The Power of Inspiration
As the comical character Sophia Patrillo often said, "Picture it."
In my case, it's 2014 in Novi, Michigan.
For two years now, I have exercised at my gym. It’s my second home. I love it! If I'm not traveling, you will find me there Monday through Saturday mornings – for two to three hours each day (I am addicted to health, wellness, feeling great, and eating whatever I want without regard to calories). It takes me ninety seconds to drive to the gym. Gotta love it!
When my alarm clock goes off at 5:30 a.m., it’s time to get moving! I need to be at Powerhouse on my first cardio machine at 6 a.m. (9:30 a.m. on Saturdays). It’s really easy – discipline is a choice. One of the key things I learned while growing up was the value of discipline. My dad is a 1973 graduate of the U.S. Navy’s Officer Candidate School (OCS). A disciplined mind-set – and life – has served me well.
Fitness is an incredibly important part of my life. There may be other activities that I cut from my schedule for time management purposes, but fitness will never be one of them.
After being a faithful member of several gyms in five states for the last twenty years, I must confess that there is one machine that intimidated me beyond anything I ever experienced in a gym. Ever. And I am not a person who is easily intimidated! Admittedly, when I first started working out at the Barksdale Air Force Base Fitness Center in May 1994, I was a little daunted by the whole gym experience, but haven't felt that way since. However, there is always a first – or second time for everything, right?
Powerhouse has a machine that I had never used before. I don't recall my prior gyms having it – the Assisted Dip/Chin by Life Fitness. For nearly two years, I never used it – let alone went anywhere near it. I didn't think I had what it took. Specifically, I didn't think I was strong enough, even though there is a weight resistance mechanism built-in that is perfect to assist folks like me. I have greater strength in my legs than arms, so I wrote it off as being impossible – without even trying it. Big mistake.
Well, I took my first step of courage back in February 2014. I was fed up with being intimidated by it. The fact that I passed by it day after day really bothered me. After all, when I speak professionally, I challenge others to overcome their fears. I needed to take my own time-tested advice! The late world-renowned psychiatrist Carl Jung said, “What you resist, persists.” So, I decided to use it – a leg press, to be exact. I erroneously – but on purpose – used it that way. In my mind, at least I was using it, which was better than not using it at all! Halfway – or good enough. Deep down inside, I knew it.
Things changed on Monday March 31st, at approximately 8:25 a.m. I saw a guy I call "Olympian" using that machine (he doesn't need any weight resistance at all). I was so inspired. You can't watch him do anything and not be inspired. I made a decision that as soon as he left, I would try it – the right way. Once I saw him heading toward the door, I mustered up the courage to give it a try. Guess what? It didn't kill me! I did two sets on it, and had the weight resistance set to eighty-five pounds. I must admit, I was so proud of myself. That was not only a defining moment in my fitness history; it was also a defining moment in my life in general. I confronted my own Goliath – and won! And it felt good.
That picture perfect early winter morning, I finally overcame my fears, intimidation, and self-doubt. I finally did it! It wasn't nearly as hard as I thought it would be. Who knew?
In hindsight, I see how that triumph has breathed new life into my workouts. I started doing basic stretches again – which I hadn't done in years. As one who used to run track (and played other sports, and was a cheerleader), intellectually, I know the value of stretching. However, it doesn't make it any easier to do. I have never been a fan of stretching.
I also bought workout gloves – which I hadn't worn in years. Interestingly, my hands aren't beaten up anymore after using the weight equipment. I can't remember when or why I stopped using them. In some ways, I have gone back to basic fundamentals that I haven't practiced in so many years. The best way to describe it is that I have been thrust out of fitness autopilot after twenty years. It’s such a good feeling.
There is a lasting life lesson for me in all of this. As one who passionately inspires, empowers, and motivates others, this time, the shoe was on the other foot. And it needed to be.
It also highlights an exemplary case of leadership – leadership that happens when leaders don't realize that others are watching. It happens in all types of environments. Individuals like the "Olympian," by their ability to lead by example and inspire others, demonstrate leadership without even realizing it. In fact, it is quite a sight to see others who imitate him when he is not there. All of a sudden, a person who never runs starts doing sprint intervals. Sometimes it is funny to watch, as they quickly realize they are out of their element. Their motivation isn't intrinsic, so the inspiration doesn't last - and their newfound enthusiasm quickly fades.
In Pathway to the Palace, international evangelist, speaker and TV host Danette Joy Crawford pointed out, “Standard setters lead the way – they set the example. They don’t wait for others to lead the way. They jump out front and lead by example. And when others around them display a standard contrary to theirs, they hold their ground. They have unshakable, immovable standards…”
In addition, noted leadership expert, John C. Maxwell, has often stated that leadership is all about influence. In my opinion, influence results from spoken or written words, silent actions – or a combination of all three.
When leaders believe in themselves, they inspire others to believe in themselves. That is exactly what happened the morning of March 31st. The "Olympian" didn't have to say a word. His actions spoke louder than any words could have. His self-belief inspired me to believe in myself.
Something I heard Dr. Henry Cloud say on TV several years ago comes to mind, "Once you learn a lesson, it tends to disappear from your life. But until you learn it, it will always be there." That weight machine – my own fitness Goliath – wasn’t going away. I had to make a decision to conquer my fear and intimidation and use it. After what seemed like an eternity, I am so glad I did!
It's been quite a journey. In fact, things have progressed nicely since I started using it. I now require less weight resistance. I started out with eighty-five pounds, and I now only require forty. Yeah! Someday, I will be able to use it without any weight resistance whatsoever! I just know it!
Looking back, it is quite mind-boggling to realize that I let that machine intimidate me for so long. Watching others “crash and burn” while using it sowed and cemented my fears and doubts. Oh well. There's a reason why The Human League's classic 1980s song – “Human” – was such a hit. As card-carrying members of the human race, we can all relate. This experience reminded me just how human I am.
I also realize that we should never allow the experiences of others to define our reality. Just because some people couldn't handle the Assisted Dip/Chin machine, didn't mean that couldn't do it. There is a difference. What great lessons. It hasn't been easy, but I wouldn't trade this experience for anything.
Sometimes when I use it, I want to pinch myself to make sure it is really happening. I have mastered it. With each and every up and down movement, I bask in such a sense of accomplishment.
I had nothing to be afraid of all along. At the same time, I can't be too hard on myself. At this point, what good would that do?
In the same vein, I am a firm believer that there is a time for everything. When it was the time for me to use the machine, I garnered enough courage to do it. It happened at just the time – not a second before.
In fact, you wouldn't be reading this book if it had happened any other way. This experience at the gym ultimately served as one of the inspirational catalysts for my writing this book. Who knew?
The game-changer in this situation, and in many situations we all face in life, is courage. The wonderfully wise words of the late actor John Wayne remind us, “Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.” Courage is an absolute necessity in facing and overcoming our fears – and it often occurs incrementally.
For example, in my case, between February and March, I took baby steps of courage, such as:
1. Going near the machine.
2. Touching it.
3. Using it as a leg press.
4. Ultimately taking the risk of failing or looking like a fool (humiliation) when first using it correctly.
5. Using it enthusiastically and confidently in the correct manner.
It certainly didn't happen all at once. Author Mary Anne Radmacher said, “Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.”’
As I reflect on this entire experience, one of my all-time favorite Smooth Jazz songs comes to mind – “Baby Steps” – by Peter White. Ironically, I occasionally listen to it as cool-down music on my MP3 player while stretching. Every time I hear it, I am filled with such inspiration. I am also reminded that I overcame my Goliath, right there at Powerhouse – and so can you! All it takes is a decision.
I guest lectured earlier this year for one of my former professors, Dr. James, in Louisiana. One thing I shared with her class is to never eliminate themselves. I urged them to at least give something a try first, and then decide if moving forward is a possibility.
Sadly, that was exactly what I had done for two years at Powerhouse – eliminated myself from attempting to use the Assisted Dip/Chin machine. Big mistake.
Let me challenge you – whatever comes your way in life, don't let fear, self-doubt, intimidation – or anything else – stop you. You have what it takes, no matter what your own thoughts – or the voices of others – try to tell you.
Perhaps you want to apply for a promotion at work. Go for it!
Perhaps you have always wanted to start a business. Go for it!
Perhaps you want to start an exercise program. Go for it!
Perhaps you have always wanted to travel abroad. Go for it!
Perhaps you want to pursue a leadership role in your community. Go for it!
Whatever it is - go for it!
The list of possibilities is endless. It's all up to you. Don't waste another second. It’s your time!
Armed with courage – coupled with the power of inspiration – your story can have a happy ending, just like mine!
© Rachelle Smith, 2014
All rights reserved.