have-to-dos, like meetings with the boss and dinners with the client. Maybe your family has planned 27 hours a day of exciting togetherness. Maybe staying out way later than normal means sleeping in. You know what’s at home waiting for you? Your pets, the mail, and also, your routine.  

Ok, so am I saying to just leave your workout clothes at home and go all in on multiple trips to the buffet and closing the bar down every night? Well, if that’s what sings to your heart while traveling, go for it. What if, instead of the above reasons, you sought out reasons that involved making your trip more enjoyable? What if, instead of soul-sucking hour-long journeys to nowhere on the hotel elliptical , you tried this? (And no, that weird video of the drone perspective of a trail in Colorado is not a journey to anywhere)

  • Set an intention to move to keep your body feeling good. No one likes sitting in front of Power Points all day. Your low back hurts, your hips are tight. Maybe you take the steps instead of the elevator some of the time. Maybe you take a walk around the building during 15-minute breaks. If your travels include walking the neighborhood, visiting museums, or dancing at a wedding, that counts! Who says you need to do more than that?
  • Acknowledge that the hotel fitness room sucks, but that a little time on the treadmill clears your head. It makes you less likely to lash out at Uncle Dan when he talks politics. It makes you less likely to get distracted by fantasies of throttling the new COO who uses terms like silo as a verb. It increases the chance that you can escape into a podcast or playlist to get out of your own head for a minute. Focus on how you will feel afterwards, and you will increase your chances of starting.
  • Tell that voice in your head that’s going on about what a failure you are for not doing more while traveling to zip it. Actually, don’t tell it to zip it, because that’s only going to make it mad. It will come back louder next time (just like Uncle Dan). Say, “I can understand your concern. I am confident I can get back to it when I return from traveling.” Then move on to enjoying your trip. You don’t need to tell anyone you just had a conversation with yourself unless you want to.
  • Give yourself permission not to do any of it. Don’t even pack the running shoes. They take up a lot of space! If you hear yourself say, “I won’t even have time, but I really should…” just stop. Don’t pack the shoes. It’s like buying a bunch of kale that you hate but think you really should eat or paying an annual fee for that language app you’ve never used because you really should learn Spanish. Should is the enemy of fun and doesn’t need to take up space in your bag.

In short, let your travels be your travels. If movement fits into the agenda, great! If it doesn’t, you will be home soon enough. Trust yourself to know what you need and how much time you have for it, and go from there.

Think Again

In February, Austin had a bad ice storm that brought down so many branches on the power lines that many of us lost power for days on end. We were one of the last ones to get power back, ultimately going nearly seven full days without power. We were fortunate to have a gas fireplace and a propane grill, though the latter had to be extracted out from under a ginormous branch before we could use it. Was it frustrating? Sure. Were we cold? Absolutely. Did we lose all the food in the fridge? Yes. But we knew, relative to Snowmageddon in 2021, it wasn’t that bad.

A couple of weeks later, I went to Florida with my sister. We were staying near Ft. Myers, so we went to check out Ft. Myers Beach, a separate city which was damaged badly by Hurricane Ian in September 2022. Surely after nearly 6 months, and heading into Spring Break season, we would find a robust recovery effort going on. To our surprise, very little was open. The power appeared to be out in large swaths, including stop lights and street lights. Piles of debris were stacked on the roadside, and boats were still piled on top of each other in the marina. We saw several completely wrecked buildings with no one working on them. How could this be? Why wasn’t more effort being put into ensuring this community could support at least some tourism? Seeing this bigger picture sure put our meager 6.5 day power outage into perspective. At the same time, we had so many questions and no one to ask, so we filled in the blanks ourselves with all kinds of speculation about how anyone could “let” this happen.

Fast forward to this past weekend, and I met someone who owns beachfront property in Ft. Myers Beach. He explained they were still six months out, i.e. a year after the hurricane, from even beginning to start their rebuilding. I was shocked. But… BUT! He explained that what I had seen in February was a vast improvement. He had gone down days after the storm and seen the immediate aftermath. It’s hard to imagine, but I take him at his word. What do I know? I had never been there before, and I certainly wasn’t there to see what it looked like days after the hurricane. As he pointed out, there are only so many people who can do the overabundance of work to be done.

I crossed paths with Ft. Myers Beach at a moment in time, and I jumped to all kinds of conclusions about what I saw. Sure, it gave me perspective on my own experience, but I had no perspective, no ability to see Ft. Myers Beach in its own context.

We so often cross paths with events, places, people, and situations with no context, no perspective. We either fill in the blanks ourselves or we let the internet do it for us. It’s a human thing to do. It even has a name: The Dunning-Kreuger Effect. What would happen, though, if we challenged our assumptions? What if we asked ourselves to rethink what we have seen and how we have explained it?

I am headed back down to that part of Florida again soon, and I will be looking at it with different eyes. I will ask myself what I really know, and I will challenge myself to imagine what I don’t know. I will take a moment to zoom out and see if I can tell what the bigger picture is. Who knows? I might just learn something! I hope I do.

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Words Of Wisdom From Our Vet

I have a dog, her name is Millie. She is my loyal sidekick, my guard, my pal. She was rescued from the Texas coast during Hurricane Harvey along with six puppies and fostered through Austin Pets Alive!, an organization for which I now do volunteer work. She needed to be spayed when I got her, and she was heartworm positive. I also learned she had a luxating patella, which means her kneecap sort of slides left and right, rather than nestling properly in whatever the part is underneath it. They said she would need to be evaluated for surgery (that they would pay for).

As luck would have it, APA! was so overwhelmed with Harvey dogs that she couldn’t get in to see the orthopedic vet there, and I arranged to just take her to my vet. Dr. Simmons, who has since retired, was not from Texas, but he sure sounded like he was. He famously said in his thick accent, when I asked if he thought her estimated age was correct, “Well, it’s hard to say. She’s been out there hustlin’ on her own….” Indeed she had been, carrying on for 5 years by herself, having who knows how many litters, and scrounging for food for herself and all those puppies. Who has time to think about a luxating patella with all that going on?

Suddenly, here she was, approaching middle age with a bum knee and someone who was ready to help her take care of it. Sometimes it pops out and you can see it (yeah, I know). Sometimes she favors that leg. And sometimes our walks are very short, because she looks at me with a look I have come to understand means, “Not today, lady.” We turn around and go home.

After consulting with Dr. Simmons, then his successor after a flare up, and finally an orthopedic vet they referred me to for good measure, Millie doesn’t need surgery. She might be in pain sometimes, but mostly not. This particular surgery has a mixed success rate and a 6-week crate recovery, which would probably result, for a dog like Millie, in never healing properly, because she hates the crate with the fire of a thousand suns. When I asked Dr. Simmons initially what he thought about getting the surgery done, he said (with the same accent), “Well, Frances, there are a lot of people out there who will let you give them money for all kinds of things.” And you know what? He’s right.

There are a lot of people out there who are happy to take your money because they want to fix you. And they are probably really good at making you feel like you need fixing, even if getting fixed isn’t what you need. They probably have a laundry list of things you “just” need to do, and all your problems will melt away. Ah, imagine! If lack of information about what to do was the only barrier to success (hello, internet), we should surely all be skyrocketing to unlimited heights, right? If only the right expert was around the corner with the magic (proprietary, can only be bought from them) solution, we would all be killing it!

For Millie, she absolutely needed to eradicate the heartworms, and she did need to be fixed, as in spayed. (Bob Barker was right about that one.) At the same time, she does not need her knee fixed. Sure it hurts sometimes. But every single time I get the leash out, she gets excited. She jumps around like a lunatic, forgetting that she is now basically in her 70s. And we go for the walk for as long as her knee lets her. I get The Look, and we go home. She doesn’t care if other dogs know she didn’t do a longer walk. She doesn’t wonder if she can still eat dinner because she took a shorter walk. She doesn’t tell herself she will walk twice as long tomorrow to “make up” for the shorter walk. She just lives her life the best way she knows how, one moment at a time.

I might be a coach for a living, but I don’t think you need to be fixed, either. You might have some issues that actually need attention from a medical professional, and that might include a trick knee or clinical depression or vicious night sweats and so on. For decades, though, we have had so many people willing to take our money to tell us how to fix ourselves that we have gotten those messages stuck on repeat in our heads. How to be thinner, how to be in better shape, how to be less stressed, how to follow x number of easy steps to how to-how to-how to. And some (most) of it probably hasn’t worked, and you might blame yourself for it. What if the common denominator isn’t you? What if the common denominator is all these people telling you something is wrong with you? Nothing is wrong with you. You are absolutely 100% you. If you’re tired of being told you need to be fixed, let’s talk. Let’s find out how you can listen to yourself, because you, like Millie, already know all the answers. I am just here to help you hear them.

You Need The Body As Well As The Head

In 1926, the Maysville (KY) High School Girls Basketball Team won the state championship, coached by one Ms. Flossie Jones, the first female coach to achieve such an honor. Why is this notable? For me personally, it is because she coached my grandmother a few years later (see featured photo). For basketball as a sport, it is important because women mostly didn’t coach girls in those days, and let’s note also that Kentucky (where basketball is practically a required class) banned the girls’ basketball state championship (and thus effectively girls basketball in any form) in 1932 and didn’t bring it back until 1974, surely forced by the federal passage of Title IX in 1972. 

The history of how girls and women were kept out of sports for decades is a post for another day (and if I am honest, on some other web site). I want to focus on Coach Jones’ most legendary quote:

You need the body as well as the head.

Coach Flossie Jones

What does this mean? Surely it means you can’t just be all brawn. You need to be smart to play sports. It also surely references the mental game: focus, self-awareness, confidence, and so on. That’s also a post for another day (and if I am honest, one that probably will be on this web site).

What it also gets at for so many women in this moment, especially those of us who were born around the time Title IX showed up and states like Kentucky begrudgingly brought back girls’ sports in “non-girl” categories like basketball, is that we can let our heads talk us right out of pursuing the ways of being active that we know we love (or think we might love) because being female and athletic was not the norm when we were kids. Those old stereotypes, no matter how much we know intellectually that they aren’t true, still hold sway over our thoughts and feelings about trying new things or getting back to what we loved as kids.

We talk ourselves out of what is fun or energizing because we tell ourselves we are too old, too heavy, too uncoordinated, too out of shape, too whatever. But how true is that really? And how much are we depriving ourselves of feeling amazing by sticking to the safe lane, even if we don’t love what we are doing? You have the body (trust me… you do). Now bring your head along for the ride. Get out there on the court, the field, the gym floor, the dance floor, the wherever your heart is yearning to go, and try it. Think about how awesome it would be to feel like Mia Hamm (born 1972) and tear your shirt off. Ok, maybe not really tear your shirt off. But you could. And you would be just as awesome.

The Monkey Bars

I was not, by nature, an athletically inclined kid. I was instead the kid who got unreasonably jazzed about the summer reading list to the point that I would finish all the assigned books by the end of June, thereby being incapable of thoughtfully discussing the books come the beginning of September. That put me on par with all the kids who had only read the first 3 chapters. It was a great disguise for looking normal. I could not, however, carry that disguise into gym class. For example, the balance beam was, for me, a form of torture. “Don’t look down!” my peers helpfully cheered. Then what the hell am I supposed to look at? I couldn’t make it more than a step or two, paralyzed with fear, probably crying. In the Kindergarten gymnastics show for parents, I was relegated to doing the log roll on the mat. I still rolled off unevenly. My gym teachers, they had precious little patience for developing my obvious potential.

Equally terrifying for me was anything that required upper body strength and a bar. Presidential Physical Fitness Test? No, thanks. “Just do one pull-up!” my peers helpfully cheered. How? I couldn’t even engage whatever body parts that was supposed to require. No amount of success on the sit-and-reach could make up for the big 0 in the pull-up category. And that brings me to the playground horror known as the monkey bars. While all the other kids could go back and forth on the hot metal rungs, upside down, one-handed, gliding across like, well, monkeys, I could barely make it more than a few rungs. Sweaty palms and lack of faith in my ability to let go to grab the next one without plummeting to the ground, I held up the whole line of kids waiting to go. I would start, and then, as predicted, I would plummet to the ground. The last time I tried, in third grade, I sprained my ankle. And so, I vowed never to set foot (hand?) on that particular piece of equipment ever again. And I didn’t. I had precious little patience for developing my own obvious potential.

Fast forward thirty years or so, and there I was at the park with my kids. Playgrounds had become plastic and colorful, filled with bridges and tunnels and all sorts of other exciting features that were, more often than not, under a tree. Progress! And yet, there stood the monkey bars, having retained their importance in childhood development along with the slide and the swings. The big difference now? I was tall enough that falling to the ground was about a 3” affair. And yet? I still couldn’t do it. I could not talk myself into doing more than just hanging on the first rung.

Both my kids could do it, back and forth, hanging upside down, one-handed, gliding across like monkeys. Why couldn’t I? Finally, after months of thinking about it, I vowed to try. I vowed to get over my stupid fear of the stupid monkey bars. I hung, I let go with one hand, and I successfully made it to the next rung. And then I dropped, because no one told me when I was 8 that a wedding ring hurts on the monkey bars. Having learned this important lesson, I kept trying. Within a surprisingly short amount of time, I made it all the way across. I did that many times! And then, I even did it a couple of times on the bigger set that WAS out in the hot sun. And now? I don’t fear the monkey bars anymore. This isn’t a story about me becoming the top elite monkey bars athlete of Texas. I don’t compete in monkey bars relays, and now that my kids are older, I don’t even go to the playground anymore.

What I do know is that all of us carry around stories about what happened in the past, and we let those stories dictate the now. If you couldn’t do it before, who says you can’t do it today? If you were limited in skill before, who says you can’t work on that now? The past is firmly in the past. Leave it. Acknowledge your potential, even if it isn’t obvious, and take the time to develop it. See what you are capable of today. I bet you will surprise yourself.