A letter to my daughter on the eve* of your birth

*I’m using the word “eve” very lightly here as I don’t actually know when you will show up.

I’ve started this letter on the computer and in my head too many times to count. I don’t know the right way to start a letter to your child as you wait for her to be born. You’re three days past your due date today and I expected this letter finished long before now. I don’t even know exactly what I want to say, except that I want to say something. I don’t know how to fully wrap my brain around the fact that right now you are so small and snug inside me, but someday you will be able to read these words that I wrote down for you so many years before.

The first thing you need to know is that there are rules in this house. They’re currently posted up in the living room so if you ever forget them, you don’t have to look far for a reminder.

  • Be compassionate
  • Be kind
  • Be silly
  • Don’t be a dick

Those four rules identify what’s important in this house and this family. You don’t need to be the smartest kid in your class or the best athlete. You don’t need to be perfect or wonderful all of the time. But you do need to be compassionate, kind, and silly.

Help others when you have the chance to do so. Be kind to your family, friends, and to strangers. Laugh as much as you possibly can. You can be kind without being a pushover. You can be compassionate without forgetting yourself. You can be silly when no one else is. Your parents are weird. Sometimes you’ll like that, sometimes you might be embarrassed by it. We’re happy being silly and weird. We want you to be too, if that’s your thing.

And don’t be a dick. There will be times in your life where you will need to stand up for yourself or others. Do that. Speak up for those that need it. Defend yourself. Have confidence in who you are and what you stand for. But don’t be a shitty person. Bullies will not be tolerated in this house, nor will shitty attitudes, arrogance, or selfishness. We all have bad days and sometimes you might break this rule. In fact, sometimes your mom and dad might break this rule too. We promise to forgive you as long as you will forgive us. And after we’ve recovered from those moments, we can all hug it out and remind ourselves of the family rules again.


I don’t know what you look like, which makes it hard to think of you out here, existing in the world. Since you are a little girl and since I look so much like my mother, I imagine you’ll look a lot like me. Although I also imagine you’ll have your father’s blue eyes, fair skin, and freckles. And sometimes I imagine that you’ll have my brown eyes and some mix of reddish blonde hair that exists in both our families. There’s science that backs up the old wives’ tale that heartburn during pregnancy can be linked to the growth of baby’s hair in utero. I haven’t had much heartburn so maybe you’ll come out delightfully bald. I don’t know, but I’m excited to find out.

  • I’m excited to meet you and to share my life with you.
  • I’m excited to play with you in your monster-themed nursery and dress you up in adorable clothes.
  • I’m excited to watch scary movies with you and your dad and to watch more cartoon movies with you than your dad could ever possibly handle.
  • I’m excited to introduce you to your family. The ones we like; not the other ones. So many of them are also very excited to meet you.
  • I’m excited to watch you grow and change. And then to watch you change the world around you.
  • I’m excited for all the things you’ll say or do or be a part of that I can’t even really be excited for yet because I can’t even fathom your beautiful little life.
  • I’ve wanted to be a mom for most of my life (there was some time in my 20’s where it was debatable) and I am so excited I am lucky enough to do that.

But I’m also scared. Really scared. I’m scared for us both.

I’m scared for me and how my life will change. It may not make sense to you when you read this, but I know it will someday.

  • I’m scared that I will lose sight of myself, that I’ll forget to take care of myself and be kind to myself. I’ve already gotten pretty lax about self-care during maternity leave but I’m trying to turn that around.
  • I’m scared that your father and I will struggle to parent cohesively, that this will change our marriage forever, possibly not for the better. We’re letting go of “just the two of us” and I worry that I will miss this quiet time of staying up late, frivolously spending money, and doing absolutely nothing more than I can imagine.
  • I’m scared that even though I’ve wanted this for so long that I won’t be any good at it. I’m scared I won’t be a “good” mom, and that I will let you down more than I lift you up.

I’m scared for the world you face.

  • I’m scared because you are a girl, and as a woman I know that you will face sexism in ways both passive and aggressive, conscious and subconscious, for likely most of your life. And should you share with us one day that you don’t identify as cis-gender and/or straight, I’m scared of how the rest of the world will treat you.
  • I’m scared because today our country is inaugurating an ill-educated narcissist to the highest office in the nation and it has already disturbed our society in so many ways. I worry what comes next here. I worry that the oppressed will not only remain so but that the oppression will worsen, which doesn’t bode well for your future or the future of your friends.

Thankfully, I know so many good and kind people that I haven’t completely given up hope on those last two bullets. Some experts say that this presidency will usher in a new wave of empathy for those of us feeling disheartened. I hope that’s true. I hope that by the time you’re old enough to learn about all of this in high school that you can ask me about what it was like living in a time when people were much less equal than they are in yours.

I hope that you can see that there were people that came before you that stood on the right side of history, that stood on the side of love, and because of them your life is better. I hope that you have more opportunities than I did and that you live in a society that is more welcoming than the one I am in. I see the people around me and I know it’s possible. You deserve more than the world I am bringing you into and I hope that it will become more like the world you deserve as you grow up. And I hope that you will do your very best to continue to make the world a better place.

I know that I am not a special snowflake. The fears I carry are not unique to me, nor are they rare. Expecting parents since the dawn of time have shared my worries (adjusting for cultural and technological advances, of course), but it’s hard to let them out. It’s hard to admit that I am scared because I want so badly to only be excited. I want to be as cool and confident as I was earlier in pregnancy, when your birth wasn’t so imminent.

I want to be a free spirit floating into parenthood with grace, joy, and nothing but the warmest and fuzziest of emotions. But that’s not real life. Real life is a little more confusing than that. Humans and human emotions are more complex than that. I wish I could be fearless, but I’m not, and I’m hoping that being honest about my fear as much as my joy will help me feel just a little more prepared to be your mom. I don’t think I’ll ever feel like I have the whole mom thing figured out, so do me a favor and give me (and your father) some grace. I’m trying. I’m learning as I go. I’m imperfect. And I love you dearly.


On Mother’s Day, last year, after eight months trying to conceive, I was feeling a little down and a little overwhelmed. Your dad woke up early, went to the store to grab milk, and brought me home flowers. He said “Happy Mother’s Day to a someday mom. You may not be one now but you will be.”  To which I responded that it would be happening sooner than he thought, because I took a pregnancy test while he was out at the store and was elated to see two pink lines, one strong one and one faintest glimmer of a line. He stared at me confused for a second, but then came around after some more questioning. He was wary that morning because the line was so faint but with a digital test proclaiming “Pregnant” later that night, he finally came around. And I made him laugh as I danced around the house laughing and yelling that we were having a baby.

I want you to know that I have loved you since you were just two little pink lines, one faint as could be. We wished and waited for you and despite all of the fear and unknown, we’re very much looking forward to meeting you. We’re looking forward to holding your little hands, dancing around the room with you, and helping you grow into the person you are meant to be. It’s going to be tough for all of us at times, even scary, but I know in my heart that it will all be worth it.

We cannot wait to bring you home.

And I still have the flowers your father brought home to me on Mother’s Day. I think we might hang them in your nursery.

With all of my love,

Mom

Fitspo is dumb

Oh fitspo, the cool mashup word that’s been all the rage in online fitness circles. In case you’re not good at being hip, fitspo = fitness inspiration. Well, theoretically it does. And okay, I’m sure some people find these entirely motivating and not the least bit damaging, but I’m not a fan of the messages.

With messages about never giving up and pushing through the pain, and with phrases like “strong is the new skinny”, fitspo can be a little pushy. When those messages are then paired with images of headless fitness models, flat stomachs, and asses without cellulite, it gets overwhelming pretty fast. I understand the idea of pushing yourself and wanting to be better, but the constant barrage of the body parts of “ideal” women juxtaposed the inspiration not to give up is telling me things I’m not interested in hearing.

You can have this flat stomach if you just work harder.

You can be this skinny if you just work harder.

Eat better. Train harder.

Skinny is sexy. Strong is sexy. Fitness is about being sexy. Always make sure you’re sexy and desirable to other people.

I’m pretty over fitspo.

And I’m not the only one.

In the great technology age where women and men alike are constantly being reminded of what the perfect body looks like and how we should all be working toward that, fitspo can often do more harm than good. You may never have a flat stomach or buns of steel. These bodies we idolize are the result of specific eating patterns, exercise patterns, and genetics. The frames and the shapes of these bodies may not even resemble yours in the slightest. And that’s a good thing because we weren’t all meant to look the same.

What the hell is with separating women from their body parts anyway? I am more than my stomach. I am more than my ass. I am a person, I am working on me every single day, and I do not deserve to be boiled down into one body part as a reference for my level of fitness or my sex appeal.

I will no longer let a stranger’s flat stomach be my personal motivation.

I will probably never have a six-pack and I will always have cellulite. I can’t eat an incredibly restricted diet because it is both mentally and physically taxing for me, in ways that aren’t healthy.

I won’t work out for hours a day because my family, sleep, and my DVR are all important to me. I’m going to eat chicken wings and drink beer and get that big container at the frozen yogurt place. And I’m going to do these things guilt-free because I enjoy them and because I know I work hard to eat healthy often and exercise when I can. I won’t ever have the fitness industry’s perfect body but I can learn to appreciate my own. I can figure out where healthy habits and a healthy self-image meet to make the body in which I am most comfortable. I’m happier with that.

And so, I created my own alternative images to fitspo (click on the images to get the bigger versions).

5 6 4 3 2 1

We could all use some more love and kindness in our lives. Be good to your body. Be kind to your body. Love yourself. Love yourself no matter what you look like, no matter how many pounds you want to lose, no matter how many cookies you ate with dinner. Be your biggest fan instead of your worst enemy.

Try to be the happiest and healthiest version of you that you can be, whatever that looks like. And encourage others to do the same. Think of all of the things that your body can do today and think about how great those things are.

Be good to your body, it’s the only one you have; and treat yourself with kindness to encourage others to do the same.

You are more than a quote over a body part.

You are awesome. Just as you are. Today. Right now.

And one more, for good measure, because I see you over there, looking all good…

7

To my fellow white friends, confused by rioting

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to digest the Baltimore riots, the recent riots before them, and the political and social atmosphere that built them all.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking “I don’t understand” and trying to understand in spite of myself.

But that’s just it. I don’t understand. I won’t understand. I will never, ever understand what it means to be a person of color in the United States. I will never be a victim of institutionalized racism. When I do something wrong, people don’t assume the worst. I’m a white female. I have the privilege of getting the benefit of the doubt when I make mistakes.

The Frustration-Aggression Theory argues that frustration, when it cannot be displaced, leads to aggression. Without a means to deal with it, the aggression can turn to violence. Against people, against objects, against any conquerable target.

  • A woman constantly mistreated at the only job she can find in her town might go home and hit her child when he starts to cry.
  • A group of people oppressed by the institutions built to protect them, unable to see a way out from under the struggle, might start to riot.

This is about Freddie Gray and it’s bigger than Freddie Gray. This is a class problem. This is a race problem. This is our problem and we need to talk about it. No matter how uncomfortable it makes us feel.

So just consider, white friends, while you’re wondering why people are burning cars and looting stores, that it’s okay not to understand. It’s okay to admit that you don’t understand. Because you really don’t.

But it’s not okay to be silent. It’s not okay to take a back seat when people of color in this country have been so broken by oppression that they are reduced to acts of violence and anger. It’s not just one person. It’s entire communities. Communities that are hurting. Communities that need hope. Communities that deserve change.

Stand up and make a difference. Fight for justice and for equality. Challenge your country to be better.

You have the privilege to be silent, but that doesn’t mean you should be.

White silence = white consent.

 

 

It’s okay if you can’t come to my party

Facebook event created. People invited. Acceptances and excited notes start pouring in.

And then the declines.

“Sorry I can’t make it I already have plans to go bass fishing with my third cousin that day.”

“I have the exact same event for a completely different person otherwise I would totally be there.”

“We’ll try to make it but since our dog’s cello recital is that afternoon we’ll have to play it by ear.”

I feel like I’ve heard multiple speeches and read multiple blog posts about learning to say “no” and I feel like we’re not talking about the whole story. You need to say no to things so that you can maintain a better life balance and so you don’t give your whole self to other people and so you can just be happy and somesuch and someother.

grumpy_cat__nope_by_imwithstoopid13-d624kvlGreat. Say no. And just leave it at that.

I don’t need your excuses. And I don’t mean that in the shitty way where I roll my eyes and place strong emphasis on the words “need” and “excuses.” I mean it like some high school teacher of mine used to try to explain that there’s a difference between excuses and reasons but really they’re the same thing except one has a negative connotation from all of the times we use it to make people feed bad.

You don’t owe me an explanation. Unless you’re canceling for a reason that I – as your very best friend in the world – would like to know about then it doesn’t really matter to me. If you’re visiting a sick family member, for instance, I would like to know about it so that I can send you my condolences and offer you help if I can. And okay that particular instance would be really awkward to put on a Facebook event page per my original example but you can still send me a message privately.

I’m just going to say this definitively for anyone I ever invite to anything (almost anyone, David): Just say no. Maybe giving me a specific reason makes you feel less guilty for not coming to my party but I get it. We aren’t a bunch of 17 year-olds with no real plans except getting high in basements. We’re adults now and we’re busy. You have friends that don’t travel in the same circles. You have a project you need to finish for work. You have children that need to go to baseball practice. You have things to do and so do I and I get that.

You don’t have to give me a reason because your reason doesn’t really matter. What matters is that I’m going to order pizza around 8PM and I’m going to need to budget for the right number of pizzas.

I obviously want you to come to my party. I invited you because I like you. But I understand if you can’t or don’t want to come and you don’t need to feel obligated to tell me why you can’t come. I will be no less sad about you coming because I know that my party is the same day as your friend Megan’s Botox party. Or because I know that your two-year-old has a pressing tumbling class to attend. Or maybe you just know you’re going to have a long week and all you want is one damn weekend to yourself. Maybe your favorite show just came out on Netflix and your plans involve a lot of binge-watching and brownies and ordering your own pizza.

I like you and I’ll be a little bit sad that you can’t be there but hey, the party will go on. I won’t get all butt hurt about why you can’t or don’t want to come.

you'll miss my sweet dances moves but I forgive you
you’ll miss my sweet dances moves but I forgive you

I also won’t say OH EM GEE WHY CAN’T YOU COME?!?! when I see your decline post (or get your decline text message or voicemail) without giving me a reason. That’s your own damn business. You don’t owe me an explanation and I won’t make it weird when you don’t give me one. I might say that I’ll miss you but duh. Because friendship.

I don’t understand why we all feel the need to validate our absences. Is this a new thing or has this been happening since the dawn of time? Regardless of whether you decline because you can’t or don’t want to come, your reason is your own and your excuse is valid. There. Done.

So go ahead, decline your invitation to my most important party of forever (or you know, don’t) but do it guilt-free and “courtesy”-free and don’t worry about telling me why. Whatever your reason, it’s okay by me and I completely understand.

And for what it’s worth, I can’t wait to see the videos of your dog’s cello concert or your kid’s tumbling class when you post about it later. I’m going to like the shit out of that post.

Almost 1,000 words about my two-word New Year’s resolution

It’s January first and you know what that means: reflections, resolutions, and regrets for some. It’s a strange thing, this time of year. High off of holiday warm and fuzzies, people start making plans to improve themselves for better or worse. We commit to things in January that seem impossible in July. We put off lifestyle changes we could make in November until January. Because New Year.

Like many of my more personal blog posts, this one started out as a quick thought I was writing down. As I wrote, I realized I had much more to express and explain than I considered at the onset.

I want to talk about my resolutions for this year, previous years, and for the years to come.

2011 was a tough year for me personally. It was the year I moved in with my then boyfriend and now husband which was a great positive, but I struggled a lot. When the year came to an end and I reflected on who I was and how I wanted to improve, I thought of only one thing.

7530662644_0df6b70ca0_zBe kinder.

When I told David, he thought it was a fine and also strange resolution. He tried to reassure me I wasn’t a bad person. I knew that. But I wasn’t as “good” of a person as I wanted to be. I wasn’t there for people as much as I wanted, I wasn’t as helpful as I meant to be, I was unforgiving and occasionally spiteful.

I was – and am – human (until I get my robot parts, that is).

We are so perfectly imperfect. But that doesn’t mean we can’t be better. That doesn’t mean I can’t be better.

So I vowed to be kinder.

When someone asked for help, I would consider first if I had any actual obstacle keeping me from helping and then considered what I would want the other person to do if the roles were reversed. When my husband forgot to do things I asked him to do, I tried to ask him nicely again before getting mad first. It was these small gestures and so many more that made me consciously work to be kinder. It wasn’t easy and I didn’t always follow through and I was still perfectly capable of being shitty, but I was trying and that counted for something.

I also stayed in therapy. If you don’t have a therapist you should go get one. But that’s another story for another time.

I think it’s important to point out that I said and I meant “kinder” and not “nicer.” I am not – and I say this without someone needing to pat me on the back about it – nice. No one would ever say “Sabrina is so nice.” They just wouldn’t.

Actually, when trying to figure out a good way to explain my feelings on the subject I stumbled onto this article about the difference between being kind and being nice. It’s a great example of why I feel “nice” has never and will never fit me.

I am not nice to others above all other things. I am not nice at risk of my own sanity. I am not overly and insistently nice. I do not put others first all of the time because sometimes I come first. If you are shitty to me, I will not be nice to you. If you are shitty to those around me, I will not be nice to you. If you are shitty to yourself, I will not be nice to you. I am confident in myself and my own abilities and will now allow anyone to take those from me for the sake of niceness.

I am incredibly droll. I am loud and sarcastic. I am occasionally abrasive, and even more occasionally offensive. I am not nice although I may do nice things.

I want to be kind. And I think that many times I am kind. But I want to be kind whenever I can and I will never reach that point but it’s a great place to strive for. So I choose the resolution to be kinder.

My resolution looks like a lot of different things. It means looking at things from the other person’s point of view before responding. It means offering help when I have no good excuse not to. It means forgiving. And it means giving. Giving of my time and my energy, and my money when I can. It means being a better wife, daughter, and friend. I am not bad at any of these things, but it doesn’t hurt to be better.

When 2012 ended I asked my husband if he thought I was kinder than the year before and he said yes while emphasizing yet again that I was never a bad person. My husband does not lie to me to save my feelings so I took his word for it. When everyone else was figuring out their resolutions for 2013 I carried mine over. And I did the same for 2014.

At the end of 2014, after two years of making the effort to be kinder, I can honestly say I feel it. I still get mad at my husband for being forgetful sometimes. I still pick laziness over helping others sometimes. I still hold grudges. But I’m kinder than I was in 2011 and I feel better. I feel lighter.

kindness-heart-image-orgspringHelping other people, being there for other people, offering what I can to others, these are the things that make me feel alive. And so these are the things I will take with me as I carry my resolution from the end of 2011 into the beginning of 2015 and beyond. To be kinder to myself, to my friends, to my family, to strangers.

New year’s resolution?

Be kinder. This year and every year. As long as I can.

 

On wishing I never went to college

First, some background:

2004: Senior year of high school. Applied to five colleges. Three for theatre (acting), one for biology, one for nursing. Accepted to all of them, I chose to go to VCU for theatre.
2005: Started at VCU for theatre. Naive and starry-eyed.
Summer 2006: Decided not to go back to school for theatre, found it wanting. Move in with parents.
Late Summer 2006: Decided to go back to school for theatre after a late night drunken conversation with friends. Move out of parents’ house.
Spring 2007: Unsure of whether or not to continue into a third year of theatre, I said “fuck it” and continued on.
Fall 2007: After getting yelled at in an acting class for laughing during the typewriter game, I drop out of VCU for good.
Fall 2007 – Spring 2009: Epic amounts of floundering. Enroll in a wide variety of courses at local community college including emergency medical services, child psychology, and biology. Never complete a full semester.
Summer 2009 – Spring 2010: Start working at gym. Study on my own to become a personal trainer. Get certification. Enroll in local personal training institute to further my education. Never complete entire course after realizing it wasn’t for me.
Spring 2010: Enroll at University of Phoenix for AA in communications.
Summer 2011: Complete AA in communications.
Summer 2011 – Spring 2013: Try on two different majors – journalism and visual communications – until settling on health and human services (because I want to save the world, duh).
Spring 2014: Complete BA in health and human services.

Student loansYou know what’s dumb? Expecting a 16 year-old to know what the hell she wants to do with the rest of her life.

Filling out college applications my junior year I was an average (at best) student full of naivety about the future to come. I don’t have my VCU application essay anymore but that’s probably for the best. I vaguely remember an incredibly cliche essay about following my dreams and never looking back. #art #dreamer

I love theatre but surrounded by classmates willing to live in shoeboxes for the rest of their lives to live out their dreams, I realized I wasn’t like them. I never felt like I fit in with my classmates and maybe that’s why. I wanted to act but not if it meant being poor and never going on vacation. I had no business trying to figure out a college major when I hadn’t experienced anything outside of high school and my retail jobs. How was I supposed to know what to do with my life? I guessed. And I guessed a lot, hoping something would eventually stick. When I dropped out of college I spent time pursuing things that interested me because I had no other idea how to figure out the rest of my life and hey, college is what you’re supposed to do, right?

I now have two degrees: an associate’s and a bachelor’s, and I still can’t figure out if they were worth it.

I didn’t learn anything new to get my degrees. And that’s not because I took horrible classes and the degree programs were useless. It’s because I naturally seek out what interests me. I had already studied organizational communications concepts before I started my first day of my associate’s degree. I had already studied the largest pieces of the PPACA before starting my bachelor’s degree. After spending most of my life as an average student, I kicked ass in school for both of my degrees. Because I cared about the subject material and I work hard when I’m excited.

I learned. On my own time, in my own terms. I knew what I wanted to know more about and I researched until my face turned blue. And had I done all of that research and never completed those degrees, I would have all of the same knowledge but probably wouldn’t have the same career path.

As recruiters are flooded with resumes they need a way to quickly filter the applicants. Don’t have a degree? Well that’s an easy way to lose out on innumerable opportunities.

My two complete degrees are from for-profit institutions. they get a bad rap and I understand why, but they were my only chance at getting degrees. I needed to support myself and I couldn’t go back to school full time while working to pay my bills. And that scenario would have only been in a perfect world. The reality is that after dropping out of one school and failing to complete a single class in four semesters at another, no non-profit school would have touched me with a ten-foot pole. I was obviously unfit for education. So it was a for-profit school or it was nothing.

student-debtThe educational industrial complex is strong and overbearing, and it’s working.

And it’s bankrupting students. The generations before mine expect us to hop fresh out of college, get a job, start working, and stop bitching about how much money we don’t have. But education is different now. Abandoning logical growth, the rates of tuition increased at a rate higher than auto and home costs. In the last three decades, tuition prices have increased by a baffling 124% (when adjusted for inflation). Couple those numbers with a recent economic depression and you’ve got yourself the perfect financial disaster.

“The size of the average student loan in 2005 was $17,233. By 2012 the average U.S. student loan debt climbed to $27,253–a 58% increase in just seven years, according to FICO (Forbes).”

For all of my years trying to figure out how I want to spend the next 50 years of my life, I have $73,587.62 in student debt.

Take a moment, because that’s not a typo.

$73,587.62

Under the current debt forgiveness program the remainder of my loans will be forgiven after 20 years. See how kind the government is? I only have to pay $500 per month for the next 20 years and then I’m scot-free. That’s all. Another potential avenue is to find work with a non-profit. If I make every payment for 10 years while working at a non-profit (with no breaks in employment whatsoever) then I can have the remainder of my loans forgiven that way. Except I happen to like my current job and my current career trajectory.

Couple that disgusting number with the rest of our debt (mostly medical, plus credit) and David and I are around $100,000 in debt. Did that number make you throw up? Because it should. It keeps me up at night.

It’s the kind of number that makes a person want to file for bankruptcy. Until she realizes that student loans are obscenely difficult to get discharged and since they are the bulk of her debt it’s kind of a waste of a credit-score-damning maneuver.

I guess I should end with something positive but I just don’t have it. My student loans are crippling and there’s no way out. But I know that I wouldn’t have the continually-improving career that I’ve had without a degree.

california-student-protests.gi.topWas it worth it?

Should I have stayed a personal trainer forever? Should I have just tried to make ends meet without a degree at a low-paying job instead of trying to make ends meet with a decent salary and mountains of debt? What’s the right answer? I can’t see the other side. I don’t know what would have happened if I had chosen the other route so I have to hope that this is the better choice.

I have to hope because if at any point I come to the realization that none of this was worth it, I’m not sure I’ll be able to maintain sanity. I have to hope that things will just keep getting better for me and David and that we’ll get out of this financial hell hole much quicker than we plan.

I have to hope, I have to work hard and budget harder, and I have to play the lottery occasionally. Because what else can you do when you realize you’re going to be suffocating in debt for the next 20 years? #AmericanDream

Why I left personal training (Part 1)

dumbellsThe reasons I left personal training (as a profession*) are varied and I’m not keen on writing a dissertation to present all at once so I’m breaking my story up. For my sake and your sake.

I decided to become a personal trainer after I had dropped out of college, quit drinking (for a while, until later when I actually quit drinking), moved back home, and needed to figure out what to do with my life. I signed up for classes at a local community college but only went to a few before leaving. I couldn’t find something that fit but I knew that most days of the week I would find time to work out. Between finding a job and finding motivation for the rest of my life, I found a way to encourage myself and feel better about myself.

I tried to get family and friends to exercise with me and was happy to encourage them through it all. One day my mom suggested I become an aerobics instructor (outdated terminology, but you get the idea) and I spent the next couple of weeks researching personal training. I got a job in a gym as a sort of floor attendant while I studied and worked with other personal trainers to learn as much as I could. The gym promoted me to personal trainer once I achieved the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) Certified Personal Trainer credential and I thought it would be smooth sailing from there.

When I thought of myself as a personal trainer I imagined myself talking to people about their problems as I took them through perfectly programmed workouts. The person would learn to trust and listen to me, would see the changes in their body, and would keep coming back. My bills would be paid, my heart would be full, and I would have helped someone to get healthier (and hopefully happier).

Turns out I was wrong.

At no point in learning about anatomy, physiology, or kinesiology did anyone ever tell me what the actual business of personal training was like.

When you work for corporate gyms, personal training is more a sales job than anything else. When I last left a corporate gym, I was working only on commission but spending most of my time at the gym to try to drum up new sales. I spent maybe 15 hours per week training, was at the gym for at least 60 hours a week, and when all was said and done if you divided the commission up per hour worked I was making less than $2 per hour. I was trying to sell and not to train because with the tiered payment structure the gym built (as with the gym before it), I made more money selling than I did training. What is 30% of one training session when I can make 15% off of an annual package? Training I would make around $20 per hour and only when the client actually showed up for a session. When you include extras like a heart rate monitor and fitness testing if the client is interested, they could be committing to thousands of dollars easily.

When I first started I was excited to train. When I realized how much more money I could make selling training I amped it up. I impressed my supervisors with the amount I was able to bring in so early on. When I realized I had become a glorified saleswoman, I stopped selling as well. My numbers dropped. My supervisors complained, they asked what happened and how they could help me get back to the numbers I had before. I didn’t have an answer for them then because I was too scared to talk about how I really felt.

As a trainer in more than one gym, I was asked about my training protocol and programs less than 10 times. I was asked about my sales numbers daily.

Have you found a new client today? Go walk around the floor and offer to help people that need it.

Have you sold any heart rate monitors today? Talk to your 4 o’clock client about it, she needs one.

I was tired. I was tired of being the bleeding heart trying to convince a person that could barely afford their gym membership that they should invest in a $1500 training package. I was tired of working long hours for little return. I was tired of selling these massive packages or checking off training hours that cost $80 a pop for the client and seeing a meager return in my paycheck. I was tired of not being the personal trainer I wanted to be. I wanted to talk to people. I want to listen to their stories and help them overcome their insecurities. I wanted to be a personal trainer. Not a personal trainer sales machine.

If you look around the gym in most chains you might notice that a lot of the trainers are young. I’m not saying older trainers don’t exist (I’ve met some fabulous ones), I’m just saying they’re few and far between. And I think it has a lot to do with the current state of the business of personal training. I don’t think I’m the first one to get tired of the sales focus, I think I just got tired of it earlier than most people do.

The most successful personal trainers I know work for themselves.** They have created a brand and while sales are still important, they know that their success ultimately lies on the effectiveness of their training and their client’s willingness to learn. Because of that, training doesn’t fall by the wayside in the name of sales.

I once worked with a trainer who swore that someday he hoped to open a chain of gyms that paid trainers hourly or salary and that personal trainers would be kept from all aspects of the sale. It’s a nice dream and I hope he makes it happen someday. For all of the future personal trainers that genuinely want to empower other people and focus on fitness instead of on sales goals.

 

 

 *I still happily train friends and family, and – of course – give fitness guidance online. I love fitness and personal training on my own terms,in my own time, and under my own brand. I still maintain my ACSM certification and renew it when applicable.

**Disclaimer: My experience relates to working for big box gyms. Working for yourself is a whole different kettle of fish that I have only minimal personal experience with and cannot speak to well enough to comment on in detail.

3 tips to help you stop annoying me at the gym

gif21. Don’t drop the weights. Listen bro, this isn’t 1982 and you’re not Mr. Olympia. This is a gym in the suburbs with a bunch of moms and old dudes. So how about you take a moment to consider the people around you, eh? The people next to you don’t need to be startled every time you finish a set. The people on the first floor don’t need to worry the ceiling is going to cave in during your rest period. It’s so many shades of unnecessary.

Here’s the thing: if you can pick that weight up and put it back down multiple times throughout your set without dropping it, then I promise you that you can set it down like a decent ass person when you’re about to rest. Take two more seconds to decide not to be that guy, set your weights down nearby, and stop irritating the piss out of everyone else.

2. Don’t fart on the machines. Hey, we’re all adults here; I get how the human body works. I also understand that exercise revs up the metabolism and for a lot of people that means some pretty less-than-desirable bodily functions. I’m not mad at you, Machine Farter, I just think you’re making poor choices. When you’re in a crowded space, like say a row of treadmills or on the chest press machine in the middle of the machine floor, it’s just proper manners to take a moment and step away.

You don’t have to run off in shame. I’m not even requesting that you need to go to all the way to a bathroom or private room. All I’m saying is that maybe you shouldn’t fart where all the people are. If you need to run off for a second and come back to finish your workout, no one is going to notice. Nobody cares that much. But they do care when you stank up the place. It’s not right and it’s not fair to the rest of us. Step to the side (maybe on the stretching floor – no one is ever stretching, that space is dumb), do what you need to do, and get right back in the swing of your workout. It’s a service for the world that will go unappreciated, and it’s best that way.

3. Don’t make eye contact with naked people in the locker room. Maybe this is just the introvert in me, but when I’m naked (for the millisecond I’m not covered with a towel), I don’t need you looking at me. I have very strict ”Who can see my butt?” guidelines and you, person in the locker room, are not on that VIP list. I mean, I guess if you’re making eye contact you’re probably trying to avoid looking at my bits but really, wouldn’t it just be easier for everyone if you were looking a completely different direction?

Are we having a conversation? That’s fine, we can talk at the lockers about our weekend plans. We don’t need to be looking at each other, naked as jaybirds, to understand a conversation. If I’m spending our conversation running naked circles around you, then fine, you can take a peek. I’m being weird and also generous and you’re welcome.

Are we not having a conversation? Then stop looking at me, ya weirdo. These running naked circles are not for you, my friend. 

 

My healthy living story

This post was originally written for and posted on the Geeked Out Fitness blog.

Recently, someone on Twitter asked me how I got into living healthy and making my fitness a priority. I started to respond and then I realized that my story was going to take up much more than 40 characters so I wrote something to the effect of “Long story but started to hit rock bottom and changed.”

Worst storyteller ever.

But that really got me thinking about my story and all of the stories on the Geeked Out Fitness team and I think that it’s important that we share our stories with you.

I’m not sure at what point in my life I learned that I needed to be skinny or how I learned it or where I learned it. I just remember knowing it. It was a thing that was fact. I needed to be skinny. The oldest memory about my physical self that I can remember involves softball. I played softball in fourth and fifth grade and I remember shopping for softball pants being one of the most mortifying experiences of my young life. I remember trying pants on and telling my mom that my thighs were fat and that I was fat. I don’t know if my mom remembers this adventure, I’ve never asked.

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I look back on the pictures now and I can see that I wasn’t the same size as my very small framed best friend, but I wasn’t particularly fat either. My body image was distorted.

Throughout middle and high school I went through random bouts of not liking my body all that much – as I suppose young girls are unfortunately wont to do – and again now I look back on the pictures and think about how crazy I was. I was a tiny little stick person and I was convinced I was too fat. I had no real concept of exercising or eating healthy or anything. I didn’t know what a calorie was and I refused to run the mile in gym class.

When I got to college I met a boy who rode bicycles. I started riding bikes too and started to see my body differently for the first time in my life. I saw muscles in my lower half and I was proud of my curves. I was also eating ramen, chicken nuggets, and ice cream though so the change wasn’t overwhelming. After we broke up I continued to ride although not as much as before.

After my freshman year of college I left school and didn’t plan to go back. Then at the last minute I decided to go back anyway.  Sometime during my tenure at school I got a job as a waitress at Hooters (I was hired for my personality).  The tight uniforms only encouraged my self-judgment and I stopped eating as much and started working out. I was running and bought a ballet barre with an exercise DVD.  A guy I had been with off and on during my entire time at school commented on the change in my body and I felt that it was a win. I was looking good!

Fast forward to the beginning of junior year. I dropped out of school – for good this time – and stayed in my apartment with my friend. I had a job as a waitress at a small restaurant and I spent a lot  of time drinking. Sometimes I ran. Mostly I drank. And drank. And drank. The only time I remember being sober was between breakfast and driving to work.

Until one day two months after dropping out of school I called my mom asked her if I could move back home because I thought I was becoming an alcoholic. She said come on back but my parents were going to be out of town when I planned to come back so the only things I could bring back home with me were what I could fit in my 97 Pontiac Sunfire. It wasn’t a lot but that’s what I needed. It was the first step in letting go of a lot of physical and emotional baggage.

When I moved back home I started to search for a job and I didn’t have much to do in my free time so I started to work out. I started with Jilian Michaels DVDs and running and random weight lifting in the apartment gym. My mom joined me in working out sometimes, which I thought was fun. When she would join me I used to encourage her during our workouts. Helping her with her form and cheering her on. One workout she suggested I should become a personal trainer. Although I think she said actually said athletic trainer. I sort of took her advice and started looking into becoming a personal trainer (not a jock strap / athletic trainer).

Over the next six years my whole life changed. I started working in gyms. I completed my ACSM certification and later my NASM certification. I helped friends and family and strangers that became friends and family. I didn’t drink for a while after coming back home but eventually it snuck its way back into my diet.  I learned how to work out and how to appreciate my body for what it could do and not what it looked like.

I still struggle with my eating habits. I eat weird and sometimes like a bird but also sometimes I eat 20 chicken wings. I’m not always perfect. I don’t always workout and I don’t always stop at 1 piece of pizza and I don’t only eat unprocessed food. I’m still a work in progress. I would like to look back five years from now and say that Husband and I have enough money to eat only unprocessed, organic foods and that we are eating and living healthier than ever before.

Five years. That’s a long time. I’m not pretending that things are going to change over night. It took me a long time to really respect my body and stop judging it so harshly and I know my diet isn’t going to change overnight either but it’s about 400 times better than where it was before.

I work out and I eat healthy because I want to live a long and happy life. I don’t want the 1800 ailments that run in my family line on both sides. I want better for myself and I deserve better for myself. Living healthy is so important to me and I try to be there for anyone that is trying to make the steps themselves because it’s not an easy task. But it is so worth it. My resting heart rate and my blood pressure are low (in a healthy way). My body fat percentage is healthy.  I have trouble sleeping but that’s an anxiety thing and not a healthy lifestyle thing. I’m making these changes – these long-term lifestyle changes for me. Because I love me. And for the people that love me because I know they want me to stick around and bug them for as long as possible.

There are so many details and twists and turns in my story but I wanted you to understand at least from a big picture perspective where I come from. If you ever want to hear all of the sordid details I would be happy to share them with you over a cup of decaf tea sometime. In the meantime, I’ll just be here working on my own lifestyle change, helping people kick ass in the gym, and encouraging you to make the best of your own life too.

sabrinaandalex

Perspective – In memory of Poppa Les

A week ago my world got pretty dark when I found out that my Poppa passed away. Seven days later I’m not any less saddened by the news but I’ve gone through some moments that have helped me to see some things in a new way. Attending Poppa’s wake and funeral not only gave me more of an appreciation for the man but also more perspective on life in general. I learned a lot of things this past weekend – reminiscing with my family and going through photographs and trinkets – and I wanted to share them because I thought maybe, in my time of mourning, these ideas might resonate with someone else too.

 

Be kind. I heard and said the word kind in reference to Poppa so many times this weekend that I wish I knew a hundred more synonyms for kind. But that was the word I heard more than anything. Kind. He wasn’t perfect and I’m sure like many people he probably softened a bit with each new generation of children and grandchildren, but he had a good heart and that outshined everything. He was kind to others sometimes even to his own detriment. He genuinely cared about others and people knew that. We felt that. We will miss that.

Tell your stories. Tell them to everyone who will listen and never stop telling them. Going through some of Poppa’s things that my Dad had, I was surprised to find out so many things about him that I never knew. In a letter he wrote to his sister while in pilot training, he casually mentions that he saw Louis Armstrong play at a club over the weekend. This? This is a memory I would have loved to hear my Poppa tell me. My favorite song in the entire world is by Louis Armstrong and I never got the chance to talk to him about that. I never got the chance to hear a lot of his stories and he lived a pretty fun life. I wish I knew more. I wish I heard more. I wish that I could tell a million stories about his life, but I can’t. I have the memories we shared together and now, after his death I’m building a better picture of who he was as a person before he ever was Poppa. It’s a great picture but man, I would have loved to pick his brain about it all.

We all have stories and you may think that no one wants to hear them but trust me, someone does. Someone wants to know more about who you were as a person before you ever met them. Someone wants to know what made you who you are. Someone wants to know all of the crazy and wild things you did. Someone wants to have a million stories to remember you by. Someone wants to hear all the stuff you think is done and gone. Someone wants to know you for all of your pieces.

Keep mementos. I am not sure if the digital age is a blessing or a curse in this regard. Digitally, there is so much that can be stored and maintained for ages. But the physical things, the special little personal things, some day they will matter to someone when you are gone. Finding that letter hand written by my Poppa at least 40 years ago? That was fucking cool. Looking at his letters and pictures and newspaper clippings and being able to touch them, I felt so close to him. Once upon a time he wrote letters back home and I am so glad that he saved some of them. Having the opportunity to see those letters touched me in a way I could never possibly explain. I am glad he kept such records of his life for us to remember him by.

Appreciate your life for what it is now. I don’t think anyone questions whether my Poppa was a happy man – whether he enjoyed his life or not.  I’ve had a pretty stressful go around this autumn and I’ve felt incredibly overwhelmed at times. The stress has taken over and I’ve had a hard time appreciating the good. But I have to remember what is important. Life won’t always be sunshine and rainbows but life is a gift. I don’t want to look back in 50 years and think that I wasted my days with worry instead of appreciating them. I want to look back and say “Hey, my life wasn’t perfect and it may not have always gone as planned, but I certainly made the best of it all.” I need to open my eyes to the joy in the world more often. I need to breathe deep and let the frustration go. And so do you.

Love. If you do nothing else with your life, love. Do you know why there was so many tears shed at this man’s funeral? Not just because someone died and that is sad. There were tears because of how deeply he implanted himself and his love in our lives. Even from hundreds of miles away we knew he was still thinking about us. He was proud of his children and his grandchildren and his great-grandchildren. He loved us all openly. With hugs and kisses and “I love you”s and kind words and genuine interest in our lives when we sat down to talk. He loved us so much. He was so proud of all of us. He was happy just to sit and talk to us about our lives. And whether he was talking to my dad about politics until 3AM or talking to me for an afternoon about what’s happening in my life these days, he always did it with a smile. Because he was happy just to be there, talking to someone he loved.

I know that I said the physical mementos of him are special and that is so very true but what Poppa leaves behind more than anything else is a very large group of people that felt very loved. He made an impact in our lives just by loving us. It doesn’t cost any money to love someone but it will make a world of difference to them.

 

We didn’t idealize the man this weekend. We didn’t pretend he was never mad or angry or that he always did the right thing. We didn’t pretend he was perfect. We remembered the good times and we cried because the good man that shared those times with us is no longer around to make more.  Although he might have had different plans, I am pretty sure my Poppa was happy with the way his life turned out. He was proud of what he had accomplished and he enjoyed the moments he had. This past week has been sad and this past weekend in particular was not only sad but difficult too; but looking back on Poppa’s life and talking to the rest of his loved ones, I was able to gain something new: perspective.

My life isn’t perfect. I’m not perfect. But life is precious and the tough time I am going through now (and will certainly go through again) is merely a blip on what could potentially be a really amazing life story. So I’m going to keep dreaming big and loving hard. I’m going to keep falling and making mistakes and getting back up again. I am going to keep feeling feelings so deeply that sometimes it hurts.

Then, at the end of the day, I am going to take a deep breath and try as best as I can to let all of the frustration go.

And through it all, I’m going to try to do what my Poppa did.

Leave behind a legacy of love.

 

 

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