This was it. I sat on my bed the night before my college graduation, gripped with fear. I’d known nothing but school for the past 20 years of my life, and there I was about to head out into the real world. I didn’t have a clue how it worked and wasn’t sure if I felt ready to find out quite yet.
I’d spent the past seven years in California – the first three in southern California, the latter four in the Bay area – and I had packed up all of my belongings to haul myself to the east coast. An unfamiliar location, brand new job, and nobody that I knew. Not to mention, the last time I’d been in New England for any appreciable amount of time was when I’d been in the throws of my anorexia – not the fondest of memories. I hadn’t a clue what the next couple of months were going to bring for me.
There was no doubt that I was excited, but at that moment, that eagerness was overshadowed by my anxiety over confronting so much discomfort and uncertainty in the imminent future. I would no longer be safely cocooned on the Stanford campus, where crime was rare and I was surrounded by familiar faces. I’d been assigned school assignments; I’d worked diligently to complete them and turn them in by the deadline. I’d taken midterms and finals; I’d spent late nights memorizing facts about the Krebs cycle; I’d written 30+ page papers. I’d been a stone’s throw away from the library, bookstore, and even the police station.
But I’d been about to be stripped of all of that – all of it – and I’d felt so, so underprepared. I thought back to the past four years of my college career and recounted my journey to where I’d gotten myself.
I first arrived on the Stanford campus in the fall of 2008 almost positive that I was going to study sports medicine and eventually become an orthopedic surgeon. It seemed to make the most sense to me, and besides, nearly a third of my class was also pre-med, so clearly it was the cool thing to do. I didn’t question my path; I simply moved robotically forward. Inorganic chemistry, check; organic chemistry, check; physics, multivariable calculus, Human Biology core – check, check, check. I stressed out over problem sets alongside my peers and flipped out over woefully low midterm class mean scores. To be completely honest, that entire time, I felt like I was throwing myself against a brick wall that refused to budge. I wanted to become a doctor, I really loved what I was studying, and I stayed up late at night reading up on the newest advances in sports medicine – right? Wrong. I spent my free time browsing fitness forums, voraciously reading any and all training and nutrition articles I could get a hold of, and setting new PRs in the gym. All the signs were there, but I turned a blind eye to them.
It wasn’t until November of my junior year at Stanford that I began to lose confidence in what I was doing. I was taking a physical chemistry course at the time and was feeling inadequate in so many ways. I didn’t have a clue what was going on in the class and found myself with a failing score for the first time in my life, despite spending over four hours a day futilely attempting to grasp the material. I’d been working as a student intern in the sports medicine department for over a year by then and wasn’t feeling fulfilled. I was dreading my classes and was in a cranky mood all the time as thoughts of school constantly loomed ominously overhead.
What happened to that overeager girl, the one who had wept and wept by the front door at the age of two as my older brother left for preschool in the mornings, begging to go with him? What happened to the student whose favorite day of the week was Monday because that meant four more days of classes and hated Fridays because she’d have to wait through the weekend before going back to school again? She was long gone. She was replaced by a lifeless young lady who was reluctantly stumbling down a path that she hated – all because she was told she would be a good fit.
That month of November was the hardest of my life. I wrestled with the thought that maybe becoming a doctor was not my calling after all. But how could I let everyone down? How could I abandon everything that I’d been working toward for the past 2+ years? I’d never even considered pursuing anything else. I couldn’t quit. I just couldn’t.
The truth was that I was afraid of deviating from what I thought was my predetermined path. I was scared out of my mind. I faced an internal battle as I flip-flopped between choosing to feel safe and continuing on with my miserable yet comfortable ways and throwing every bit of myself into what I loved – fitness – although I had no idea what would come out of it. One minute, I’d declare that I was not a quitter and that I was going to suck it up and press forward; the next, I was curled up into the fetal position on my bed, tears streaming down my face as I came to grips with the fact that my heart yearned for something different.
But here’s the thing. This is what I knew: people who get comfortable of body get fat; people who get comfortable of mind and intellect get dull; people who get comfortable in their spirit – they miss what they were created for. I was becoming more and more aware of what I was created for, and I knew I would regret it for the rest of my life if I stayed the course because it was easier to stay within my comfort zone. I was terrified – of the unknown, of the risk, of the judgment – and I envied the more sure-footed of my friends. Why couldn’t I be more like them?
Change. I had to welcome it. I realized that in order to be successful, I would have to get used to discomfort, to embrace it. I’d have to eschew convenience and security in favor of challenge and opportunity. I’d have to ignore the voices inside my head coming up with any excuse imaginable not to change just because it would be easier that way. I’d have to stop my mind from doing backflips trying to contort my insufficient justifications into acceptable, logical reasons. The truth was that they were all crap. Bottom line, I was chickenshit.
Feel the fear and do it anyway. That’s what I told myself over and over again as I finally, finally let go of my death grip on the reigns of mediocrity. In a way, quitting was a huge relief. At the same time, however, I was faced with the crushing pressure of carving out my own, unorthodox path – a potentially lonely, frustrating, and unsuccessful one. But I knew I had to try. I turned away and immersed myself in my life’s calling.
It takes courage to be different. It takes guts to stay faithful to what it is that you are meant to do and put up with ridicule and mocking and criticizing eyes and still march resolutely forward. But it’s also a crime to tune out your true love, your blazing passion. I’d be lying if I said there haven’t been moments when I’ve questioned what in the world I was getting myself into, when I wondered if I was out of my mind for even entertaining the thought that I might be the least bit qualified, when I’ve flirted with the idea of going back to study medicine because then everyone would approve of me again. But I love this – the fitness industry and everything that comes with it. I’ve bounced around from psychology to journalism to business, and each time, I’ve returned back to fitness. Like my home base. This love has driven me to where I am today.
Everyday, I’m faced with thousands and thousands of decisions that I must make, both big and small. And each time that I choose to put my head down and drive ahead and hustle a little harder – I know I’m doing the right thing. Call me crazy? I’ll take that as a sign that I’m doing well for myself.
Where am I now? It’s been a week since I’ve started my internship at Cressey Performance, and my life has taken a 180-degree turn. It’s… different. It’s good. There’s something about knowing that you’re working at one of the nation’s top training facilities that humbles you through and through. I’m constantly around like-minded individuals, and the surround-yourself-with-awesome aspect of this has been mind-blowing. I’ve made some incredible friends and learned a great deal already. And to think – what if I’d caved into my fear and stayed firmly planted back out in the west coast, allowing myself to meld into the Great Wall of Mediocrity all for the sake of comfort? My first day, I walked into Suite 150, shaking ever so slightly with trepidation. I was scared out of my mind. Fake it ‘till you make it. Fake it ‘till you make it. I feigned confidence, forced myself to ask questions, and absorbed as much as I could. Now the place feels like my second home.
What is it that you love? What is it that’s holding you back from pursuing what it is that you really want to do? Feel the fear and do it anyway. Acknowledge it, but don’t fight it. Rise above it. I never would have gotten to where I am now career-wise if I hadn’t ignored all the disapproving, doubting voices. My journey is far from over – in fact, I’m just getting started – but I urge you, dear reader, to get comfortable being uncomfortable.
You want to stand out and be different? Then do something about it – and make change in your life because change will not roll in on the wheels of inevitability.
**The italicized texts are experts from Cory Booker’s Stanford 2012 Commencement Speech. I was so moved by his words that I wanted to quote him in here. I highly recommend that you give it a listen – or read it here.