Some of you may recognize this title as a quote from Don Quixote. If you haven’t already guessed, I was an English major (do you want fries with that?), which is why I am paralegal now (haha!). Despite his tilting at windmills, our favorite Man of La Mancha wasn’t as crazy as Cervantes made him out to be, which was the real point of the book, I think. Quixote longed to live in a world full of knights and chivalry and adventure, and since there wasn’t a lot of that around in the late 1500’s, he made it happen. In the scene where the quote appears, one of his neighbors recognizes him in his knight outfit, and says (paraphrasing here) “hey, aren’t you old Don Alfonso Quijana?” to which our knight replies in all seriousness: “I know who I am and who I may be, if I choose.” That’s really the point, isn’t it? We get to choose who we want to be.
This doesn’t just happen in books or movies. We hear about movie stars, rock stars, millionaires, entrepreneurs, etc, who beat the odds to succeed and the common thread in nearly all of them is that they chose who they wanted to be. One of my favorite musicians is Robert Plant (he’s the singer from Led Zeppelin for those non-rockers out there) and his dad was dead set that Robert was going to be an accountant. He ended up making it the hard way, and how different would rock be today if he’d chosen accounting? We all choose who we become, whether we realize it or not. We either choose to follow what someone else has decided for us, or we choose our own path, for better or worse.
Most of us when we read Quixote’s reply today probably don’t think twice about it. It seems pretty obvious to us, but Cervantes was writing this in a time when your life was pretty much decided by the circumstances of your birth: the children of peasants grew up to be peasants and the children of aristocracy grew up to be aristocrats (even those who ended up in the clergy/ convent ended up being the bishops, abbots and mother superiors!) The idea of choosing who you want to be must have been fairly radical and no doubt a sign of Quixote’s madness. What is really a crazy idea to me is that today, I hear so many people complain about how they have no choice when it comes to how unhealthy they are. It’s something that “happened” to them and now they are stuck with it.
Actually, they are choosing to be “stuck with it.” They probably don’t realize it: they are too close to the situation and are caught up in all the emotion, but once you step back and look at the situation objectively, you can see the choices that led to where you are now. It may sound like I’m picking on these poor people and pointing out their flaws, but I was one of those people, so if anything, I’m pointing out my own mistakes so maybe others can avoid them. I was stuck with a job that was killing me, commuting 2 hours each way, working 10 hours, five days a week, living on fast food/ processed foods, not exercising and bemoaning my poor health and quality of life. Truly, it was not until I quit that job and stepped back from the vicious cycle I was in that I was able to see the series of choices I made that led to those circumstances. It wasn’t until I made the very difficult decision to leave that job that I was able to get any clarity on my life. (As much as I hated that job, I stayed with it much longer than I should have for the benefits, and finally I realized the benefits weren’t a benefit if I ended up dead!)
As some of you know, I watch My Big Fat Fabulous Life on TLC and on a recent episode, Whitney’s trainer Will fired her and it was over her choices. From her perspective, I’m sure Whitney felt that Will was picking on her and there was nothing she could do in her situation, but I’m with Will: she was choosing to prioritize the wrong things for her health. She was missing appointments with him because she was too busy to get there; she was eating fast food/ takeout because she was always busy and was having to eat on the go, so there was “nothing she could do.” She was congratulating herself on only eating part of the cookie instead of the whole thing. Will’s point is that she should not have had to resort to the cookie to start with. Yes, not eating the whole cookie is a good thing, but if she had kept the stock of protein bars in her car (like he had told her to), then those would have been a better choice. She had eaten all the protein bars and chosen not to replace them. She had chosen not to reschedule her training appointments or not to schedule her other appointments around her appointments with Will. He had asked her to send him pictures of her meals so he could help her make better food choices and she chose not to do it. I know from her perspective, it really does look like he’s picking on her, because I have lived that life. My car actually looks worse than hers because I also live in my car. She commutes 1.5 hours each way to work and so do I (usually closer to 2) and I eat breakfast in my car every weekday. I did it at the job from hell and I do it today; the difference is what I eat. I used to eat fast food or junk food, and now I eat healthy protein, although I do miss a hot breakfast because I choose not to heat it before I leave. I used to eat out every day at lunch, and now I bring a healthy lunch with me. (Whitney’s dad gave her a lunchbox kit a lot like mine and she pretty much pooh-poohed it.) She comes home from work and eats a big bowl of cereal, remarking how Will would not approve, but then she justifies it as it being better than junk food. (Honestly, it looked like Froot Loops- not even Shredded Wheat!) These are all choices, and by not taking a couple hours to plan for day or her week, she is choosing to continue making these bad choices. I know how crammed full of stuff her life is, because mine isn’t much better. She has a roommate at least to do the dishes and pick up around the house- I don’t! I get to do it all myself, so mine might be crammed a little tighter, but I take about 3 hours each weekend to get down to the grocery store to buy my food for the coming week so I’m not choosing between Jack in the Box or McDonald’s for breakfast, lunch and dinner. (I also keep nuts in my car and my desk (not a fan of protein bars) in the event that I do forget my lunch/ breakfast and I have something healthier to eat than fast food.) I make it a point to get to the gym twice a week for my water aerobics class, and I admit, I’d like to add another day to that, but right now, it’s not a priority for me. I am choosing other things over that and I keep mentally kicking myself for it: get it together, b*tch, and get your butt down there! That was the point Will was trying to make to her and that is the point that she is not getting. All of these decisions she makes are choices that keep her living her unhealthy life, but she does not see these as choices or even decisions.
I don’t mean to pick on Whitney (she’s just an example) because this is where most of us are. We don’t realize this split second thought “I don’t have time to go to the grocery store” is actually a decision to eat fast food or not prioritize our health. I will also admit that I hate going to the grocery store. I hate making the list and I hate shopping. I would rather be sitting on my butt playing with my pets, but I go because I know what the alternative is: fast food or the back up nuts. (Yay- nuts for lunch…….eh.)
Metabolic Radio (one of the podcasts I listen to) recently did an episode on how to afford a healthy lifestyle and a personal trainer and it was all about the choices that we make in our lives that de-prioritze our fitness and healthy choices. It obviously resonated with me because of my former situation. We all make little decisions every day that either prioritize our health or don’t, but again, most of us don’t see these as “decisions and choices.” These are things like hitting Starbucks three times a week, or eating out often, or buying junk/ snack foods or just convenient processed foods, and until we take a few steps back and look objectively at our lives, we don’t see that. We don’t see that we’re spending $20 a week at Starbucks ($80/ month), or $5-10 each time we eat out, or that the snacky junk food we love not only isn’t really the best choice for us to eat, but it really is a lot of money for convenience. These are all little things most of us do on a regular basis that is not only taking away from money we could be spending on our health, but isn’t contributing to good nutrition choices.
The Starbucks is a good example (I’m not knocking them because I am a certified caffeine addict, I have their app on my phone and my truck still pulls into the drive thru by itself unless I’m paying attention!). If you’re spending $80 a month there and paying $10 each time you eat out, then stopping the Starbucks and choosing not to eat out only twice, you’re saving a $100 a month, which could easily pay for a personal trainer (if you want one). By taking a lunch and making your own coffee, you save money you could invest back into your health like the trainer, a gym membership or even some home workout equipment or just healthier groceries. Little things like this add up, not only to money going out the door, but to your overall health. We don’t think about it because we are too often focused on the wrong things: we see the big picture when we should be looking at the little things and we see the little things when we should be looking at the big picture. We see our lives overall as “too busy” to plan for our health and nutrition and we see one takeout breakfast as “just one meal.” It’s the “just one meals” that add up into our “too busy” lives of poor health choices and the overall effect is that we end up de-prioritizing our health.
I know I could have made a lot more healthy choices when I was working the job from hell. If I had taken the three hours every Sunday that I take now to get my butt down to the grocery store, I could have had the healthier breakfasts and lunches then that I have now, and even if I still got fast food on my way home, I’d have been farther ahead two years ago health-wise and maybe not felt so cruddy every day. It’s three hours on a Sunday but my choice every week not to go grocery shopping and planning out my meals for the week kept me feeling like hell. Until I was able to step back and look at the “little” choices I was making, I couldn’t see them adding up into the big overall unhealthy lifestyle I had inadvertently chosen. In a way, it was something that “happened” to me by my not paying attention to what I was doing and I “chose” to stay stuck with it by choosing not to make changes. I was living the life that Whitney is living: making poor health choices. It’s how I got to be 438 lbs and how she got to be 381 (at least she can blame PCOS for some of her weight- I was just fat!).
I know who I am, and who I may be, if I choose. Our nutty knight was not wrong: he lived the life he chose and changed the lives of others through his determination to be his own person. I am choosing to be someone healthier than she used to be. I am choosing to be a happier person who values herself. I am choosing to put myself first so I can better help others. It takes a lot of work (because I’m a real fixer-upper!) but honestly, no one else can do this work for me, or for you.