Picking a path

After my last figure competition, I felt completely lost. My entire life revolved around show prep, and when the show was over I experienced a dramatic disconnect with my identity. I had grown to hate bodybuilding. I didn’t want to do fasted cardio on the StairMaster, touch another machine, eat plain fish or drink coffee with 17 Splendas anymore. I was bored of the bland diet and even more so of the training method. I had gained a significant amount of weight from my post-show rebound eating habits, water bloat, and metabolic damage; the constant reminder from all the mirrors in the globo-gym was overwhelming.

At the time, a friend of mine was doing CrossFit and absolutely loved it. While I always poked fun at him and the sport as whole (because I clearly knew what I was talking about…), my curiosity and desperation led me to secretly drop into a beginner class at a local CrossFit gym. I was immediately hooked. The people were nice, the workout kicked my ass, I had so much to learn about the sport and the culture, and above all, it was challenging. I signed-up the same day and dove head first into the world of functional fitness.

Now fast forward about 18-months to today. Since then, I’ve changed gyms once (you can read about that here), got certified to coach, have a couple local CrossFit competitions under my belt and have been really committed to the goal of earning a spot to compete on a team at Regionals.

In this same year and a half span, I’ve also done four Olympic Weightlifting meets. These are local competitions where you show up in a singlet, weigh-in, and get six attempts at two different lifts in front of a few judges and a small crowd.

As a little background: weightlifting is a component of CrossFit, but is a separate sport entirely. CrossFit uses weightlifting movements and trains the modality, but doesn’t adhere to the same standards or train it in volume by the same capacity that the singular sport does. Weightlifting is an olympic sport founded in the early 1900’s which measures the athlete’s best successful lift in snatch and clean & jerk, not to be confused with powerlifting — which tests max deadlift, bench and back squat. CrossFit was branded in 2000, and uses weightlifting, powerlifting, gymnastics and interval training, amongst many other things, to execute constantly varied high-intensity exercise.

I just really liked weightlifting from the get-go. I was inspired by big names in the sport with bold, unapologetic personalities, and the raw emotion and powerful movements they’d elicit in everyday training. I liked the idea of being strong, yet fast. Lifting heavy, very gracefully. My competitive character, along with the handful of friends I’ve made that train solely weightlifting, encouraged me to do these competitions and while going into each one rather unprepared (because I’ve been doing CrossFit), I loved the experience.

I did my last weightlifting meet a couple weeks ago, the first one I’ve participated in where I had any kind of chance at accomplishing something noteworthy. There are national meets held throughout the year, and an athlete earns their opportunity to compete at one of these bad boys by achieving a certain total (total = combined successful attempt at snatch and clean & jerk), based on their weight class, at a local meet during the qualification period. The heaviest both snatch and clean & jerk I ever made equaled the total I needed for Universities: which is essentially a national meet for college-age athletes. The day before the qualification deadline I tried to match those numbers on the platform and was unable to do so. While I actually PR’d snatch, I missed the jerk twice on my clean & jerk and thus didn’t total high enough to qualify.

It’s weird really, that this disappointment led me to re-evaluate my athletic goals. I drove 90 minutes home from that meet alone, the whole car ride repeatedly telling myself that I would come back and clean & jerk 80kg, and more, on a platform to prove to myself I am capable of greater than what I let the judges see that day. In order get better at weightlifting, like a lot better…enough so that I could compete on a national level, I would have to focus all of my energy on that sport alone. It’s incredibly difficult to become an elite CrossFit athlete and an elite weightlifter simultaneously, because the two training methods, and respective optimal nutrition protocol, contradict each other. But boy, I love CrossFit.

That brings me to this moment, sitting at my computer wondering what I’ll do at the gym this afternoon because frankly, I still haven’t picked a focus: pursuing weightlifting as a new venture, or continue on with CrossFit and my goals there. The optimist would suggest doing both, similar to how I have been, because clearly I get enjoyment from each sport. Although the realist would argue that my stubborn nature requires working toward a specific goal to feel fulfilled and successful, and therefore needs to narrow my scope to one sport.

When I step back, it’s really quite silly that I can write at such length about a seemingly small decision (and this is the edited version! My poor brain). It’s true that my athleticism won’t ever pay the bills. I won’t soon earn a trip to the CrossFit Games or medal in Olympic Weightlifting on behalf of the USA. And frankly, whatever accolades that fall directly below those huge achievements, well I probably won’t reach those either. And that’s not to be pessimistic, it’s important to be candid with yourself about what’s realistic to achieve based on the time and money you have to commit, influenced by the other things in your life. I make sacrifices all the time for these sports, such as paying for access to a gym membership or healthy food for fuel over other things, or missing time with friends/family to work out. But I won’t ever be able to quit my job to pursue them full-time, which is typical of the professional or highest level athlete.

But you know, the same way that people obsess over their dog, fantasy football, or other hobbies and pastimes, is the same way I feel about CrossFit and weightlifting. And there’s no shame in that. If I have to pick an activity to consume so much of my time, emotion and energy, well I’m glad it’s something that brings me happiness and is good for health.

That’s really what it boils down to. It’s a little stressful for me to feel like I have to pick between the two sports and dial in my training accordingly to really grow as an athlete and compete. But ultimately, I have a ton of fun when I’m doing CrossFit, AND when I’m weightlifting. And if it’s never going to be my source of income or success, well then having fun is a really important component.

Similarly, it’s crucial to distinguish the difference between who you are and what you do. I wasn’t ever “Preslie: the figure competitor” as my primary identity (even though it felt that way). I was “Preslie: the sister, friend, daughter, student and employee, who enjoyed figure competing.” Creating the person you are as an accumulation of things you practice and believe, strive to be and enjoy doing creates a well-roundedness that can’t be cultivated by identifying yourself synonymously as the sport you play.

For most areas in your life, it’s simpler to be completely committed or absolutely unaffiliated, than it is to live in that sweet spot in the middle. It’s far easier on the mind to be too terribly engulfed in something that it’s unhealthy or unsustainable, or alternatively to be so distant that you refrain from interaction with that same thing. To find and regularly do something that brings you joy, health, longevity, and meets the needs of whatever your personality desires (competitiveness, relaxation, an outlet, etc.), that is an extraordinary measure of a good hobby and true personal success.

 

Extremes are easy, strive for balance.
— Colin Wright

Lunchtime thoughts

I started a new job this week. It’s full blown corporate life: big building, lots of offices, important business, professional outfits, the whole 9-yards. I can expand on the position later, but I’d like you to note this is a dramatic change from my college barista gig I had for the last two years, and recently quit to start this job.

This afternoon I was sitting in the break area eating my Tupperware-packed lunch reflecting on what is now my third day of training; embracing a very different lifestyle. Not only is what I’m doing different, but my hours of work, when I’m able to workout, appearance expectations, my meal planning, and more – all have flipped upside-down as of two days ago.

My roommate texted me and asked how today is going (she’s incredibly supportive during this life transition for me – so grateful). I had nothing but positive, enthusiastic things to reply, and recognizing my reaction created such a happy feeling for me – or what I refer to as feeling like your cup is full. This leads me to the thoughts that inspired this post.

I’ve always defined filling up your cup as a combination of what makes your soul happy, what brings joy and contentment into your life, or what makes you feel proud.  Typically, I associate these with actions that are specific, for example: working at Dutch Brothers and going to my gym — CrossFit Magna.

With my time-crunched workouts this week and the acknowledgement of how this new job makes me feel, I have come to realize that whatever you do to fill up your cup, can, and perhaps should, be much more broad than your place of work or your specific gym. That’s a cool concept, right? That if you can widen the spectrum of things that fill up your cup, you will initiate that feeling of raw happiness more often.

Let me explain. Working at Dutch Brothers just poured into my cup every single day I was there. But it wasn’t actually working at that location doing those specific tasks that caused that feeling, it was being surrounded by people that loved and cared about me, and with whom the feeling was mutual. It was doing a job that I knew I was good at and could execute well. It was having the opportunity to talk to people, relate to them, and try to make their day better than before they spoke to me. It was understanding the business on such a level that I felt comfortable helping new employees and confident talking to those in leadership. Similarly, going to my CrossFit gym pours into my cup because I love embracing the ability to better myself, and to challenge myself physically and mentally. It’s because I appreciate genuine relationships, both the long ones and forming new. It’s because it plays to my goal-oriented personality and gives me a sense of accomplishment, and so much more. By taking a step back and identifying the more generic reasons for why these facets of my life fill up my cup, I can actually take those principles and apply them to other areas of my life.

I can find these qualities in my new job. I can cultivate an attitude that identifies ways this position makes me feel challenged, confident, and causes me to build genuine relationships, the way my previous job did. I can truly find them in many places, which is very reassuring because you never know where life might take you. I couldn’t have predicted I would be in the position I am now, working in administration for a company’s produce division. But while sitting here in the lunchroom on day three, based on what I’ve explained above, I am completely confident in saying that I already have and will continue to find ways that this career fills up my cup. I hope you do the same with the different areas of your life.

Love is the remedy

Following the amazing upset by the Cleveland Cavalier’s during game 7 of the NBA finals, the TV station cut to their usual news broadcast. My roommate and I were relaxing on the couch, reflecting on the emotions we felt watching LeBron cry tears of gratitude. Not even a few minutes into the newscast, we couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed by the amount of terrible, heart-breaking pieces. Story after story of deaths, robberies and nation-wide acts of hate were being presented and the negativity was wearing on us quickly.

I studied journalism in high school and college, but even basic media literacy should cause you to understand that negative content generally gains viewership, and that the positive stories aren’t as in-demand as tales of unfortunate events. It’s important as a consumer to remember that a media outlet is still a business, thus always striving to make money as the primary goal.

Anyhow, our conversation ensued about how we can’t fathom how certain people could act in such merciless, destructive ways toward others. And I don’t feel qualified to speculate, nor do I feel this is the appropriate platform to do so, although I do firmly suggest that maintaining optimism, hope, and an awareness of what is going on in the world around you (without letting it making you jaded) is a very valuable practice.

A friend of mine sent this quote to me the other day, perfectly relating to this recent experience. The following is a response to the famous phrase from Gandhi: you must be the change you wish to see in the world.

“It’s easy to get frustrated by all the violence and pain being experienced around the world, and even easier to feel helpless about it. But rather than sitting around waiting for the world to change, it’s better to start making changes within your own sphere of influence. The theory behind this quote is that if everyone tended to his or her own selves, the world would be the way we all want it to be. What can you do today that would help make the world around you a better place? By making the changes you wish the world would make, you instantly and automatically make the world better.” -Jenna Phillips-Ballard

I’d like to leave you with another Ted talk (I’ve told you I love these), which I came across this afternoon. It’s less than 10 minutes, thought-provoking and inspiring — what more can you ask for? It’s called “I am the son of a terrorist. Here’s how I chose peace” and the video is attached to the bottom of this post. 

In the video the speaker, Zak Ebrahim, says: “On a nightly basis, Jon Stewart forced me to be intellectually honest with myself about my own bigotry and helped me to realize that a person’s race, religion or sexual orientation had nothing to do with the quality of one’s character.”

I can’t decide which part I love more, the beautiful outcome of one person taking it upon themselves to accept and love others, or that he points out that you can find inspiration anywhere, including from people whom you don’t know personally. While his situation was out of his control, he managed his circumstances by creating his own positive environment and acknowledging the lessons his childhood experiences taught him.

Thank you to Mr. Ebrahim, for not only being courageous enough to share your story with the world, but also taking it upon yourself to cultivate a character you’re proud of, and loving people.

Eyes on the prize

To expand a little bit on my post about a busy spring season, the last 6 months of my life were without a doubt the absolute hardest I’ve been through. In January, my best friend moved away for the Army. I was in 24 credits of college classes, working (4am wake up call), serving an internship, training 6x per week at a gym 40 minutes away, looking for a new career, and blogging— all while trying to keep my food prepped and other adult things like keeping my house and clothes clean and my car running. Additionally, my roommate of the last few years moved out and my gastrointestinal issues worsened, leading to nights in the ER, afternoons in bed and SO many doctors appointments. Needless to say, sleep fell to the bottom of my priority list.

I was pushing my limits and pounding espresso shots like today was the last day of my life. And my loved one assured me on several occasions that that outcome was only slightly farfetched with how I was treating my body and running myself into the ground. I distinctly remember, and can now laugh, when I think about how one evening I went to flush the toilet and it broke. I immediately sank to my knees in tears because this was clearly the absolute end of the world. Or, I was exhausted and on my last strand of patience.

Now I’m not looking for pity, everything on my plate either needed to be there or I wanted it there. My point in spelling it all out specifically is to demonstrate that the plate was in fact full, too full. People would tell me I needed more rest and in my head all I could think is “when?!”

But look! I’m here and I survived and frankly, I’m the happiest I’ve been in a long, long time. I hope you never let your plate get so full that you sob when an appliance breaks, but this experience was valuable to me for a few reasons.

I achieved what I set out for: I taught myself that with a diligent work ethic and concentrated efforts toward specific goals, I can do just about anything.

I utilized my support system: my friends, family and training partners unprompted, frequently reminded me that they were proud of me, that this would all pay off, and that they were here for an ear or anything I needed.

I included “balance” in my schedule: training is a relief for me, amongst the craziness every single day, I couldn’t wait to get to the gym. And on rest days it was meal prepping or cooking dinner; finding something that brings me joy without getting too off track.

I learned about priorities and efficiency: This was a “learn to swim or sink” kind of lesson, though it worked just the same. I discovered by cleaning the house while breakfast was cooking, I could maximize my time. I would study in the doctor’s office, track every task and appointment in my mobile calendar, and prep my gym bag the night before as not to forget my sneakers in a rush. I wish I would’ve thoughtfully considered a few of these strategies initially, rather than discover them the hard way as I went along.

I may have learned these concepts in a less than ideal way, but I will carry them forward and am grateful for their lessons and the empowerment the experience brought me. By putting these tools in my back pocket, I am well-equipped for any challenge life throws me. In the midst of your most difficult periods, try to remember it does end and things will get better. Stay focused, stay consistent and remind yourself often (and nicely) what it is you’re working toward.

Quick thoughts: “So many years of education, and nobody ever taught us to love ourselves or why it’s so important”

Confidence is hard. Body peace is hard. A healthy relationship with food and training is hard. And hell, being honest about this stuff is hard. But you know what’s a lot harder? Being unhappy. You absolutely can’t reach your fullest potential coming from a place of negativity. During the destruction, and rebuilding process, of my metabolism, body composition and self-worth I’ve learned that your mentality is your single most powerful weapon. And just as importantly, you need to have a genuine, positive group of people in your life supporting you (as I was graciously reminded of today). Be honest with yourself: if what you’re doing and/or investing in isn’t rooted in love, it’s the wrong thing for you. Apply this to every area of your life, and give yourself the opportunity to experience what it’s like to thrive.

The trick with rebuilding yourself is to be sure you use the right materials and tools for the job. A healthy mind and body, a worthy goal, and dependable friends are all vital components in the construction of a new you. Remember, a skyscraper is only as strong as the steels it’s made of.
— Beau Taplin
  That’s me! This picture was taken in the summer of 2014.

That’s me! This picture was taken in the summer of 2014.