Gosh, guys. I have so much to tell you.
If you follow me on social media at all, you probably noticed that Babyface and I packed up the car and drove up to Chicago this weekend for the Anytime Fitness annual conference.
I was invited to the event as a VIP (which is laughable to me—there are a lot of important people in this world, and I don’t really think I’m one of them) and we snagged Babyface a ticket to tag along because (a) we both love Chicago and (b) we’re totally co-dependent. We had a blast exploring the city (and buying new Blackhawks gear, if we’re being honest), meeting new friends and being totally flabbergasted by inspiring stories.
I’ve been working with Anytime Fitness for a little over a year now and they have been an incredible partner. I knew they were good people from the first time they contacted me. I knew it when they donated a gym membership to my charity raffle without batting an eyelash. I knew it the first time I stepped into one of their clubs. And this weekend just solidified my love for the brand. I can be a pretty “damn, the man!” kinda girl when it comes to working with companies. Maybe it’s my non-profit background, but I always assume that big companies are just smarmy, nasty and only concerned about their bottom line, but Anytime Fitness has softened even my bleeding heart. It sounds cheesy, scripted and sponsored, but believe it or not, I really, truly think that Anytime Fitness is one of the good ones and I’m so proud to be part of the family. Any company that hosts an 80s party (complete with awesome cover band) for their conference is definitely my peoples. It was awesome. And I totally damaged my vocal cords singing Bon Jovi. #yolo
I have a lot to share with you from this weekend (I had a list going in Evernote on my phone of blog post ideas and it’s loooooong), so I hope you don’t mind if I break it up over the next few days. I’ll spare you the typical conference recap, because, well, it is what it is (chatting, networking, eating, sessions, etc.). But I do want to share with you some of the things I learned about myself and others thanks to the conference.
The first thing I want to talk about is a crazy broad topic—inspiration.
There were a lot of inspiring stories at this conference this weekend. When you group together 1400 fitness professionals in a room, you are bound to run into a person or two with some sort of incredible come-from-behind, underdog type of story. And boy, there were some amazing ones. Like the story of the woman who was born without arms or legs, but who, with the help of a creative personal trainer, is working out on a consistent basis to make sure she’s healthy and fit. Or the young soccer star who had a heart transplant at the age of 21. Told he couldn’t ever come back to his full athletic potential, he worked hard, and ended up being drafted in the first round to play professional soccer just a few years later.
See, incredible. Amazing. Extraordinary, even.
In our society, these are the type of stories that are told to us as a means of motivation. And I think they work, to an extent. We hear about a woman without limbs exercising regularly and, the standard response is, “Well, if she can do it, then I have no excuse.” We watch the Olympian break world records on TV and think, “Well, if they can train for six hours a day, I can hop on the treadmill for a half hour.” It even extends to the world of social media. We see an airbrushed, perfectly-lit photo of a fitness model with some motivating quote emblazoned over it and think, “Wow. If I work really hard, I might be able to look like that, too.”
For the longest time, I thought that was the only kind of inspiration. Extraordinary inspiration. Aspirational inspiration. I want to be like _______ because they are totally extraordinary. It didn’t occur to me until this weekend that there was a second kind of inspiration. One that is a bit more humble, and not nearly as well-covered in the media, but equally important. Inspiration that came not from a desire to imitate, but from recognition. The kind of inspiration that says, “We’re the same. Now let’s do this together.”
Inspiration from the everyday Joe Schmoe. Inspiration that is relatable, normal, and common. Ordinary inspiration.
Anytime Fitness gives out awards at their conference each year called 2i awards. The “2i” stands for “to inspire”, and the award is given to people who are both kinds of inspirational. In the past, they’ve gone to people who’ve dropped 300+ pounds. They’ve gone to people who’ve broken world records. But this year, one of those awards went to a really ordinary girl. A girl who was made fun of on the playground for being chubby. A girl who still shops in the plus size clothes. A girl who struggles not to eat the whole plate of chocolate chip cookies.
THEY GAVE ME A 2i AWARD, PEOPLE.
As the CEO of Anytime Fitness called my name and asked me to come up on the stage in front of 1400 people, I had a moment.
It was one of those moments in life that you know you’ll never forget. A moment where it occurred to me that each and every one of us has the power to do something incredible. I’m not anything special. I promise I’m not fishing for compliments here, the truth is, I’m only a moderately-intelligent girl who is stumbling through life and just happens to be lucky enough to share it all with the world. But even I have the power to inspire. One of the world’s biggest fitness chains thinks that I—the girl who can barely run a 13 minute mile—is inspirational. Whoa. That’s powerful stuff.
As I sat there after I walked back from the stage, shaking and with tears in my eyes (this was totally a surprise, if you couldn’t tell) I realized how much power there is in the ordinary kind of inspiration. That’s what I think people love so much about blogs. Not to sound condescending, but so few bloggers are doing extraordinary things—there aren’t many of us that are winning gold medals or breaking world records—but we are recording the ordinary. And the truth is, the ordinary is where 99.9% of us live. And where 99.9% of us need inspiration. People see themselves in bloggers—I do the same thing. I read a blog and think, “Wow, that’s cool. She’s eating the same thing I did yesterday.” And suddenly my healthy decision is validated. I am validated because there are others out there just like me. There is so much power in that mirroring.
So if there is only one thing I took away form this weekend (well, there were lots of things, but this was the big one) it’s that we all have the power to be inspirational. We might not make international headlines. We might not overcome extreme adversity. We might not be listed in the record books. We might not lose the kind of weight that makes magazine covers. But that doesn’t make what we are doing any less important. You can be the inspiration for someone else. You can be the person lifting the weights in the gym that inspires the person who’s never lifted a single barbell. You can be the person in the grocery store with the cartful of produce who inspires the person buying processed food. You can be the person who shares your failures and hiccups and says, “I’ve been there. You’re gonna be okay.” You don’t have to be extraordinary to do extraordinary work. Just by being you and doing what you think is right, you can be inspiring.
And the best part? Along the way, you might just inspire yourself, too.
Thank you so much, Anytime Fitness. I’ll cherish this sucker forever.
And thank you to all of you guys for tuning in, reading, and supporting my ordinariness. Let’s all embrace our normalcy. Even normal can be special. 🙂
On a semi-related note, I know a few of you are curious about the dress I did choose to wear to the closing ceremonies, and it turns out, I didn’t end up getting a single full-length photo of the thing. But I was able to thieve this picture from Meghann. Pictured left-to-right: me (and my green dress), Amanda (my amazing contact at Anytime Fitness), Annie and Meghann (both 2i winners and VIPs) and Lee (also a member of the awesome crew at Anytime Fitness).
I had an absolutely amazing time this weekend and I can’t wait to share the rest of the stuff floating around in my head with you!