Some Call It a Mid-Life Crisis; I Call It an Awakening.
The story behind get uncomfortable
In the spring of 2008, I sat in my living room with my husband, watching a women’s only triathlon on television called the IronGirl. As I watched and listened to the stories of the women who were competing, I filled with pride for them. Each one had a story to tell—some had never ran a mile in their lives before deciding to do the event. Others had overcome huge obstacles (like beating cancer) to be there that day; for them the day was a celebration. They were celebrating being alive. I was in awe of the beautiful array of women. It was a rainbow of every age, shape, athletic ability, and ethnic background. Each one had a glow about them and a passion for the event that was infectious. I wanted to know the same sense of accomplishment that came with crossing that finish line.
As the broadcast continued, my excitement mounted, I looked over to my husband and half-jokingly proclaimed, “I want to do that!” Pause. “You know what?” I beamed, “I’m going to do that—for my fortieth birthday!” I immediately went over to my laptop and started searching for the race information.
To my horror the race was listed as Olympic distance only, which means I would have to swim just shy of a mile. A mile! I couldn’t even run a mile without being out of breath. And the swim was in a lake, no less. My mind started running wild, “What if I get into trouble? No pool walls to grab on to!” Panic and dread pulsed through me. My enthusiasm quickly deflated as the realization sank in: there was no way I could ever swim a mile.
I desperately tried to make it work in my head. After all, I have always been pretty active—although chronically plagued by injuries, not to mention a bad back from a car accident. I knew if I put my mind to it, I could easily breeze through the bike. I had raced mountain bikes up to the time of my car accident. I could keep my IT Band Syndrome at bay, and if it kicked in, I could always walk the run. But there was one glaring issue: I couldn’t swim! If you don’t swim, you drown! If that wasn’t bad enough, I panic just putting my face in dirty water. I can’t even snorkel in pristine water without hyperventilating. The thought of putting my big toe in dirty lake water sent chills up my neck and sent my heart racing.
I told my husband about my findings on the computer. His response, “Amy, you can’t swim.” I hated that he picked out my one flaw. I don’t like being told what I can’t do. But I knew he was right. “Maybe I should just forget about it,” I thought. Days went by, but I kept feeling this tugging, a silent whisper in my head, “You can do it. You know you want to do it.” That’s when all the negative voices came bursting in, all at once. “Yeah, but can you overcome your fear of the water and learn to swim?” “Would you actually be able to swim that far?” “Can you endure the pain and sacrifice that comes with training for something like this?” “Where are you going to find the time?” “What if you give up and make a fool of yourself?” These questions haunted me on a daily basis. There was a full-out war going on in my head. My inner cheerleader voice piped up, “If you don’t take a chance and try, you’ll never know if you could.” If I didn’t try, I would never know the same sense of accomplishment those women had felt. But back to reality, I can’t swim! And that settled the argument. I would never know the exhilaration of crossing the finish line and being called an IronGirl.
Then the call came. I never thought a single phone call had the power to completely change the course of my life. My mom was on the other end; she didn’t quite seem herself. She had a very somber tone. We did the normal “how are the kids doing?” chat, then she paused before dropping the bomb: one of my family members, an eighteen-year-old single mother, had just been diagnosed with breast cancer. The news was like taking a right hook from Mike Tyson. I barely had time to shake off the blow before the knockout punch came. She went on to say that another family member had been taken to the Chiropractor with back pain and after being x-rayed they immediately sent her to the hospital. Her x-rays showed her body was completely eaten up with cancer. She was only given weeks to live. She was to spend her last days confined to a hospital bed.
How do you digest that kind of news? I couldn’t fathom the shock and horror she must have been in. One minute she was going for a check-up because her back was hurting; the next she finds out she’s dying. In a snap of your fingers—BAM—it’s that quick. My mind was spinning, “Who’s next?” We had already lost so many other family members to cancer, now two more. It’s like we are ducks in a carnival shooting game being popped off one at a time.
I hung up the phone completely devastated. Up to that point, like many people, I had taken my own health for granted. Now I was left with an awkward sense of my own mortality—and a new gratitude for my health. I realized how fragile life is and how it should never be taken for granted.
Later that night I went to take a hot shower to be alone with my thoughts. I broke down crying. I completely lost it! My mind was racing. How could it be? How could an 18-year-old have breast cancer? How do you go to the chiropractor with back pain and find out you’re dying? Life seemed so unfair.
As the water hit my face, so did reality. The voices in my head came screaming in fast and furious, “I’m so selfish! I’ve been complaining for the last few days that I can’t do something because I was afraid to try. By the grace of God, I’m healthy. I absolutely have nothing to complain about or anything to hold me back. There’s no reason in the world why I can’t learn to swim. What did I really have to fear?”
The voices were right. I don’t know what real fear and life-threatening pain feels like. Nothing I would face in training and even in learning how to swim would be anything close to the fight my family members were facing. I realized I was allowing my fear of being uncomfortable and my fear of failure to keep me from living my life to its fullest. My fear and self-doubt were my prison.
And that was my a-ha! moment. In an instant all the negative voices left me. I was left with a solo voice that wasn’t my own. Many people talk about hearing spiritual voices in their lives. They have many names for those voices—I knew mine as God. The voice spoke two powerful words to me, “Get Uncomfortable.” It was like a splash of cold water on my face that woke me from a sound sleep. Those words came charged with a feeling of faith I had never known before. At that time I had no idea the phrase “Get Uncomfortable” would be something that I would not only learn to embrace, but it would be a passion that I would pass on to others. It was given to me to shape the rest of my life. I would devour it, and it would go on to define every facet of my life.
Something overcame me in that shower. I felt a renewed hope, a sense of control, and newfound purpose. My heart was racing. It was like the heavens opened up and spoke new life into me. I was going to learn how to swim! I would do it for my family. I would do it for everyone who was unable to do it for themselves. I would get uncomfortable!
I had never felt so passionately about anything in my life. Even though I was still an infant in my faith, I said a quick thank you to God for the words spoken into my heart, and I jumped out of the shower. I went downstairs and announced to my family that I was going to do an Olympic-distance triathlon in eight months.
During my eight-month journey to the IronGirl I would be moved to tears thinking about swimming and completing my task. I could barely tell anyone what I was doing without crying. No one ever really understood what a huge deal and an enormous act of faith learning to swim and swimming in open water was for me. I was frightened to my core, but my family was worth the discomfort of facing down my demons. It was the least I could do to honor them.
I wrote in my journal:
My journey is a story of “ONE.” It’s “ONE” about getting uncomfortable, to put my fears aside and do something I once thought was impossible. It’s “ONE” to help save the life of someone I don’t know, to save the life of a family member. My journey is “ONE” to make sure my children live long, cancer-free lives. I know that no matter how uncomfortable I may become along my journey, it will be worth every second! Lance Armstrong once said after his cancer recovery that he loved the pain he felt while on the bike; it reminded him that he’s still alive.”
I’m not going to tell you that my personal journey came without trials, doubts and setbacks. You will experience them too, but what will set you apart from rest of the world is that you’ll learn to embrace them and push ahead in spite of them. Getting out of that lake, having accomplished the impossible, shutting up my demons was the most amazing thing I have ever done in my life. All of the funk and junk that I had been carrying around with me for forty years was left in that murky water.
The courage I found in the lake that day now gets me across the finish lines of 5K’s, 1/2 marathons and triathlons in USMC combat boots. It is my hope that you find your own way of expressing yourself and giveback with your physical body. I promise you…. You will forever change. Life will become limitless. The words can’t, and impossible will disappear from your vocabulary. You will come to embrace discomfort, because getting outside of your comfort zone means being inside the living zone. Words that once seemed negative will be life-giving words to you. You will change, physically, mentally, and spiritually. So, I dare you to be “ONE” someONE who will Get Uncomfortable to change themselves and the world around them.