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  • Jennifer Widemire Smith

One More Time...

Updated: Sep 11, 2020

We were given about 8 hours notice, “3 simple things for 48 hours, join us.” Those 3 simple things? Run/walk for 1 hour, drink water, and stretch for 20 minutes every 4 hours for 48 hours. A big part of me rolled my eyes—no. That’s short notice. I had plans. I haven’t drank enough water today to start something like that. Uhm dude we’re under curfew, how on earth...

But a small part of me whispered, “Dude yes! To hell with short notice and excuses, this is going to be awesome!”

When you do these epically stupid hard things like walk for 24 hours. Or 48 miles in 48 hour challenges something really big happens. And it’s personal. It’s different and the same for everyone who’s ever done them.

Your inner critic dies. That voice inside your head that’s always whispering “You can’t do that you have a back injury” dies.

“You’re not strong enough. You’ll hurt yourself” dies.

“You’re not brave enough...Not capable enough... Strong enough...” And as you stand up to that, the voice shifts and tries again a bit harder.

“What if you get hurt worse trying this? What if wildlife attacks you at night? What if you encounter a rapist or mugger or...”

When that doesn’t work, it attacks your why and begins to taunt you “Why do you need to do this? Are you really so weak you need a challenge like this just to prove you’re not weak? What are you trying to prove exactly? That you’re better than everyone?”

What’s really interesting to me is that this voice is what I hear in others who don’t participate but who circle the periphery. Friends. Family. Acquaintances. Social media “friends”. People who think they’ve done hard things. People who think they aren’t quitters. But who ultimately live by their excuses and justifications.

It’s not a challenge to prove anything to anyone—except yourself. It’s not for everyone, even though anyone can do it. No matter your age, injuries, or what nots. It’s just about you. Who are you really? When push comes to shove. When the pressure is on and the option to walk away is there. Which will you chose? Have you ever wondered what you’ll do?

These kinds of challenges are designed to teach you who you are. At night. When you’re tired and that alarm goes off saying it’s time to walk again. It puts you in a corner. Back against a wall. No one is forcing you. Will you wake up and do it or take the easy way out and roll back over?

Let me tell you, I snoozed that damn thing a few too many times. I nearly threw it across the room when it scared me so bad as it jarred me out of deep sleep. We wobbled. Struggled. Yet ultimately still managed to honor our word. And that’s all ok! It helped that I had my sister and Josh on my team. Teammates are not cheerleaders. They don’t clap from the sidelines and say keep going. They do it with you. They wake up and endure the grumpiness WITH you.

During the sat/sun night we all slept through 6 different alarm devices—3 iPhones, a garmin, Apple, and g-shock watch—all telling us it was past time to wake up. The phones had vibrated right off the table and we’re hanging by their cords. Oops.

We got up feeling rough, not speaking to one another. Our steps small and painful. My sister hopped on Instagram and started snickering. “Well...We aren’t the only ones struggling with alarms today.” As she showed us the picture of Jocko Willink’s watch. He’d slept through his alarm too. Jocko has a commitment to wake up early every morning and work his body out. He takes a picture each day of his watch when he wakes up as a way of honoring his word. That morning he’d had the same problem. His body needed more rest and his mind refused to hear the clock until it had gotten what it needed. Just like ours.

I thought about the power of vulnerability and beast mode. It’s not really about the time it’s about the commitment to keep going. Those who think you should be able to stay in “beast mode” as they define it, at all times don’t really understand that beast mode is actually a place of vulnerability and honesty. It takes a beast to wake up that exhausted and start moving again. The beast is not in the excitement or hype or yelling of “YEAH, let’s do this!” The beast is quiet and comes out when you are beaten down. Rises up hurting and stiff and sore, completely vulnerable, whispering, “Let’s do this one more time.”

When you get to this place of exhaustion your heart tends to take over. The deep part of your soul that rarely gets to be in control. It’s the part of you who dreams big goals. Conjures up wild adventurous ideas. The part of you that isn’t afraid. The part of you that during the day you control and beat down through criticism, self doubt, and sometimes self loathing.

She wakes up when the inner critic dies.

During the challenge we took a break and stretched out on the concrete during the second night. I found myself marveling once again at just how glorious it felt to be horizontal on one of the hardest surfaces known to man, relaxed, and calm. My inner critic was silent. My attitude was lighthearted. I was starring at the stars. Calling forth what I want myself to be.

I recently got asked to answer the question “Who are you?” Fill in the blank, “I am _____.” I thought I knew but my answers were all about what I do. Not who I am. When the man who asked me confronted me on this my mind went totally blank. I felt like I was 6 years old again. Wanting to please my teacher instead of answering the question. Each time my heart would spring up an answer and my inner critic would instantly rob me of it. I wasn’t confident. I was forcing myself into a box. I’d fallen back into appeasement. I failed. I wasn’t able to define it in front of anyone. I went home feeling embarrassed and inadequate I ended up asking the question to myself a little bit differently: “Who do I want to be?” My answer took a nanosecond, “authentic.”

My inner critic instantly piped up, “Duh! Doesn’t everyone? That’s lame.”

That inner critic is a real bitch. Have you really ever stopped to think just how much we try to fit ourselves into boxes for other people’s comfort or appeasement? When we get scared we won’t be accepted by the person we desperately seek acceptance from? When I truly stopped to think about it. Especially stretched on that hard concrete the one person I truly want acceptance from is the woman who comes out to play when my inner critic dies.

I want to be authentic and she doesn’t do criticism. She wants to create life. Generate love. She prefers discussions that make her uncomfortable and move her off the x. She longs for adventure. Has zero problems being vulnerable. Is powerful beyond all measure. And she can only come out to play when I learn to stop standing in her way.

Critics are evil. They steal your joy, steal your creativity, and rob you of your power. It is ourselves who are our worst critics. When we criticize sometimes we justify it by thinking we’re just being honest. One of the last conversations I had with my grandfather still haunts me.

“Granddad, I switched my major today at school.” I said enthusiastically, I was so excited to share my news with him.

He cocked his head to the side, “Oh really? To what?”

I smiled ear to ear, “Graphic Design! I can combine my analytical side with my creativity. My computer skills with my art skills. It’s such a high demand growing field, and it’s...” he raised his hand to interrupt me.

For as long as I can remember, I’d walked in to find my grandfather doodling on napkins, cups, paper, anything that could hold ink. In my head my news was about to bond us. Give us something in common to share with each other. Not that I had chosen it to please him. I just thought it was going to go differently...

“Why the hell would you do something like that? Art! Really, Jennifer?“ he shook his head. “You’ll never amount to anything if you pick the arts. What a waste of time and money.“ still shaking his head as he returned to eating and staring out the window, effectively dismissing me, demeaning me, and stabbing me right through the heart.

Some might say, “Take it and prove him wrong.” I did for awhile until I fizzled out. Motivation never lasts. I struggled to find my footing. Struggled to defend my heart from his words when I failed at designing and failing is apart of learning. He was a hard man to love and an even harder man to connect to. As I’ve matured into an adult I can look back and realize he was lashing out at me from a place of jealously and regret. He’d always doodled. Sketched beautiful landscapes. Drew plans and dreamed big. But his inner critic would always crumple the paper up and throw it away. I use to find them in the trash bins as a little girl playing hide and seek inside his big house with five bedrooms, four bathrooms, and two sets of staircases. He’d built a good life. A successful life but he’d settled for stability and safety instead of dreams and daring big. He’d conceded control to his inner critic which also controlled his mouth, demeaning others.

Graphic design school kicked my ass. If I wanted to amount to anything I needed to be the best, seek perfection, focus on what I was getting wrong instead of what I was getting right, which eventually led to dropping out. Inner critic scoffed, “Your granddad was right. Didn’t amount to anything did you?”

Talk about a mind f###.

I grew up with so much criticism around me masquerading as honesty that I’ve struggled to find my footing and define myself. And I don’t even want to talk about how my inner critic speaks to me as a mother. Oh the pressure we put on ourselves...

Our inner critic is most definitely shaped by those around us as we grow up, and by who we surround ourselves with as adults. However, it’s still my responsibility to learn to talk to myself differently.

“I love you, but you’re driving me nuts!” I've said to my kids.

“I’m proud of you for abc, but I you need to work on xyz.” I’ve had spoken over me too many times to count.

I think one of the best quotes on this came from Game of Thrones, “Everything before the word ‘but’ is horse shit.” Even when what comes before is praise, if it’s followed by a “but” with a negative at the end, the praise is negated. This is the opposite of supportive. The opposite of affirmation.

Furthermore, if you’re used to hearing affirmation before the but and what comes after is a dagger through the heart (in the name of honesty) when someone genuinely praises you it makes you so uncomfortable because you’re waiting for the shoe to drop. It’s a horrible horrible inner voice that can become generational.

It’s one I’ve found myself repeating like a freaking parrot. I got frustrated with my kids when I asked them to give me ten minutes without using my name or asking me for help. I needed to work and I needed my full focus. They gave me two minutes before joining me on the porch in my quiet spot. I started to say, “I love you, but I really need you to go away.” I’d been with them all day long. I just needed 10 minutes.

I stopped short and thought about what I was about to communicate to them. It wasn’t, “I love you” at all. Learning to stop using this language has my tongue a bit sore from biting it so much it’s hard to adjust my language. Yet oh so worth it!

And with myself? Infinitely harder. Just like with my kids I have to change my language. I have to recognize I am the one standing in my way. The words might have come from a family member or close friend who thought they were helping, motivating, or being honest, but I’m the one who turned their negative words into my own. I’m the one standing in my own way, not trusting or supporting myself. I alone am responsible for me.

As I laid on that concrete I realized. The inner critic cannot stand up to the beast who’s willing to walk for 24 hours or stand under the weight of a 48 miles in 48 hours challenge. It cannot stand against my authentic self who won’t quit. Each time I do these crazy stupid hard things, that authentic woman gets stronger, more defined, more willing to come out.

If I want to be authentic I have to strip the inner critic of power by being the woman who’s willing to seek out and enter into relationships with people who value and challenge me, without demeaning or berating me. To be the woman who writes or shares about vulnerable things that make me nervous. To let the authentic woman, who longs to go big and bring others along the way, have control. No more self doubt. No more putting myself down. That shit sucks your life away and leaves you void and bitter.

I want authentic relationships with myself and others—not tailoring or holding back. For that woman, I will stand against a storm for. There will be days I will struggle, my knees might buckle. I might find myself back on the floor bleeding out, needing my awesome alpha teammate of a husband to put his arms around me and shut the world out. On those days I will grieve, and then rise again and whisper, “One more time.”

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