After I wrote my last post, a lot of you left really sweet, amazing comments that not only gave me all kinds of feels, but also made me think a little more expansively about what I write about in this blog. I think I feel like the title/theme of the blog means I have to write things that are explicitly connected to feminism, but I’m coming to see that this is a really narrow way to look at things. Narrowness can be nice because it leaves little room for wandering and getting lost, the flip side is that it can also be constricting, with little room for wandering and getting lost.
That narrow thinking caused me to lose sight of something that’s actually pretty important to the point of my writing on this blog, which is that my pursuit of athletics and fitness has actually been a feminist practice in its own way. I’ve written a lot about how this has changed my self-image over the past several years, how pushing my limits and cultivating my strength has given me a practical way to change how I perceive myself and my body, to recast the terms of the conversation from lack and deficiency to pride and power.
However, the biggest transformation of all happened within my heart. No, I don’t mean that my resting heart rate has dropped or that I have excellent blood pressure, but that I now carry myself with a measure of confidence I’d never had before. Brian once described me, using his very diplomatic therapist-speak, as having a “particularly pronounced” lack of self-confidence. I could spend a series of entire posts explaining the circumstances behind this, circumstances that extend back to my earliest memories and that involve the cultures in which I was raised, but all of that is besides the point. Every woman who struggles with confidence has her own set of circumstances, but the outcome is the same.
Over the past year that all changed very dramatically for me. I mean, it had slowly been happening for a few years, every time I added an accomplishment to my internal list: college graduate, undergraduate research award, first marathon, real job, promotion, etc. Each accomplishment represented a little tick upwards in the way I measured myself and my competence, but it still wasn’t enough. I still struggled with Imposter Syndrome, like any day I was going to be discovered as some kind of horrible fraud and everyone was going to know I had no business doing anything and that I was going to be sent back to fifth grade where I really belonged.
That all changed profoundly after I ran the Keys 50 in May. I still remember that night, back in the hotel room. I stripped off my disgusting racing gear and stood in front of the mirror, naked as a jaybird. I was covered in all kinds of horrible heat rash and chafing, my lower lip was huge and puffy because I’d forgotten to put Chapstick with SPF on, my hair was limp and salty and coated in spit and Gu juice, I had weird tan lines all over my extremities, and I could barely walk upright. I was a mess.
But instead of caring about any of those things, I grinned at my reflection, without a single lick of self-consciousness, and thought, You are awesome. And I meant it. I really fucking did. It was probably the first time in my life I had ever regarded myself with such sincere, thorough admiration. There was no little shitty voice in the back of my head going, “Well, you only did this because of blah and if blergh had happened you would have failed and everyone’s going to realize what a big phony you are.” It was just this incredibly pure feeling of self-respect and admiration. I’d never felt it before, and it felt wonderful, not least of all because I knew I had worked hard and I had earned it.
Now, it’s not like I walk around with a Greek chorus singing my praises in my head, because I certainly do have my share of moments where I feel like a complete idiot. I also have plenty of moments where I’m like, “I don’t know what the hell I’m doing.” And it’s not like I’m like, “I ran an ultra, I can do anything!” I’m not going to go and attempt neurosurgery just because I was silly enough to spend 10-plus hours running this one time. As far as I’m concerned, hubris is not a desirable state of mind either.
Rather, the difference is very simple: that I now believe in myself. I may not be able to accomplish everything I set out to do, but I believe in myself enough to at least try my best. I believe in myself enough to at least try.
Of course all of this is all well and good, but I sometimes worry that it’s easy to fall into a trap of thinking that all that matters is building confidence, and that once you have it, you’re done, you can dust off your hands and go home. To me, confidence is just a tool that allows you to accomplish other things. It’s a waystation, not a destination.
To those ends, I was recently accepted into the training program to become a guardian ad litem with the state of Florida. It’s something I’m very excited about doing, but I’m also very nervous about this as well. I don’t expect it to be easy – in fact, I fully expect it to be one of the hardest things I’ll ever do – but I am hopeful that I can have a positive impact on at least one kid’s life. I can say unequivocally that if it had not been for the confidence I’ve developed over the past year, I would have never even considered doing this, let alone actually sent in my application.
I guess the reason I share this with you is because I think it’s important to expand the conversation about self-confidence – particularly as it seems to happen in the realm of fitness and body image – so that it’s not just about how we feel about ourselves, but also about how we interact with the rest of the world. What good is it to do all of this work to feel good about yourself if you don’t do anything with it? At least, that’s the question I’ve been asking myself over the past few months, and the question I’m trying to answer.