Tag Archives: fear

The “Shit Sandwich” & Other Lessons From Elizabeth Gilbert

This week, some big ideas from unrelated parts in my brain crashed together in a perfect storm of temporary enlightenment.  An email conversation over a few days with my coach about goal setting happened while I was listening to Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Big Magic.  This isn’t a book review – I’m just sharing a couple of things I’ve discovered listening to this book that helped me.

For a couple months now, I’ve explored the shame I felt when I competed last July.  If I don’t deal with it, I won’t be able to compete again because I know there will be an anxiety attack of epic proportions.  For those of you who are familiar with her work, one of Brené Brown’s books has already been listened to – twice.  (I’m sure I’ll listen to it a couple more times). There have been a couple of Wayne Dyer’s books, too, and a couple from authors not so well-known.  Each of these books have given me something I can use to evolve my mental game, just like lifting transformed my physique.

She Called it “The Shit Sandwich”

Ms. Gilbert referred to the sacrifices required to make time to be creative while still being a responsible person as eating “the shit sandwich” for your particular endeavor.  It means that that there will be parts of the process that aren’t fun or convenient, but need to happen.  She gave examples of now famous authors who made the time to write, working other jobs, before they were able to make a living as a writer.  She mentioned Toni Morrison and JK Rowling specifically.   She said we need to be willing to do the inconvenient stuff.

Someday, I’d like to be an author, but right now, that’s not where my creativity is focused.  I don’t expect people to understand it, but bodybuilding is where I feel creative.  I work on it daily.  Lifting, food, rest are my tools.   It’s my sculpture.  I’m working on this one project.   I add to it, sometimes work on details, and I walk around wearing it.  I’m happy to do the hard stuff for my craft – “the shit sandwich” of early morning workouts, getting by on less sleep, saving money to pay for it, and the periods of strict nutrition.  But there are other parts of bodybuilding that feel like it’s not worth it.  I do think about these things.  I work on balance.  And I repeatedly ask myself “why do I need to do this?”  It’s a simple answer.  It brings me joy.


When I step on stage, my “art” is being judged.  Last July, my sculpture was the best it’s been, but I lost sight of that fact.  The table of folks below the stage judged my work as inferior.  (Have I told you what happened?  I don’t remember.  When I was moved after the first symmetry round, I wasn’t just moved to what would be a last place position in my own class.  Women’s open and novice classes were brought out together.  I was in the open.  When I was moved, I was moved away from the open class to the other side of the novice class.   I was far stage right, not being compared to anyone during the mandatory poses.  I did not see a single judge look at me during front-facing poses.  I knew I just earned my third last place finish in three shows.  I fought hard to keep my inner demons quiet the whole time I was on stage.  My photographer husband was next to the stage, so I posed for the pictures.  Those are the only pictures where I’m smiling.)  The reflective work I’ve been doing – listening to books, absorbing ideas, applying some, rejecting others – has helped begin to build the mental foundation that I thought was strong enough to withstand what happened on stage that day.  I wasn’t ready.  I need to be sturdier to do what I’m attempting to do – a competitive female bodybuilder in open classes even though I’m in my 50’s – because I don’t want to be caught off guard on stage like that again.  I can’t control where they move me, but I can control how I react to being moved.  I can control who’s opinion matters more to me on that day.  Mine.  Period.

As I mentioned, there were several emails with Coach last week about goal-setting.  He knows what I’m working on.  We’ve also agreed that I need to complete this work before I can compete again.  He gently steered me towards setting goals about personal progression.  Thought about it.   Turns out, that doesn’t work for me.  I see progression as a logical outcome of smart programming and consistency.  So if I’m going to make sacrifices, expect my husband to sacrifice, spend money on this, I need another big scary goal.  I made a list of the big scary goals I’ve set and achieved, even though they seemed hard or impossible when set.  After a few days of sitting with it, mulling it over, and acknowledging that my experience last summer had landed me in a depressing place called “reality”, Coach helped me find the words to set the next big  scary goal…

Last. Woman. Standing.

(Which means I want to win an overall, earn a pro-card, and compete at a national show.  I’ve always wanted this, but three last place finishes has made it seem too naive to hang on to.  It’s still naive and unrealistic.  So what?  I’ve been disappointed already and know what that feels like.  I didn’t set a time limit.  Just owning the dream.)

This one needs a new name.  It will now be called the Big-Scary-Hairy-Improbable-But-I’m-Going-For-It-Anyway Goal.  I honestly believe I will continue to improve and will present a better sculpture each time I compete no matter what.  I have a good work-ethic and a supportive and smart coach.  But it’s no longer about how hard I work anymore, is it?  This goal will fuel my work regardless.  This is “Fire-in-the-belly” sort of stuff.

I listened to Ms. Gilbert addressed rejection and it occured to me that I can learn a lot from writers about judging and rejection.  This passage resonated with me…

“No doesn’t always mean no.  Never surrender.  Miraculous turns of fate can happen to those who persist in showing up.”

~ Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic

So that’s the plan.  I’ll keep showing up.


Filed under Bodybuilding Journal, Competing, Motivation

Fear Revisited

My life is a constant struggle with fear. I’m either wrestling with my own or I’m trying to help other people wrestle with theirs.  I’ve written about fear before.  It’s such a common experience many of us share, I wanted to write about it again tonight.  Here is what I’ve learned about fear.

FEAR is a THIEF.  How many people don’t live the life they are supposed to live because they are afraid?  Fear took my dream and left in it’s place a life full of safe routines.  I used to cling to those routines like a security blanket.  I “didn’t have time” to go to a gym and risk looking foolish – the old, fat woman who moved awkwardly and couldn’t do much very well.  Fear ruled my life for too many years.  My health suffered.  I was not being who I was supposed to be.

FEAR is a BARRIER.  It will stop you.  It will change your path.  I realized this after my mother died.  After I started to come out of the fog of grief, I looked back at my life and saw a series of decisions made to avoid something.  It was then that I made a promise to myself to not let fear define my life.  However, I forgot about that promise as the years went by.  Initially, my health transformation was about avoiding an early death – another decision based on fear.  But then I remembered.  I remembered my promise to myself.  I remembered that thing that fascinated me when I was much younger, but I was too afraid of it to try … bodybuilding.  Once I decided to do it, I didn’t see the barrier anymore.  I just assumed it was going to be a lot of work.


FEAR is a CHARMING LIAR.  “I can’t afford it.”  That’s what I told myself about getting the help I knew I needed.   Heck, I told myself that about just driving to the gym.   “I can do it myself.” That’s what fear told me.  I was afraid to invest in myself.  I was afraid to take the risk.  I knew that if I faced my fear and took the risk, I would NOT let myself fail.  I would NOT quit because that would make the money and time I spent be wasted.  Fear kept lying to me.  “You can’t do it.  You’re too old.  You’re too out of shape.”  I knew there was one thing I had to do to succeed – DON’T QUIT.  It was going to work.  I just needed to be patient and consistent.

Fear continues to whisper in my ear.  I regularly have to push forward despite those little whispers.  The strong woman training and competition was a great example of how I battled with fear almost every day for 8 weeks.  It wasn’t whispering to me then – it was very convincing, very logical.  I wanted to quit every day.  I used a trick I’ve used before – I left myself notes on my bathroom mirror.


The first year of my journey was a struggle.  From June 2009 to June 2010, there was no blog.  There was no Facebook page.  It was just me making myself get up every day and do the thing I knew I needed to do.  It took a whole year before I fell in love with exercise.  That’s when I made the decision to do the thing that scared me the most – hire a trainer and learn to lift so I could become a bodybuilder.  The exhilaration of being that bold and pushing through my fear propelled me.  Everything I’ve accomplished since then is a milestone of another fear conquered.  Doing a posing routine on stage?  Yeah, that was a big fear.

I work with people of all ages now as they face things that scare them a little – or a lot.  I’m either their math teacher, their trainer, or their coach.  I try to offer a little courage when they need it.  Some take it, some don’t.  They aren’t ready.  When they are ready, I’ll be there.  I ask them to acknowledge the fear and act anyway.  Pretending it’s not there is like pretending there isn’t an elephant in the room.

I’m still afraid.  However, I’ve learned that the most rewarding things I’ve done have happened when I act in spite of my fear.  I love this…

1 Comment

Filed under Life, Motivation, Opinions, Venting, Ranting, Strong Woman Training

The Mental Battle

Two and a half weeks into this new training protocol. I’ve been excited, proud, scared, bruised, scraped, sore, pissed off, depressed, ambivalent, defiant, but today I’m calm.

In the last two weeks, I’ve increased my overhead press by 15 pounds. I’ve increased my Farmer’s Walk by the same amount – actually more if you consider how far, how fast, and how many times I do it now. I’m flipping a tire that may be 100 pounds heavier than what I thought was “heavy”. My sled pull has increased from 180 lbs to 265 lbs.

No way that’s strength. That right there is a paradigm shift.

Bodybuilders train for size. There are strength gains that come along with that, but it’s not the primary goal. Since I started training, I wanted to lift heavier and someone would remind me that it doesn’t matter when I’m on stage. Nothing wrong with that and I adopted it. I also used it as an excuse not to push myself. And then I started getting hurt. More yellow flags. I pushed myself on exercises I felt secure doing. Obviously did OK. But I have many ideas about what I can’t do.

A few minutes ago, a lot of random thoughts converged into a single idea – reject the label “bodybuilder”. I’ve been thinking and saying “I’m a bodybuilder” over and over. To achieve my goal of getting to the stage, twice now, I’ve always found ways to overcome obstacles. The mental battle has been fought over and over so many times. In the battle of me vs. myself, I always win. (Ooo that’s kind of obvious, huh?) So going forward, I have to stop thinking like a bodybuilder. I’m a strong woman competitor now.

Despite the increases, I’m not ready to compete in any event. Still have a lot of work to do. I don’t know how long it will take. This is by far, the hardest thing I’ve ever done at the gym. So to do it, I will transform into a different kind of athlete. I have to make my mind go there first and then I will be able to do this thing. I appreciate all the people who have told me to “believe”, but when I’m not ready, I’m not ready. I’m approaching “ready”. Like I said before, I’m feeling a lot calmer.



Filed under Competing, Life, Motivation, Strong Woman Training