My dearest friend Melissa has no idea, but she’s a major influencer in my fitness journey. When I met her she was almost perpetually in athleisure and training for some big race. I thought she was one of those freaks of nature where fitness just came easy to them. Little did I know, up until recently, she had never really considered herself a runner. She told me that it was a story she had told herself, and she decided to change it and started running. Now she’s run a kajillion half marathons, and finished the New York Marathon for the first time last fall. She’s a badass. She inspired me with her story changing, and I started working my way up to a 5K because of her.
I love working out. I love lifting weights, I love yoga, I love cardio dance parties, the lot. I love basically any mode of fitness except barre (which can go die a slow and awful death in my opinion). But, until very recently, I did not love running. I had hay fever as a child, and running outside made me wheezy. I decided to forget that whole running thing and took dance classes instead. But thanks to Melissa, I was able to run a very slow, very fraught 5K. Then I found out she was doing a Spartan Race. For those who don’t know what a Spartan Race is, it’s like a 5K for super fit people who think just plain running on a flat surface is boooooring. This race would be 5 kilometers up and down ski trails at Tuxedo Ridge Ski Park. As if that weren’t enough, runners would also encounter 22 obstacles to overcome throughout the race. You wouldn’t know the obstacles until the day of, but they usually involve crawling under barbed wire, wading through mud, climbing ropes, and carrying some super heavy stuff. Melissa told me she couldn’t even do a pushup, but she was determined to train for this race. As someone who can totally do pushups, but would be hard pressed to run even one mile on an incline, I signed up with her.
Fitness journeys are the most material way to learn life’s greatest lessons. The metaphors are easily transferred to other ares of our life. This race was no different. Here are just a few lessons I learned in this context. I can’t wait to apply them to other areas of my life.
Incremental, consistent effort actually works
My usual experience with a step-by-step approach is a few weeks of dedication seeing very few results, and as soon as I see the tiniest improvement, I take a step back in awe of may handiwork, and take a 'well deserved' break. This break usually extends far beyond what is needed, and I eventually fall out of habit. Because consistent effort over a long period of time can be exhausting! I’m only half kidding. Even if the daily effort is merely fifteen minutes of work, we can reach exhaustion just from fighting the resistance to get our body and/or brain to do something new. But with Spartan I was armed with a deadline. I didn’t want to embarrass myself or hurt myself, so I trained at least three times a week. I followed the suggested training programs on their website, and at first I thought they were way too easy. I’m usually used to working myself to death and then having to take a break because of a small injury (sensing a pattern, friends?). My wonderfully astute fiancé reminded me that a slow training program would prevent injury and I stuck with it. Dang, did I get super strong! I’m still surprised with how much improvement started with such a seemingly easy workout. Of course the workouts got challenging eventually, but just by showing up day by day I was seeing and feeling a difference.
You usually need to stretch yourself to reach the next level
I’ve always been strong enough to do about a 30 second plank. It wasn’t until six weeks into training that I really had to stretch far beyond that. I saw the workout sheet and the ’60 second plank’ seared into my brain. One whole minute? I can barely do 30 seconds! The first few planks were not pretty. I had to take lots of breaks, and I was staring at my timer willing to hold on. I usually hold a plank and run a sonnet through my head—but sonnets do not last one minute long. After about a week of sad minute long planks, I’ll be damned if I couldn’t hold a 60 second plank with solid strength and what one might even call ‘ease.’ I told my body where we were headed, and for two weeks my body could barely get by, and then something clicked. The strength was gained, and I could hold that plank like a boss. Like, have tea on my back while I sit here and plank, kind of boss. It’s such a great example of creating a stretch goal and letting your brain, body, or whatever else rise to the occasion. Goals are meant to be missed. If you reach all your goals, you are not reaching far enough.
If you want to walk fast, go alone. If you want to walk far, go together
The day of the race I was running with Melissa and her 50 year old boss, Rob. We all had various levels of strength and/or endurance, and both of them were nursing injuries. We. were. terrified. As we jumped over the ‘starter wall’ to get to the starting line (yup, there’s an obstacle before the race even starts) my eyes started tearing up. I was totally overwhelmed. Not just from the mountain looming in front of me, but also the warning you’re given with your bib number that states you may die or be seriously injured. Gulp. We had agreed to do this race as a team. The main goal was to finish, not to win. I’ll admit there were times in the race when I totally wanted to run up ahead. I felt great! We were walking most of the steep inclines, and part of me wanted to bound up them with abandon. But there were also times on the course where I couldn’t have gone on without them. Melissa gave me a boost over a seven foot wall, we helped each other over terrifyingly tall structures. We cheered each other through burpees. Rob attempted to catch me when I completely bit it off of the monkey bars. It was so much better to experience this race with them than to have run along alone. I may have had a better finish time, but the value of the experience would have been severely diminished.
Surround yourself with positive people who have similar goals
We had this awesome guy in our group that played music on a bluetooth speaker through a lot of the race. We danced and sang with him and encouraged his teammates while they encouraged us. It was so fun. There is something so uplifting about a community that has collectively worked towards this one event. Whether it’s a warmup for an even bigger race, or their first race like me, we all worked and trained for this day. If Rob and Melissa weren’t in sight, someone else in the group was cheering me on. The volunteers were supportive. A fellow group of runners gave me a bit of a cookie from my favorite shop in Astoria along the way. Little kids cheered their parents along from the sidelines. It was so wonderfully positive, and so so fun. As much as you can, surround yourself with people who are reaching just as far and are working just as hard as you are.
Beware of the finish line
I finished the race, training is done, someone hand me a beer and chips. I’m kidding! But this is an important phenomenon to be aware of. Creating habits with a finish line in mind create urgency and a big reason to continue your efforts. However, once that goal is reached, it’s easy to lay back and relax for way too long, undoing all of your hard work. Before you’re reaching any finish line, I encourage you to have an ‘after’ plan. Do you have a new goal? A new challenge? Each new habit or new experience is hopefully a stepping stone to the next! I will definitely do a race again. I wasn’t able to do every challenge, and it would feel so good to be able to blow through all the obstacles int he course. So what’s next for me? I’m back to training! I have a goal to do one unassisted pull-up. That means almost doubling the strength I have now. I also want to get better at running/walking at an incline. Those two efforts combined will continue my training. And maybe I’ll run just a normal 5K and revel in how EASY it is!
How has your fitness journey surprised you? How have you translated those lessons into other areas of your life?
The other day I got a message from a friend asking for some more insight into one of my posts. I have been pretty open about my consumer debt, and they wanted some advice and/or tips to getting their own head above water. I was incredibly flattered to be approached at all, and decided I’d share more openly about my debt experience. Because debt is a lot like assholes, everybody has one. Or some. Or… anyway, let’s move on... Debt. I have it! I have student loan debt, and I have credit card debt. I think it’s high time we shout our debt and share with others. Too many people are suffering in silence without realizing they’re not alone. One in four Americans carry consumer debt with folks under the age of 35 carrying an average of $67,000. It can seem insurmountable, but as someone who’s looked at a number just as daunting, I can share how I’ve dealt with my debt-free plan.
First of all, forgive yourself
Debt can happen for various reasons. Sometimes, you’re starting a new business and investing more than you’re currently recouping. Sometimes you’re on lean financial times. Sometimes shopping is your anxiety relief. Whatever the reason, it’s all good. The key is, once you realize you’re in a hole, stop digging. Cursing yourself and the hole will not get you out of there any sooner. When my payments were a huge chunk of my income, I remember feeling like I was punishing myself. My self talk would be ‘Of course you can’t get that coffee, stupid, you’re in a ton of debt. You must suffer!’ So now, I’m tired, and mad at myself for being in debt. Nice, huh? I personally don’t believe in punishing your past financial indiscretions with years of ramen and socks with holes in them. There is absolutely a way to get out of debt without living like a monk for years and years. Numbers are just numbers, and money is a social construct anyway, so… forgive yourself, dangit!
Look at the Numbers
June 22, 2017. I will forever remember that as the day I was looking at four nearly maxed out cards, and a rejection for a personal loan to cover them. I had no buffer, no way out. I was completely humiliated. First I cried, then I looked at every credit card statement, wrote down every balance, and every interest rate. It was a big number, but now I had a better idea of what was going on. Some of us take the head in the sand approach to our debt, and to that I say… ‘Quit it!’ We are far too badass and brave to be scared by a bunch of numbers on the screen. Once you know what you’re dealing with, you can better manage it. Once you have a plan as to how it pay off, you can work your budget around that. Decide how much of your income you’re willing to devote to debt repayment. As I said, I don’t think it’s great to force yourself to eat ramen to get out of debt faster. Find a time towards debt-free that is balanced with a monthly payment that you’re okay with, and commit to it. Understand that debt will not go away in a short amount of time. It’s okay. As long as you’re chipping away at the old block, you are making progress.
This year I had to make some financial decisions in regards to this. I wanted to be debt free by the end of the year. But I’m also saving for a wedding in January. Doing both of these things this year would mean I had very little left for myself in the year ahead. I made the decision to delay my debt repayment so that I could save for my wedding and still enjoy my year as an engaged lady. Deciding how aggressive you want to be with your debt plan is personal. Take your quality of life into account as you map your plan.
If there is any app I could force everyone to use it would be YNAB (You Need a Budget). Created by the debt master, Dave Ramsey, it is by far the most effective budgeter. The trick is, with this app you can’t budget for money you don’t have. So, while allocating $200 for groceries, and $1,000 for rent is all well and good, you may not make that much in a month. So with YNAB you can only budget with what you have. The app also has helpful videos like ‘How to Budget When You’re Broke’ which will walk you through making a budget when you literally have to choose between rent, gas, and food. It does cost money, but it’s WORTH IT. My favorite is how it handles debt. If you have credit card debt, you can set a goal for when you want your balance paid, say January 2020. It will tell you how much you need to pay each month to achieve your goal. Any interest or purchases are added on top of that. It’s a great way to ‘set it and forget it.’ Now, I know exactly how much I need to pay, and my debt will be gone by my decided time. The other great thing about YNAB, is that if you go over budget (which we inevitably do) you then have to pull your funds from somewhere else. So you know full well that dress at Anthroplogie is taking money from your travel budget. And if you’re cool with that, then go for it! It is wonderfully empowering. It also tracks the age of your money, so the more days your money stays in your account, the better off you are, the more cushion you have.
Whatever app (or spreadsheet) you wanna use, just track it. What gets measured gets managed. Just by tracking what you spend you can better control how you’re spending it. And again, you will go over budget. Don’t sweat it, just move some money around and keep going.
Earn More Money
Did that make you laugh? I hope so. I read that after googling ‘How to get out of credit card debt.’ I laughed and thought ‘Okay, but if I made more money, I wouldn’t be in this mess, would I?!’ Maybe not. But also, maybe so. The current income from my network marketing business is solely devoted to debt repayment, and savings for my wedding. My primary income covers everything else. That extra bit of cash a month releases a huge chokehold on my budget, and feels damn good. There are so many ways to earn a little side hustle money. Etsy, Fiverr, Lyft, Network Marketing Companies, whatever. If you want to pay off debt faster or feel like less of a slave to it, add another income stream, and make it your debt repayment plan. I can’t recommend this enough. Pay day is my favorite day. I immediately transfer all the money to my credit cards and wedding account. I love watching the numbers go down, and I love knowing my efforts with my online job are taking me one step closer to freedom. Find a side hustle you can fit into your life, and go for it. Or, if you’re in a position to negotiate a raise or add a shift to your schedule, do it. You can spend the whole extra brunch shift reminding yourself it is getting you out of debt. It feels good!
In all of my personal development readings, money is the most loaded issue. People have stories around money. Stories like ‘Rich people are evil’ or ‘People in debt are idiots’ or whatever fun stuff we may have. Take this journey out of debt as a chance to work on your relationship with money. Money is simply energy. If you have a negative energy around money, that will only perpetuate more of the same. It’s why a lot of lotto winners end up losing the money so quickly. Take a deep look at your relationship with money. It’s one of the best things you can do for your life. Two books I’ve loved for my financial journey are ‘The Law of Divine Compensation’ by Marianne Williamson, and ‘You Are a Badass at Making Money’ by Jen Sincero. Dave Ramsey, the YNAB creator also has great resources, but I haven’t read them yet. Figure out how you feel about money and heal that shit.
To prove just some of the fun ways the universe can help you out when you have a good energy surrounding money, here are just a few things that have happened to me in my debt journey. One of my credit card companies sent me an email with an advertisement for a balance transfer that said ‘0% interest for the life of the balance.' For the life of the balance?! Say what?! I called the bank to see if this email was real, and while it was in fact a typo they honored it. Most of my credit card debt today has 0% interest because of this email!!!! Also, I have been absentmindedly putting money into a mutual fund every month for the last 12 years. One day I decided to take a look at how much I had in there, and guess what—I had enough money to knock out my two worst credit card balances. I know not everyone has a windfall like that tucked away, but you’ll be surprised where money will turn up as you take a step towards financial freedom.
Share your Debt Experience
I can still remember my father looking at me when I was young and saying ‘Whatever you do, Katie, don’t get into credit card debt. Never spend more than you have.’ And for the first half of my twenties, I didn’t! I felt so smart and so virtuous and so ‘together.’ And then… Well, I quit my job before my business had replaced my income, and then ignored my rising credit card balances until that awful day where I finally realized the financial hole I was in. Entrepreneurs are bound to incur a little bit of debt while they build their business, but this was beyond a few big purchases here and there. I had lived in a deficit for a year in New York, and ignored it. The only person who knew how bad my debt was was my then boyfriend (now fiancé. Yay!) He had gotten himself into debt in his younger years and worked himself out of it. He was understanding and knew I’d get out of it. For about a year I didn’t tell anyone else how bad it was. I was certainly never going to tell my parents. I had made up in my mind that my lack of debt was the ultimate sign of my success. To tell my parents I had committed the cardinal sin of overspending would be to admit failure. Failure for myself and failure of themselves as parents. A bit dramatic, no? What I didn’t understand about my dad saying those words of wisdom to me, is that he said them with the gravitas of a man who had made that mistake himself, and didn’t want his child to suffer through it as well.
In true Katie Bland fashion, I didn’t tell my parents until I saw a light at the end of the tunnel and had it ‘handled’—almost two years later. They were not in any way disappointed. They were mostly sad that I had kept it to myself and didn’t feel comfortable sharing with them. They have been in debt, too! And not like they could have helped me out of it, but they could have understood and consoled me. Everyone, even the ‘smart’ or ‘rich’ people around you, have probably dealt with debt of some sort. There is zero shame in debt. It’s something you can get out of, and it’s something you can learn from. What a gift debt can be to learn how to budget better and fix your stories about money, right?
If you feel compelled to share your debt stories, I’d love to hear them. As of now, I am about halfway out of my debt hole. I have a totally doable plan, and I see a light at the end of the tunnel. I have a long way to go, but I feel empowered and in control, and that is key. I hope this has helped you navigate your own financial journey. Now go out there and tackle that debt!