by Guest Blogger Clara K. Showalter
My transformation started because of a lie. Really a broken promise, which is a lie to someone else.
In 2005, I made a promise to a wonderful woman named Julie Whitt that I’d fight past my insecurities and doubts and send in a completed BFL challenge packet. I didn’t keep that promise. Why? Fear. I was scared that I wasn’t going to be good enough, that I’d be found wanting, and that my words and thoughts had no value because I wasn’t a champion.
That fear has old and deep roots. It was powerful, and I justified my actions by saying I could always go back and “fix” things by sending in my next packet. Julie would never know. I put things off, and put them off again. There was always tomorrow.
On December 19th, 2005, Julie Whitt died. For the first time in my life I was facing a lie, a broken promise that I could not make amends for. And the hardest part is that now Julie knew I’d done so. Facing the reality of the life I was living, facing the reality that I was letting my fears keep me from doing things I knew were right was just devistating. I broke down on Christmas Eve at National Airport in tears while traveling home. The pain and hurt were indescribable.
I made a decision in the chapel at National Airport that I was going to change. I sent in the challenge packet for the challenge I was doing and committed to sending in the packet for the 2006 Julie Whitt Torch Challenge.
I did something important in that challenge. I set goals that were not just about me. They were about helping others. I set a goal to help several others submit their challenge packet. I also set a goal to live the life of a Body for Life Champion, giving my best to myself and others.
For me, this meant calling it like I saw it, supporting people, reaching out, and doing the right thing, even when it was hard. It may mean telling someone flat out they were wrong. It may mean pushing hard when someone didn’t want pushing. It meant not letting fear rule my life. Do my best every day, and be able to look myself in the mirror at night.
I hit those goals. I hit those goals and found peace, clarity, focus, and something else which defies explanation. I found the person I was supposed to be.
EAS recognized me as one of their top 10 finalists that year. I didn’t care. I didn’t need the jacket, or the money, or that recognition. All I needed was the knowledge that I was making a difference. That was what really mattered. I was stronger than my fears.
For three years I lived with that strength, building it brick by brick and step by step. Two years ago, things started changing. At the urging of friends I started spending time on Bill Phillips’s new site Transformation. Like most BFLers, Bill Phillips is someone held in high regard. I had listed on my Bucket List, “meet Bill Phillips and thank him.” So I was curious about what he had going on.
I wasn’t comfortable from the get go. In retrospect, that was my biggest mistake. Over the years I’ve learned to trust my instincts. When my inner alarm fires off, I listen. I didn’t. I had friends encouraging me to participate and share my words and my skills. So I started to try and fit in.
Like most people who write, I like feedback. I like to know that what I write is hitting people. I discovered that my writing was having a mixed impact on Transformation. So I shifted away from my inspiring work and decided to focus on my nutrition/workout related work.
Next mistake. The positive and inspiring stuff is part of what helps feed me. It’s just one of the ways I channel my positive energy. I stopped trying to reach people that way because it didn’t seem to work. So in essence I blocked out part of myself. I started trying to figure out how to get people to notice what I was doing. Rather than walk away and say it wasn’t the right venue, I started to try and change something that worked well for me.
I made that decision, and other things started to shift up in my real world life. Work started to get harder, I started to try more to please the people I was working with rather than do what needed doing. It was subtle, so subtle that I missed it.
I did an 18 week transformation challenge because that’s what people expected. Yet as I worked through the exercises, I kept thinking…but I have transformed. Transforming isn’t something that happens constantly. Its a period of time, you pass through it. In nature things transform, then rest in that new state. Once the stimulus is removed, you are done. And as I worked through the exercises, that was emphasized. Except I kept getting asked how my transformation was going.
And my reply was the same. I’ve done mine. And I had. Like most BFLers who’ve made the changes and stuck with them I was a happy person. Yet the more time I spent on Transformation, the less happy I was. I’d shifted over to helping out with fitness and nutrition related questions. Now while I like these areas, it felt like I wasn’t using my full skill set. More over, I’d put out the information and then have others put out conflicting information. In some cases, the information they would put out was potentially very unhealthy for that individual. Yet because these folks were recognized as site experts, their information got more credence then mine did.
Mistake the fourth. I got wrapped up in I’m right, you are wrong. My ego kicked in and I started to get very aggravated with what I saw as incorrect information being presented to vulnerable populations. Transformation attracted a broad spectrum of individuals. Some of them with major medical and health issues. I was going through the process of getting my NASM personal trainer certification and knew that some recommendations were dangerous.
The problem was, there was a new vibe running through the site. The vibe was, “Be positive.” Now most places have a be nice clause in the site terms of service. This was something else. This was, “Do Not QUESTION!” People who would question the site started to get flack from various senior site members. You aren’t being positive, you are not showing a good attitude, or my personal favorite, “how’s your transformation going?”
Expressions of skepticism, blunt questioning, or statements considered non positive could bring down a wealth of these types of statements. In many cases, these were valid questions.
I grew up in a house where we were taught to question. Doubts needed to be expressed, opinions shared, and sometimes you even argued over them. On Transformation, if your doubts or arguments were deemed unacceptable, things could happen. People who disagreed with things started to dissapear. People who questioned things could end up on the receiving end of a confrontation with Bill Phillips himself. Those threads would soon vanish from the site like they never happened.
Word started going around, disagree with Bill and you are gone. So watch your step.
I should have left. Because at this point in time I knew something was wrong. A healthy environment doesn’t enforce positive emotion with threats and berating. Good leaders do not belittle and abuse those who are unable to fight back. This isn’t how you help people change. This is how you control people.
I still stayed. Not only did I stay, I kept trying to change my approach so I’d get noticed. I’d see something happen, something wrong, and I’d walk away. Don’t raise a fuss, don’t get yelled at. Every post I typed up I’d triple check because I was worried that someone was going to decide I was wrong and throw me off the site for being not positive.
I stopped liking the person I saw in the mirror. So I stopped looking in the mirror.
What I couldn’t see is that I was right back where I was in 2005. Afraid that I’d be found wanting and lacking, afraid that my words would just be thrown away.
In my own mind I was still trying to help people. But I’d totally lost why I was trying to help people. Not only had I lost the why, I’d lost my how.
Porter Freeman is fond of saying that one of the first steps in changing your life is surrounding yourself with positive people. I wasn’t doing that. I was getting a steady stream of phone calls and emails from people in pain. People who’d been bullied by Bill Phillips or hurt by the actions of senior members of the site. I had people in tears asking me what they’d done wrong. I would do my best to reassure them, then sit back and not say anything. On a couple of occasions I brought up some concerns with site staff. I was told the issues were being addressed. Funny thing, the same issues kept happening.
And I did nothing. I said nothing. I stood back and watched.
The anger and frustration bled into other areas of my life. My own business suffered. I suffered.
Eventually I just stopped logging in. I was done with being constantly scared. I was done with the constant bombardment of pain. So I just walked away. I still said nothing. That silence and fear just kept eating away at me a little bit at a time.
I didn’t even realize it until I got a chance face my fears.
I left because I was tired of watching people hurt and tired of the person I was becoming. I went back, to remember the person I am. Through a series of events, I found myself in position to do two things. To face my fear of being thrown off the site for speaking up and a chance to speak up for someone who was being wronged.
I did that and got an acknowledgment of my point and an apology from Bill. Which was something I didn’t realize I needed until I had it. My strength comes from my personal integrity. It comes from doing things which are right, even when they aren’t easy. It comes from facing fears and proving that I’m stronger.
For the first time in nearly two years, I can write without obsessing that I’m not saying the right thing. The wall I’d built around that part of myself is gone. I remember why I started this in the first place. I remember the promise I made to Julie- to live the life of a champion and give my best to myself and others. A champion isn’t just a person who defeats opponents in competition. It’s not about winning.
Being a champion is also about defending a person or a cause. It’s about standing up for others who may not be able to stand up for themselves. It’s about leading from the front, and showing people that impossible things are possible.
You do that by being true to yourself, by realizing that the power for meaningful change is yours and yours alone. You do that by being willing to demand excellence from yourself and others, and holding them accountable.
You do that by facing the truth. I haven’t been living the life I’m capable of. Who has the power to change that? Me. And it starts with a simple action. Going to the mirror, looking myself in the eye and saying, “I am a champion.”
Time to get back to work.