About seven months ago I started going to the gym. It wasn’t an easy decision for me for many different reasons.
Over the last 15 years I have signed up for a gym membership many times but never - until now - have I been able to go to the gym on a regular basis for this long.
Here is a long list of why's:
- I hated the feeling of pressure I put on myself thinking that I HAD to go since I was paying a good amount of money every month.
- I never really knew what machines to use and how to use them properly, and I was too self-conscious about my uncoordinated movements in aerobic classes.
- I’m so incredibly talented in not getting the steps right that I can even make the instructor get out of rhythm.
- In addition to all that, I've always disliked the attention I thought I got for being a foreign woman in a Japanese gym, especially in the locker room and shower area, where I felt body-screened by a dozen terminators, and judged for my lady garden, which was –compared to their jungles - a burned down forest.
But enough of that!
this year though ….
At the beginning of this year I told my husband that I often feel like an old horse when I use stairs at stations, that I’m worried about my weight, and that I didn't want to feel unfit for the rest of my life. I knew that I needed a drastic change – not just for the sake of losing weight but mostly to feel fit and healthy. My husband advised me to join the gym but to make sure to work with a trainer this time in order to achieve my goals. And that’s what I did.
The sport club I go to reminds me of a retirement home – most members are close to 60 or older and have been going there for 20 to 30 years! To a lot of them the place is like their second home, where they spend their mornings and afternoons at, socialize with friends, and make sure their bodies and minds don’t get rusty.
I bow down to their commitment and admire how fit and limber they are. Some of them can throw their legs up in the air as if they are auditioning for A Chorus Line.
I came from far afield. What I actually wanted to write about today is how I think that in a lot of cases we don’t really have much influence on what people choose to think about us.
Sometimes I wonder whether it is simply a question of circumstances and luck, or bad luck if you will.
Although I didn’t plan on making friends at the gym (all I really want is do my thing and leave the place), I noticed that it would be difficult to warm up with the elderly ladies there. I had the impressions that they had already marked me down as an intruder.
In my first few weeks they made sure I knew where my place was in the gym – there were certain lockers that were not to be used, certain spots in Zumba class not to be taken, and I had to be extra polite in order to not spoil it for me.
Please imagine two dozen very rich elderly ladies in hipster sportswear and full make up and then combine that with an attitude of inmates from Orange is the New Black and you might guess why I was a little anxious about pissing anyone off there.
One could tell even from afar which two women set the tone in that gym.
This went on for a couple of months. During that time I made sure to keep my head down, be polite but reserved.
out of the blue,
without any warning,
one of the two dominant ladies started talking to me in Zumba class. In fact, she offered me her glorious spot, so I could enjoy the class more.
I admit that due to my pessimistic nature my first reaction was to suspect some kind of trap and it took me a few seconds to accept her friendly gesture.
It would have been a deadly mistake not to take her offer in that moment and I wasn’t a fool to reject it.
From that day on my popularity increased steadily and others felt brave enough to step forward and greet me, ask me where I’m from and test how much Japanese I understood.
Overall though, my new status at the gym makes me feel like I’m a toy for a pack of lions that has just eaten a big meal.
You might think I’m exaggerating but fact is that Osaka obachans (middle-aged women) are known for their sharp tongue and elbows when things are on sale. Obachans are also famous for wearing leopard prints. That's surely no coincidence.
Please don't get me wrong! I do enjoy their enthusiastic greetings although they sometimes make me jump when I’m on the treadmill; to get me going I usually listen to nu-metal like music when I’m on the machine and one day I almost tripped and fell when one of them suddenly tapped me on the arm to say goodbye and wish me a nice day.
Again, I DO find them mostly very sweet and caring but since I don’t know what changed their attitude towards me, I take this whole episode with a pinch of salt.
Although their shy approaches make me smile I always wonder in the back of my mind what the change of heart was that these ladies decided to like me.
When and why did they think I was worth talking to and being welcomed into their exclusive group? More importantly, when and why will they decide that it’s time to dislike me?
What’s fascinating in a scary way to me is the thought that I have no influence on what people think about me. To a certain degree it seems to be a number of coincidences colliding with each other that result in decisions whether we like someone or not.
Maybe that lady who talked to me in Zumba class had a fabulous morning on that day, felt like sharing her good mood in that particular moment, and the other important lady had a glimpse of our friendly exchange, was also in a delighted stage in class and took a quick note in her mind that I was accessible and that’s how it all started. If just one part of these steps had gone differently - let’s say the second lady was annoyed by the fact the other lady started bonding with me – my gym life now might be completely different.
I actually thought the same when I watched Tom Hank’s new movie Sully the other day. Although the overall topic of the film is different, halfway through it I thought that just as quickly as he was announced a hero by reporters, the media could have turned things around very quickly again.
leaf in the wind … or a strong tree
I believe that this episode in my life shows me that the more I try to please people and want them to like me, the more I’ll be like a leaf in the wind, a house in the eye of a tornado, or a cup in someone’s tea set they drink out of whenever they want to.
There is no guarantee for not being labeled either a hero or a loser or anything in between by people in our society. The only way to protect yourself and is by not caring what others think of you.
I think that the more true to yourself you are, the more authentic you come across, the more you are like a strong tree with deep roots that can overcome any storm in life.
Isn’t it almost a relieve to know that no matter what you do you will not really have any influence on what people want to think of you? At least then you don’t need to try so hard to get them to like you.
Funny enough, often people seem to like you because you are NOT trying so hard.
Although I'm not saying to be mean back to anyone (on the contrary) I can't help but think of Meg Ryan, alias Kate, in French Kiss when she says in her cute way:
The key to French waiters: If you're nice to them, they treat you like shit. Treat them like shit, they love you.