Today was a cathartic day for me, and per usual, I felt compelled to write. A few thoughts in my head this evening quickly spilled out into a mini novel. This is one of those posts that I’m certain some will shake their head at and say “bless her heart, she’s oversharing again” (‘bless her heart’, I’ve learned, is the polite Southern equivalent of a sarcastic eyeball roll). But regardless, here it is. Thank you to those who take the time to read it.
7 years ago today: I was a college drop out.
I had followed the path I was “supposed” to. I spent all 4 years of high school stressing over my grades, getting into a good college and earning academic scholarships to help pay my way. And in August of 2000, with my extra long dorm room bed sheets and crates full of textbooks packed, my dad dropped me off at Roger Williams University to “begin my future”. But as it turns out, college did not go as my goody-two-shoes 18 year old self had initially planned, and after what I can only recall as an unfortunate string of drunken parties that to this day all blur together, I found myself on the tail end of a wasted (figuratively and literally) 2.5 years….5 full semesters spread across two different colleges, hundreds of miles apart. I was working towards a degree I spent my entire childhood wanting to pursue, only to find out I had zero interest in the topic on this higher level. Basically, I spent my youth dreaming of dolphin training and manatee saving, only to discover that marine biology consisted of much more quality time with microscopic foraminifera and the many moods of deep sea plate tectonics rather than a perfectly choreographed swan dive off of Shamu’s nose. Upon arrival to Myrtle Beach, college #2 and semester #5, I landed a gig at a busy beach front restaurant waiting tables between classes. And that’s where the marine biology dreams ended pretty quickly…because at 21 years old, making $350 in a 7 hour shift serving beer and cheeseburgers at the beach, day after day, was far more appealing than sitting in a marine geology class. (sorry Becky H). I literally took the money and ran.
5 years ago today: I was 39 weeks pregnant with my first child.
I had no idea what I was in for, or how my world was about to be turned upside down, for better or worse (mostly better). That impending little 7 lb 9 oz bundle of screaming chaotic joy would quickly make me realize so many things about myself, my life, and where it was headed. Among them, I realized I wanted a career. I wanted a formal, higher level education. Not only to provide for him, and his future, but just to be a positive, strong, educated role model in his life. A college degree was something I just always ASSUMED I would earn, and it wasn’t until Rowen was born that the shock of the fact that I had not done so really started to sink in. Simultaneously , that chunky baby and the pregnancy weight gain he left me with propelled me into a weight loss journey. A journey that not only shed pound, but led to a discovery of a true passion and calling I never knew I had: fitness and health. Becoming physically fit and health conscious quickly changed my life, and I wanted to share that amazing change with others. Instantly, I knew what I wanted to “be when I grew up”. I was absorbing exercise physiology knowledge like a sponge, I couldn’t get enough. 24 years old was not too late in my book…I decided I wanted to go back to school.
4 years ago today: I was finishing up my first month of returning to college.
After a lot of paperwork , a lot of waiting, and a little bit of begging for a second chance, I was back in school pursing a bachelors degree in health promotion (soon to be switched over to exercise and sport science, a brand new major that was launched just months after I returned. I don’t really believe in coincidences…) I was maintaining A’s as a full time student with a not-quite-one-year-old baby at home. Non traditional student, they called me. It was a challenge, balancing the homework with the diaper changes and middle of the night feedings, and more so, the heart pangs of leaving my little baby at home while I sat in classrooms and lectures all day… but I was focused. I knew what I wanted to do. I knew what I had to do.
3 years ago today: I was 35 weeks pregnant with baby #2.
Surprise! Kain was very much unexpected. A welcome blessing, no doubt about it, but unexpected, and threw a bit of a wrench into the gears of my school-plan. I had intentions early on of continuing into the fall semester despite the massive belly, but after a summer of a complicated pregnancy and some in-utero medical issues with the baby, the LAST thing on my mind when the time arrived was returning to school. So, I decided to take the fall semester off.
As it turned out, caring for two babies was not twice as hard, it was about two million times as hard as having one child. I took it pretty hard, both emotionally and physically, and would end up not returning to school that spring either. The doubt started creeping in. People always told me when I first dropped out that once you leave school, it’s really hard to go back. The majority of people never do. I proved them all wrong, but was suddenly back where I started…not enrolled in school. While I knew I had good and very valid reasons to be at home, it would be a lie if I said that I wasn’t a little bit frustrated. I just wanted to finish my degree.
2 years ago today: I was finishing up my first month of another year back at school.
An almost one year old and an almost three year old at home, bills to pay, a house to keep clean (clean being a relative term with two toddlers) and a partner I’d never see since we alternated school/work/kid duty shifts. Relationship issues (not seeing each other can challenge even the strongest of couples), health issues in loved ones, stress, stress, and more stress. I tried to run and race to keep some sort of balance and normalcy in my life, yet the training, and especially the travel to and from races only contributed to the impending burnout. Chaos wouldn’t even begin to describe that year. There were so many days, hours, minutes, that I wanted to quit. But the thought of quitting seemed even more time consuming and exhausting than the monotony of just showing up to class. I kept pushing, and I somehow survived.
1 year ago today: Another step back, another semester off.
Life would not be as glorious and wondrous as it is if we had full control over everything…if situations and people and relationships were as predictable as the sunrise and the ocean tides. If we never had to suffer heart ache or confusion or frustration. This time last year was probably the lowest point in my entire life. I pulled out of school about 12 hours before the fall semester started and took the boys to New England for a month. I was confused, hurt, lost. I was incredibly resentful, mainly at myself and my life choices. That I didn’t have a college degree. That I didn’t have a career. That I didn’t have a dollar to my name. I was resentful and jealous that friends I graduated high school with were finishing their masters degrees, and some even well into PhD programs, buying homes, having 401k’s, savings accounts, and dental benefits…all of the “grown up” things I should have had by now. And here I was, I had brought two beautiful babies into this world and I hadn’t bothered to lay a solid foundation for them to grow up in yet. Sure, I was in school trying to strive to reach those same goals, but the stress of my time at school was tearing our family apart. I didn’t know where I was going or what I was doing, and it, among other situations, all came to a breaking point. And that anger and depression carried over to everything else. I didn’t have time to do what I wanted to do. I didn’t have time to do what I needed to do. I couldn’t run fast enough, far enough. It went on and on. I wanted to quit school. I wanted to go online, find a generic personal trainer certification, take my test and get to work. I could list the number of people who told me I had inspired them to switch careers, went out, got certified, started working, and had flourishing personal training careers. And I was still plugging away, head in the books. Why was I wasting my time on school when I had kids to feed and bills to pay? I felt so selfish…and I felt so far behind where I “should” be. I felt like a hamster on a wheel, frantically trying to move forward but not getting anywhere. I hate to say it, because I don’t feel this way now, nor would I condone anyone else saying this about themselves: but I felt like a loser.
But sometimes…we have to hit rock bottom before we can see clearly.
After I stopped asking “why me”, and stopped blaming myself, I started praying. And running. Soul searching, more praying, and more running (conveniently, you can do all three at once). And realizing that even if my path wasn’t my preconceived notion of “normal”, my life was still pretty darn amazing, and I was incredibly blessed. What is “normal” anyway? My kids were beautiful, healthy, and most of all, they are LOVED. There is so much love for those two boys between their father, myself, and our families that we could add 15 more children and there would still be plenty of love to go around. I started two new jobs teaching group fitness classes. I realized that yes, this really IS what I want to do with my life, and even if it took me another ten years, and even if I never made a lot of money, I HAVE to share my love of fitness with others. This is what I am supposed to do.
So I pushed forward.
Another semester at school. This time, the stress of mystery medical ailments our family had (still has) to deal with. Finally the day came when they told me I could walk in the commencement ceremonies. I was “graduating”…but not really. I still had a 350 hour internship to do. Ideally that summer, but as I found out just days before graduation, it would have to be put off until the fall. The commencement ceremony was nice, but completely unemotional on my part. I knew I wasn’t done. I knew I still had a long way to go.
Push push push. Keep pushing forward. Find an internship. Find a better one. 35 hours a week. 10 weeks. 350 hours. Hand in the paper work. Register for the certification exam.
I sat for the American College of Sports Medicine Health Fitness Specialist (ACSM HFS) certification exam. An advanced personal training certification. An exam that our professors started drilling into our heads from the first day of the program, 4 (in my case, 5) years earlier. An exam I always knew in the back of my head that I had to eventually take. An exam that I personally scheduled for myself, so the date was no surprise. But it wasn’t until yesterday morning, 27 hours before the exam, that it really set in. I panicked, as most would when they realize that you have had 4 years to study for this exam and you haven’t even picked up the review book yet. I settled down to start cramming, and it was then that I started to realize…I know this information. I’ve worked hard. I’ve dedicated and sacrificed a lot to this future career of mine. HUNDREDS of nights where I had to wait to start studying or writing papers until after the kids were in bed, the dishes done, and the laundry folded. HUNDREDS of sleepless nights, and mornings trying to explain to my preschooler, again, why I had to leave. All of that hard work was going to start to pay off right now…when I flipped through the practice exams and realized I have gained the knowledge I needed to successfuly reach this point.
I walked into the exam this morning with confidence. Slightly hesitant and acutely aware of the difficulty of the exam (apparently far more fail on their first attempt than pass), but still confident. I’ve fought for this for so long, now was NOT the time to doubt myself.
3.5 hours later, I walked out an ACSM certified Health Fitness Professional.
I am halfway through an internship that I LOVE. Only a few weeks and a quick presentation and I’ll have the actual bachelors degree of sport and exercise science in my hands.
Today feels utterly surreal as I sit here and realize: I’ve made it. I wanted to quit 4,876 times over the last few years, I’ve wanted to throw my dreams out the window with that generic excuse of “oh I’m a mom now and I am not a priority anymore, maybe later…”. But that tiny voice in my head, the one that peers out from behind the voices that scream “this is too hard” and “just give up already”, that little voice kept telling me to keep going, because one day, this would all be worth it.
My journey is far from over, it’s barely just beginning, but I felt the urge to share. And to say thank you. Thank you for reading. Thank you to those who have supported me, and most importantly thank you to those who believed in me even when i was unsure of myself. I want to assure you that I didn’t write this long novel to toot my own horn or pat myself on the back. And further, I KNOW my situation/circumstances are probably a breeze compared to what some people deal with on a daily basis, so this isn’t a “oooh look at me, look what I did” post. I will, however, validate my situation by saying that it was, none the less, a struggle for me at times, and while things could have been far more difficult, it was still MY struggle. We all have our own struggles. So the point of all of this rambling was to tell you this: no matter what you are faced with, do not give up on your dreams. Do not brush your dreams aside because now is not the time, or you are not a priority, or you are scared. And don’t EVER doubt yourself. It is never to late and you are ALWAYS worth it.
Believe me when I tell you that if you believe in yourself, you really can move mountains.