What were your biggest lessons from the last decade?
The end of a year and the start of the next is a time that often gives rise to reflection. But the start of a decade? It’s something that really makes us look back over the last 10 years – over everything we’ve overcome and accomplished – it makes us reflect on the person we were then and who we are now – it becomes a powerful moment to decide where we want the next year and decade to take us.
Any 10 year timespan is enough time to turn a person’s life around. Hell, even the physical body that we’re in right now, isn’t the same one that carried us 10 years ago as the body’s cells replace themselves every 7 to 10 years. We are literally the walking iteration of something remade and reborn from what we once were.
For me, the last 10 years were some of the toughest I’ve experienced, but they were also the ones that taught me some invaluable lessons. It’s often said that experience is the mother of all teachers and if this decade has taught me nothing else it is that: experience teaches you the unteachable so that you can grow through what you go through.
Here’s the 10 biggest lessons this decade has taught me (in no particular order):
1. Your Gut Knows What’s Up. Trust That Bitch.
The Universe wants to be noticed…and heard. Problem is, we aren’t always listening.
Did you ever get a gut feeling to do something and not do it? Have you ever had an intuitive nudge that was telling you something was going to happen, something that when it did happen, you chalked up to coincidence?
The tiny nudges, those gut feelings, are something I have felt since I was a child. They’re also something I’ve repressed, denied and chalked up to coincidence. Grossly ignoring these signals over the years has caused me pain and compounded my life with what could have been avoidable challenges.
There’s a saying that goes, “at first the Universe will tickle you with a feather, then it will throw a brick at you…you don’t want to wait for the truck.”
I waited for the truck and it took getting hit by the truck for me to wake up and listen.
Well before the start of this decade, during the beginning of my second year in college, I broke the C2 vertebrae in my neck playing intramural soccer – a game my gut was adamantly against. But even that devastating blow wasn’t enough to truly wake me up to listening to my intuition.
It wasn’t until April of 2018, after months of working in a toxic work environment and not listening to the voice that told me it was time to go, that I got hit by the proverbial truck of truth. I was forced out of the place I called home: my classes, my tribe, my community. I lost a lot of who I thought I was during that time and was forced to start all over again; but ultimately, that course correction was exactly the thing I needed to grow to my next level and to trust myself entirely.
The more we resist, the more painful it is. The more we ignore our gut, distrust our intuition – the more we miss the signs and signals along the way – the more devastating the course correction will be when it happens.
The Universe is always talking…but, are you listening?
2. You Are What Is Standing In Your Way
It’s easy to blame the politics of work or life in general. It’s easy to complain about how unfair things are. It’s easy to hold onto the past – hurt feelings and why things didn’t work out – to use that as an indicator of what our future holds.
But the more we hold onto the unfairness, the resentment, the past – the more we cling to expectations, entitlement and the need for approval – the further away our goals seem.
Almost a decade ago, I started life coaching as a way to get my life back on track after hitting rock bottom. While working with my coach taught me – and still teaches me – many things, one of the most poignant things my coach ever said to me was, “The common denominator in any situation of your life is you.”
You are the common denominator in your life.
That one hit hard, but it forced me to really look at the areas in my life where I was blaming rather than taking responsibility for my life. Holding onto the unfairness of work situations only further embittered me. The more I did what I did out of the need for approval, the further down the wormhole of not-enough I found myself.
Only when I was willing to get brutally honest and call myself out on the traits that were holding me back from success, was I able to feel freer, happier – and find the doors of opportunity open.
You can’t control what doors will open in your life and who will open them or get to go through them; but, you do get to decide if you’re open to whatever possibility shows up, or if you block your entry.
3. How You Define Success, Determines How You Meet It
In life, how we define anything determines how we meet it. This is especially true when it comes to success.
We all have goals, things that we want, but between where we are and the goal we want to achieve, there’s a gap and so often what keeps us stuck in what I refer to as achievement autopilot is our obsessive focus on measuring the gap: how much longer until I get to my goal? What’s the distance between where I am and where I want to be? When am I going to get there?
When we are focused on measuring (and closing) the gap, we ultimately make the gap our measure of success and our self-worth. Even when we’re operating on a level that everyone else thinks is impressive or superior, we still end up feeling like we’ve fallen short of our standard because our ideal is somewhere over “there” and we’re somewhere over “here”.
Over the last decade I’ve measured my success and self-worth against a number on a scale, how many calories I’d eaten (or not eaten), how many people I’ve had in class, how many likes I had on a social media post, what roles or opportunities I was given or not being offered.
Having goals isn’t inherently a bad thing and measurement does create progress, but only the right kind of measurement allows us to move forward.
When I started chasing how I wanted to feel and started defining and living my year by one word, when I truly began to celebrate what I already had achieved, when I started measuring the quality of my life by the values that are important to me – the game changed and I saw purpose in my progress.
4. The Most Important Things In Life Aren’t Things
This lesson seems basic and simple – and in a lot of ways, it really is. But it’s also a lesson that’s hard to implement and live.
For most of us, our success, wealth or status is tied to some “thing”: how much money we make, what we weigh, how many Instagram followers we have, if we have the biggest bling on our finger or the fanciest car.
I spent my late 20’s and a good part of my 30’s, chasing a ghost, a number on the scale that I thought would make me happy. I spent a good part of my fitness career chasing titles, accolades and approval. I spent more hours than I care to admit acquiring things in my life.
When I moved out of my apartment this past October to move in with my boyfriend, I had to go through a major purging process. To be honest, my apartment looked like a minor episode of hoarders for a good week as I struggled with what to keep and what to throw away. But, the whole experience, taxing as it was, taught me that the most important things in life aren’t the things.
It was never about the goal weight or the ranking in my company or the things I had acquired and kept taking with me every time I moved. I began to truly see how the most important things in life were the words from a loved one scrawled on the inside of a card, the hugs from my son that need no words, the time spent with family and friends, the shared laughs that make your sides hurt and your eyes tear.
The things that matter the most, are the things that can’t be measured.
5. You Can Crash Hard and Rise Strong
When you board an airplane, before any takeoff, the flight attendants go through emergency safety procedures in the event that the plane should experience problems. There’s even an informational pamphlet with instructions should you forget what to do. And while flying is a risk, nothing compares to the risk of really living and feeling our way through life.
There’s no manual for the times we hit rock bottom. No voice over the intercom reminding us to put on our oxygen mask. We’re instead left holding the hand of our pain. We’re left trying to remember how to breathe. We’re left fumbling in the dark trying to figure out how to stop the hurt from hurting.
Holding pain is the hardest thing you’ll ever do and I don’t know what your pain is, but I do know we all hold some pain inside us. I know that we all experience moments where we crash hard.
I’ve hit rock bottom several times over the last decade, each time to varying degrees, but all painful nonetheless. From deep depression and a nasty bout with my eating disorder a decade ago to lying on my bathroom floor hysterically crying last New Year’s Eve dressed and otherwise ready to attend a dear friend’s wedding – I know that crashing hard is hard.
But, I also know and have learned that going through my pain – actually feeling it – is the key to my freedom and growth.
Freedom lies beyond the pain point.
Feeling your pain is the bravest fight you’ll ever fight and in the moments you crash hard, everything inside you will seek to contract. Instead, you must expand into your pain so that your pain will awaken you to your potential to rise even stronger than before.
6. Rejection Is Redirection
No matter how you cut it, no matter what area of life it shows up in, rejection hurts. Whether it’s from our family, our significant other, our friends or in our workplace, when we experience rejection, it hits us straight in the heart – the control center of our emotions.
Rejection is the force that feeds not-enoughness and when hit with rejection we’ll question what’s wrong with ourselves. But, rejection also has a way of teaching us, redirecting us, pulling us towards a greater version of life and ourselves as we know it.
Over the last decade, most of the rejection I’ve experienced has been professionally; though I did have one rejection that was a matter of the heart, which was hard to process at the time. At the time of each of my rejections, none of the “No’s” I was being given made any sense. Each rejection brought me down, fueled my anxiety, created confusion about what I was meant to do and who I was meant to be with, and knocked down my self-confidence.
As I muddled through the rejection, inevitably on the other side, each and every damn time, was something better. Over the years, alongside a shit ton of patience, I began to see how everything was working towards a greater opportunity, that each rejection was an invitation to reassess where I was in my life and to truly think about where I wanted to go.
My perspective became clearer. Every job I was denied for opened the door to something better. Losing everything I had worked for, allowed me to reassess my talents and gifts and find my authentic voice as a teacher. Even the ‘relationship’ that hurt me ended up leading me to meet my boyfriend, the person I consider to be my forever person.
Every “No”, every rejection, every mistake guided me to look within. And so I was able to grow, to learn and to make changes to be the woman I am today.
The next time you’re confronted with rejection or faced with a “No”, what if instead of seeing a stop sign, you simply saw a detour?
7. Invest In Your Relationships
As humans we’re biologically programmed to form close bonds. Connections to others satisfy a basic human need for love and belonging and numerous studies show that we are happier, healthier and even live longer when we have strong, close relationships in our lives. But even though we’re biologically programmed to form close bonds, it doesn’t mean we all seek out connection to others.
For most of my life, I’ve identified as an introvert. I’ve gone to great lengths to isolate from others and withdraw. When I was teaching in my high school classroom or when I’m teaching fitness, you would never know that though. In public I come across as extroverted, social, connected. But, for the majority of this past decade, connected is the last thing I felt, cultivated or sought out.
Losing two of my siblings – one when I was 9 years old and the other when I was 21 – alongside just experiencing a great deal of loss throughout my life, forced me to close off. In my mind, if I put up walls and didn’t get attached, losing something or someone wouldn’t hurt so much. Even in most of my intimate relationships over the last 10 years, I would let my partner in…but only so far. I had to keep my heart safe from hurting.
When I sat down about 4 years ago and wrote out my values, among the things I listed was connection. It wasn’t that I didn’t want it. I craved it. I just so happened to also fear it. Writing it down was the first step. The harder part was seeking out the experiences that allowed me to live by my values.
And so I started to share my story and be vulnerable with my classes, something that allowed me to find connection with others. And I found that the more I shared, the more I had in common with others. My community grew and my sense of purpose became clearer.
When I started to allow people into my heart, my capacity to love grew. Some of those experiences burned me, but, looking back, if I had chosen to never open up or if I had let those experiences harden me, I wouldn’t be in the most amazing relationship of my life now.
I’ve learned that investing in your relationships is the single greatest thing that brings joy to your life. People will come. And they will go. But what you cultivate in your heart remains forever.
8. Healing From Anything Is The Most Badass Things You’ll Ever Do
We’re all addicted to something. It’s just a matter of owning up to your particular poison.
Maybe you’re addicted to video games. Maybe you’re addicted to being right. Maybe it’s food, drugs, alcohol, shopping, exercise or approval. We all have something that gives us our “fix” and allows us to disconnect from life.
Growing up my father was an alcoholic and my childhood was so impacted by his addiction that I made a firm resolution to not end up like him. I didn’t touch alcohol until college, I still won’t go near beer – and even now, I only casually drink wine. And while I may not have ended up down the same drinking path as my father, I found another avenue for addiction: food and exercise.
The summer of my second year at college, I started working as a counselor at a kids camp and the undertones of what would become a full-fledged eating disorder began. What started with not wanting to finish my food turned into chewing and splitting things out to not have the calories turned into working out for hours on end after a physically tiring day at camp. In a matter of years, exactly a decade ago, a year after the birth of my son (now 11), I was in a full blown bout of not eating and working out. I was using not eating and hours at the gym as a way to cope with not feeling enough and with the lack of control I felt over my life and my body.
Healing (from anything) isn’t easy because it requires us to feel our way through the gritty and uncomfortable moments. Checking myself into Friends Hospital in 2010 for depression and landing on a floor with drug addicts – my real life rock bottom – was a moment I’ll never forget. It’s taken hard experiences like that, years of life coaching, working with therapists and a shit ton of personal and self growth to be where I am now – and, I know, while I’ve come incredibly far in 10 years, the work isn’t done.
Know that shame will come up. Resistance will be loud. But healing is truly the most badass thing you’ll ever do.
9. Seek Out The People Who Tell You The Hard Truths You Need To Hear
Surround yourself with people who stretch your vision of possibility and hold you accountable for being the best version of yourself – the people who tell you the hard truths you need to hear – the people who have lived their own hard truths.
Advice is easy to dispense. In fact, it’s readily available at our fingertips. We can literally Google our way to anything we want advice on. But the hard truths we need to hear won’t be found on Google. The hard truths we need to hear aren’t likely to come from your coworker or in-laws. The hard truths come from experience. They come from people who hold a vision for themselves and show up consistently with values that align to their vision. They have clear standards of integrity that will often make you both uncomfortable and in awe.
I have three people in my life who I can always count on to tell me the hard truths I need to (and usually don’t want to) hear: my life coach Hildie, my best friend and coworker Kevin and my boyfriend Mike. And I have found in conversations with these individuals, usually the advice I’m most resistant to taking, is the thing I need to hear the most.
There’s the famous quote from Gloria Steinem that says, “The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.” I think back to Hildie telling me I needed to stay in my lane at work or how I needed to apologize for being an asshole to my then-girlfriend; the times Kevin told me my complaining about the same damn thing was spinning my wheels endlessly in mud; or Mike’s conversation with me about seeing an eating disorder therapist and really being done with my struggle once and for all. In each of these situations, what they had to say, was the last thing I wanted to hear and exactly what I needed to hear.
The hard truths have a way of lighting a fire under your ass and when you surround yourself with people who have your best interests in mind and aren’t afraid to call you out on your own shit, the hard truths will set you on the path to freedom.
10. Let Go Of Expectations And Be Open To The Moment
Whether we realize it or not, we all carry around expectations of how the world should work. When things don’t happen like we want, when reality smacks expectation upside the head, we don’t just have to deal with the undesired reality, we also have to deal with our unmet expectations.
Expectations mean we suffer twice.
Our path can seem narrow and full of closed doors when we place too much focus on one goal. Only when we release expectation of exactly how it needs to happen and when it needs to happen and instead hold the vision of a bigger picture, can we find possibility we didn’t even know existed.
Two years ago, I had expected I’d be further along in my career and not being given the role of Master Trainer was a seriously hard pill to swallow. When I finally came to terms with the loss and surrendered to the vision itself rather than a specific goal, the opportunity to facilitate yoga teacher training presented itself. While I was immensely grateful for the opportunity, I also grew very attached to this goal and so I was equally devastated when the program didn’t run and I was no longer at the club that I was to run the program at. The same opportunity came up again at my new club to facilitate YTT, but funny enough, neither of those took. I started to understand the more tightly I held on, the more I grappled with my expectations, the further my goals and dreams seemed.
So I began to let go of the specifics. I would mentally affirm to myself, if not this, something better. And in the moments panic and anxiety would set in, I’d meditate and breathe.
The absence of expectation affords us opportunity and only when I let go of things having to be a certain way, did things work out – and might I add better than I had hoped.
This past December I co-faciliated our first YTT at Ardmore and we’re launching a Spring session that starts in March.
Hold fast to your vision, let go of the specifics and let the moment unfold and open you to possibility.