When you're loved so well, you know you're enough | A farewell to The Mujeres Increibles
When I landed in Panama, I did not know one person. A week after we landed, I found a small gym and started taking Zumba classes. Sometimes, I was the only student. Awkward. In Austin, where I had lived before, I was a member of a large gym with 456 class offerings and all sorts of amenities. Stepping foot into the simplest of gyms was quite a departure. Still, I went. And after a few months of taking Zumba classes, I started to feel my courage bubble up. Many people would say it is not courageous to want to teach a fitness class in a tiny beach town in Central America. But it was my version of bold.
I contacted the owner and threw my hat in the ring. “I’d love to teach a class!”
She replied, “Do you have any type of certification?”
“No, I don’t, but I can lead.”
“Okay, thanks, I’ll keep it in mind.”
I’m not sure what I expected since I had no training, but still, the rejection stung a little.
BUT, a few weeks later, the owner called me and asked if I could substitute teach two Zumba classes. “Sure!” I was so thrilled. I watched YouTube videos and practiced moves. Picture it.
Okay. Stop picturing it.
The big day arrived, and I was ready was 4, maybe even 5 students!
One sweet lady showed. Marie.
It was a dumpster fire of an hour. 5, 6, 7, 8.
I was so pitiful at teaching Zumba. I’m cringing just thinking about it. I had NO CLUE what I was doing or how to communicate.
Still, I went home and practiced more. I’m no quitter, and I had a second class to teach!
Again, Marie was the only student. And again, I totally sucked.
It was so humbling and embarrassing.
I left with my tail between my legs.
I returned, with relief to my spot as a student.
A few weeks went by, and my phone rang. It was the owner of the gym. “Can you teach a weights class?”
“HELL YES I CAN! I have been working out since I was about 18 years old, and I have done thousands of weight class, Cross Fit classes, cardio classes, all sorts of things!”
This I could do.
So I showed up, ready, and confident.
On my first day, I had four students. Irina, Andrea, Cinthia, and Lole.
I didn’t know any of the ladies previous to the class, but it was an absolute blast! I had only been in Panama for a few months, and I still didn’t have friends. But I wanted friends. Maybe they could be my friends?
We came to Panama as a family to slow down, to take things off of our career plates, and to enjoy our children more. And the more we slowed down, the more space feelings had to rise to the surface.
For so long, I had been paying the meter on my career. Even when my career was running bars and restaurants, I had to be in constant forward motion. I thought that my worth was attached to who I was affiliated with, what I was producing, and what I could give other people. I always had some impressive pieces to present. Maybe it was that I had a great job and interacted with famous people, maybe it was that I lived in a fancy neighborhood, maybe it was that I published a book, maybe it was that I was a TEDx speaker. I could always hang my hat on some external thing, and that always brought me a sense of relief. If they know this ______________, then I’ll be validated.
But I started to notice, at the end of every finish line crossed, I never felt any different. I always felt like the same person. Never better or more validated or more qualified. And I started to get curious.
Who would I be without the hot poker of achievement moving me forward? Could I just be still? Would I be happy with my life, with myself if I was bare?
And so when I landed in Panama, I decided to do an experiment. I decided to let it all go.
It helped that all the hooks I used to hang my hat on, were nonexistent in Panama. There were no book stores, no bloggers, and there was no speaking circuit. No one was trying to amass a following or build a career.
And it was a HUGE relief. I never had to talk about work or my husband’s job or my career. None of it was important.
In the community where we landed, there was NO COMPETITION, even subconsciously, for anything. And even though it took me time to find the language for it, my body and heart knew, “Oh, this, this is what we’ve been needing.”
And so, for the first time maybe ever, I was myself.
I presented as Catia. Mom of two girls, wife to husband, from Texas. That was it. I didn’t have any stories attached to me. My history wasn’t important, the only thing that mattered was the present moment. The clothes I wore or the house I lived in or the car I drove didn’t matter. All that mattered was that my friends and I went for coffee and bagels after gym class. Who I was married to didn’t matter. All that mattered was that he was friendly.
And so I would show up to my gym class, and teach. I’d blare good music, and I would cheer on my students and laugh while I made up crazy workout combos. Slowly, we started to schedule play dates and text back and forth and eat meals together. My students had no idea that this way of living was absolutely foreign to me. They were too, just being themselves.
The gym was the most perfect place for me to land. It was everything I loved – women, music, teaching, encouraging, and fitness all rolled into one. I would cheer my students on and say things like, “embarrassment doesn’t exist here,” and “no one gets left behind!” I’d remind them of how sexy and strong they were. And we went from teacher/student to friend/friend.
We had so many laughs, and we also had tender moments. One day during class, my friend started crying. I’ll never forget it. I stopped class, and I walked over to her and just hugged her. She kept crying on my shoulder, and I told her it was going to be okay, and that she could cry. We stood in the middle of ten women, hugging. And when the tears stopped, we started the class up again. No further explanation. A pause, some tears, and a bear hug were enough.
My students who became friends were from all over! Russia, South Africa, Panama, Slovakia, Peru, Chile, Brazil, Canada, USA, Colombia, Cuba – so much diversity in one small gym class. Many a morning spent together, working out and pushing our bodies and also giving ourselves time, as women, as moms and wives to do some self-care. I taught three classes a week for about a year. It was the greatest surprise.
And so a few days ago, when they threw me a surprise farewell brunch, I was so tender and teary.
My friends walked me into Barbara’s house (one of our other friends) to see her “new decorations,” and they yelled, “SURPRISE!”
And I wept.
No one had ever thrown a surprise party for me. My first ever!
All my girlfriends were there, and I was overflowing with gratitude.
The brunch layout was the best I’d ever seen, and every detail from the infused water to the coffee cups was perfect. I felt so loved and cared for. I was on the brink of tears the entire time, and so when they started presenting me with the most touching and personal gifts, I lost it. And I knew I had to tell them what I had realized.
I told them about landing in Panama and having no one. I said how I valued them. I told them how I was so grateful for their love and friendship, and I gave them to utmost thanks for guiding me back to myself.
Me without achievement. The real me.
They showed me that I, on my own, was enough.
I’m not sure I had ever felt that before.
Many people love me and have loved me through many stages.
But I had never put myself in a situation where I had taken SO MUCH off my career plate that I was left kind of empty-handed, nothing to show off.
The entire experience was freeing and liberating and absolutely life-changing.
I am deeply grateful for every single one of these ladies. They will be a part of me forever.
Mujeres Increibles, Majo, Allison, Nina, Adriana, Pam, Natalia, Lole, Irina, Barbara, Cinthia, Julie, Judy, Bia, Andrea S., and Andrea L.,
Gracias por amarme bien. Son una bendicion! El mundo tiene suerte de tenerte, y mas que nada eres suficiente.
Thank you for loving me well. You are angels on earth. The world is lucky to have you, and above all else, you are enough.
I'm Catia, a woman, wife, mama, sister, sister friend, you know -- I wear a million hats just like you.
One of my biggest whys is that I want people to feel good about ALL of who they are. Including you.
If I could choose ten words that best describe me I would say: honest, welcoming, giving, curious, loving, earnest, empathetic, spiritual, playful, and sassy. Let's add: adventurous. That's 11.
Nice to meet you!