If I told you life was beautiful would you believe me? Would you stand up, clap your hands and agree with me? The optimists would applaud my statement and the pessimists would fold their arms and scoff at me. Whereas the realists would tell me that some things are beautiful and some are not. Throughout the years I have been tossed back and forth between optimism and pessimism. I have moved from one extreme to the next and realism has escaped me.
Through life experience we learn lessons that ultimately shape us. When we were young we learned simple lessons like “if I put my hands on a hot stove I will get burned.” These lessons served to protect us. However, as a great mentor once said to me, “sometimes we learn the wrong lessons.” Through disappointment and loss in life, some of us have become bitter and have given up on our dreams. We have failed so many times that we cannot imagine moving forward.
I remember gaining 30 pounds my freshman year and the feeling of total hopelessness. Freshman year was a depressing time for me. Netflix and food helped me cope. Even then, I was sure that weight loss and transformation was possible. I even attempted to get back into my work out routines that I had in high school. Sometimes I would make great strides but later have a hard day and give up. Eventually, after several pounds gained later, I accepted that I would simply get healthy after college.
Although I was not aware of it at the time the pessimist and optimist inside of me were battling. Realism knew that the optimism was right in believing that sticking to a work out routine was possible but also understood that my depression was real and pessimism was inevitable. Realism decided that it would be better to put the issue on hold than to tackle it head on. In order to keep balance, realism forced optimism to give up their goals in order to keep pessimism away. In this case giving up meant staying happy. You can’t be disappointed if you never tried.
(If any of this talk of people inside of me frustrates you, please understand I do not believe their are people in my head making my decisions. My life is not Inside Out. This is simply a metaphorical way of describing the dynamics of mood and their influence on behavior. If you have studied psychology you may notice parallels with the id, ego, and the superego).
This plan of ignoring the issue of my weight was not successful. My clothes got tighter faster because I refused to stop myself from eating cheeseburgers each time I had a meal. Pants I had recently bought a few months earlier would rip and I would have to replace them. Each time I had to buy new clothes I would internally cry and the “balance” I had struck with optimism and pessimism would be disrupted.
Being the introspective feeler I am, I did not talk about my struggles with weight with anyone. I do not care much about people feeling sorry for me and I wasn’t open to advice. (Even those in their 20’s can be stuck in their ways). However, after a day spent with friends, I slipped and gave insight to others about my struggle. After ordering a sugary drink from Starbucks, I jokingly told my friends “I could start being healthy after college.” I was quickly reprimanded by the worries of my friends and I realized how I had been compromising my health.
I knew something had to change but I did not know where to start. On New Year’s I decided like many others to make resolutions for myself. However, I did not feel confident that I would be able to commit to yearly goals so I gave myself I month. For one month I would attempt to eat healthy and work out. I realized in the past I had always made year long goals that eventually lost steam after a few weeks. Perhaps I could not commit to a year but I could commit to a month.
It is the optimist within me that makes huge goals that are impossible to live up to. It is the pessimist inside of me that does not believe working out or eating healthy will make a difference. I believed that in order to stop being disappointed I should stop making goals but this was the wrong lesson. It is not that I should stop making goals it is that I should start making smaller goals. I think for a long time my goal was to drop all of my weight and that pressure overwhelmed me.
What started as a month of training would later become five and as of a few months ago I ran 13.1 miles and have committed to a vegan lifestyle. This is a success but I am still taking it little by little. The truth is I have gone through so much during these months and often wanted to give up. People often talk about powers of positive thinking but that is not my narrative. Today I am successful but I reserve the right to fail tomorrow because that failure does not take away the success of today.
I do not claim to have the formula for a successful life, (you can watch a TED Talk for that) but I think I have found something that works for me. If anything about my story hits home I urge you to meditate on it. Ask yourself: “do I have unrealistic expectations for myself?” “Have I given up, believing the problem will go away on its own?” Although I am still young I believe part of growing means recognizing your shortcomings and striving to be better. I believe it is less about reaching the destination and more about the journey there.