On Belonging and Multi-Faceted Identity

I enjoyed the last weekend of August by attending the Women’s Fitness Summit, an amazing 3 days of mindset and muscles. I had missed out on last year’s Summit, and I was determined to be there this year and spend a weekend learning from some of the most accomplished and inspirational professionals in the fitness industry.

…and then the plane landed.

I’ve written a lot about how much my self-talk has changed over the past few years, how much gentler and more satisfied I have been with myself. But progress, developing any new skill, is not a straight line or a steady forward march. Much like learning, as I have found in my years of teaching (and wrote about here), progress is circuitous. It doubles back on itself; it defies our expectations of neatness and simplicity. So, even though I am approximately 1000% more patient with and supportive of myself, there was an old familiar whisper of self-doubt piping up as I climbed into the Super Shuttle and headed for the hotel.

I spent most of that first afternoon creating what felt like a pretty convincing list of reasons why I didn’t belong at the Women’s Fitness Summit. I had myself worked into a pretty good state of anxiety by the time registration and mingling came around that evening.  I concentrated on keeping my back against a wall and smiling at everyone and counting minutes until I felt like I could reasonably excuse myself to go to bed.

By the end of Day 1, though, most of the anxiety had started to evaporate. It was actually hard to feel anxious or out of place, after getting to know the amazing women around me. GGS has put real work into creating an inclusive and positive environment for women, one in which we can show up fully and honestly, and be accepted and supported as we are. So on Sunday morning, I was feeling completely at ease as I chatted with the powerhouse of awesome, Ingrid Marcum, about curly hair. Then the incomparable Jen Sinkler sat down beside me, plucked my fork off my plate so she could dig into her breakfast, and said, “So you didn’t tell me you were a writer.”

Jen is awesome for more reasons than I could ever accurately list. She is funny and strong and inspiring AF, and she was genuinely enthusiastic about everyone she shared space with at WFS. And, you know, she took my fork. That’s about the most affirming thing a new friend has ever done for me. Holding my silverware as she spoke to me, I found it really easy to believe that she genuinely wanted to talk about writing, and to know why I hadn’t brought it up myself.

When Jen met me on the first night, she warmly asked me about myself, and I talked about being a teacher. My anxious insides assured me I’d done ok. I didn’t have to attempt to justify my fitness, I didn’t have to fumble around for a reason why I belonged. For one thing, Jen was already treating me like I belonged there, no justifications necessary. But even more than that, as I explained to her on Sunday, despite the many things that make me me and all of the work I do with students and teachers and writers around embracing the many facets of our identities, I don’t always feel like I can claim all the aspects of my self. That first night, I was falling into a familiar narrative. I was focusing on women who did not look like me, who were muscled and lean and confident, and I was telling myself that I couldn’t claim my identity as a woman who trains. I didn’t feel strong in that facet of my identity; I didn’t feel like I could prove it.

And this is what I do about myself as a writer, too. I worry over my inconsistent blog posts, the abandoned projects and undeveloped ideas that clutter my notebooks and hard drive and mind, and I tell myself that I’m not really a writer. That part of me doesn’t feel strong enough. There’s a shadow of a “yet” behind both of those statements, not strong enough yet, but that warrants its own exploration and I won’t delve into it here.

puzzle

I was looking, I told Jen, for the place I felt strongest. What part of me could no one challenge; what could I talk about with confidence; what could I fully own? At WFS, surrounded by women I felt inferior to, my teacher self stepped up. But I knew that in the following week, when I sat down with my new coworkers to begin planning and building our school year, I would feel shaky in my teacher identity; I would question my right to be at that table and in my classroom.

That list I made, of all the reasons I didn’t belong at WFS – I could make that list about anywhere I go, and anything I do. I could question my right to be in my relationships, in my neighborhood, in whatever bar or restaurant I find myself. I could, and I have. There will be times that I feel strong in one area of myself, but not so much in another. And then those strengths will switch places; I’ll feel like a kickass writer or I’ll hit a PR in a workout and walk around the house flexing for my boyfriend, but teaching will be hard and I’ll feel like quitting for a week. That ebb and flow will happen, but feeling wobbly in one facet of my identity doesn’t mean that I have to give it up. I’m not out of the Muscle Club because I haven’t made progress on a specific lift or move; I don’t have to turn in my membership card because I haven’t updated one of my blogs in awhile. I always get to be all the parts of me. I get to claim them, because they are mine, and I don’t have to justify them to anyone. Not even to myself.

There was so much to learn, to be reminded of, and to explore more deeply this weekend. Surrounded by so many powerful and empowering women, I know I’ll be unpacking and revisiting lessons for a long time to come. But one the greatest things I learned this weekend, care of Jen Sinkler: If you want to make someone feel welcome and included, steal her fork. 


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2 thoughts on “On Belonging and Multi-Faceted Identity

  1. Yes, yes and YES. I understand this on so many levels. I proudly state, “I’m a teacher,” because that’s where I’m most confident. I rarely every say, “I’m a writer,” even though I have a blog and published a book. It’s really wild. Thanks for the inspiration. It’s time to start leading with, “I’m a writer.” Keep writing. I love it!

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    1. Jess, it is amazing to me that you don’t claim your identity as writer! It goes to show that there aren’t really any agreed upon rules or criteria, right? Like, I absolutely describe you as a writer, because you are a writer, and it is so fascinating to me that you wouldn’t say the same. Write on 🙂

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