“When you look at the impact people have had on you, whether it's a stranger, or a friend, or family member, especially—like—at funerals... It's a really great time to reflect and think of how that person lived, and all the little things: It just matters.”
After 15 years of neglecting my muscles, I’ve finally done it—committed to hitting the weight room. I admit, not a fun proposition at first. But after looking at a few dated photos, remembering my pumped-up thirties, and imagining the rush of a past where I pushed 65s on the flys, I submit to the less than 30 pounds I can now swing.
So here I am, taking my between-set breaths while looking at the ceiling fans—doing all I can to honor proper gym etiquette:
Be friendly in appearance, manage the B.O., disinfect wipe what you’ve used, and by all means, hold the chatter down. For if you are not careful, you can quickly become that creepy person. Especially if you approach the opposite sex.
I finish my third set. Test my (to be transparent) now flabby abs as I sit up to rack the dumbells. But before I stand I notice her. With perfect form and working to the right of me, earbuds in place, she focuses on her arms. I glance away. There is no way I want to be profiled as the creepy dude by seeming like I’m staring.
Yet, I could not ignore the feeling, nor the draw, that was overwhelming me. There was just something radiating from her. And leaning back into the process of learning to trust the little voice inside me, and from the safe distance of where I lifted, I listened.
Excuse me and please forgive me. I hope I don’t sound like the gym weirdo I introduce myself. She allows me to share a quick description of RadstoneBLOG and Sidewalk Ghosts. And I have to tell you, with a room full of exercising people, and knowing the space-invading risk I was taking, I was shaking inside.
Her eyes became alive, a confirmation of the trust I placed in the whisper that asked me to reach out to her. And as you read on in receiving the gift of meeting today’s stranger-now-friend, Julie, I hope and pray you are strengthened by what she teaches.
I ask her the big why: If you look at your life or the world around us—at everything that’s going on for better or worse? However you want to answer, and in your perspective? Positive or negative? Whatever you feel is okay to share. What is your why?
“Because it matters. I think that for every individual—because they have a purpose on this earth, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s a grand scale where you see people with millions of followers, or if they have a multimillion-dollar business, or it’s the sweet neighbor next door that gives you a smile when you’re walking your dog. It all matters, and we’re all connected.
And I think it’s easy to kind of downplay our individual impact on others. But when you look at the impact people have had on you, whether it’s a stranger, or a friend, or family member, especially—like—at funerals… it’s a really great time to reflect and think of how that person lived, and all the little things: It just matters.
As long as you can hold on to that, you’ll find either a deeper why for now or the beginnings of finding the why that keeps you going. The stuff that gets you up in the morning and points you away from doing the mundane things. Because you know, it’s all serving the greater purpose for humanity.”
I’m bewildered. The pull I felt in first seeing her confirmed by the wisdom and power of her why.
She tells me more of her life story:
“I struggled with depression. I struggled with an eating disorder for 20 years. And I felt like I didn’t matter! It didn’t matter!”
“I didn’t feel that way for a long time. I struggled with depression. I struggled with an eating disorder for 20 years. And I felt like I didn’t matter! It didn’t matter!
I felt like I had to do something big and grand to matter. And as I did my own healing, I came back to myself and asked, do I like myself? Do I love myself? Am I happy with what I’m doing?
I found the answer that we each are special unique individuals, and we all have a purpose. And coming back to who you are, and what’s right for you, does impact others in the way it’s supposed to. And as soon as you get out of you’re trying to please everybody, or doing what so-and-so says, or mimicking so-and-so, you lose your impact, or you’re limiting someone else’s impact.
Every person has a unique special gift or talent. And coming back to that thought, and using it, just made me happy. It made me realize that I do have a purpose. And whether it’s with my family or strangers, I feel like I’m in contact with who I am and why I do what I do. And that’s enough to make me happy.”
I upscale the question as, looking at the fitness community that surrounded us, a premise enters my mind:
When I think about external beauty and body perfection, I question if beauty and attraction are external. A thought that troubles me as I reflect on what often I see on social media, take in peer pressure, navigate the gossip, deal with comparisons, and to be vulnerable, look at my hidden insecurities.
What is your take on this statement? I ask her.
“Yeah, absolutely,” her posture and spirit alive, Julie leans forward. “I’ve been there. I had a time when my focus was all esthetics and it was crushing my soul. I was nonstop thinking about my body, myself, and how other people perceive me. I was miserable. But as soon as I turned inward and started working on the inside-stuff-out, and not the outside-stuff-in, my life came together. It really works that way, and I think it helps the comparison and the competition go away.
You’re less judgmental, you’re more compassionate, you’re more patient, more understanding, and you look at others like they have their own unique gifts. That they have their own unique struggles.
We’re all in this human experience, and you don’t have to agree on everything. You don’t have to be the same for you—and you don’t have to be the same to have a connection with someone else.”
Like I said, Julie has a lot to teach us. Her outlook all so optimistic—and grounded by the depression and body shaming of her past, I feel she has the credentials to offer her opinions. Yet, I have to ask the hard question:
Julie, what do you do when you look at someone who is horribly hurting, have to deal with the pain that someone else has inflicted on you, or process events that are impossible to find a resolution for?
“Well, I definitely have those experiences and I don’t think it’s easy. And I don’t know that there’s one way to do it for me. I’ve done a lot of Buddhist philosophy, and it’s helped me kind of let go of attachment to things. It’s helped me just be, and it helped me to accept the fact that sometimes we’re not going to get the apology we want. But I’m not going to let that affect the rest of my life.
You know, I can wish that person the best, understand that they’re only capable of giving me what they have learned. And that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt, or it’s not hard. But it does help to let go of the hatred and release the hold that makes you want them to see what they did to you. And it gives you permission to just let them go—let them be—and to focus on the things that bring joy and happiness. To just accept that was a situation you can learn from. And that you can let it go and move on.”
I shift gears. Put the responsibility on us in making an observation. The idea that, in every interaction, we are leaving a footprint. For better or worse, our words and deeds do affect others. And heaven knows, I’ve put my foot in my mouth so very many times. So to any of you I’ve offended—please accept my apology. And per how real those interactions are, Julie shares a story.
“‘My oldest daughter has autism, and we go to church every Sunday, and it was just exhausting and awful. I go to church to feel better and connected to community and God. And I was not feeling that at all. I got to a point where I’m, like, I’m done, I’m not coming. And I was out in the hallway with her and a lady came up and said, ‘Oh, I love your daughter, would you mind if I take her on a walk while you go back to class?’ And I was just floored. I’m like, You would do that for me? ‘Oh, yes.’ And so she did that every Sunday. That was something she wanted to do to serve me. And it made all the difference in my spiritual growth and my belief in the goodness of people.
Knowing I can do this, I can raise her. I have a community. I have people who care, and who will reach out, and I don’t have to do it alone. So it’s just those simple things. Whether it’s a smile or an offering to serve someone else, you never know the impact to have. And that’s cool.'”
“To women, please give yourself that same compassion and grace that people will love you for who you are. You don’t have to hold who you are back. And that’s okay!”
I have one last ask for Julie. In support of International Women’s History Month, is there anything you would say to the women of the world?
“So my first thought is to go to what I do for a living as a personal trainer. I see so many women not living their full potential because of the way their body looks. Spending so much mental energy on counting calories and what do I weigh? Or I can’t go to this? Or I can’t speak at this? I can’t reenroll in school! I can’t go for this promotion until I lose weight!
I wonder if cancer could have been cured because a woman wasn’t focused on all of that. All the things that women are capable of. But our culture kind of holds us back where you’re supposed to be skinny and pretty… not too skinny and pretty… you know… just right.
I guess my advice would be: Don’t wait! Don’t wait for whatever you think weight loss, or body, is going to give you. You already have that within you. Go for the dream! Go for whatever you’re being pulled towards, and don’t let what others are thinking about your body stop you! Because that is not who you are! That’s not the purpose of your body. And that’s not why you’re here!
I’ll always say to prioritize internal over external. Prioritize how you feel. Even just with the simple things like your workouts and how you eat. If you’re focused on how you feel, the external will take care of itself. Your body has a natural weight. It has natural things that will settle if you create a lifestyle that you’re happy with, and that you’re good with that understanding. Again, why?
Why have a body? Bodies change? Right? So if you’re super focused on trying to look 20 for the rest of your life, you’re missing out on all the amazing experiences that come when you’re 50, 60, or 70. Because you feel like something’s wrong with you for aging. But that’s just a natural thing.
Think of the people you love: I love my mom, and I don’t care what she weighs, or what I see. I love her because of how I feel about her and the things she does. So to women, please give yourself that same compassion and grace that people will love you for who you are. You don’t have to hold who you are back. And that’s okay!”
I sit taking in all that Julie has shared. Quietly, and in the background, look at my own demons, joys, experience, and vices. And as we wrap our time together, I am compelled by a comical yet truly relevant jest that pops to mind.
You see, my vice is sugar. I’m completely addicted! Seriously, my body, energy, and sleep are all screwed up because of it. But here is the twist. Just as sugar is all around us, and for me even toxic, could the example of its pull be reformatted? Turned to a relevant and compassionate call to action?
A motivation to view the world in terms of sugar consumption as we live out both the best and worst of what it deals to us. Yet, in viewing this sweetener as a metaphor for life, perhaps the end result will not be weight gain or sickness. But rather, the knowledge of how far the fullness of our experiences, our inner selves, and our dreams can reach. And in that, the strength and wisdom that can grow by simply taking it all in.
Julie, thank you for excepting my weight room reach out, and for the all-so-welcomed confirmation of how we should be loving ourselves.
Talk tomorrow my good friends,