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Part I: How to Win at Jumping Rope

So you think you know awkward, my friend? You should have seen the first time I jumped rope with Janelle.

Janelle, my trainer, was accustomed to my ability to make the simplest movement indicate that my arms and legs were operated by two separate brains, and/or that I somehow acquired superfancy joints that moved my appendages in the most unnatural way possible. But the first time she asked me to jump rope, I’m not sure either of us knew what to do with the outcome.

To say it was awkward would be the most excessive of euphemisms.

I flailed, added extra jumps, looked like a kindergartener trying jump rope for the first time on the playground and acquiring the nickname “Gumby Jumper” for the remainder of her formal schooling.)

Yep, it was bad. And it was in public. And it was in my workplace at the time (the gym), where I generally tried to appear, y’know, competent and professional.

But Janelle pushed me, demanding that I keep trying (as was her job). And so, Gumby Jumper gave it about 10,000 more tries until moderate mastery was achieved.

And here is the thing: jumping rope taught me that it is possible to move out of awkward through sheer will. I am now a proficient jump roper, and sometimes when I’m in the gym and I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror, Gumby Jumper whispers to me, “We are fooling everyone! They think you are actually good at this!”

Part II: How to Find Your Extra 20%

Could Janelle have given me another form of cardio that did not make me look like I was having some sort of exercise seizure?

Absolutely.

But here is the thing about trainers (particularly good ones): they know that exercise is a mental practice as much, if not more, than a physical one.

I have learned an enormous amount about myself through exercise. I learned that I will run three times as fast when Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse” is playing (no judgment), or push myself three times harder if I am in a silent, secret competition with the person next to me at the gym.

I have learned that almost everything about exercise is mental. You are physically capable of about 20% more effort after your brain tells you that you have reached your limit. That’s why personal trainers, a solid workout playlist, motivating classes, and workout incentives by way of new gear (Lululemon is DANGEROUSLY close to my apartment, so I know this all too well) can be ways to get your brain on board and up the ante on your workouts.

In my time training with Janelle, I completely changed the way my brain defined my limits. The mental transformation turned out to greatly outweigh whatever physical gains I made.

So I started thinking. If your brain is capable of 20% more than you think, and that Katy Perry has uncanny ability to get me through those last few reps, how does this realization translate to other areas of my life?

I have always been drawn to strong female protagonists in storylines. Women who achieve success, victory or happiness not because they are beautiful or sexy, and not because of who their husbands are.

I’m talking about women who are portrayed as strong, powerful, competent forces to be reckoned with because of who they are.

In a potentially misguided attempt to make a salient point by way of pop culture, some immediate examples that come to mind are Lara Croft from Tomb Raider, Alicia Florrick in The Good Wife, and of course, Olivia Pope in Scandal, who will definitely be my BFF in my next life.

Now, I am in no way saying that Olivia Pope should be the face of the feminist cause, but characters like her – complicated, strong, influential – are few and far between.

Which is why they are my favorite.

On a related note, I recently accepted a new job, which has proven to be one of the most exciting and challenging decisions of my professional career. I am charged with carving out a new arm of business development for my company, and there is very little precedent telling me how to approach the task. I have an amazing company, and an amazingly supportive team of colleagues, but most of my days are spent driving this vision forward somewhat independently.

It would be easy to let Gumby Jumper hop into my brain and tell me the reasons why I will fail. Self-doubt is a tricky adversary, especially when you are in uncharted territory, professional or otherwise.

But I decided that I would only allow my self-talk to include things that Olivia Pope would say.

I put on my business dresses and heels like armor and I march into boardrooms, undeterred and not intimidated, because I am talented, smart, and competent (and I can handle shit). As I do this, I am pushing my brain professionally an extra 20%, rather than listen to Gumby Jumper tell me, “I don’t have an MBA” or “I am younger than my colleagues” or – the cardinal sin – “They won’t take me seriously because I am petite and blonde.”

And I know how to find my 20%: I listen to Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse” on my way to meetings, and I handle myself the way I would imagine these kickass female characters would.

Are my words, actions, intelligence, professional competence and successes my own?

Absolutely. But Olivia and Katy are with me, and I’m sorry I’m not sorry about that.

Part III: How to Get Over Failure

This isn’t about gender; this is about finding ways to motivate your brain to break through barriers. We all have things that keep our brains in the 80 and stand in the way of the 20. And this isn’t about playing a character; this is about allowing yourself to be the person that you may think is out of your reach, especially if you have experienced failure before.

As children, we get really used to being bad at things and then getting better at them. You suck at everything as a kid, and then you learn the skill. It’s expected and it’s normal.

As adults, we forget how to do that. To allow yourself to initially suck at something, but persevere until you have obtained mastery, and push into a new skill set. It’s scarier as adults because we are supposed to have our shit together, but I think we would all agree that it’s mostly an act.

Exhibit A: as most of my writing will point out, I am an exceptionally awkward person blessed with a magnetic force that attracts the most unheard of embarrassing nonsense to my life.

I get hives when I’m flustered.

I often get what I call “awkward sweats.”

I typically fall down, in public, at least once a month . . . mostly in business attire.

I threw up at a movie theatre in front of my new boyfriend on a double date.

These are things that could define who I am and how I present myself to the world.

But remember, I can jump rope now. I actually look like kind of badass jump roping. No one would ever know what my first attempt at jump roping looked like (although I’m sure Janelle would love to recount the details if prompted).

Here’s the thing: you are in charge of what defines you, and how you present yourself. You are in charge of your first impression, and you are in charge of pushing your brain outside of these boundaries into the 20%.

Don’t limit how you approach the task of finding your 20%, because it isn’t easy. Find the things that click for you, and don’t shut them out because they are silly. You don’t have to tell anyone that Christina Aguilera and Tina Fey help you prepare for board meetings just because I just did. (They do!)

Look for situations in your past that can be your jump rope example, and remind you that initial failure (in my case, abysmal failure) does not have be definitive or permanent.

In my life, I keep pushing and redefining. Between me, Katy and Olivia…

“It’s handled.”

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BONUS: Here, for the record, is the Official Gumby Jumper Playlist, crucial in any high-pressure situation where doubt might try to hold me back. Feel free to adapt it for your own use!

1. “Dark Horse,” Katy Perry (obvi)
2. “Fancy,” Iggy Azalea
3. “Love Runs Out,” One Republic
4. “Church,” T-Pain
5. “Somethin’ Bad,” Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood
6. “All About That Bass,” Meghan Trainor
7. “Shake It Off,” Taylor Swift
8. “Problem,” Ariana Grande
9. “Man in the Mirror,” Michael Jackson
10. “Lose Yourself,” Eminem

Tara Sampson started out, as most do, with the intention using her Master’s degree in her career. She was initially successful in this effort working as a Child Life Specialist at the MUSC Children’s Hospital in Charleston, SC. After a few years, she left the gorgeous coastal town to return to Gainesville, FL where she serendipitously fell in love with the fitness industry while working in management with Gainesville Health & Fitness, and left the tangible application of her Master’s degree in the past. After four years in Gainesville, it was time to switch it up. Tara rented out her home, sold her furniture and moved a carload of her belongings to Washington, DC for a fresh start. This start began in the basement of her cousin’s home with his cat named Stinky, but quickly turned into her own apartment and a position as General Manager for VIDA Fitness. Through her time in the health care and fitness industries, Tara developed a passion for pushing boundaries in health and redefining proactive and preventative health care. Most recently Tara was offered a chance to join One Medical Group, an amazing start-up literally transforming the delivery of health care. Tara is now the Regional VP: Enterprise for One Medical in DC, and uses her diverse background in health care spectrum to integrate the One Medical vision into the DC community. Oh yeah…she also has this blog highlighting her generalized awkwardness specifically in relation to dating: www.redefinesingle.blogspot.com. Her sister has endearingly renamed the blog, “Tara Will Be Single Forever Due To Oversharing On The Internet.” read more about