Eleanor Roosevelt is often credited with advising “do one thing every day that scares you,” but it was Mary Schmich, a columnist for the Chicago Tribune, who penned that exact phrase in her article aimed at students on the brink of graduation. I agree with everything she offers, including the bit about scaring yourself, save for her frequency. Because the truth is, if I forced that kind of stress on my heart each day, I’d already be dead.
I feel you, Mary. But calm down.
What Eleanor actually said was:
“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”
When I graduated college, I realized that, for the first time in my life, my education would no longer be dictated by an institution. I had the freedom to choose my own curriculum, and that was important—learning should never stop with a diploma. So I drafted a list of things to do, try, and experience over the course of a year, most of which involved movement, and when I felt like I needed a challenge, I picked one.
I took a salsa class, practiced yoga, and learned to ride a motorcycle. I played coed beer-league softball, dodgeball, and beach volleyball. I took a self-defense class, ran a 10K, and adopted CrossFit. The list goes on.
My habit of repeatedly pushing my boundaries allowed me to better understand my limitations, appropriately manage my response to fear, and, like Eleanor, gain strength, courage, and confidence. It also allowed me to embark on adventures I may have otherwise declined if I’d chosen to stay in my box.
People tell me I’m brave.
This September, I committed to participating in the Lansing Storytellers, an event hosted by the Lansing State Journal that recruits local storytellers to share a 10-minute tale related to a pre-determined topic onstage—a perfect excuse to shit myself. November’s topic was “I Was Wrong.”
I elected to share a story about my relationship with CrossFit, my experience with depression, and how my fitness reboot and the support of the community helped heal me. My mistake being the negativity I fed myself through the process.
It’s a story I’ve told dozens of times to dozens of people. I expected it to be as fluid and as easy to tell as it had been in the past.
It was not.
In the hours before the event, I was relatively calm. I spent countless hours rehearsing to the cat and practicing on my walks home from work. I slayed a dress rehearsal, worked a microphone, and visualized a successful delivery from the stage. I felt prepared. This was a memory, not a speech. I lived it.
But when the host called my name to the stage, I was met with a wave of emotion I was not prepared to handle. Of the 180 attendees, 40 of them came for me. Eleven family members, 13 coworkers and their spouses, 8 friends, and 8 gym members. But it was my coach’s arrival that got me.
Suddenly, this story that felt so matter-of-fact became a very personal, very public declaration of gratitude to both him and the athletes that came to support me, and I couldn’t contain myself.
Suddenly, I realized how exposed I was.
Suddenly, I couldn’t explain CrossFit.
I finished my story with one stumble, one audio malfunction, and one sweat-soaked flannel shirt, but it was exactly what it needed to be. The thanks I received (from loved ones and strangers alike) for being so vulnerable justified the heart palpitations, excessive sweating, and fear of public embarrassment. I had unknowingly positioned myself to be a catalyst for conversations others were waiting to have about their own mental health, self-doubt, and fear. That alone was worth my effort.
Hear me tell my story here.