Life is a funny thing sometimes.
Looking back on my life in the last number of years, I had no idea it would take me to this moment I’m standing in right now. Life does this thing where it’ll push you and pull you different places until you start heading in the direction you’re meant to go. You can be so utterly convinced you’re headed down the right path when – surprise – the ground gets torn out from beneath your feet.
You can hold on so tightly to something only to have it be ripped from your hands, only to find out it’s not meant to be.
Some things in life are worth fighting for, but I now know there is also value in letting go. My Opa had a saying he would always repeat when the going got tough – really, it is the mantra of his life. He would say, “Never give up.” If something’s not working, you try harder, you grit your teeth and make it work. If they say you can’t do something, you find a way.
It was a philosophy that was instilled in me from the time I was very young. This is how my grandparents taught my mother to go about life, and so naturally it got passed down to me. When you’re that young, you don’t see the pain being so stubborn can cause, you just believe the adults know best. So I fought my way through many things, holding on to fantasies and dreams I didn’t realize weren’t my own.
Artistic gymnastics runs through my blood: when my mother was very young she started into the sport, her own mother and father acting as both her parents and her coaches. When it became apparent that my mother had the passion and work ethic necessary to go far, she reached a level she would need to move to another province in order to continue on the path towards her goals. But this would mean their little girl would be away from home, so my grandparents decided to build their own path instead. They built their own gym, a gym which became a ‘home of the champions.’
After years of blood, sweat and tears, my mother went on to be successful on the international scene, achieving the status of an Olympian. Because of the boycott of 1980, she never got the chance to compete, and so I thought I wanted to complete this journey for her. In fact, for some time when I was young, I thought this was the only way to be a success in life. I had to carry on my family’s legacy.
This was an idea all my own – my family never forced me to continue, but whole-heartedly supported me in whatever path I chose. My gymnastics career, like my mother’s, was fraught with pain and injury, but unlike hers, mine came with very little success. I struggled with fear and mental blocks that resembled walls, with a distorted body image and loneliness and eating issues. I held on for eleven years, until at last I became a national level gymnast at age 16…only to tear my ACL two months later. This forced me to step back and take a hard look at my life.
I remember sitting in the car with my mom after I’d gone to see the sports doctor to be referred for an MRI. I was sobbing so hard it was difficult to breathe, let alone speak. The doctor hadn’t seen the imaging results yet, but he could already tell me it was very likely I’d torn the major stabilizing ligament in my knee. This meant surgery and a long, long road to recovery. In this moment, there was one thing I knew that played on repeat in my mind: “I don’t want to go back to gymnastics,” I said. And I knew in my gut, it was true.
As I looked back on the months leading up to the injury, I realized I’d grown depressed and lost my passion for the sport. Fear overshadowed the love of flying through the air I’d once known. After taking a week off at Christmas, on the first day I was supposed to return to the gym, I spent two hours with tears streaming down my face while my mom convinced me to go to training. In the week before the injury, my brain and body felt sluggish, disconnected. I was spending practices dreaming of going home to spend time with my family and would have a sick day at least one time per month.
In time, I realized that going to compete in the Olympics was no longer my dream. Maybe it had been at one point, but it was no longer the thing I wanted to do with my life; it was something I clung to as part of my identity. I didn’t know who I was without it. Gymnastics had become a means to an end.
Slowly, I started discovering things I was truly passionate about, things I wanted to pursue that had been there all along.
I did a lot of reading and thinking and soul searching, identifying some of the beliefs and values that sit at the core of who I am. That isn’t to say I’d learned my lesson; I took steps that led me down one path, only to find out once again, it would not lead me to be the best version of myself I can be. It was not the path for me.
Steve Jobs once said, “You can only connect the dots looking backwards.” We can’t predict the future, we can only live one day at a time. Every action we take has a consequence that effects our lives and the lives of those around us. I’ve learned that the world is a small place: every person on earth is connected by an average of six degrees of separation, which is a lot smaller than you’d think. This means that, if you sent out a letter, it would have to pass through the hands of an average of five people in order to make it back to you. Our lives are built on a kind of butterfly effect, where I know one decision I make today will impact someone I don’t even know tomorrow.
We can only connect the dots looking backwards, and sometimes those dots hurt.
Failure hurts. Rejection hurts. Broken hearts take time to heal, and it takes time to learn how to trust again. But these dots are also lessons and plot twists in the stories of our lives. I know if I hadn’t held on to gymnastics for so long, if I hadn’t followed certain curiosities or taken certain risks, there are people in my life who wouldn’t be where they are today. I wouldn’t be where I am today. Life is a process of living and learning, of testing the water with your big toe and knowing the water is cold but deciding to dive in anyways.
I’m grateful for all the dots that got me to where I am today. Looking back, many things make sense. I can also acknowledge that I have no idea where I’m going right now, that I’m floating and I don’t know what my next step will be. Life has kind of knocked me flat on my back, but I had a good friend remind me recently that sometimes, that’s okay.
Sometimes you have to lie down in the grass and look up at the stars for a while. Life will show you where to go, just you wait.