“It’s over. I feel like I did so shitty.”
“I feel awful.”
“I don’t even feel like staying for the evening show.”
Yes, those were actual statements that came out of my mouth minutes after pre-judging in the morning at the NPC Red River Classic in Fargo, ND, last November. I awoke feeling pretty good and reasonably “tight”, though strangely a bit puffier than one week prior. Though I didn’t modify much during “peak week”, it’s possible that the small changes (e.g., training schedule, educated nutrition “tweaks”) and traveling were enough to throw things off.
Given this was my first show, and I was managing diet on my own, I knew I was taking a risk that I would not come in as lean and tight as I could have, but I stayed true to what mattered to me--no extreme or unnatural measures, no manipulation of water or sodium, etc. The physique I brought to the stage was a result of following a proper strength training program and good nutrition that aligned with my values. Though not the biggest or leanest among the competitors, I did finish in the Top 5 in all three figure classes that weekend. Not too shabby for my first show!
So, what happened during the morning show to evoke such negative self-talk and a whole host of uncomfortable emotions?
I’m a pretty scheduled person, so when we (athletes) were sent a schedule that indicated that the women’s pre-judging would start around 10:30 am, I used that as my guide to plan the timing of meals, pumping (i.e., resistance band exercises to stimulate muscles), and time to meditate before stepping on stage.
Unfortunately, the events of the morning did not go according to schedule, and I found myself being called down from the locker room nearly an hour before I anticipated walking on the stage. I hadn’t had the chance to meditate, to put drops in my dry eyes (my eyes are not a fan of stage makeup and were irritated by my contacts!), or to eat my pre-stage meal. I also knew that my friend, Dani, who was planning to show up around 10:15 am was going to miss seeing me on stage, and there was nothing I could do.
I didn't pause to notice; I simply reacted with panic as my guide.
I quickly drizzled honey on my rice cakes and carefully rushed down the stairs in my 5-inch heels while inhaling my food. The backstage crew quickly touched up my tan, checked my suit bottoms, and oiled me up. Did I even touch a resistance band to "pump up"? No clue. With #3 displayed on my left front hip, I was the first in line for each of my classes. As I waited for the Women’s Physique class before us to leave the stage, I stood as confidently as possible, ready to go out on that stage and pose just as well I knew I could. I had put in the time and practiced multiple times per week, sometimes multiple times per day. I knew what I needed to do. I was ready to have the moment I had been waiting for, the one where I stood on that stage feeling just as confident and beautiful as I had during the journey I had been on for the last 22 weeks.
With #3 displayed on my left front hip, I was the first in line for each of my classes. As I waited for the Women’s Physique class before us to leave the stage, I stood as confidently as possible, ready to go out on that stage and pose just as well I knew I could. I had put in the time and practiced multiple times per week, sometimes multiple times per day. I knew what I needed to do. I was ready to have the moment I had been waiting for, the one where I stood on that stage feeling just as confident and beautiful as I had during the journey I had been on for the last 22 weeks.
The "moment" didn't happen.
Front and center stage, I began to shake--violently, as my self perceived it. My eyes were dry and itchy, comprising my vision. I felt stiff, frozen...defeated. I shuffled through my quarter turns, unable to find that graceful flow I had nailed so many times before. I tried to tell my body to relax, but it was as if my limbs could not hear me...my arm positions were not as they should be, and I was even caught rolling my eyes (at myself) after realizing my mistake. I really just wanted to get off that stage, but I had to go through what felt like “torture” 3 times!
I had hoped that, by the 3rd time through, I would feel more relaxed, but no such luck. My body was in a state of panic and having a “fight” or “flight” reaction. What happened?
I stayed on that stage, fought HARD through the struggle, and didn’t completely fall apart.
Walking off stage and trying to fight tears, though, I couldn’t recognize the personal “win” accomplished on that stage. All I could think about is how awful I felt about myself and how I felt as though I had let myself down. I remember questioning myself, saying to myself:
“All the work of the last 22 weeks was for that?
I felt way better about myself and what I had accomplished before this morning.
Why did I feel the need to step on stage?”
Back in the locker room, I saw a text from my friend, Lance, who was in the audience: “Awesome job! You look great. Let me know when you come out so I can come see you.” My response: “I feel like I did so shitty.” On my way out to meet Lance in the lobby, a fellow “figure sister”, Leah, who knew this was my first show asked me how I felt. When I responded with, “I feel awful. I don’t even feel like staying for the evening show,” she kindly told me that I did awesome (and likely some other kind words that I can’t recall, unfortunately).
I met Lance in the lobby, just as Dani was arriving, and I slowly began to start to process what had just happened. We snapped a few pictures and gathered my things to go back to the hotel. I called Lisa (my posing/training coach), and I was able to start to put things into perspective. The afternoon was spent trying to “let it be”, taking walks with friends, including my best friend, Shelley, who arrived early afternoon, and taking the time to be alone in order to mentally prepare for the evening show.
In the midst of any struggle, we have a choice between two actions. One action will move us toward what matters to us, and the other will alleviate or reduce some of the pain/fear/discomfort but also move us away from what is important.
Getting back on that stage was necessary.
Despite the still-present nerves as I walked back out on the stage, the evening show felt more relaxed. We did not have to do all of the comparison rounds, just a single model pose before waiting to hear the results. I still felt a little “stiff” while doing my model pose center stage, but it was nowhere close to how I felt in the morning. Then...
"Number 3!" (announced by the head judge)
What?!! That call-out meant I was in the Top 5 of my novice class. Likely with a look of confusion on my face and in disbelief of what I had just heard, I walked across to the opposite side of the stage...and it happened 2 more times! I placed 5th in all three figure classes (novice, open, masters 35+).
Amidst the nervousness, my moment happened. I felt a sense of calm rush over me as I stood center stage. I could feel myself smiling big, standing tall and confidently. THAT was the moment I had been waiting for--to physically “feel” the strength and beauty that I know I have within myself.
For me, this show had nothing to do with competing against the other women who graced the stage that day. This show was much more personal. When I made the decision 24 weeks earlier to “go for it”, I initially looked at the competition as being the equivalent to running the marathon I’ll never run. My long distance running days are over, so I wanted something big and scary to work toward. Getting “glammed up” and stepping on stage was certainly going to push me outside my comfort zone, but I knew I could do the work to get there, so I went for it.
What I didn’t realize was that embarking on that journey would reinforce the authentic self I have been discovering over the last few years. After spending so much of my life living according to the real and/or perceived expectations of others, I’ve begun to break down “walls”, forge new paths, and develop and share my true self in both my personal and professional roles and relationships.
So, what was my true “win” that weekend? I set a "want to" (versus "have to") goal that mattered to me, put in the time and the work necessary to reach my goal, stayed true to my values during the process, and didn’t let fear stop me from finishing what I set out to do. My “stage fright” taught me that I am still human; struggles are simply part of the journey and often pop up unannounced.
We choose our reaction. Struggles and obstacles that "get in the way" of our goals are not something that most of us welcome with open arms. When they do appear, however, these challenges give us the opportunity to notice feelings, emotions, thoughts. We are also able to notice whether our actions are "working" for us and moving us toward what matters to us. All of this is simply a bunch of data!
In the midst of the struggle, notice what is happening, remind yourself what matters, and choose values-aligned actions.
Ultimately, that weekend was full of a lot of awesomeness--the friends who were there to support me, the smiles, the laughter, the “moment” I finally had, the “sisters” with whom I've stayed in touch, and the fact that, despite experiencing the unwanted emotions and chatter from my inner critic, I moved toward what mattered to me.