Someone asked me the other day how long I had been teaching fitness and I told them that I had been doing this as a full-time gig for three-and-a-half years.
And while that’s true…that not the whole story.
The reality is I started teaching intenSati, a mind-body fitness class, six years ago and before that I taught high school English for five years, and before that? I was in college earning my degree in Secondary Education English. I’ve been cultivating and practicing the work I’m doing for over 15 years.
Point is, what we see (or the story we tell) isn’t always the full picture.
The Success You Seek
Once there was a man who wanted to experience great success in his business and so he visited a wise hermit who was said to hold answers to life’s many questions.
When the man told the hermit of his desire to experience great success, the hermit said he had just the thing for the man. But first he asked, “How bad do you want this success you seek?”
“Very badly,” the man replied.
“And what would you do to have it?” questioned the hermit.
“Anything! I would do anything,” said the man.
With that the hermit gave the man a handful of tiny bamboo seeds. “Plant these seeds in your garden where they will receive ample sunlight. Be sure to water them every day,” and he paused to stress, “no matter what.”
The man looked at the hermit with puzzled eyes and the hermit simply said, “Do this and you shall find success.”
The man could hardly wait to plant the seeds. Upon arriving home, he found the perfect spot where they could receive ample sunlight and he vowed to water them every day…no matter what.
Weeks went by with no growth and this continued well into the first year. Frustrated that a year had gone by and the seeds have yet to sprout, the man returned to the hermit.
“Old hermit,” shouted the man, “the seeds you gave me have not seen the sunlight. They still hide below the earth. I have done as you said, and I have not seen their growth, nor my success.”
Unbothered by this disturbance, the hermit merely lifted his head and in a soft tone said, “And what did you promise?”
“But I have done my promise…”
“Then go and keep at it. Surely the work is not done yet” said the hermit.
And so, the man returned home. He would care for his seeds for five years during which time he doubted if the seeds would ever grow or if he’d ever find his success.
At the end of the fifth year, a tiny shoot began to emerge above the soil. The man could hardly believe his eyes. But what happened next was the most astounding of all: over the next six weeks, the bamboo grew over 90 feet tall.
And it was then that the man understood that success cannot be born without first learning the value of hard work, persistence and faith.
It’s easy to look at what someone else has and think it was an overnight success or that what they’ve achieved was handed to them. In some cases this is true, but the majority of the time, there’s been hours of tireless work – hours behind the scenes where that individual has struggled, failed and been so frustrated that they thought of quitting…but instead, they decided to solider on.
It was the choice to not fold their cards when the stakes were high and the odds were slim that got them where they are. And that’s why where they are means something.
Struggle is one of the most underappreciated lessons of life. When we don’t struggle for it, when it’s something that we haven’t fully earned on our own accord, we don’t value it.
There’s something you learn along the way to the dream or goal that can only be gained with investment – your time, energy and resources. The character and courage you walk away with can only be earned when you’re up against something. It’s in those early times when nothing seems to be working or changing that we’re really growing the foundation we need. And it’s only by sticking with it that we will see the fruits of our labor.
When I went through my semester of student teaching in college, I had to work through my griping fear of public speaking. I had performed “on stage” dancing and singing many times before, but in these instances my audience was far removed. The interactive nature of teaching nearly paralyzed me – but I knew if I wanted to teach (something I was certain of since I was six years old), then this was something I needed to work through.
When I first began teaching high school English, I had to wrestle with going off my perfectly crafted lesson plans. Things don’t always go as planned and I had to learn to “go with the flow,” something that allowed me to move from content to connection with my students.
Six years ago, when I first started teaching intenSati – before I decided to get into fitness full-time – I would spend hours – hoursssss – running through the choreography I was going to teach that week at the free classes I was offering at the Athleta in downtown Center City. I’d practice teaching my imaginary class in my third-floor office. I’d imagine teaching to my tribe, the community I wanted to build. I’d imagine packed classes teeming with excitement and energy.
I have invested hundreds of thousands of hours in my dream. I have spent more time than I can count building skills: musicality, cueing, lesson planning, public speaking, authentic connection. And there was plenty of times where it was hard, and I wanted to quit. I’ll never forget, early on when I first started teaching intenSati, I had a class where no one showed up – and boy let me tell you, nothing is more defeating than sitting in a room all by yourself.
But it didn’t stop me. For whatever reason I chose to stick with it and a year from when I started teaching intenSati at Athleta, I built my community classes from 7 – 8 people a week to 35+. At the height of what I considered “success” at the time, I was told that I could no longer have classes on a weekly basis, something that was important to me. It was another hurdle, another obstacle, and in that moment I could choose to fold my cards and say, “Hey, it was a good run while it lasted,” or, I could decide to get my group fitness certification and start teaching at a gym. I chose the later and that meant I had to build my classes and community from the ground up again.
The process of starting over, of replanting seeds and waiting for them to grow, is not new for me. In fact, my life coach and I have an inside joke that we’re perpetual “builders”. And while we can laugh about our assignment from the Universe – how it is that some people get to keep their tribe and community indefinitely and we always have to start over – the replanting and the waiting, no matter how many times you’ve done it before, is never easy.
When we find ourselves at a starting point – especially if we’ve experienced great success and growth prior – it’s easy to get lost. It’s easy in the building and growing phases of our life to go, “It’s hard. I’ve done this already! Why do I need to do this again? I’m tired of the ‘doing’. I just want to reap my benefits. I deserve to be ‘there’ already”.
We think just because we’ve done the work – on any level, for whatever timeframe we’ve designated – that the work should be over. We think we’ve paid enough dues, endured enough and should be there already.
But life does not operate on our terms.
Sometimes you’ll get through the process and experience massive success, only to be thrown back in the process. Sometimes you’ll go from 7 – 8 people in class to 35+ only to rebuild again. Sometimes you’ll find yourself at yet another new place and will build your classes from the ground up to 70+. You’ll be the most popular instructor, ranked 11 nationally in your company, only to be forced out from where you are and have to start all over again.
Sometimes the process will suck. Sometimes the process will be hard. Sometimes everything you’ve worked toward will be taken away from you and you’ll struggle with the loss. In those moments you will question your dream and if you have one. You will wonder if you should just “throw in the towel” and call it a day.
When the stakes are high and you’re knee-deep in the struggle, you will pray for things to be easier. You will search for the quick fix and immediate solution. You will look for anything that will get you out of the struggle. But it’s the struggle, the very thing you are avoiding, that is what adds value to the success.
We value what we struggle for, but we have trouble placing the value in the struggle.
It’s easy to think that the bamboo grows 90 feet in six weeks, but the reality is it took five years and six weeks for the bamboo to grow. Those long five years underground allowed it to develop a root system strong enough to support its outward growth in the fifth year and beyond.
In these moments, when everything seems lost and the road in front of you appears to be an endless stretch as far as the eye can see, remember there is value in your struggle.
There will be times where your faith and patience are tested – where you will begin to doubt yourself and your efforts. And this is where many others will quit. Remember here that you are simply growing stronger roots and that the character you build, the strength you develop, the faith you’re manifesting, are things that can only be born in the process.
To growing (and struggling with purpose),