Last Friday I had the great honor of giving the Keynote Address at the annual “Can’t Hurt Steel” Gala.” The Can’t Hurt Steel Community Foundation was started by my dear friends JJ and Kristen Hanson, following JJ’s diagnosis with Stage 4 brain cancer a few years ago.
The theme of the Gala was “Be the Change” and my speech focused on how we can make changes to get healthier AND create healthier communities where we grew up in Sullivan County. I wanted to share it with you!
I’m honored to have been asked to speak with you this evening.
I have to say, standing here, speaking in front of all of you, some of my best friends, my parents, people I’ve admired for such a long time… blogging to strangers on the internet is easier.
Tonight’s theme “Be the Change,” truly resonates with me. JJ and Kris asked me to speak to you because I know a thing or two about change. I’ve spent the last two and a half years of my life losing weight, about -115lbs, and getting healthy. But don’t worry, this is not a speech about eating more kale. It is about how we can take the lessons I’ve learned throughout my journey and use them to better our lives and our communities. After all, that’s what the CHS Foundation is all about.
So what have I learned about change through losing weight?
You have to CHOOSE to Change.
Two and a half years ago, I took a look at my life and who I was, and I didn’t like what I saw. I saw a person who worked too much, had an unhealthy relationship with food and who talked about people, not ideas. I hid behind the long hours and the long hair, rejecting others before they had a chance to reject me.
And I remember thinking, “I don’t want to live like this anymore.”
I could have lamented my weight, my lack of self-confidence. I could have blamed my work, my life, my genetics. But instead, I chose to CHANGE what I didn’t like. Little by little, I made incremental changes to my diet, added exercise, created better work-life balance and little by little, started to put the same energy out into the world that I wanted to get back.
Community change is no different. We identify something that we don’t like. We identify something we can do to make life better for ourselves, our community, those least able to care for themselves. Then we CHOOSE to take action. We can choose to sit back, to wish things were different. We can wait for someone else to take the lead. “I’m too busy,” “I don’t know how to start,” “Someone else should do this…” These are all excuses we can tell ourselves to justify inaction. Or we can say, “If not me, who?” “This community, these people, this cause is worth an hour of my time,” “They shouldn’t have to live like this anymore.”
When I worked at Boys & Girls Clubs, this is how we started our Backpacks for Hope and our Giving Tree programs. We didn’t know exactly what we were doing, but we knew that kids needed school supplies and cheerful holidays, so we starting asking for help and today, thousands of kids are served through those programs.
Change is WORK.
So often we view change as a binary state. We were one thing, now we’re something else. As someone who has radically changed her life I can tell you two things: (a) it takes so much longer than we think it should and (b) the process is so much more important than the result.
Goal weight is a number on a scale you achieve by developing healthy habits and maintaining consistency in those habits. Goal weight is not something you achieve and never have to think about again. It requires constant maintenance, constance vigilance and execution of those healthy habits.
Changing a community requires that same WORK. We can’t wish it to be something, we have to work for it to be something. We’re going to have to skip sleeping in so we can help at the litterplucks. We’re going to have to DVR our favorite show so we can show up and be present at our local Rotary and Kiwanis meetings. We’re going to have to WORK for what we want.
I grew up in Roscoe, and one of the things I love most about Roscoe is how the community takes care of itself and its fellow residents. There are always gardens to weed, paint to touch up, funds to raise, and now as an adult I truly appreciate the time and WORK my neighbors put in to making Roscoe Roscoe.
It is not enough to simply identify goals or ideals. We have to get to the “HOW?”
I’ve had the privilege of attending a few lectures by Weight Watchers Chief Science Officer, Dr. Gary Foster. Now, being the CSO of a weight loss program, you’d think Dr. Foster’s a medical docter, right? Maybe a nutrional or gastro-intenstinal specialist of some kind? Nope. He’s a psychologist. Which just goes to show us, weight loss is all in our heads.
So Dr. Foster has, it’s not enough to say “I want to be thinner,” or “I want there to be more for kids to do in my community,” we have to be specific in how.
For me, that’s menu planning and meal prepping so I know I have healthy food options available. It’s scheduling my workouts into my calendar and ensuring a no-work zone Saturdays and Sundays.
For you, this might be “We need to create healthy exercise opportunities. We’re going to build as rail trail for hiking and biking, and here’s what we need to achieve each month to make it a reality in 12 or 24 months. In the meantime, let’s start a Saturday running club for kids through our local scouts or through the school system.”
Reject a negative premise and reframe the situation.
I love The West Wing, so I’m stealing a little of their genius here.
When I started losing weight, I didn’t think it would be possible to get to a healthy BMI. I had too much weight to lose. It wouldn’t work for me. I was just big boned… believe me, I told myself some whoppers. And then rejected the premise of my argument, which was that I was destined to fail. That there was something holding me back. Because really, the only thing holding me back, was me. So rather than assume I couldn’t, I decided ANYTHING was possible and I was willing to explore any option to get to where I wanted to go. Yes, I ate a ton of kale. I also tried hot yoga, starting eating carrots, running obstacle course races, eating curry and spices, became obsessed with spin class… you get the idea. If we start with the premise that ANYTHING is possible, every route can eventually get us to where we want to go.
Now, I know this is a heavier lift when we’re talking about community, but hear me out. Sullivan County is a cesspool. Sullivan County is the bottom of the barrel. Sullivan County can’t get out of its own way. I know you’ve all heard these statements, probably read them on one of the Sullivan County Facebook groups… I’m here to tell you: that’s crap. I’m not Pollyanna, I recognize that our community has its share of struggles and its share of challenges. But I refuse to just 77,000 people by the actions of a few. I refuse to identify an entire County, full of diverse communities and geography, by one tough neighborhood. Rather than identifying what Sullivan County ISN’T, I say we build on all that she is.
Sullivan County is full of natural beauty, rolling hills, rushing rivers and open space.
Sullivan County is full of small communities of people who want to participate, give back, and make better.
Sullivan County is diverse in her people, and her culture. One size does NOT fit all, and that’s IMPORTANT because it means there is room here for everyone.
Sullivan County has its share of challenges, but it also has more than its share of brilliant people, smart thinkers and compassionate advocates.
Sullivan County controls her own destiny. And we can help.
Change is waiting for all of us.
Making the decision to change was the biggest, scariest and most difficult decision of my life. I was terrified I’d fail. Secretly I was also terrified of what might be out there if I didn’t fail. What would it be like?
Two and a half years, -115lbs, 10 inches of hair and 4 pairs of running shoes later… I’ll also tell you making the decision to change was the greatest thing I’ve ever done. That decision, and my partner in crime over there, have given me a life I would have never believed possible.
I’ve ready a million motivational blogs, books – listened to every Brene Brown TED talk that exists. And yet, I always come back to two quotes:
A year from now, you will wish you started today.
One Life. Just ONE. Why aren’t we running like we are on fire toward our wildest dreams?
So, in closing, I ask you:
Whether it’s weight loss, youth development, emotional wellness, community enrichment, running for office to affect change – what are you waiting for?
About CHS Foundation:
The mission of this fund is to provide assistance to community members in their times of need. The foundation will meet this CHSF_Logogoal by providing grants to assist patients and family members that are experiencing a catastrophic illness. There are numerous expenses incurred while fighting to get well, such as medication, transportation, hotel stays during treatment, and even household living expenses, like rent, utilities, food, and daycare. These funds will help to alleviate some of the financial and emotional stress associated with a life-threatening illness. Another mission of the foundation is to enhance the quality of life of those living in our community. To accomplish the goal of enhancing community health, the foundation will provide seed money and grants for community wellness programs.