Before my cycling class at Equinox tonight, I overheard a young woman talking on her cell phone. She was reaching out to someone for motivation before her workout, as she didn’t want to attend the class for which she came to gym. The girl talked at length about needing to look better than this other girl who had an Audi and so on. I slowed my pre-class ritual and tapped into this young woman, yes, I was pseudo-eavesdropping. I wasn’t interested so much in what she was saying, it was how she was saying it.
I could hear the pain and frustration in this young lady’s voice and I knew it all too well. She was lost. She was seeking something and didn’t know what she was looking for and that’s when I realized that young woman on the phone was not a stranger, she was a reflection of a girl I knew very well and if I knew anything about this girl [ahem, me] she needed someone to extend an olive branch. So naturally when she was off the phone, I interjected with some unsolicited advice to a total stranger, in a locker room, about a situation to which I was not privy.
I learned that, let’s call her AJ, was talking to her father about her ex-girlfriend who used to belittle her appearance with comments like “If you worked out you’d look sooooooo much better” and “If you had lashes you’d look sooooooo much better” and now post break-up, AJ wants to take back some of the power she gave to her ex and prove to herself that she can do anything and be anything she wants on her own accord. AJ, a stunning, lean, blonde with a sweet and unsure smile, has a quiet way about her demeanor. Above all, I could tell instantly that this girl was fragile and needed something or someone strong to rock her world to show her just how powerful she is already. I knew that though she needed something big, she also needed tenderness.
As 5:30pm loomed, and I finished getting dressed, I encouraged her to sign up for my indoor cycling class. Ok, I coerced her but she snagged the last bike available and met me in the cycling room. It was AJ’s first time cycling and she was nervous. I set her up, helped ease her nerves, and introduced her to some of my regulars. AJ was now family.
We rode tonight, and we rode HARD. AJ never quit and she had a huge smile on her face the entire time. During class, I high-fived her, gave her kudos from the instructor podium, and after class she gushed about how much she enjoyed something she ‘never thought she could like’. But really, this isn’t about winning AJ over with my class. It is what she said after class when she quoted Plato, saying that my actions earlier in the locker room reminded her to:
“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
My charge in life is not limited to my work as an instructor or educator. I am a humanitarian. There was someone broken, and in need to be seen by someone. I am so glad I looked up from my own shit to see this young woman.
I don’t know if I’ll ever see AJ again. I sure hope I do. But as far as I am concerned, if I were able to ease her pain, even if just for a short time, or leave her feeling empowered and capable of fighting for herself then that’s a massive success.
I encourage you to pause from your own life.
Reach your hand out to someone who may need a little help taking that first step for him or herself.
I can assure you that you will be glad you did and hey, before you know it folks, maybe we can actually live the Pay It Forward Movement just by being there for someone, seeing someone, and letting others into our world.