Non-Conventional: Getting Out of Your Own Way

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“Your life should be about finding the intersection of the world’s greatest need and your greatest passion.”

I'll never forget about 15 months ago when someone basically yelled at me about daring to call myself non-conventional...

It was a beautiful, May Monday and I was enjoying my morning coffee when I started reading the email. This person sent me a long, strongly-worded email that basically said:

What makes you think you’re so special? Other people work out too...that doesn’t make you unconventional. And you’re arrogant and conceited for thinking so.

Through tears, I replied in the most polite way I could, while inside I was absolutely crushed. I tried not to take it personally. But how could I not? They claimed that they were trying to be constructive, but nothing about the email felt that way. I felt attacked. I felt betrayed and judged by someone I thought was my friend, yes, but more than that I had never felt so misunderstood in my life. 

What hurt the most for me was not the fact that I had been critiqued. After reading this person's email, I saw exactly how I hadn't made myself clear. When I originally posted about non-conventional being a part of my team and philosophy, I had said:

“As a graduate student, I’m supposed to be in lab 12 hours a day, reading papers when I get home, and when I finally when I get so exhausted that I can’t think anymore I’m supposed to collapse on my coach and netflix marathon with a pizza and some beer. But I don’t want that. Not anymore. I want to be fit and healthy. I want to improve my mind with personal development. I want to pursue things outside of science in my spare time. And maybe that’s ‘frowned upon’ but that’s okay with me! I’ll be the odd man out. That’s why the N in Team N.E.R.D. stands for non-conventional, because I completely recognize that that’s NOT WHO I’m supposed to be!”

Reading that back, I cringe now because I know how it could be interpreted, regardless of what I meant. But what didn't come across is the fact that this--working long hours, collapsing on the couch with pizza and beer, etc.--that was my convention. That was my reality, and that of other students I had talked to. I had had a conversation with another graduate student who basically described "pizza and Netflix"t as being exactly what she did and including it in this statement had been meant as a representation of that conversation. It wasn't what I meant everyone did. And yet that was how it had been interpreted. 

What hurt me the most was that, after knowing me, knowing my character, that those who I counted on as friends could question my integrity and character that much. That on some level they thought that is what I actually meant. That is what hurt me the most. That this person and the people he referred to could know so little of me that they could think that's what I meant.

After receiving this email, I emailed my coach and one my close friends to just try to understand what I did wrong and how I could have been so misunderstood by this person. Why this person was so intent on painting me as someone who was judging others. Why my message had been misunderstood so profoundly by someone who I counted as a friend, who I thought would at least give me the benefit of the doubt, even if I mis-spoke, but didn't. I was heartbroken. 

Even now, the memories bring me to tears. It's been well over a year, and it still upsets me to think about it, to read that email again. There's a tightness in my chest still that I can't shake. That email experience and another related to a girl in my lab made me feel like I didn't have friends in my program, and that all the people I thought understood me didn't. It was the beginning of the hardest 8-9 months of my life in which I entered what I affectionately call my "quarter-life crisis." I stopped connecting with those people in my graduate program that I had previously hung out with all the time and isolated myself, I think, to protect me from being hurt like this again.

And yet, I never stopped using the word non-conventional. I never changed the Team N.E.R.D. acronym. It's still part of what I use to describe my team. But not because I believe that exercising is the thing that's unconventional, but because getting outside of my own convention is what led to me to being a coach. 

What was my convention?

For the last 8+ years, I have been working toward a goal. A single focus of being a research scientist. With little exception, that was what my life revolved around. I would spend from the moment I woke up until the moment I went to bed reading, studying, working in the lab to achieve this goal.

This had become MY convention - to pursue one passion, one goal, so intently focused that nothing else mattered except my success in pursuing that end-game.

This is a convention that was instilled in me by myself and the people in my life. When I would tell my parents that I was really focusing on school one month instead of coaching or training for a half marathon or something, my dad would reply "Shouldn't you always be focused on school?" When my boss in my first research laboratory found out I was an assistant soccer coach and teaching assistant, he got angry, eventually instating a policy in place that you couldn't have a second job outside of lab because you should be spending that spare time in lab.

My experience had taught me that having passions and pursuits outside of school/career was wrong, frowned upon, and shouldn't be done. 

How coaching broke my convention & What I meant

Two and a half years ago, I found a new passion as a coach, and I had NO CONCEPT of how to deal with it. I had NO CONCEPT of how to have a life where I could have multiple things that I loved to do. I FELT like I had to choose. That I had to be a scientist OR a coach. And I fought that instinct for months. 

On the days where I was loving coaching, I felt like I had to quit graduate school, and I almost did, to the point where I went and discussed it with our student services rep.

On the days where I was enjoying lab and coaching was frustrating me, I felt like I should quit coaching.

Slowly, though, I watched all these women around me pursuing coaching. Many of them had full-time jobs as teachers, artists, nurses, recruiters, project managers, etc. And some of them loved their "other" job and never planned on coaching full-time and just worked their coaching business on the side, as a hobby. They did both. They made it work, and I realized that I could have both too. I COULD do it. If only I would be willing to disrupt my own conventions...

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO ME TO BE "NON-CONVENTIONAL"?

Never in a million years did I think that coaching would be my thing. Taking selfies. Posting truth bombs. Making videos of me crying because of such a profound realization. Working on my website. Creating and publishing my planner. Writing my book. Running health and fitness groups. Making money off of something I would do for free. 

But this - THIS IS MY JAM! I have never been happier than when I am coaching! I would do it FULL TIME! And frankly I'm not going to quit until I fulfill that dream!

Before, I said: "I want to be fit and healthy. I want to improve my mind with personal development. I want to pursue things outside of science in my spare time. And maybe that's 'frowned upon' but that's okay with me!" Though it was perhaps stated poorly, it was my way of saying that I'm going to allow myself to pursue these things and not feel bad about it. I'm going to let myself pursue coaching and all the activities involved in it - fitness, personal development, running challenge groups and building a business. The fact that I'm building this coaching business may be something that the old me may have frowned upon, but that is okay with me. That's what I meant. 

At that moment, when I finally let myself think that, when I let myself have that mindset, I became non-conventional because I had allowed myself to live outside of my own conventions, and do/be things that I would've never allowed myself before. And that was why it became such an integral part of my coaching philosophy and my team.

When you get our of your own way, you find your passion

For me, getting outside of myself and pursuing something that I hadn't let myself pursue allowed me to find something I am truly passionate about. It allowed me to head down a path that lead to this website, that led to my planner, and that will be leading to so much more. If I hadn't allowed myself to do that, I wouldn't be here now. This blog wouldn't exist. Something that has become such an important part of my life wouldn't exist. And that is so sad.

...The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know it when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.”
— Steve Jobs

When you get out of you're own way, you find your passion, and as soon as I did just that, I found mine. I found something I LOVE to do. And I'll be DAMNED if I give up on it because of my own limiting beliefs, or the misconceptions of others.