On New Year’s Eve 2009, I was with a couple of my best girlfriends and their families when our electricity went out. The mishap made for the perfect winter holiday night in Boston, with charades and board games with our kids by candlelight, followed by a group New Year’s resolution share.
These gals—who were/are all in great shape, run all sorts of races, and do triathlons and other crazy physical endeavors—committed to more amazing races, additional tough triathlons, and new crazy physical challenges. When the circle share landed on me, I said proudly, “I’m going to have more fun!” eschewing the whole idea of exercise and downplaying the value of health and fitness. I thought, “We’re all living too long anyway...why prolong it during the older years that are torturous?!...Plus, life’s best years are too short, so why spend it in voluntary pain and discomfort and sweating?!”
The reality is that my natural state has always been lame ass. You know the people you see who seem like they were born at the gym? The ones who have worked out their whole lives and always found a way? Well, that definitely was not me. Instead, at the time this all changed, I was what my youngest sister would call “skinny fat,” meaning I was relatively slender and looked okay in clothes but really had no shape and was neither strong nor healthy. I spent too much time sitting at my desk, relaxing on our living room beanbags with our kids, being sedentary on planes and airports for hours on end, eating and drinking too much, and just having more than my fair share of decadence traveling on the road. Frankly, the last thing I needed at that point was “more fun.”
As I awoke the next morning on New Year’s Day, my lameness ate at me and I realized it was time for a change (sing it with a pubey Peter Brady voice like my junior high sons would now!). My kids were about five and seven at the time, and they were emerging out of the prepare-for-it-like-it's-war years as increasingly independent little dudes who didn’t need me as much—no diapers, no sippies, sort of compliant, super active and fun. Meanwhile, my husband and I were starting to be old farts and realized age and gravity were the most formidable of foes!
It was all of these factors and events taken together that led me to pick up the phone and call the closest gym to our house on New Year’s Day. I got all four of us a family membership and we headed over for our inaugural visit. With that call and first visit came a new era for me, a new world order, a complete watershed point of no return.
To be honest, I never in a million years thought I’d stick with it. Like the gillions of well-intentioned New Year’s resolutionists who commit to bettering themselves every year, I was confident that I’d end up yet another sad statistic. There wasn’t a shred of evidence that I had any of the ingredients—grit, resolve, commitment, focus—to see it through.
Fast-forward nearly a decade and I truly can’t imagine life without it. Being fit—and having everything that comes with it—is an integral part of my DNA, my day-to-day, and the way our family lives. I rarely miss a day because I relish what it gives me every time—both in the moment and afterward through the residual gifts the experience enables all around.
The whole being fit thing has been such a big deal for me—both personally and professionally—that I'd venture to say it's responsible for more than doubling my compensation over the past eight years. Here's my rationale behind that: as I became more fit, I started to look better and stronger, my posture improved, and all of that impacted the way I carried myself and the way I dressed. Those changes, in turn, completely turbo-charged my personal brand and helped me gain attention and credibility. It engendered confidence in me. The whole thing passively-aggressively intimated my discipline more broadly—my ability to take things on, see them through, and do them well.
A couple of years ago, I had a guy in a hotel gym at 5 AM say to me, “you must be either a cop or a spy...which is it?!” I never imagined in a million years that I could evolve my skinny-fat self into someone who would get posed that question. My point is that if I can do this—work and working out—anyone can.
I want to caveat all of this by saying even though I might have my sh!t together now, it took a lot of trial and error for me to get to the point where this is so core to my everyday life. Self-discipline is one mighty mountain to conquer. Take, for example, my unwavering weakness for chocolate. Yeah, yeah, I know many of you might be saying, "I'm a chocoholic too!" But did your mom keep all of the chocolate in your house in a basement safe with a combination that you were forbidden to know? Well, that was how it went in my family. If someone wanted to make homemade cookies after school, it was a big ordeal logistically—my mom never knew the safe combination, so she always had to track down my dad at work. My addiction truly revealed itself in junior high when we moved houses and started dismantling my bed. My entire family of seven gasped at the site of dozens of empty Nestle Toll House bags that I had consumed over the years and stuffed in a safe place where my mom couldn't find the evidence of the crimes that had been committed.
To this day, chocolate is still my biggest frenemy. But instead of denying myself of it, instead of developing some discipline around it, I redeem myself and atone for my sins by hitting the gym. Everybody needs their yin and yang, strength and weakness, agony and ecstasy, and all the other good and evil metaphors you can conjure. We’re all human. What it comes down to is figuring out a system that will make sense for you.
Included below are a few starting point resources on how to get started. Over the coming months, Nicole Goodwin, a kickass trainer, and I will be introducing more content to help you find your way and keep things interesting. I think you’ll learn so much from her—I always do!
Find your inner superhero(ine) and get strong
About Christina Van Houten
Christina is the founder of Women at Work. Based in Boston with her husband and two teenage sons, she has spent the last 20 years of her career as a senior executive in the enterprise technology sector. Prior to evolving into tech, Christina founded a women's athletic apparel brand and served in several public interest roles focused on community and economic development. She started working at age thirteen and hasn't stopped since.She’s eager to support women of all ages, career stages, professions, industries, geos, and backgrounds to help them find their way to the best possible life they can achieve through bringing to bear her experiences and guidance combined with other valuable resources and engagement opportunities. While she now works and connects with women (and men!) from around the world, Christina is originally from the great state of Oklahoma, where her heart and soul will always belong.