I always used to get the best sweet potato recipes at Weight Watchers meetings.
Now, I’ve been to Weight Watcher meetings in Pennysylvania, and in New Jersey, and even in Hilton Head, South Carolina. But you ain’t never seen a Weight Watcher meeting like the ones they have in New York City. Those meetings involved iPads, lots of Powerpoint, and sometimes semi-formal attire.
Those bright blue, mod-chic, windowless rooms would be so filled with people that there weren’t enough chairs to seat everybody’s (hopefully shrinking) ass. There would be this insane line of people out the door – women jetting over after work, men running over during their lunch break, me killing time between auditions with a fully painted face – and all you would see in front and back of you was the the frantic stripping of jackets, belts, shoes, even jewelry, in antipation of that weekly weigh-in.
One at a time, each of us would step up to the scale, hold our breath, moan or cheer at the results, frantically pick up our entire wardrobe we’d thrown in a pile on the floor only moments before, and then sprint to find a seat before the meeting began.
We always started the meetings whether people were still in line to weigh in or not – we just had to, or we’d be waiting around all day. Our leader would step to the front of the room and introduce herself, tell us how much weight she’d lost and how long she’d been following the program, and proceed to bring up a weekly topic such as “cooking with new spices” or “summer drinks and mocktails”.
Each week, the leader would have the same three women stand up and tell all the newbies their name, how much weight they’d lost, and how long they’d been a member of Weight Watchers.
The same three women had been following the program religiously for like, thirty or forty years. They’d lost about fifty to a hundred pounds each, and they’d kept it off for like, twenty-nine or thirty-nine years, and they always had the best sweet potato recipes.
The leader introduced these same ladies every single week in order to inspire the rest of us in the room. “Look where you can end up with this program!” “See how a little counting and some walking can pay off?!” “If she can do it, so can you!” and all that jazz.
I always used to applaud the ladies while I looked down at my little weigh-in booklet, thinking to myself – it doesn’t matter that I ate four jars of Nutella this week if I still lost half a pound from not eating yesterday. If she can do it, so can I.
Later that night when I went out for a second dinner (after the one I shoveled in at home – meals after weigh-ins are taken very seriously – and by seriously, I mean there’s more than one of them) I would skip dessert thinking to myself, “if she can do it, so can I.”
And then when I ate half a gallon of ice cream before bed and threw the rest of it in the garbage in disgust, I looked at the melted mess in the trash proudly thinking, “if she can do it, so can I.”
For years I looked to those other ladies for inspiration, waiting for the day I could proudly stand in front of everyone at the meeting and say how long I’d been following the program and offer my own sweet potato recipe.
When I gave up on Weight Watchers for the fourth time around, I no longer had the sweet potato ladies for inspiration. So, I started looking elsewhere. There were always Victoria’s Secret models pasted to my fridge. Vision boards crafted from Self Magazine home-workouts and quotes about running would be propped up against my desk. I would sit in the holding room at auditions with hundreds of other girls and seek out the most perfect body in the room, fantasizing what I would book if I looked like that.
Never once did I look in the mirror at my own face, much less my own body, and find inspiration in my own expressions or my own curves. Never once did I look back through my personal journal entries or timeline of life events to find inspiration in my own journey. Never once did I think to myself, “look what I’ve done so far,” “look how much I’ve learned,” or “look how far I’ve come”.
Perhaps if I had, I would have noticed my own issues before I hit rock bottom.
I had blinders on. And those blinders were always focused on one thing. “If she/they/he/Jennifer Hudson can do it, so can I.”
I was always looking at everyone else with envy – wishing I looked like them, or ate like them, or ran like them. I never even noticed my world spinning out of control.
I bring all of this up because of how differently I look at things now. I didn’t realize that in finding my own strength, and facing my own demons, I have had to rely on myself for inspiration. I’ve had to look at my own life for encouragement at times, because it is the only thing there to remind me what I have overcome, meaning that if I had the strength to prevail at one point in my life, then I know I’ll have it again when I need it. This concept of seeking inspiration from within, is kind of, not something that was instilled in me for the first twenty-five years of my life.
Now, my friend Namaste brings her daughter to dance class at the studio where I teach almost every day of the week. We’ve become close in a short time because of all the time we both spend at the studio – and because she used to be a ballerina before she had her children.
Namaste was in a horrific car accident about four years ago – nearly destroying her ability to walk and causing life-long knee, neck, and joint problems. She definitely did not think she would ever dance again.
However something interesting has happened. I’m not sure if she started coming to my adult ballet classes because she felt bad I was a new teacher and I didn’t have many students, or if she started coming because she thought it was time to try getting back to the barre, but either way, she is dancing again.
This woman’s feet – my God, if you appreciate the feet of a ballerina – that perfect arch, that incredible relevé – you would die over Namaste’s feet. This woman’s posture – it beats my showgirl posture any day. And even if she hasn’t danced in many years, you can see that it’s all still there.
Now since mid-January, Namaste has gone from wearing knee braces just to do pliés at the barre, and marking the across the floor combinations, to turning and jumping and balancing for almost half of the class.
She doesn’t always see the progress. She often apologizes that she can’t get all the way up on the ball of her foot yet, and that she can’t do every single jump that we practice. But all I see, is beautiful, miraculous, inspiring progress.
So I tell her. I tell her every week how much I can see a difference and how amazing she looks.
Last week she finally took the compliment. She said, “you know, I can’t do it all yet. But I’m a lot farther now than I was three years ago.”
Three years ago, Namaste wasn’t driving, or walking, and most certainly not dancing.
And that’s what inspired me to write this post this week. Namaste has been through a journey people, but she was able to stop for a second – and look at how far she has come. She was able to stop apologizing and stop focusing on what she can’t do, long enough to smile and look at what she can do.
If she can take a pause in this busy world and find the inspiration inside herself to keep going, then why can’t I? Why can’t you?
Dare I say it, “if she can do it, so can we.”
It’s not about looking at everyone else’s highlight reel on Facebook. It’s not always about the miracle stories in the magazines and the forwarded emails and the Upworthy links. Those things have their place, but before all that, we can find inspiration right at home. It’s already inside of all of us.
Our own personal journey would probably inspire the masses if we each took the time to write a book about it. Why doesn’t it inspire us the same way?
Whether we realize it or not, we have our own highlight reel. A real, honest, unique highlight reel that includes the good and the bad. The shitty times and the celebrations. The bad boyfriends and the bad hangovers. The small victories and the big achievements.
And that’s the highlight reel we should be focusing on a little more. It’s lovely to congratulate our friends, and celebrate with our friends, and encourage our friends. But there’s a time and place for celebrating ourselves as well.
Look at how much we have done. Look at how much we have learned. Look at how far we have come.
My friend and writing mentor, Rae Gouirand, told me that she believes “the single most damaging idea facing the survival of creative culture is the idea that creative work comes from inspiration. That inspiration begets engagement.”
She says, “The truth is, most creative people I know live in a kind of perpetual terror of not being inspired, trying desperately to set themselves up for inspiration, when the truth is that external inspiration is almost always absent from most of our lives. My thesis: inspiration is best chased THROUGH the process itself. It is rare that I sit down feeling like I’m on fire, but if I start typing shit and get the right song on loop and no one interrupts me, I can pretty much guarantee that I’ll find a flow where I feel happy.”
I’m not saying that we are all looking to sit down and write a novel here, but I love what she says about “chasing inspiration through the process itself.” Whatever you need, you have it. Whatever you’re looking for, it’s already inside of you. You just have to actively seek and find it within your daily life.
The definition of the word chase is “to pursue in order to seize or overtake; to follow or devote one’s attention to with the hope of attracting, winning or gaining.”
Seize your life. Overtake the desire to look elsewhere for inspiration. Follow your gut and search within the things you already know. There, you will find the hope, and the inspiration, that you’ve been seeking.
It’s worked for me. Now, let’s be real, it’s been actual work. This shit takes work. It’s not easy to look at all of the things I’ve seized and all the things that have almost overtaken me – but it’s definitely work that is worth it. It is absolutely necessary work.
It’s the work that saved my life, and it’s the work that makes me cherish the life I’m living right now.
“Never forget that once upon a time, in an unguarded moment, you recognized yourself as a friend.” -Elizabeth Gilbert
Bada bing. Bada boom. You can always count on Elizabeth Gilbert to say it right.
The next time you look in the mirror, I hope that you recognize yourself as an inspiration. Because regardless if you see it now, or you see it five years from now, it’s already a fact. You are inspiration. No ifs, ands, or buts.
Whenever you are ready, take the time to chase that fact. Process that fact, love that fact, explore that fact – that fact that you are inspiration. It might take some work, but with time, your brain and your heart will accept this fact as truth, and everything will change. Everything.
I dare you to start the chase right now. Go look through your kitchen cabinet for your own sweet potato recipe. I bet you already have one hidden in there, and didn’t even remember.
Next week’s posting:
The Library That Saved My Life