Don't You Dare Self-Eliminate
How a barbell taught me you don't have to feel like you belong to try something new.
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“People like me don’t do that”
I can almost feel the caffeine running through my veins as I wrap my wrists, chalky hands shaking. Making an attempt at a deep breath, I check to be sure my lifting belt is fastened. “Miriam Hoffman is on deck,” I hear from the other side of the platform backdrop. It’s almost time.
“BAR IS LOADED” the ref yells.
I walk up to the platform, place my thumbs on the bar, wrap my fingers around the front, swing myself under, and square up my toes. As I unrack the bar and step back into place, I feel every ounce of the 225 pounds resting on my upper back. I lock my knees and meet the ref’s intense gaze, waiting for the squat command. He drops his hand, giving me the signal to begin the lift, and I go into autopilot. I don’t know what I’m looking at, I have no idea if I went deep enough for the squat to count, but before I know it, I’m walking off the platform after my first successful lift at a powerlifting meet. Ask me three months prior what I’d be doing that day, and the last thing I would have said was competing as a powerlifter. People like me don’t do that.
Have you ever said that to yourself? People like me don’t do (x, y, or z thing that we actually think is really cool and we want to do). It might sound like “I’m too shy to try public speaking” or “I’m not popular enough to be an officer in my organization” or “I’m not smart enough to be on the scholastic bowl team” or maybe even “I didn’t study that in college so I can’t apply for this job.” These things sound reasonable to us, because we like to categorize ourselves. I’ve noticed that by high school, most of us think we know who we are; the catch is, it’s not in a deeply self-aware sense. It’s usually a stuffy little box we’ve decided is our box, and we don’t think we can (or should) venture outside of it. And the crazy thing is, while others may influence this self-image, we’re usually doing it to ourselves.
It’s not you, it’s me
I’ve had powerlifting friends for several years, and I’ve admired them for their consistency and discipline. I’ve also admired the deeply ingrained attitude of self-improvement in the sport; while competitions name winners, most lifters are more concerned about their own progress since the last meet. This is a sport where new people can compete, as it’s ultimately a personal competition with yourself. But, you know what I told myself? “I’m not strong enough to compete.” “People like me (nerdy, academic, farmer, whatever descriptor of the day I felt like) don’t compete.” “That’s only something that (insert name of friend) does, not my thing.” All the while, deep down inside, I really wanted to do it. In fact, my powerlifting friends were telling me I should. The only person telling me not to do it was me.
Tell your inner voice to shut up
If you want to do something, and you’re the only person telling yourself not to do that thing, it’s time to stop. If you’re willing to put in the work, to learn from others with experience, and to fail a little bit (or a lot) as you pursue that thing, you have to learn to tell your internal “but, people like me don’t do x…” voice to shut up. It’s usually wrong (we usually find that people like us do, in fact, do that thing—we just identify them by the thing that’s different and don't bother to look for other commonalities). It’s also irrelevant. So what if people like you don’t do that thing? Maybe you can be one of the first. My grandmother was in medical school in the 1940s. Very few women were in medical school in the 1940s, but she wanted to be a doctor and so she went to medical school. Yes, some moments were tough, but she didn’t let that stop her from doing the thing she wanted to do. You and I can do the same.
Just do the thing
Back to the powerlifting meet. As I wait for my final deadlift, I can still feel the caffeine in my veins; this time, my breath isn’t shaky. This is fun. I had an incredible support system there with me that day. Earlier, after my successful squat, I had failed my final bench press, but I knew I left it all on the platform so I was content. My first two deadlift attempts were solid, so I moved up weight for my final lift.
“BAR IS LOADED” the ref yells.
I do a little shoulder dance as I walk up to the bar, sliding my toes under. Deliberately, slowly, I wrap my fingers around the bar, bracing my core. Hips down, shoulders back, I hear the crowd cheer, and I rip the bar off the platform. My shoulders lock, the ref calls the “down” command, I set the bar down, and I can feel the tears welling up in my eyes as I bounce off the platform. My final lift was successful, and it was well over the weight I thought I could pull.
Meet day wasn’t a success because I made all nine lift attempts (I didn’t) or because I won (I didn’t) or because it went as planned (it certainly didn’t). It was a success because I did a thing I had convinced myself just a few months before that “people like me” don’t do. It was one of the most genuinely exciting days of my life. The energy in the room as you set up for your lift is incredible, the support that your competitors show you is unmatched, and seeing so many individuals showing up and proving to themselves they have made progress… it was a beautiful testament to how powerful (no pun intended) humans can be. I wouldn’t have felt any of it if I had continued to believe the lie that I couldn’t be a powerlifter.
What have you always wanted to do, but not let yourself because it’s out of your usual realm? Please, for the good of humanity, do it now. You don’t have to win at it. You don’t even have to commit to doing it for the rest of your life. All it takes is simply doing it to prove to yourself that you can do something you’ve never done before, and by doing so, you bring forth more of your potential into the world. We’re not meant to live in our stuffy little boxes. Stop keeping yourself there.
Journal Prompt of the Week
When is the last time you listened to your inner “but, people like me don’t do x…” voice? How will you be sure you won’t let it win next time?