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Beginner’s Luck: Why is it So Hard to Love Ourselves Sometimes?

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My triathlon journey started with an indoor cycling class, taught by Gerry Halphen, which subsequently sparked my love for triathlon. The class was in a gym of “real” triathletes. I had some great friends there. But I was not, at that time (and perhaps still not), their “kind” of triathlete. I was their token “Awwww, isn’t she sweet for trying to run?” friend. They were fast. I was the speed of Meredith. They were thin. I was, well, me.

Still, I felt an allegiance to that gym and class, because gratitude is a big thing for me. I am grateful for my experiences, even the miserable ones, because they have shaped who I am today. I knew that I owed a lot to that gym, to that class, to Gerry, to the place where my triathlon dream was born.

When I went back to the class a few years ago, I saw myself in the mirror and I cringed. Just like I cringed on my first day of class in 2009. I thought, “Wow, I look much worse than the last time I was in here.” Which, by the way, was not true. But it was a mental mess from the start. I ended up going home after class, crying and thinking, “Why do I even bother?”

Fast-forward to a few weeks ago, I went back to the cycling class. Gerry was still there, so I knew what to expect from him: sweat and pain. But I really didn’t know what to think or expect about how I would feel about ME in that place again. You would think I am now at the point in my triathlon life where I consider myself one of the clan. That after four iron-distance races, coaching athletes of my own, successful programs and an “army” of followers, that I would feel like I fit into triathlon. You would think. I mean, why in the world would there still be doubt?

Perhaps it’s because sometimes I’m reminded (by myself or by things others say, or things I perceive others say) that I don’t fit in. Or maybe I am reminded just how far I have come, but still how far I need to go to be legit. Legit meaning that I need to weigh 105 pounds and wear an XS tri short. (I know that’s not a sign of legitness. I know. Not to mention the fact that my skeleton weighs 105 pounds. Bear with me.)

Trust me, this whole internal dialogue makes me furious at myself. Legitness and pursuit of this arbitrary goal of subjective legitness, especially for someone who is a middle of the packer on a good day, totally not an elite and will never be, is just plain stupid. The truth of the matter is that I have earned my way to every single finish, every corner of the triathlon world. I have worked hard. I should be in “the business of being good enough” at whatever speed I go, because I am out there doing the hard work, spreading the love and slathering good energy where I can.

So, when I went to class recently, I feared that I would still have that story, that tale of “I am still not enough” in my head. And I was genuinely scared. I walked into the class and I started chatting with friends, old and new. Then I saw myself in the mirror. But I didn’t think anything of the reflection staring back at me. I didn’t even think about it. It was such a non-issue, that when I sat down to write this article, I had to think, “How DID I feel when I saw my reflection this time?”

Trust me, I would like for the day to come where I look in the mirror and say, “WOW! Hot stuff mama! Sexy sassafras! Shake that bonbon,” and for me to mean it and believe it. But, for now, this was massive progress: to have a non-reaction.

I have not been alone in living in the web of unworthiness. This self-hate and shame epidemic is real and runs deep in women and men. For so many years, I wanted to love myself, to feel differently, but simply, I just didn’t. I didn’t love myself. I didn’t even like me.

Now, I don’t have all the answers, but I do know that since I quit drinking, made a decision to focus on gratitude and ask myself these questions, below, that I have unlocked a lot of that unworthiness—and turned it into good.

Question 1: What do I really want to change in my life?

Question 2: What action can I take right now that will put me in the right direction toward getting what I want?

Question 3: What is my one “power” and power word that will help enforce this?

For me, I wanted to “be the best version of myself.” I took action on quitting drinking and eating healthier. I adopted the power word “relentless” (because, well, I am stubborn) and I said it often, to remind myself that I would not be giving up on this vision of what I wanted.

When I saw myself in the mirror this time, I realized that I have climbed a large mountain. I am finally to the place in my life where I feel OK in my skin. I look forward to the day that I feel amazing in my skin. But one forward step at a time.

Meredith Atwood (@SwimBikeMom) is a recovering attorney and author of Triathlon for the Every Woman. She is the host of the new podcast, “The Same 24 Hours.” She lives in Atlanta with her husband and two children, and blogs about all things at MeredithAtwood.com.  

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