Susan Sanders shares about redefining strong, brave and beautiful in the second half of life. Now you can find the Kindred Mom book, Strong, Brave, and Beautiful: Stories of Hope for Moms in the Weeds, wherever books are sold. Subscribe to the Kindred Mom newsletter and receive a preview of the book today! Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash
“Sit back…Way back….More back. Reach for that teeny little chair behind you. Heels and rear inches apart….” In my mind’s eye I am there hovering over that baby chair, but with a 400 pound squat bar on my back. In my mind’s eye, it is 25 years ago. In my mind’s eye, it is pre-season college basketball workouts in a dingy, smelly weight room in the Midwest.
In my actual eye, I see my 45 year old body in the mirror of my yoga studio and based on the screaming in my quads and knees, I am surprised to see my knees are only bent a few degrees and my bum is nowhere near my heels. Huh, weird.
My 45 year old belly I see in the studio mirror is far from the six pack abs that belonged to the collegiate athlete who was weighed each week and when she hit her (coach’s arbitrary) scale goal was told to start dropping body fat. Young Susan did as she was told – mostly through high intensity cardiovascular workouts which were part of pre-season/in-season/post-season/off-season training programs anyway. And let me tell you––if it was on the training schedule it got done. If there is one thing Young Susan (and sometimes Today Susan, if I am being honest) loved, it was a gold star.
Gold stars meant I was worthwhile, worthy of love, good enough. Acceptable. Seen. Excuses were bullshit and unwelcome. Pain was weakness leaving the body, and good enough was neither. If there was not vomit on the track, you left something in the tank. If you could lift your backpack when you left the weight room, you wasted everyone’s time.
Competition and training didn’t end with my collegiate eligibility. When I finished 4 years of basketball, I was on the varsity track team for the rest of my senior year of college. Shot put, discuss, and hammer throws required just as much explosive plyometric training and more time in the weight room.
I paid for my Master’s Degree through group exercise instruction, teaching 20 classes each week for two years. This transitioned into racing triathlon where I have finished over 50 races of all distances, including Ironman. I have finished multiple half and full marathons. Swimming, biking and running after more and more gold stars all the time.
Now here I am all these years later, back in the yoga studio under the fairy lights. I have had three orthopedic surgeries, and a fourth looming out there “when the pain is too much.” I no longer run. I often take every yoga modification offered (I am looking at you, knee down plank) and am often still wrung out at the end of the hour. A physical therapist is part of the healthcare team that keeps this Tin Man moving. I am 20 pounds heavier than when I was in college and can’t even blame pregnancy since I am a childless step-mother. I often take the Warm Gentle class and consider it my workout for that day – and I no longer require there to be a daily workout. Sometimes 20-year old me screams in disgust, railing at what Today Susan has done to Young Susan’s body. That’s when I gently remind her of this: what about the toll this physical output has put on the mind and soul? What are you trying to avoid?
I have spent a significant amount of time, tears, money, and mental energy digging into why those gold stars are so important to me. Why I ran, stepped, biked, lifted, swam, Les Mills’ed my way into not feeling my feelings. Why I was willing to sacrifice Future Susan’s physical health for Young Susan’s numbness.
I have spent a significant amount of time, tears, money, and mental energy learning a softer, gentler way of accepting what I cannot change. I have learned that my soul engages when I am in nature. The peace I feel hiking in the woods is life-giving. When I say hiking, Today Susan might mean just ambling along in sneakers on a path. It does not need to be balls to the wall hauling ass up a steep “real mountain.” Because I am making peace with all parts of myself, I draw boundaries. Boundaries with Today Susan who wants to go for a run when feelings bubble up when the kids don’t help with chores (again), there is other blended family drama, or a chaotic day at work. Boundaries with friends who want me to run “just” a 5K with them. I draw these boundaries, because the amount of time Today Susan will spend running takes away from Future Susan hiking in nature. Numbing out or people pleasing today takes away from finding peace tomorrow. That connection to peace and love is what removes the panicked need for gold stars.
When I don’t need those gold stars to prove I am loved or worthy, I can slow down enough to listen to what my body needs right now. Does my body want to exert itself by running or does my ego want to (literally and figuratively) run away? Does my body want to go further into the pose or does my ego want to avoid being the only person in the room not doing the advanced pose? The investment of that significant amount of time, tears, money, and mental energy is helping me learn that I am right where I need to be today.
Susan writes and teaches at SusantainableSue.com where you can find more information about Sustainable Productivity and its 3 pillars: Health and Fitness, Mental Well-being, and Environmental Surroundings. Susan’s Master’s Degree in Exercise Physiology, MBA, Project Management Professional Certification, and Professional Organizer experience give her a unique foundation to help you create a life with more fulfillment and less need to escape.