I never thought I would own a Chanel bag (or anything with a luxury designer label), but in my mid-40’s my then-husband gifted me a devastatingly gorgeous Chanel handbag. I remember how the silky smooth, quilted, black lambskin felt, and how the interlocking C’s were the perfect blend of elegant and vintage-style matte brass. It was so luxurious, so opulent and so valuable - I would treasure it forever.
When I turned 50 I re-examined everything I thought I knew about my life: where I was headed, what I wanted, what I thought I knew about myself. I know some of you are doing an eye-roll now and thinking: ‘mid-life crisis’. But let me be clear: for me, this was NOT a crisis. It was an AWAKENING. My second awakening in 5 years.
My first was discovering yoga, around age 40. I was working in interior design and had taken a few yoga classes at the new gym I joined. At first, I hated yoga, but with an amazing teacher, I tried again and started to enjoy the experience. Then, in a six-week span, three life events unfolded in my family that impacted three people closest to me and had me feeling like my life was spun out of control.
Those Big Three were: addiction, chronic illness / probable organ transplant and a raid & investigation by the FBI.
Adrenaline took over: we’ll get the best lawyers. We’ll fly to Stanford Medical to get the best doctor. We’ll find the best recovery center.
I didn’t go to yoga to ‘workout’; I went to yoga to keep my sanity intact. I was the glue holding everyone else together and trying not to fall apart too. I desperately needed a safe place to reconnect to my own feelings, my own pain. Going to yoga was the only time I could breathe, retreat into a dark room with nobody and nothing else to take care of but myself, and process my thoughts.
For my fellow yoga teachers out there, you know that teaching yoga is the smallest part of what you actually learn in that process if you’re lucky enough to study under the kinds of teachers I did; the ones who leave their fingerprints all over your heart while they lead you through this soul-searching discovery under the guise of ‘yoga teacher training’. The level of self-discovery and philosophical questioning through discussions about the yoga scriptures is the kind of shit that leaves you ‘ugly crying’ at the end of your teacher training. Tack on learning to intelligently plan and teach a yoga class in Sanskrit is like orbiting the sun in 30 days; you can’t believe where you’ve been and how much you’ve been changed by the experience since you innocently walked through the doors on day one.
So obviously by stepping into being a yoga teacher I had found ‘my thing’. But wait, there’s more! Remember, that was only awakening #1!
Two years into being a yoga teacher I was one year into working at a new studio that also taught fitness classes. I had worked out with a couple of strength trainers over the years but since moving into yoga, I had let go of other training. Since I worked at the studio and could take all the classes I wanted, I figured why not? I tried a couple of classes before I twisted my knee during a cardio exercise that was new to me and ended up in knee surgery six weeks later. So… I decided to stick with yoga and pass on the fitness classes for the time being.
Awakening #2 was that looming 50th birthday. I was ready to pick up some weights and try strength training again. Side note, if you’ve ever been injured enough to need surgical repair, you know how scary it is to trust your body again. Trust it to hold you up and be strong for you, not betray you and get hurt again. It’s a mind-game, for real. I told the trainer at the studio I wanted to get strong and try the fitness classes again but had this garbage knee situation I was scared of. He told me if I tried class he would take care of me and help me so I didn’t get hurt.
I went. Again. And again. Consistently. I started to get really strong. Always sore; God knows, ALWAYS SORE, but stronger than I had ever been - at 50! I still had yoga in my life and taught almost every day but becoming a student in strength training gave me something new to be inspired about, something new to learn, new goals to reach for. I was pushed by my trainer (who believed in my strength more than I did most days) to pick up heavier weight next week; do more rep’s next time; finish 1000 rep’s faster next month. I had never been competitive with anyone in my life, and now my biggest competition was ME and I loved it. The only person I had to out-perform was me, and be damned if I was going to give up on ME.
The parts of me I had been filling up with the satisfaction of carrying a Chanel bag, or another new pair of $250 jeans was being replaced with reaching my next fitness goal, or mastering a yoga pose I thought was never going to be possible, or experiencing a meditation where I truly lost time and stepped quietly into that deep quiet space between my thoughts.
The net result of all of this self-discovery was a change that affected every part of my life: I realized I had allowed myself to become completely emotionally depleted in my marriage and chose to leave it. I realized I had spent my whole life until then being a supporting actress instead of having the courage to be a lead player. I realized I had kept my opinions, my thoughts and my pain to myself instead of expressing them for fear of judgment or conflict. I had gone from scrawny to strong physically and emotionally.
I sold the Chanel bag, and traded it in for gym shoes. To my surprise, this act gave me more personal satisfaction, more results, more transformation than the Chanel bag ever did. Every time I put on those gym shoes it means I’m choosing to dedicate time and effort to showing up for MYSELF and my growth and betterment. I’m stronger than I’ve ever been, both inside and out. I am more concerned about humanity than ever, more aware than ever of issues that need our attention, more alive than ever.
On a lighter note, I’m ready for a little more Chanel in my life again, however, now I’m clear about what it represents for me: a bit of luxury as a reward for hard work that has paid off. Nothing that is external - not a handbag, a car, or a partner - can fill a space if what we’re missing is our BLISS.