Every month, I do a workshop with the local chapter of Girl’s Inc., a non-profit organization that helps to empower teenaged girls to find their voice, dream big, and thrive through the support of each other and their communities.
I am proud to be part of that community, by helping them to find their mojo during some of the hardest years of their lives. It took me a long time to build the woman I am today, and I wasn’t facing half of the obstacles that some of these girls are up against in their teenaged years (drugs, violence, broken homes, zero support).
I’ve been through the standard growing pains of most—bad self-esteem, broken heart, re-broken heart, jobless, aimless, and feeling lifeless against the cold hard floor that is “rock bottom.” And like most, I’ve found a way to pick myself back up again.
For me, it was fitness. Fitness saved me a from a variety of alternative lifestyles, and it is for that reason that I have become almost evangelical about helping other people choose a workout over the many other things one could choose to “self medicate.” Some people reach for Prozac, I reach for a twenty-mile run. Some people want to shut the world out by sitting in a dark room with a pack of cigarettes. I hide myself in the pool for an hour. In my opinion, there is nothing that a three-mile run can’t make better—even if to only clear my head, or find an outlet to put some of my negative energy. I’ve come to rely on fitness for so much more than simply fitting into a pair of skinny jeans.
Over the years I’ve grown out of the black hole I refer to as my “20s” and have seen my hard work and persistence finally pay off. I married a wonderful man, have been working steadily in a career that I love, and have grown my passion for triathlon into a lucrative hobby. Nothing about my success has been immediate. And none of it has been calculated. It was born from a quiet strength that can only occur when you listen to your heart, stay true to who you are and “wiggle.”
I learned how to “wiggle” from my father, an entrepreneur who started his own business and went from the sole employee of his cable company in a one-horse town, to the Chief Technology Office in a New York City-area company that provides cable systems to colleges and universities across the nation. It took him decades to get where he is today. Growing up in a household where the entrepreneurial father was the breadwinner taught me a few things. There were turbulent times, of which I was only exposed to a fraction of the actual emotional fallout that my parents went through as they tried to save and/or grow the business through the years. The one thing that my father always made sure to communicate to me through those highs and lows was the idea that one must continue to move, no matter how small a motion, in order to grow. He called this “wiggling.” I liken it to the “Ironman shuffle,” a term used to describe that “running, but not really” motion of the feet as you move at a snail’s pace along some portion of your Ironman marathon. It’s not about moving fast, it’s about moving. Period.
My mom, an innovator herself, has always taught me to see the beauty in every situation. As an artist, she would see designs and ideas where others would see trash. Literally! In one of her quilting projects she took a picture of dumpster containers and used it as inspiration for a wall-hanging made from a collage of vibrant fabrics and elaborate stitching.
Being around this kind of quiet strength and creative energy taught me that being successful doesn’t always have to be a marquee event. It’s not always about huge victories and monumental achievements. Mojo isn’t made from a handful of premium, exotic ingredients—it’s formed slowly over time from a pinch of success here, a scosh of success there. It’s a pantry-raid of odds and ends that go into the slowcooker and end up forming the kind of delicious concoction you’re not sure you can ever truly recreate.
In a recent workshop with Girl’s Inc, I asked the girls to tell me what they pictured when I said the word, “strong.”
What does strong look like?
I asked them, does a bodybuilder look strong? Is a tornado strong? What about a wrecking ball? They all agreed these were strong forces.
“What about a blade of grass?” I asked them. “Is grass strong?”
They wrinkled their faces at me. Some shook their heads. Grass was decidedly not strong.
Consider the blade of grass. Have you ever seen a blacktop driveway, or a sidewalk where a single green shoot was poking up through the hard, cemented surface? How did that happen?
Quiet strength. Somewhere beneath the hard surface, a small blade of grass was forming, moving a little bit from side to side, then up, and every so often around the hard obstacles in its path. Over time, it made its away toward the light, an unstoppable force that forged a path through the blacktop and out into the world.
We all have the potential of this blade of grass, but only if we keep wiggling. Sometimes we have to be creative to find the beauty in a situation, or the opportunity under the rubble. Remember that mojo is a powerful force, but it is also a quiet strength.