My Biggest Lesson of 2013: Possibility

Each year (well, since last year), I sift through my last year and look for the Big Lessons. These are things life taught me, whether I wanted to learn it or not. This year, my lesson is simple. So simple it's bordering on cheesy:

More is Possible. 

This year has been one of transformation…and while that's true every year, this year I transformed in ways I truly never imagined.  And that's just the point: You can't imagine what you're capable of. There's always more possibility, more opportunity, more to learn.
My own imagination of what's possible in any given situation is wildly out of touch with what's actually possible.

In order to convey the lesson of POSSIBILITY, I have to tell you a story. This is a story I haven't shared yet, because it's potentially triggery and full of sad parts and moments days of laying in bed crying and there's no happy ending. (There's no sad ending either. There's no ending, because it's not just a story, it's my life.)

This is the story of possibility, and how it taught me who I am.  

It begins in January, 2013,  at the doctor's office. I've made an appointment, after over 5 years of trying to conceive. The visit was disastrously brutal. I had a panic attack, a big sobbing-can't-breathe panic attack, and the doctor couldn't even begin an examination. So instead we talked.

What the doctor said was equally brutal: You need to lose weight, 20% of your body weight, in order to improve your chances of conceiving. She tested my thyroid, but other than that, my best bet to fix whatever else might be wrong was to lose weight.

This was exactly what I was afraid of.
I had no idea how to do it.
It seemed totally outside of the realm of possibility.

(Let's a stop a moment for perspective – until this appointment, it had never occured to me to worry about losing weight. I thought (and still think) I'm adorable + functional for what I wanted out of life: my husband thinks I'm sexy, my clients are delighted by my big, beautiful brain, and I  have cute clothes I feel fun in. While I had the occasional “I'm a giant” feeling around particularly tiny friends + clients, I focused my energy on body acceptance and feeling great in my skin.)

But suddenly, losing weight was  an alternative to more invasive doctor visits and just like that, I found a compelling reason to do it.
This seemingly impossible, unattractive thing (losing weight) was tied to something I was willing to work for (a kid!). I was now highly motivated to figure it out.
Whether it's impossible or not, I had to at least try.


My biggest lesson of 2013

So I did what I always do. I made a map. I read lots of books. I researched online.
And then I created a plan for exploration, using the system I teach. Here's how:

Identify your intention and your definition of success.
This has to be intimately related to your Big Why. Why the heck are you doing this? For me, it's about avoiding the doctor and starting a family. Boiled down even more, it's about feeling strong + capable + independent, while bringing more love + community into my life. Knowing that, I could only shape a plan that included these elements (in other words, a plan that made me feel deprived, ugly, or weak wouldn't work.)
Pay attention + accept the truth. 
You have to know where you are now, to figure out how to travel to the next place.
I started tracking my calories + my activity, not to change anything, but just to gather information of what was really happening. What I learned was surprising: it's not at all that I consumed too many calories, but rather that I didn't eat enough during the week (I often have coffee for breakfast and forget about lunch) and then was starved and ate all the things during the weekend. Without paying attention to what was really happening, I never would have recognized the changes that would truly work. This book explains why “eating less” is not the answer.

Make a plan for experimentation.
Don't just try a bunch of stuff and hope it works. Develop a plan (based on what you've learned from experts and your own experience) to put into practice what you've learned.
I found a bunch of things to try (that met my requirement for making me feel strong + capable), established a system for putting the new habits into place (just one at a time!) and tracking their effectiveness. Tracking + reassessing (using this process) is the best and only way to know what is really working.

The experiments I tried (and liked enough to continue):
– Running. I started with Couch to 5k app, but found it much easier to stick with Up + Running's 5k class.
-Bodyweight Strength Training. I really love the You Are Your Own Gym book + app. (I use the 10 week plans inside the app + never have to wonder what to do, which is really important to my sticking with anything).
– Eating breakfast and/or lunch. My not-eating-enough habit had slowed my metabolism (I was always cold, sleepy, and never had an appetite – all signs of low metabolism.)
– Giving up added sugar. I gave it up for a whole month, and while it made no difference in my weight loss, I finally stopped craving sugar at every turn. Just like with the workouts or with being vegan, I have a much easier time when I know exactly what to do and can't argue with myself.

Measure the right things.
Measuring is the key to knowing what's actually working. But your measurements have to line up with your values.
My plan was not based on results (amount of weight lost) but on experimentation – since I didn't know what would work, I couldn't measure success by results, only by information gathered and lessons learned. I considered my day/week/plan a success if I was trying new things and paying attention. (In other words, my measurement was simply: consistent daily action on my plan of experimentation.)

It worked (kinda).

I ran a 5k in May.
I'm training for a half marathon.
I'm down three dress sizes and have lost 20 lbs (half of the doctor's suggestion).
I'm significantly stronger physically: I can carry groceries, hoist my suitcase into the overhead compartment and walk all over Boston – all of which I couldn't do before.

But more than that, I learned that I was all wrong about what was possible.

About 2 months into this, I had a big epiphany: I didn't think I was the kind of person who did this. Who was fit, or active, or…physically capable of hard things. All my life, I had assumed that it was a different kind of person who could run, get stronger, take care of her body.
I believed (without knowing that I believed it) that in order to be active, I'd have to be a different kind of person. I didn't really trust that I could be ME and be this new thing.

And that's where possibility sneaks in. 

It creeps up on you:
Maybe I can do this. 
I am doing this! 
Holy cow, I did it! 

And that's why this is not a story about weight loss, but about possibility. Once I realized that I was (unknowingly) limiting what was possible, I started looking around at other areas. What did I  believe was possible for my business? For my teaching? For my family? For my day?

Rethinking what's (im)possible for me, Tara, to do if I'm still completely myself, has opened me up to a pile of new opportunities. I started teaching in association with a non-profit (and am working with a second one to plan business education for artists). I'm planning a full weekend retreat in New England . I'm teaching at the industry event for knitters/crocheters (the biggest percentage of my clients). I welcomed more people than ever before into the Starship (and I'm about to open it again). I created something for people I hadn't been serving.

Possibility wants to sneak in on you, too. 

But you've got to open the door. You have to suspend your disbelief about what you're capable of, about what's impossible in your world. You do this through exploring: exploring all the places doubt is hiding, exploring all your assumptions about your life, exploring all those things that both intrigue you and scare you a bit.I'm sure there are other things that I've assumed not me, and I intend to discover them and upend them this year.  I never in a zillion years thought I'd ever blog about health or weight loss, or even share this story with anyone. But I need to share it, in order to recognize the truth:

Anything can be a window into growth, anything can be a symbol of possibility.*

For me, this window was a health journey. For you, it might be starting to follow your dream, building a sustainable business, exploring a new artistic endeavor.

You can start letting the possibility sneak in by looking at what you've already done that you thought was impossible.

What did you do in 2013 that you believed in impossible?

PS. I'm feeling quite hesitant about sharing this…but then I re-read last year's lesson about Connection


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10 Comments on My biggest lesson 2013

  1. Abigail Patner Glassenberg
    December 12, 2013 at 3:12 pm (10 years ago)

    I love this post, Tara. I struggle with weight and body issues and have since I was 13. It's an ongoing back and forth. I love my body and accept it, but then I also need to work to make it healthier every day. I admire your honesty here and I hope your dreams come true! P.S. I met you in person this year and I can certify that you are indeed adorable.

  2. Tara Swiger
    December 12, 2013 at 3:58 pm (10 years ago)

    Thanks so much, Abby!
    It's tricky to talk about this publicly, because I think most women deal with some body-related shame, and I wanted to be sure not to trigger anything for anyone, or to add to the chorus of voices that talk about weight loss like it's SO easy (or even, ideal).

  3. Kristy Daum
    December 12, 2013 at 4:18 pm (10 years ago)

    Hmmm…sounds like 2013 was the year of awakenings for many of us, myself included. You are definitely not alone and while my motivation for being healthier came about quite unexpectedly (after a girl's luncheon in June), I turned the tides and am at my healthiest since high school. Yay You!!!

    That was the spark that started a chain-reaction of other awakenings including finally accepting that I need to stop holding tight to societies' To-Do List (College, Marriage, Kids) and accept that my experiences far outweigh what people assume that a 30-something should be doing with her life.

    Great post and I wish you all the best on your continued journey.

  4. Tara Swiger
    December 12, 2013 at 5:36 pm (10 years ago)

    A huge YES to all of this Kristy!
    And congrats on being your healthiest! It feels great, doesn't it?
    I had that same "ditch the To Do List" epiphany right before my 30th birthday. I decided instead of worrying about having what I "should" have, I'd focus on what I WANTED to have, which was a published book.
    (The other side of this is to focus on things I actually have control over, like writing, creating, producing, instead of the huge list of things I have no control over.)

  5. Ana
    December 12, 2013 at 9:58 pm (10 years ago)

    This is such a beautiful, amazing, vulnerable post! XOXO You learned some amazing things this year, go you!

  6. Stacey Marie Trock Hunter
    December 13, 2013 at 5:03 pm (10 years ago)

    Thank you so much for sharing this story, Tara! It was really beautiful… and even though I only know you in the virtual world, you are a beautiful person. I'm jealous of Abby meeting you! 🙂
    I think with life, if everything you do is totally expected, then you're living a really boring and uninspired life. Getting hit with the unexpected is a sign that you're growing, changing and pushing yourself 🙂