The Lonely Road to a Better You

Have you ever realised you were no longer content with the road your life was racing down? Your chariot was hurtling down the fast lane, but instead of steering, you were trapped in the passenger seat with your face pressed against the window, solemnly watching all of the exciting opportunities flashing by. Utterly powerless. This happened to me too. ‘Captain Routine’ and it’s sidekick, ‘Familiarity’, had hijacked my aspirations and desires for change. It was definitely time to re-evaluate and reclaim control of the wheel.

My personal journey began around three years ago when I had started to feel uncomfortable in my own skin. I also regretted that lethargy and listlessness had become perpetual since starting a full time job in an office (where of course I was sat on my arse all day for 35+hours per week) a year prior. On top of that, my weekends were spent out on the town binge drinking, followed by a day of death-by-hangover, and subsequently eating a mountain of junk food which culminated in a big greasy takeaway in a bid to “cure” said hangover. I felt I had nothing to show for my hard work during the week and my weekends were all blending into one fuzzy memory of the same night out on repeat. Did I really want to keep up this monotony? Work, drink, eat, sleep, work…? No. I didn’t. I couldn’t. I was so convinced there was more to life and that surely, at 22, I should have more energy and drive to venture out and experience the excitement.

The first jaunt of my self-development voyage began in the gym next to my office where I’d been paying the membership fee for around a year – yet, I’d have been lucky to have set foot in the place more than a handful of times. To my surprise, I enjoyed some of the classes and felt accomplished (and very broken!) upon completing them. I also met and befriended an amazing PT who completely changed my outlook on my health and fitness, and educated me on so many important things, which pushed me to snatch back the steering wheel and regain control of my future. I learned how to train with weights and fell in love with growing stronger and bettering myself regularly. The sense of achievement was unrivalled, and although I was really enjoying the physical changes to my body, I noticed that the positive effects it had on my mental health – especially on my self-confidence – were even more profound. These effects gradually trickled through to other aspects of my life and as a result, my internal compass was pointing me in a new direction. Although the shift in my priorities was gradual over the next couple of years, I spent a lot more time focusing on my nutrition, working out, progressing in my career, seeing more of the world and less on nights out.

Recently, I’ve fallen even more in love with nature and now enjoy hiking to the top of mountains to see the indescribable beauty Scotland has to offer. In turn, from spending less on alcohol, taxis and takeaways, I noticed the financial benefits too. Another bonus is that I now only resemble a cast member from the set of ‘The Walking Dead’ on the occasional Sunday instead of weekly. I’ve decided, it is now more important to me to use my hard-earned money to see the world and to invest in my future than it is to guzzle cheap yet over-priced vodka (that I swear could strip paint – I suppose they call it ‘gut rot’ for a reason!) in nightclubs every weekend. Could it be? Was I really growing up?

However, although you decide to change, or to work on yourself, it doesn’t mean that those around you will too, or at least, perhaps not in the same ways or at the same rate. Thus, self-development can quite quickly become a solo journey if you aren’t surrounded by like-minded people. There is nothing wrong with this, but from personal experience, it does make it harder to succeed. I personally find it a much steeper trek towards the summit when everyone else around me is heading in the opposite direction. For example: If you are trying to lose weight, but you work in an office where there appears to be an infinite supply of chocolates, doughnuts and crisps; the environment and your nutrition-oblivious colleagues are not complementary to your goals. This is where the isolation can set in. You may feel like you can’t participate, or maybe even as though you’re being judged or viewed as ‘weird’ because others can’t comprehend your newfound discipline and motivation. Some may even criticise or pass insensitive remarks (perhaps unintentionally), and I reckon this can be partially due to ignorance or jealousy. Some wish they had the drive and dedication to tackle the hurdles standing in the way of their goals, and so witnessing others running that track can make them feel insecure. In turn, they may lash out as a defence mechanism to protect their own ego.

The majority of my close friends are not even remotely health-conscious or interested in fitness or exercising, which means that our ideas of ‘fun’ or activities we enjoy rarely overlap these days. This is no one’s fault, our paths have just reached a crossroads and we’re travelling in opposite directions. They probably feel the same about me – after all, I’m the one who has changed. It’s me who doesn’t want to go out for food and drinks every weekend anymore, just as much as they don’t fancy a 5am rise on a Saturday to strut up a 3000ft + mountain with me.

Embarking on a new journey, working towards a new goal or simply changing your focus may be exactly the right move for you. It may be the building blocks for you to achieve your ideal lifestyle or even live your dreams. But, this can be a daunting process, and it can be extremely frustrating when no one around you understands either what you working towards, or why. If this is the case, which it has been for me in terms of my fitness journey for the past couple of years, having someone like-minded who has either experienced or is currently walking through a similar trail, is definitely beneficial to have in your corner. It is of course possible to travel these routes alone, but I believe that the journey will be much easier, and also more enjoyable if you’ve got a proper support system in place. One of my goals for this year (A.K.A. apparently the sequel to the horror movie that was 2020), is to befriend some more like-minded people who would enjoy going hiking with me some weekends, or even join me in the gym. These activities make me happy and it would be great to have some friendly faces I can share them with. This is not a bid to replace the special friendships I already have and that I am forever grateful for, but it will also help me create a bigger support system that aligns better with my personal goals. I also hope I could become part of that support system for others in return.

As you ‘grow up’ and surpass 20 (i.e. when the hangovers start to kick you in the balls instead of dusting you with a light headache), people’s needs, aspirations and priorities change. My main priorities tend to be my job in order to support myself financially, my health and fitness and seeing the world (yes, hurry up and feck off now Covid, my skin badly needs a strong dose of Vitamin D). Whereas, I have other friends who are settling down with their partners (yes, I happen to be that ‘ever-single’ friend), buying their own houses, getting engaged and some are even having babies. It’s difficult not to spot the differences in our lives now and hardly a mystery as to why we have less overlaps – we’re no longer running in the same races.

Sometimes, it feels like you’re the only boat on the ocean. When the tide gets rough, or a storm brews, a 1-person crew isn’t always enough to keep the vessel afloat. It’s normal to need someone on standby to throw you a life raft now and again. Once you see progress or evidence that you’re closer to grabbing that trophy, it becomes easier to reassure yourself, but sometimes, it’s still nice to have a crowd to cheer you on or someone to hold your hand along the way. I also believe if you get too used to depending on only yourself, it becomes more of an internal tug-of-war on the occasions when you really do need to ask for help. I sometimes struggle with this too. I can’t help but feel like a “failure” if I have to ask for support or admit I need a life-vest when I’m drowning. You can also run the risk of leaving it too late to get the necessary help which may lead to you feeling completely consumed or overwhelmed and exhausted from rowing against the tide with only one set of oars.

That’s why I feel the following is important: No matter whether your ambitions align or if they understand, if someone in your life has supported you in all of your other ventures, they’ll likely be happy to continue doing so (unless your new goals involve turning to illegal activities like kidnapping or armed robberies… in those instances, I fully support them being discouraging!). Be open and honest with your loved ones; explain clearly and concisely what your goals are, and most importantly, why you are working towards them. Describing it using an analogy for something the other individual is passionate about may increase their understanding of how you feel. If no one gets it, please seek out someone who does. You could join a social media group specifically dedicated to your area of interest, such as on Facebook; or, depending on your goals, hire a professional coach with expert knowledge, or join a course or classes to advance your own education and potentially make more connections. Find someone who will give you a nudge back to the right lane on the days that you’re ready to slam on the breaks and raise your white flag. Find someone who will remind you of your own power and abilities and all the obstacles you’ve already overcome whenever you doubt yourself. After all, having a safety net or someone to throw ideas to is always a positive.

Having someone like-minded to turn to can prevent you from feeling as if you’re “boring” others when discussing your passions too. I know for a fact that most of my family and friends immediately switch off as soon as I mention the gym or my latest fitness goal. I can’t really blame them, but it can be a little frustrating and disheartening when someone isn’t engaged in what you have to say. By having someone who’s interested to chat about your mission with – I currently have a weekly catch-up call with my PT – it generates room for creative discussion and sharing ideas, but it also allows for the time you do spend with your friends and family to be more valuable. It allows for that time to be spent focusing more on the topics you have in common and you won’t feel neglected or stifled thanks to having another outlet in which your thoughts will be more meaningful and appreciated.

Set your goals, make a realistic plan, build a support system and shoot for the stars. Support each other in every way you can, hold up your end of the bargain by putting in the hard graft and you will cross that finish line. You might even inspire others along the way. Perhaps some of your friends will even jump on the bandwagon and join your voyage to success and happiness. The main takeaway is: it’s ok to take a different path from your friends when life throws you a fork in the road. It doesn’t mean you’re no longer important in each others’ lives; some things may change, but it can often be for the better if you are working to improve yourself. You deserve to do what’s best for you and good friends will understand that, even if they don’t follow the same journey. It may feel lonely, but you’re not alone. Many will have taken similar paths before you, and many more will follow the footprints you leave in the future. Aim high, work hard, reach out and encourage others to do the same.  

Ps. It’s always more fun to have someone to celebrate with once you cross the finish line!


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