Written By, Jenny De Anda Fast
What if they find out I do not belong here?
What if they realize I am not good enough?
What if they come to me and say that they made a mistake bringing me on to the team?
What if they discover I am a fraud?
These are the thoughts that run through my head everyday I walk into my jobs as a coach at Fitness on Fire and at the RowHouse. At 41 years old I am definitely one of the oldest coaches at both of my workplaces and compound that with having made the career change to being a coach in the last year I often feel a disconnect, a fear, as if I am a sheep in wolves clothing and that someone will eventually notice and yell out that “The Emperor has no clothes”. This is commonly known as Imposter Syndrome, which is defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. People who see themselves as “imposters” suffer from chronic self-doubt and a sense of fraudulence that may override any feelings of success or external proof of their competence.
The funny thing is that I am a highly educated, hardworking individual that has not had anything handed to them. I have earned everything I have, including my coaching roles, with a lot of hard work and determination. Yet, this logic does not change that feeling in the pit of my stomach that I am an imposter. I stand shoulder to shoulder with some amazing elite athletes that have medals, podiums, and even television appearances under their belts. They train the youth of tomorrow in their sports and train other elite athletes to also take home medals and stand on podiums. I stand next to these titans and am in awe and am reminded of how new being an athlete is to me. New enough to where I do not wear that title easily or comfortably, it is not a part of me… yet.
I have worked in the health industry for most of my adult life in a management role. I even worked in management in a big box gym for years. But I dreamed of being a coach, of changing lives by doing not just by “managing” those who did do. I educated myself on health and fitness for years as a personal passion and have been fascinate with it since I was a youth and watched my dad and stepmom prep for bodybuilding competitions. Yet, despite that fascination, that love, I did not go into the field I dreamed of. In fact, the closest I got was having a physical education emphasis in my undergraduate teaching degree. Ironically, even that did not pan out. I put my dream to the side and got what I saw as a “real job” and knuckled down. I would work out sometimes but nothing consistent and I let life happen to me instead of being actively involved in my life. Never a slender person to start, I gained a lot of weight and yo-yoed dieted for over a decade until I was more than 100 pounds overweight.
I did decide at his point, about 6 years ago that I needed to change. I was now working in management at a large gym and started train for a half marathon. I did complete it, dead last, and with an injury that would plague me for several years, require surgery, and end up being a part of my motivation to try to become an athlete. I consulted doctors, nutritionists, physical therapists, etc. in my goal. Some shut me down basically telling me first I should just be happy to lose weight, and others that due to my heart condition I should not even be trying to be athletic at all and to stick to gentle movements like walking and restorative yoga. Turns out this was my push to dig in and make some drastic changes, but it is also this is from where a great deal of my imposter syndrome starts.
Why? Because in August 2017 I did something drastic. I chose to have bariatric surgery to regain my health. There is so much stigma around this. First is the idea that I took the easy way out to lose weight. People do not realize how much of your life you must change to have the surgery and to maintain the weight loss. I had damaged my metabolism so badly during my previous attempts to lose weight over the decades that it was unlikely I’d ever manage to have a healthy weight from diet and exercise alone without a reset per my medical team. In fact, my surgery was not wildly successful, the weight did not melt off the way you hear people talk about. I had to still fight for every pound and inch I lost but the rest of my hormones from the surgery allowed that fight to be on a more even playing field. Despite the changes I made I still struggle with seeing my choice to have surgery, even though it saved my life, as “cheating”, as making me an imposter when people talk about success stories in health and fitness.
I worked out hard the minute I was allowed. Under the guidance of a new cardiac doctor, I received clearance to ease into sports that were previously contra-indicated for me. So, of course, I eased into them, right? Nope, I rekindled my relationship with Haydee and Fitness on Fire and jumped into Spartan training. My first Spartan was Big Bear 2019, where the weather went sideways for day two and I ended up with hypothermia for four days afterward. I felt so ALIVE. However, I was not an athlete; I was not fast, and I was not doing it competitively. I now competed in Spartan races, but I did not a run them yet as running is a trigger for one of my heart problems, so I was not a “runner”. Therefore, I cannot be an athlete, right? What changed? I made a new friend from Fitness on Fire and began to run. In fact, she got me to sign up for an Ultra Spartan and when it was cancelled last March, we decided to run 55k for her birthday instead. To date I have completed 7 Spartans with two more to go to finish my double trifecta that was delayed from last year, run two ultra-distances, several marathon distances, and half marathon distances are “just a run”. Still I was NOT an athlete, because these were not official races and I am not fast.
This past year, Josh and Haydee gave me the chance at my dream and brought me onboard as a coach at Fitness on Fire. I had worked the front desk for nearly a year there, part time, while I studied to be certified. They took a chance on me and believed in my dream, even while I continued to doubt myself. Through a friend and former Fitness on Fire coach, Lisa, I learned about an opportunity to become a row coach at RowHouse… only I had never rowed before. Guess what? They gave me a chance because you can learn to row but you can not learn a personality fit. I rowed so much in that month I was hired until I tested out to become an official coach. But still even having passed my test out in the top ranks, I was still NOT an athlete and felt like a fraud teaching rowing to people who had been doing it so much longer than I. I still practice every week and weekend to make sure I know what I am doing. I spend much of my free time learning about health and fitness modalities. I have enough continuing education units to keep my NASM certification current for the next ten years. Yet, I still feel like a fraud, I am NOT an athlete, and I wonder every day when someone will say I do not belong.
When I walk into Fitness on Fire, I take the time to look at the photos that line our walls. Our photos of all of our athletes, and yes, my photo is up there. It reminds me that athlete is not a body type or an event or a medal. Athlete is a mindset, a hunger in your soul to do more, to be more. Once you walk into that door at Fitness on Fire, you ARE an athlete. And, you are never alone. Those pictures inspire me every day. These are people who went outside of their comfort zones to accomplish something new and athletics based, perhaps for the first time. These are my people, my tribe, the ones that silently, sometimes without knowing and at times without having ever have met me, inspire me. Those photos let me know I am not alone in this. When I take a new person on a tour of Fitness on Fire, these photos are my favorite thing to share with them. Why? Because often they too feel like they are not an athlete, that for a variety of reasons that they cannot do a Spartan or any other type of race. It is my chance to tell them that being an athlete is a mindset and simply by walking in the door that day, interested in challenging themselves, they have already shown that they are an athlete. It is awe inspiring to watch them process that idea and see the seed be planted. For some, it may be the first time they have ever used that word in relation to themself. This is the mantra and central tenet of Fitness on Fire – Everybody Loves Evervbody. We are a community, a tribe, a place where you belong without judgement and we will celebrate your successes with you and be there to help you when you struggle as a coach, a team, a community, a family.
Will I continue to struggle with Imposter Syndrome? Yes, I will. But maybe sharing my story will help another person realize that they too belong, that they ARE an athlete, success, etc. and do belong where they are and do deserve what they have (imposter syndrome is not just in athletics but for many people in their fields of choice). I will struggle and at times I will wear the mantle of Athlete and Coach a bit awkwardly internally, but they are mine to wear. I AM an athlete and I AM coach, and a good one at that. Most importantly, I DO belong.