Life has a funny way of pushing you along your path…
I have learned that you have to listen closely, and you have to be willing to be pushed along without resisting the inner flow. This requires a degree of humility and wisdom. There is a great art to our journey, to growing up, and growing old. 2018 has taught me the same lesson through a number of avenues–through grad school, bodybuilding, my business (Body Temple Aesthetics), and my own personal growth. Most lessons have been conflicting, turbulent, and humbling events. Dropping out of graduate school has been my biggest lesson so far.
Dropping out of Grad School, chaos or Calm?
Today was the day I was supposed to be getting on an airplane to go to London for grad school. Instead, I am sitting in my home office wearing my pajames and a sipping on a cup of coffee out of my Tiffany blue YETI mug. I had everything going for me–the strength director at the University of Utah, Cody Lockling, and world famous strength coach Dan John had both written letters of recommendation to the program directors, telling them that I was passionate and would be an excellent candidate for the Strength and Conditioning Masters Degree.
Before Dan wrote his letter, he had me sit down in his home and talked to me about “my why.” I explained that I wanted to master my craft, to seek excellence in all things that I do. I also told him that self mastery is a mantra of my life and naturally graduate school was a must if I were to live up to my own expectations. Dan agreed that I was going to school for the right reasons, he left me with some of his life wisdom and a healthy dose of optimism about my choice.
So I later was accepted into the Masters program to get an advanced degree in Strength and Conditioning from St. Mary’s in Twickenham, London. I bought my airline ticket, and paid my deposit. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do with the degree, I only knew that I wanted to open doors for myself and wanted to be a better trainer to my clients. I wanted to create the opportunity to work with professional or collegiate athletes down the road. I even had dreams of possibly working with the astronauts and engineers at NASA. I already had my CSCS, but I also needed my masters degree if I wanted to make any of these dreams a reality. I had big goals of accomplishing great things and rising to the top of my field. How then, did I get thrown so far off course?
Chaos in my Personal Athletic Goals
Earlier this year, I had yet another experience of dropping out of something that I was dead set on doing. I was preparing to compete in the figure division of the Legends Classic bodybuilding show in Las Vegas. This required me to diet and train intensely for months, I had invested hundreds of dollars into a prep coach, sacrificed many social pleasures, and pushed my body to it’s limits. I was only about 2 weeks out from the show when I dropped out. My body was on track, I wasn’t nervous, I had everything I needed; suit, heals, jewelry, hotel room, experience, etc. Plus, I was going to be getting on stage with one of my best friends to celebrate her 30th birthday with her! So why would I drop out when I had everything going for me? Also, how did this decision to drop out of the show become a catalyst for me exiting bodybuilding all together? (more on that later)
Additional Chaos, Pulling apart my Net of Safety
As if dropping out of the February figure show last-minute wasn’t enough chaos for me, I opened my own personal training studio gym in May. This decision was less of my own whim, and more of a reaction to current circumstances. I had been training my clients in a personal training studio downtown and paying the owner rent. That space eventually became too small for my growing clientele, specifically my powerlifting team. I was faced with three options:
- drop my powerlifting team (This was never an option since they are like family to me)
- go to a gym 20 minutes further south that would charge twice the rent, or
- open my own space and be my own boss.
After weighing all of my options, I decided that creating my own space for my clients would be the best decision. I buckled down and faced the stress-inducing task of opening my own facility. With the help of my boyfriend, my clients, my family, and my friends, Body Temple Aesthetics (BTA) opened its doors in May of 2018. This career move took a huge leap of faith, but I did it.
Upon opening BTA, I discovered a whole new set of challenges I was not expecting. In the world of marketing a small business, I now had to deliver a clear message of my brand and who my ideal clients were. This was hard for me since I enjoy working with people from all walks of life with every goal under the sun. I have coached professional athletes, kids, seniors, strength athletes, bodybuilders, people with disabilities, and everything in between. How was I supposed to pick just one group to specialize in? A mentor of mine told me that my message was confusing–was my facility a yoga studio? Did I work with only athletes? What the heck was Body Temple Aesthetics? Who was my message for?
Coming Back to My “why”
These questions and challenges forced me to go back to my original “why.” I got into personal training after a series of live events that pushed me along that path. (You can read more about that journey in My Story Part 1 & My Story Part 2) I fell in love with fitness for the first time when it became my relief from incessant bullying in grade school. I fell in love with fitness again when I used training for a triathlon to get back to feeling healthy after a year in and out of the hospital (a blog post for another time). I later fell in love with Bodybuilding when it gave me confidence after being in an unhealthy relationship with a partner who was chronically unfaithful. I started the sport of Powerlifting soon after that, ultimately empowering me to finally break free and end that unhealthy relationship and saved my life in so many ways. The camaraderie and empowerment I felt in powerlifting brought me back from soul-crushing darkness that I can only describe with two words right now… me too. (Yes, I am referring to the awareness campaign) Maybe I will write about that more in the future, but today I only want to say that the friendships I forged in strength sports during this time really did save me and help me piece my soul back together. I also competed in Strongman, where I found a brotherhood I felt a part of as my teammates cheered me on while I pushed myself to my absolute physical, mental, and emotional limits.
Asking myself all these questions has stirred up quite a bit of inner turbulence. Should I be in grad school? Why do I train for the sports I do? What message do I want my business to deliver, and who do I want to deliver that message to? It has become quite the soul search, an epic and complex hero’s journey. Sometimes I felt like all this seeking was just launching me further into depression and an existential crisis. Why am I doing anything I am doing?
Turns out, I still don’t have all the answers, but I am still searching. I learned that I don’t want to work with professional athletes or move to Houston to work for NASA. I really love owning a personal training business, and going to school would have split my focus from my true passion. I would have missed out on so much while trying to gain status. Time away from my loved ones. More debt and living on a student budget. My dog would have been approaching his senior years by the time I graduated! I ultimately didn’t want to pay the price of grad school, even if it helped me check some things off my life list and make me feel more “accomplished”. I had to humble myself and say “Heidi, grad school isn’t for you right now”. Maybe I will go back to school one day, but for different reasons and when the timing works with my life, not against it. I. I quietly closed that door, and examined all the other routs in my path of life.
Another big question I had to ask myself is what exactly am I training for? Historically, it seemed that the historic answer was that I was always seeking healing from one thing or another. Breaking down and building up my physical body helped repair my broken heart, but I don’t need that anymore. I am in a loving and compassionate relationship with a man who shows me a kindness that I didn’t think existed before. I have a little dog who is a great source of laughter and joy. I have my dream job working with some of the COOLEST people I have ever known. My personal fitness has changed drastically from intense and tough, to more of a fun recreation based program. My “why” has changed fundamentally from healing to enjoyment.
I think FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) is a real thing. I realized that with each thing I “gave up on”, gave me a chance to look inward and discover a self that has grown and changed fundamentally. Once I saw my the entirety of my transformation, I found a new and more authentic “why.” I am changed. So ultimately my business, and my message is changing too.
Since fitness has brought me healing and relief from bullying, illness, a TOXIC relationship, and other traumatic life events, I want to deliver the same gift to my friends and clients. I want people to feel good, to love their bodies, to find balance in their lives, and to stop comparing themselves to others. I found a lot of relief in the sports I have trained for, but I fear that it is all too easy to get swept up by those cultures, turning a potentially positive thing into a negative coping skill. I would argue, with bodybuilding especially, that there is a danger in getting caught up with body obsession, the feeling of comparison, and not feeling good enough. The same goes for strength-based sports. Athletes start off enjoying the training and loving the process only to get caught up in becoming bigger and stronger. I have seen too many people throw away their lives because they were too obsessed with getting stronger, resulting in crippling injuries, health issues from drug abuse, and loneliness from years of social isolation (Side note, I do not think these sports are bad, but they do put you at risk of unhealthy habits of obsession and isolation if taken too far. Many people can stay physically and mentally healthy in these sports, many can not). Really, the negative obsessive aspects of both aesthetic and strength sports are different sides of the same coin. Both create an environment where one’s self-confidence is placed on appearance or strength (both external sources of confidence), rather than finding confidence from a more solid place within.
My “Why”, New and Improved
A part of my heart will always love bodybuilding and strength sports, but I don’t think pursuing these sports is a primary goal for myself or my business anymore. Ultimately, through all my chaos and turbulence, both personal and professional. I not only found clarity in my why, but I rediscovered the message that I wanted Body Temple Aesthetics to give right from the start.
Feel Good First
Life is too short and beautiful for us to waste it trying to be something we are not. While it might be INCREDIBLY PAINFUL and humbling to change direction, it is far better than living an inauthentic life. Yes, I dropped out of grad school, but I still spend hours every week reading textbooks and research. Mastering my craft is still important, but I had to “kill my ego” and be OK with not having the degree to “prove how smart I was”. I get to still pursue excellence, but I get to do it on my own timeline. Bodybuilding no longer serves a purpose in my life, and I had to be OK with “quitting” the sport after investing so many years into it. I would rather create a body that is built to play, rather than look a certain way. For me, I didn’t like the continued pressure and external validation focus. I am now more interested in health than aesthetics. I would rather feel good than look good. As far as Body Temple Aesthetics goes, well I probably won’t be changing the name, but I want the message to be known, that I care more about my clients building internal health and confidence, rather than seeking external beauty and validation.
I want every single man, woman, child, and senior who walks through my doors to feel like they are listened to. I want to help each of my clients get to the root of their goals, and I want to encourage and promote healthy sustainable living. I want my content to have people saying “Thank you, that was empowering and made me feel good about myself” instead of “I wish I looked like/was a strong as you”. I want to be a light in the world. I want to educate my clients and empower them to love their bodies and to practice self care.
At the end of the day, I want to put feeling good, first.