“To thine own self be true.” Shakespeare.
That quote has always been an anchor for me. During a challenging time in my life, when I realized I wasn’t really being honest with myself and hence true to myself, (for fear I’d lose someone) I had these words tattooed on my arm. They serve as a reminder that while speaking one’s truth can be frightening, it is far less frightening than the alternative. For the alternative is to miss out on what your true life might potentially be.
Every day, these words serve as a visual, recurring reminder to stand in the truth of who I am, and a reminder to live in alignment with that truth. This is my goal for the narratives I offer here, which I hope will encourage you to consider and author your own. Sharing the stories of who we are connects us across time, history, geography, and experience. In short, it makes us human.
We all know that being true to ourselves is important; who can argue with that? “You Do You” is a phrase for a reason. ‘There’s the rub’, as Shakespeare’s Hamlet would say.
For what does it mean to be true to oneself? How do we find our inner compass in a world where our guiding truth – and the way we want to live our lives - is so easily thrown off course by the many options and paths and voices and messages that seek to guide, influence, or even derail us? How do we know who we are and what we want, when there is so much noise from media? How do we clear away the chatter that doesn’t serve us, including beliefs that we think are defining (I am not an athlete; I am not worthy; I am not strong)? The truth is they are only stories we tell ourselves. And if we wrote them, then we can rewrite them. How do we flip the script?
The good news: there’s no one way to do it right, and nobody knows what they’re doing. Like it or not, we’re all living with a beginner’s mind when it comes to seeking wisdom and guidance about how to live and who we are. This “not knowing” mind asks us to be curious, patient, disciplined, and open.
The difficult news: it doesn’t happen overnight, or simply by wishing for it, and it’s not easy. More good news: we’re not alone in this journey, and it’s never too late to start. And we can start by cultivating an attitude of curiosity. Practice curiosity about your capabilities. Practice curiosity about what and who you are, what you can do, and you will do it in your way. Cultivate curiosity and commit to being a lifelong learner of YOU. Your life is the most powerful thing you own, it’s yours and yours alone, and it’s free.
As a writer, public speaker, decorated competitive cyclist, Peloton instructor, partner, mother, businesswoman, and friend, it has taken me about five decades to get my compass in proper working order. Truly leaning into the mantra I say during every Wordshop and after every cycling class: I AM I CAN I WILL I DO, is my true north. At 50, I am about to be married to a human being I love and support and who loves and supports me. I have a job I love and a supportive and lively community of colleagues and close friends. I am a Masters World and National Champion cyclist with many medals, several of which are gold, many of which I earned after the age of 40. I enjoy the evolving relationship with the daughter I raised as a single mom, and I am grateful – some days beyond measure -- for the life I have chosen and worked for. I am proud. And that is a thing many of us are taught from a very young age, is not ok to show. But isn’t that what we all want? To be proud? Of who we are and how we live? We all long for the sense of pride that comes from knowing who we are, and embodying that person with love, respect, and care. I am proud that I am able to articulate who I am, what I believe, and how I want to move through the world -- in my heart, my mind, and in my body.
Those three words – in my body – have been the most hard won for me, as I believe they are for many people, no matter how they are embodied or define their bodies: man, woman, gay, straight, non-binary, disabled, athletic, tall, short…or, as I was so often told as a girl: BIG.
As a child growing up in suburban Pennsylvania, I loved to dance. I loved ballet so much that my father installed a bar in the basement so I could practice when I wasn’t in the studio. I found joy in dancing, but I was always encouraged to be smaller, to lose weight, to look a certain way. My thighs were too big; the other girls were given short tutus, but mine hung past my knees. I was never given the lead role in a performance, because ( I was told) my body was bigger than the other girls, and, as I came to believe, BIG WAS BAD. I internalized the message that so many of us hear, especially at the start of our fitness journeys or while doing any sport or practice that we love: lose weight. Be smaller. Take up less space.
We know these harmful and destructive messages are intricately laced into our culture, our media, which is perhaps why they are so difficult to recognize, untangle, and change. This is why we need that compass, one created by curiosity and sustained by community. It took me decades to rewrite this narrative of “I’m too big,” but any word can come after this terrible “too”: different, stupid, afraid, unworthy, old, young, etc. And these narratives are always up for revision.
My goal as a teacher, in fitness and beyond, is to rewrite those terrible toos. Consider the possibility that within anything anyone has ever said you were ‘too’ much of, lies the key to all the best things about you. Perhaps that’s the compass. And it has always lived within you. This is a process – a journey – I want to experience alongside you.
Years ago, at a turning point in my life, I was experimenting with block prints, and I wanted to spell out “Begin the journey.” I went for it, fully engaged in and inspired by what I was doing. When I looked up from my work, I saw that I had forgotten the “g.” Be in the journey was not what I intended to write, but I realized that the message was absolutely perfect, and this is my intention and open invitation to you: Be in this journey of your life and your truth according to you.
The 19th century writer George Eliot (who wrote under a man’s name so she could publish Middlemarch, which became a classic and is still in print) famously said, “It is never too late to become the person you were meant to be.”
Begin, with me. Be in it, with me. Be curious about how it feels to be true to yourself. To speak that truth. There is nothing to lose, and you are not – and never will be - alone.