The Rock’s recent post on Instagram resonated with me. When he was 22 years old, he moved to Canada to play professional football for the Calgary Stampeders, a stepping stone towards his ultimate goal of playing for the NFL. But after two days of practice, he was cut from the team. “Dream shattered,” he says.
We all understand how damaging it is to spend years working for ONE important goal, only to have it fail after a few days. My college experience was exactly that: a failed goal. I spent four years as a full-time student holding an almost-full-time job, focused on graduating with a business degree. What I wanted most was to be the first in my family to walk the stage and flip my tassel. But unforeseen circumstances put an abrupt halt on the future I worked for.
My family issues were out of control during my last semesters. I lived in a toxic environment, which enabled me to develop a negative mentality, and ultimately become a negative person. Despite my efforts towards finishing my degree, the stress I felt from my home life carried over to my performance in school. I skipped class, managed to turn my 3.6 GPA into a 2.9 in one year, and unexpectedly developed an autoimmune disease.
That is what stress does to a body.
By some miracle, an opportunity presented itself for me and my husband to move to Europe. (Marrying my best friend was another miracle in itself.) This relocation would literally put an ocean between me and my family problems, an offer I was too desperate to pass. So naturally, I decided to put my education on hold, and travel with my best friend. I chose adventure over finishing the ONE thing I thought I wanted most. This was one of the hardest decisions I have ever made.
The first year of living in Europe, I was majorly depressed because I believed I made the wrong choice. It’s impossible to enjoy life fully with a hole in you heart, even if you are traveling the world. I was disappointed in myself for giving up. My friends from high school were just graduating with their Bachelor’s degrees, some of them landing fancy jobs, scaling the corporate ladder I so hopelessly craved to climb. And others were pursuing their Master’s, another milestone of success that was denied to me because of my decision.
Meanwhile, I did the one thing I never thought I’d do, the one thing that attracted the most judgment from my peer group: I dropped out of college and married a military member. Even I used to judge those girls who quit pursuing their education to get married and have kids, only to be next time line years later (sans children). For the longest time, I tormented myself with this delusion that I had failed as a young adult. And consequently, real depression kicked in, and my autoimmune disease worsened.
But pain, internal or external, has a way of inspiring change. Aristotle’s infamous idea that “you are what you repeatedly do,” introduced me to my own self-destructive habits, and motivated me to transform.
To channel my pain, I began to change my daily habits. I started to eat healthier in early 2016. By complete accident, my wholesome lifestyle eventually eliminated my autoimmune disease. (Read about how I got rid of Graves’ disease here.)
I also started to exercise, curious of what strength I had left. But I quickly learned how truly weak I was. When I tell you that I couldn’t lift an empty barbell, I mean it. There is no exaggeration in how frail and skinny I started. But if I am what I repeatedly do, then I wanted to repeatedly do my best. And I wanted to grow, to repeatedly do things that will cultivate strength.
Eventually I traded my sorrow for sore muscles. Over the next year, I became stronger physically. It took many failed programs to finally acknowledge that the pain and discomfort of achey legs and tender muscles was far better than the mental suffering I had caused myself. As my muscles grew large, my confidence grew larger. The heavier the barbell weighed, the lighter the burden of my choice felt, until it eventually disappeared.
The comparisons I made with my peers, and the critical opinions I worried about were no longer present. My worries shifted from things like not finishing my degree or my family’s detrimental circumstances, to becoming a stronger person. Changing my focus from things I could not control to things I could control was liberating. I prioritized my physical and mental health, relying on the gym and self-help books as my therapy.
Now that was the best decision I ever made.
“You’re going to get your ass kicked. We are going to get the shit kicked out of us,” the Rock says. “You gotta get up, and you gotta have faith that the one thing you wanted to happen often times is the best thing that NEVER happened.”
Who I am today is strong, loving, and optimistic. My husband loves me for who I am, my dog thinks I’m cool, and I’ve rebuilt a decent relationship with my family. Overcoming the circumstances I was predestined for has empowered me to be my best. I would never trade who I have become for a piece of paper.
Thanks for reading. Happy lifting.
PS: I do plan on returning to finish my degree next year. I’m so thankful that I’ll have the maturity and determination to make it happen.