Self and the City is a column intended to increase visibility and dialogue surrounding mental health, relationships, harmful stereotypes, and the necessity for self-care and vulnerability. Self and the City will be headlined by Jessa Chargois on a bi-weekly basis. Submissions and guest columnists are welcomed to send work to firstname.lastname@example.org
I believe the barrier to success is within ourselves. I believe it is okay to ask for help. I believe too often we succumb to pressure to act and to look a certain way, comparing ourselves to unrealistic standards. I believe progress is far from linear and that our biggest competitors are the negative words we feed ourselves.
When you close your eyes, where do you go? When you breathe deep, so deep you fill every inch of your lungs, what do you smell? When you block out the ever-present noise around us, what do you hear?
I hear crickets. I hear the cheer of my father and the deepness of his voice as he shouts my name. I hear the frantic calls of my teammates, the echo of a referee’s whistle, and the thud ringing in my head as my body slams into the ground as I dive to make an all-important save. I smell fresh-cut grass, I smell the bitter scent of sweat, my mother’s fabric detergent, and the deep limitless fresh air of the Catskills. When I close my eyes, I find myself standing in the acres of fields of my hometown. I find myself reminiscing on days when my schedule was determined for me, where my time was at the beck and call of my coaches, where I would hop from court to field, trading basketball shoes, for soccer cleats, for lacrosse sticks. I long for the days where I had someone to run for, a team to fight for, and a dream to chase.
While today, I may have traded in my cleats for more office-appropriate heels, my legs still tell a story of a once-successful athlete. As I cross my legs in conference rooms, my knees reflect the days where I identified as a goalkeeper. Scarred and misshapen, they juxtapose the professional persona I intend to exude here in New York City. While it has almost been seven years since I stepped foot on a regulation soccer pitch, I have continually struggled to redefine my relationship with exercise. Without a team pushing me to succeed, I have lost my drive, my motivation, and my beloved relationship with my strong and once-defined legs.
Rather than attend colleges that offered me opportunities to foster my strength in their fields, I exchanged my goalie gloves for textbooks, and followed my heart to a university I will forever call home. High above Cayuga’s waters, I cultivated lifelong friendships, a desire for limitless creativity, and my fondness of education. With a deeper understanding of the complexities of our culture, politics, and society, I left my four years on the hill mentally and emotionally a strong person, however, my body was far from the physically fit version I entered freshmen year with. Like many “prestigious” universities, Cornell University fostered a “work hard, play hard” mentality and in order to cope with the high levels of stress and performance expectations, I turned to parties, food, and substances to numb my anxieties. Short-term solutions to long-term problems, I graduated with a body that was a shell of my past inner and outer strength.
In the last couple years following graduation, I have found myself pausing in front of mirrors, questioning how I have turned into a version of myself I no longer recognize. I became hateful towards myself, questioning if every body could be beautiful. I continued to find solace in the external sources, rather than turning inward to address the deeper personal issues. As I mentally spiraled, so did my relationship with my physical body. I was bitter towards the idea of diving back into exercise, bitter towards changing my diet, bitter towards any and all self-discipline. My beautiful, beloved clothing began to fit differently. The radiance that I once, confidently emit, dulled. I felt myself drawing inward, questioning the decisions that led me here. Questioning how I became so internally weak, I began to write. I began to draw a roadmap of the past few years, attempting to apply a logical mindset to an emotional and irrational problem. For me, the answer was simpler than once believed: I had relied so heavily on external forms of validation rather than find reassurance within myself. From romance to emotional stability, this serious misplacement of fortitude cast me into a hazy, misdirected, and misguided few years.
I wish I could say there was one defining moment, an “aha!” shock that snapped me back into the healthy, loving mindset I once embraced. Truthfully, rather than one, it was several touching conversations with dear friends who expressed their concerns, as well as one difficult and earnest talk with my father. Once the bellowing voice who cheered for me on the soccer fields of the Catskill Mountains, he acted as the resounding voice of change. Together, these conversations of love and endearment encouraged me to revisit my own relationship with my body.
Excelling in team sports, I found salvation in the form of class workouts. With an instructor encouraging my best self, my best performance, my best sweat, I found the drive that was buried deep under the fear of rejection, of not being enough. While I cannot say that all is healed and that salvation was offered in the form of hot yoga or pilates, I can say that together, I have begun a journey to a healthier relationship with my physical, mental, and emotional self. While I cannot say that boxing has solved my need to express myself in physical manifestations, I can say that it has offered an outlet for my frustration, pain, and grief, not unlike this column.
I have replaced the smell of my mother’s laundry detergent with my own, the fresh cut grass with the smell of bleach used on the boxing mats. The echo of the referee’s whistle has transformed into the many voices of the instructors, cheering on my name, asking me is this all I have to give? The frantic calls of my teammates have morphed into the confident words of encouragement shouted by strangers. I am met with the smell of my own hard-earned sweat, a deeply missed scent. While my father may not be there to offer a cheer, I know he is proud of his daughter, still fighting with the same tenacity she once left on the fresh-cut fields of the Catskills.
I believe the barrier to my own limitless success was, and will always be in my head. My progress is far from linear, but with every hour spent working my body, I can feel the steps forward. I want to feel strong. I want my physical body to represent the power I feel within. With every left hook, uppercut, and jab I throw, I can feel the strength resurface. Without the beloved words of encouragement and concern from my dearest friends and cherished father, I’m not sure if I would have believed I could succeed, believed that I was worthy of a chance to change.
Many factors go into my journey with self-love, acceptance, and pride in my physical body. While this story may seem oversimplified, I wish to share the power of encouragement from your supporters. Often we turn a blind eye to the deepest rooted issues, and it may take a keen observation to illuminate our personal obstacles. This is my story of a not-so-linear battle with motivation, and I in no way intended to represent all battles. Merely, I wish to remind us all, that we are in no way alone.
I want my presence in the conference room to match my scarred and misshapen knees. I want to be powerful, to be strong, to never lose the scent of the fresh-cut fields of the Catskills.