I belong to me.
I first read this profound statement in a book by Brene Brown a few years back when I started my “taking care of me” quest. I loved it, but wasn’t exactly buying into it just yet. I mean, really, what does that mean, exactly? “I belong to ME?!” As a life-long pleaser, I loved this concept, but honestly, the words just sounded fluffy and inspirational. And the actual thought of acting on it felt like something I should aspire for, yet didn’t really think I could achieve. About a year ago these words crept back up on me while scrolling through Instagram. And we ALLLLLLL know that if we read something on social media it’s totally expected for us to pattern our life around that notion, and to uphold it as the 100% honest, valid truth. So, I thought–okay, maybe I should toy this idea around a bit more. I mean, it WAS on Instagram, which is basically the bible, and it did show up in MY feed. Surely, it was personally meant for me. Never mind the fact that Jessica Simpson had a hit song from 2006 titled “I Belong to Me”. Or that it’s the theme song to the musical “Elisabeth”, and has been performed countless times by many amazing female vocalists. Oh, and let’s not forget the incredible fore-mentioned Dr. Brene Brown (basically, my hero) who has written about this topic in pretty much every single one of her books. (And P.S.! SHE was inspired by the one and only Maya Angelou who first uttered these words in one of her writings!) I’m also ignoring the fact that these 4 four powerful words can be found on a wide variety of knick-knacks, T-shirts, coffee mugs, and posters on good ole Pinterest. But even with all of this notoriety around such a simple topic, I still choose to believe that it has been coined JUST for me, and only me. I’m not suggesting that others aren’t also greatly impacted by this idea, or that I’m not willing to share it (seeing how I basically stole-okay, “borrowed” it in the first place). I’m simply saying that it has resonated with me so strongly that I’ve used this mantra as a stepping stone to being brave, and making hard and difficult choices in my life.
I first joined the YMCA as a member a few short years after my youngest son was born. He was probably about 3 years old at the time. I was so glad to be able to put my two little lovelies in the child watch for “free’ that I basically didn’t care what I was doing at the gym, other than I would milk the entire allotted time of 2 hours of child care as often as I could. I was only able to last on the treadmill or in the weight room for literally 10 minutes before complete and total boredom set in. But I would feel guilty about hiding in the locker room drinking stale crappy coffee and reading a magazine during my 2 hour mommy break. So, I decided to try some classes. I was hooked. It was pretty fun, and I was decent at things like choreography and following directions. I’d like to say that I stayed with it because of the great energy in the room, and the vibrant and fun instructors who led the classes. Or, perhaps because I’ve always been in organized sports and that I function well on a team. Or better yet, because I wasn’t dumping my small children off to play in a germ-infused, chaotic environment while I “pretended” to work out. Although all of these things were actually true they weren’t the MAIN reason I stayed. I began to feel this sense of commitment to my friends in the class. I felt a strong need to compete and be good at this step-aerobics or kickboxing thing, too. I developed a kind of an “I can and should be able to do this” attitude. In turn, my “I’m gonna show all of you” demeanor became a part of my dedication very quickly. And, most importantly, I absolutely did not want to let the instructor down by not showing up. No, no, no. That would be like letting down my coach or worse than that, my parents. So, I stayed with it. Indeed, I was benefitting from it immensely. But the real drive that kept me going was this deep satisfaction in knowing I was doing a “good job” in everyone else’s eyes. It wasn’t long before I found myself on the other side of my then job title “Stay At Home Mom” and soon became “YMCA Do It All Mom”.
I began teaching classes, and became certified in all kinds of group exercise curriculums. I became a personal trainer, and worked on the wellness floor, as well as the fitness/group ex room. At one point I was working at more than 6 different Kansas City YMCA locations. I loved what I was doing, and a lot of this was taking place during my divorce, which held me together during such a tumultuous time of my life. I was trying to take care of me. I was working very hard at this whole ‘belonging to me’ thing. After 3 years of being all over the city, I settled in at my favorite place of them all. The Cleaver Family YMCA. Fast forward to December 2018…
Bye-bye Cleaver Y.
After being at the Cleaver YMCA for more than 10 years, I knew it was time to leave. If I’m being honest, it was probably time to cut that cord a few years earlier, but I LOVED my people!! I was staying because of them. I was staying because it was easy, and comfortable. I was sad to think about leaving these relationships. I didn’t want to disappoint these dedicated members and dear friends, and loyal staff who had all become my family. I couldn’t do it! I could feel this strong pull to do more in my life, yet the thought of leaving this comfortable, fun, connected, safe, familial environment felt way too hard. But that damn mantra!! “I Belong to Me!” It kept showing up in my life. From the books I was reading, to my dearest friends, and husband encouraging me to take care of myself, and into my life-coaching sessions-the theme was strong. And then of course, let’s not forget Instagram!! I battled so much with this decision. I mean, how can I be in a career that I feel such a calling to–that is ALL about service and helping others, and then actually QUIT on people?! It felt so contradictory, and unfair to everyone else. Yet, once I stopped fighting it, and let my mantra take over, the answer became clear, and sweet, and simple. “If you stay, Amy, you are giving up on you. Not on them.”
I don’t feel like belonging to me is giving me permission to dismiss other’s feelings or needs. Nor, will I ever be okay with using it as an excuse to take the high road, or not be open to other people’s desires, and wishes. I will always strive to keep other’s best interests at heart while serving. BUT, in doing so, I will pause. I will ask myself, “is this decision serving you, Amy? are your needs being met? are you loving yourself right now?” When answering these questions, I’m not always going to follow the path I’m wanting to trek. It’s hard to change this hardwiring in my brain. I still feel this deep desire to make sure that everyone likes me, and that they think I’m perfect. I legit know that’s not reality, but it’s a life-long pattern I’m working to redirect. So, I’ll just keep practicing! I will keep finding ways to create balance in knowing when to say yes, and when to say no. If I make a choice that isn’t the direction I wanted to turn, I’ll just turn back around and try again.
I’ve done a lot of hard things in my life. BUT this. This notion of belonging to myself is the hardest piece of self-work I’ve ever done. Give me 20 burpees, and a 2-mile run (and that’s saying something because I HATE running) any day over journaling, meditating, reflecting, praying, and doing all of this hard AF self-care work. I say this not because I don’t want to do the emotional and spiritual work, or because I don’t believe in it. But because it’s REALLY HARD WORK!!!!
If I want to stay on this path of serving and helping others, I have to keep saying YES to myself. When I say YES to me I’m a better person. I’m a happier wife; a more loving friend; a present and patient mom; an open-minded yoga teacher; a healthier personal trainer; and a smarter business owner. I find that I can breathe easier, fuller, and slower. Ironically, there’s more space inside of me, which in turn, allows me to give more of myself.
Final words?? I belong to me. But guess what. I’m willing to share.