By Nina Yarbrough, Business Development Manager & Consultant
Other than learning to throw a decent right hook, resting in my own discomfort has been integral to me surviving 2020.
In 2018 I started training with Coach Tricia Arcaro Turton at her boxing gym, Arcaro Boxing. It’s located at 1208 E. Jefferson St., in that weird zone where Seattle’s very white, used-to-be-hella-queer Capitol Hill neighborhood bleeds into the once-upon-a-time-hella-Black (historically speaking) and used-to-be-affordable Central District neighborhood.
Coach Tricia, or just “Coach” as many of us call her, is a powerhouse. If you look up Unrelenting Badass Witch on Wikipedia, her smug beautiful mug will be staring right back at you.
And don’t be mistaken. She’s not a witch because she’s evil and masochistic (although she totally is sometimes). Coach is a real-deal broom-rider because the things she’s been able to get my very squishy body to do over the past few years is nothing short of Ms. Frizzle-level magic!
Despite being in a deeply committed relationship with her long-time girlfriend Jen Hamann, who is also a former U.S. National Boxing Champion, Coach and I are going steady until one of us either leaves the state or dies. (Translation: She’s in my corner for the long-haul, ready to help me achieve my goals to become a better, less crappy human being, capable of knocking bitches out.)
One of the ways we’re accomplishing this is learning to wrestle with my least favorite concept: discomfort.
Other than learning to throw a decent right hook, resting in my own discomfort has been integral to me surviving 2020. Not just that, but it’s been important for me to figure out what pain and my own patterns of behavior have to teach me — and learning these things have also been part of the reason I was actually able to thrive during the aforementioned year from hell.
It was through working on my exterior shell with Coach that she (very sneakily might I add) got me to reckon with the reality of my interior framework. Who knew boxing was about more than fancy footwork and learning to properly connect body shots?
Given that none of us know what 2021 has in store, I thought I’d share some practical advice on how you can also feel less crappy and hopefully thrive more in the coming year. (Lessons in knocking bitches out should be booked directly with Coach though.)
1. No one is coming to save you, Frodo, so use the force and Wingardium Leviosa your ass to the outcomes you want.
Take a lesson from every Black- and Brown-bodied womxn who ever breathed: You have to be your own hero.
There will never be a perfect time to start that new project or decide to leave your currently-messed-up situation.
Which is kind of a relief because if you did have to wait for some precise moment or for a nondescript [male] savior, none of us would do anything — except wait. Angela Basset wouldn’t have taught us to exhale and Megan wouldn’t have gifted us with a step-by-step plan for being our most savage selves. We wouldn’t have Netflix for heaven’s sake!
To be clear, this is not an endorsement of “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” meritocracy. That is a myth we need to let go of. This is, however, an invitation to place yourself first and be your biggest champion. It can be hard to actually center your own wellbeing, but trust me, it’s worth it.
2. You may feel like you’re on your own, but you aren’t alone. ASK FOR HELP, DUMMY!
While I for damn sure have gotten to where I am today through my own effort, hard work, and determination, I also have been fortunate to have an incredible support system around me (ie. the Unrelenting Badass Witch).
In the early days of Coach and me working together, I struggled a lot with the belief that I had to do everything on my own.
I had to immediately transform myself into someone who went to the gym. I had to fix over three decades of body image issues and magically develop a healthy relationship with food. I HAD TO GET FIT AND BECOME THE SKINNY QUEEN THE WORLD DEMANDED I BE!
As you likely imagined, I hit several walls (and continue to do so).
The funny thing is, Coach never once demanded any of that from me. It was me — once I decided that I was going to ‘make a change,’ all of a sudden, I believed I had to change. As in, I believed I needed to completely evolve into something I had never been before.
The first year of our relationship was Coach trying to get me to see that:
A. Change and transformation are long and gradual processes.
B. She was actually on my side and I wasn’t doing it alone.
C. The first part of my journey of wrestling with discomfort, was learning that I could not do it by myself and muscle through the uncomfortable parts of sitting with myself.
I would need help, time, and support from people that cared about my progress and who were invested in my success.
I was a dumb little potato, but Coach stuck with me.
All that to say: Be an independent, fierce little fox, but also know that things don’t have to be as hard as we make them sometimes. As you work to be the person you most aspire to be and build the world you want to live in, know that you have people there with you who want to see you flourish as well. Closed mouths don’t get fed. Need help? Try asking for it.
3. Get curious — the sexy kind of curious — and by that, I mean get deeply introspective and existential. So SEXY.
Did you know that a global pandemic that forces you into isolation and distances you from human contact is a great way to have a deep existential crisis? 2020 sure was fun.
In all seriousness, getting curious and introspective with myself have been incredible gifts. The pace of our everyday lives is such that we never have time to think deeply about who we are, why we get up in the morning, and what on earth we are doing with our lives. When that hectic pace gets removed and you have to keep your butt in your own little world, you are guaranteed to start questioning some stuff.
It doesn’t feel good to stare yourself squarely in the eye and say, “I don’t like my life. I don’t like who I have become.”
(What the hell do you do with that!)
It is very uncomfortable to admit that maybe the choices you have been making — the job you have, the circle of friends you’ve acquired, or even the partner you settled for — none of them have been putting you closer to the life you actually want.
Don’t shame yourself over these realizations or for the choices you’ve made. Brené Brown has taught us wonders about the lethal nature of shame and how it can derail your growth. Instead, try vulnerability on for size. See how being open and compassionate with yourself in conjunction with your new sexy curiosity will work wonders for you.
4. Value progress over perfection, as taught to me by Rowena Tsai.
YouTube has been my new companion during the pandemic. The countless videos of ambient coffee shop noises, the live streams of lo-fi hip-hop beats, and all of the Bossa Nova work jazz that I have listened to is ridiculous. There’s an eight-hour video called Magical Tearoom ASMR Ambience that has over 2 million views, and I love it. The internet is beautiful.
One of the other joys I have come across are posts from a woman named Rowena Tsai. She is part productivity maven, part positivity pixie, and part self-improvement advocate. One of her videos has been hitting me in my soft and squishies, and it’s a concept that we can all benefit from. Watch the full video here, but the major takeaway is the idea of embracing progress over perfection.
Striving for excellence in whatever you do rather than trying to get everything right all the time can assist in placing you more firmly in your purpose.
How? If your focus is on progress rather than a particular product or outcome, you can’t help but be more accepting of the incremental steps that compound, one on top the other, that ultimately result in reaching your desired outcome.
There is nothing wrong with setting goals or wanting to achieve great things. But if your attention is always on the ‘thing’ itself, then you will miss out on all the wonderful parts of why you are striving for the ‘thing’ in the first place.
5. You’re not that smart. Read a book, you basic bitch.
We’re all a bunch of idiots floundering around trying to figure this shit out. Just like asking for help is critical to your growth, so too is seeking out good information. And surprise, you live in the modern world where, through just a few clicks, you have access to vast treasure troves of boundless knowledge.
Our problems are not unique, which is a blessing. That means that other people — smarter, majestic, nerdier people — have suffered as you have suffered, and they have written about it. Gorgeous big-brained dynamos have documented their journeys or spun fantastic tales with incredible lessons just waiting for you to stumble upon.
I know it can be hard, in a world filled with so much content at the tip of your fingers, to carve out time to read books. We are inundated with so much data and crap that it’s shocking that we ever make choices at all.
I promise you, though, if you start investing in books, then a few things will happen.
The first is that you’ll find that in setting aside time to read more, you’ll need to make an intentional choice to put yourself first — whether for a few minutes or a few hours.
Secondly, you’ll likely discover some cool shit that actually makes you think and wonder and question.
Lastly, you will get smarter (or at least marginally less dumb.) The double-edged sword of having access to so much information is that we like to think we are smarter than everyone else that came before us. (Remember how we have Netflix?)
The joy of books and reading though, is that you are quickly cured of any notion of your own intellectual superiority. Humbling oneself and seeking out the wisdom and guidance of different people is liberating. Challenging and time consuming for sure! But the benefits of reading what others have experienced? Learning to grow your empathy as you follow the story of a character you love or even despise? You can’t buy that.
Hitting your head against a wall trying to figure out why your organization can’t seem to stick to systems? There’s a book for that.
Need a little confidence boost before you prep for your end-of-year review? Someone’s written an epic fantasy with a lead heroine that’ll make you feel braver than you thought possible.
And I am by no means a purist when it comes to reading modes. Kindles, audiobooks, PDFs, or old-fashioned handbound leather tomes — all of them are spectacular.
(Still looking for a way to get back into reading? Watch this incredible video by Max Joseph called “BOOKSTORES: How to Read More Books in the Golden Age of Content.” Be warned! It is book porn, and it will get your brain moist.)
6. Get therapy. We should all be in therapy.
Living on the West Coast, in Seattle specifically, I feel fortunate to reside in a place that is more open and embracing of prioritizing one’s mental health.
In BIPOC communities though, it is especially troubling to see how few resources and energy gets invested in the mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being of the people. Whether you call it therapy, counseling, or ‘talking to a friend,’ I encourage everyone to find someone to talk to.
My therapist, Shirley, has been a godsend. I was fortunate to meet her right at the start of the pandemic and continuing our sessions virtually has not only been a great touchstone for me, but they have allowed me to work on areas of my life that I thought weren’t important enough to devote attention to. Talk about discomfort.
Wrestling with your demons or just acknowledging that you are not OK is beyond difficult. Talking with Shirley is one of the easiest and hardest things I do in my routine. Easy because talking to someone who has enough distance from my life, that has to listen to me because I pay them, feels amazing.
It’s also difficult because she’s a professional that can call me on my bullshit while providing me with the tools that I need to be accountable to myself. Adulting sucks but getting out on the side of 2020 with greater perspective, more connection to myself, and a more discernment with regards to the crap I will or will not deal with is worth it.
7. Lay on a softball. Only a small portion of the cool kids are doing it.
When you work with Coach Tricia you learn a few things. You learn that she’s usually right and she teaches you that our default setting, as modern people, is to stay in our most comfortable patterns.
You also learn that when she puts you on the cable machine and has you perform a press or other movement that is meant to correct a dysfunction, trying to wiggle out of that movement will piss her off.
Coach, when she is pissed off makes my life miserable.
She has me lay on softballs. In her eyes, it’s not really a punishment because it will ultimately work out knots or adhesions in my body that caused me to want to wiggle in the first place.
If you’ve ever used a foam roller to work out a tight spot on your side or help to stretch your IT band, then you’ll know why she has me lay on softballs. It’s called myofascial release, and it’s one of the most uncomfortable, sometimes outright painful aspects of the restorative work she does with me.
The lesson I want you to take from this is: The reason I voluntarily subject myself to this kind of discomfort and pain is that I know that what’s on the other side of that pain will be better for me. The dysfunctions themselves and how they manifest in the body should not be viewed as “bad” or taken to mean there is something “wrong” with you. In fact the opposite is true! Our dysfunctions and pain points can offer road maps to remedies and they offer insight into our histories. Whether it appears as a physical adhesion of myofascial tissue or the ache from emotional trauma, these pain points can inform us of how we might create a better way, a more holistic way of being.
The question is, are you willing to wrestle with the beast of discomfort, however it shows up, and learn what it is trying to teach you?
There will not be a magic pill that can ensure 2021 isn’t a complete landfill of an experience. Beyond a worldwide pandemic, the new decade also brought, to the general population, the kind of clarity that marginalized people have been forced to live with for centuries.
I don’t want to go back to the way things were. Prior to the pandemic, we prioritized profit margins over health and we let fascism run amuck and piss all over the best ideals of our country’s inception.
In the years to come, I would like for us all to move forward in a holistic manner that centers the well-being of Black, Indigenous, and other people of color. More than self-care, we need to:
- Be the heroes we have always needed
- Learn to ask for help
- Get curious about our own interior world
- Prioritize progress over perfection
- Learn from those who are wiser than us
- Seek therapy
- Rest in our own discomfort
If we do these things, we might actually create a legion of whole-hearted human beings that have the energy, capacity, and empathy to show up for one another.
I wish you love, good food, and great rest in the year ahead. You deserve that and so much more.
Nina Yarbrough (she/her) has a background in theatre performance, spoken word, and playwriting. She has had a multi-faceted career, which has spanned 14 years both in the arts and the broader nonprofit sector. An Ohio transplant, Nina moved to Seattle in 2014 and obtained her MFA in Arts Leadership from Seattle University two years later. She began her work in fundraising as a member of Seattle Opera’s capital campaign team and currently works for The Central District Forum for Arts & Ideas as the Business Development Manager. A theatre kid at heart, Nina is an avid crafter, owning more books than she’ll ever have time to actually read, and trolls her roommate at least three times a day. This year, she hopes to publish her first collection of poetry, and you can learn more about her artwork by visiting her very cool website, ninayarbrough.com. (Photo cred: Jonathan Vanderweit)