Last week I was honored by a dear friend to speak to a group of about fifty eighth grade girls about my life and background as a physical therapist, mountain runner, and former smokejumper. What I remember about being brand new to my teenage years, close to embarking on high school–the stepping stone to adulthood–is feeling fully underprepared. These are a few things I felt like I needed to know then, and I feel I need to be reminded of ever-so-often now.
By Kristina Pattison
With Photography by Ben Herndon
I came from a relatively hard upbringing with somewhat necessary independence at a young age, and I always felt the stars were generally not in my favor. I needed someone to tell me I was wrong. Focusing on what you don’t have is exactly the wrong way to approach life. Focusing instead on what you want, or what you want to be able to do, is the only way to start envisioning the path to get there.
My best example of having the same chances is qualifying to work for the Missoula Smokejumpers. Less than 150 women in the past 35 years have had the honor and stubborn determination to qualify for this job parachuting into remote and rugged lands to fight wildland fires, because the physical and psychological requirements are extremely rigorous. It was one of the hardest journeys of my life, and I cried when I graduated. I trained for nearly 15 months to put on over 15 pounds of muscle until my hands literally bled, my spirit was almost crushed, and I couldn’t sleep because of pain. People suggested to me it was a futile effort, where women don’t belong, and they were wrong. It was worth every pull-up, every set, and every 90-pound pack carry up Mount Sentinel. And achieving this magnanimous goal gave me more confidence as a short, stocky female than any kind words ever have. If you focus on what you want to be capable of rather than what you want to look like or who you want to please, you will find the path to succeed.
Things worth doing don’t come easily. They take countless hours of hard, unsexy work to obtain. To become a doctor of physical therapy, I put myself through college in my late twenties, without help from family. I worked in research labs and student teaching, I spent summers fighting fire or doing field research, I neglected my other desires. But all the self-discipline landed me with a job I love and a group of friends I adore who share similar interests. Take home message is: following your passions will help you see past the difficulties of the road less traveled.
You choose how to spend your time. You chose how you talk to yourself and what you put into your mind and into your mouth. You chose what comes out of you too. Dream big and choose to aspire something beyond what you think is possible. Choose to avoid selling yourself short.
Becoming a sponsored mountain runner and racing internationally was the last thing I ever thought would be possible in my life. But I dreamed of being in breathtaking mountains since I was a teenager. I took some insane risks and sacrificed a lot of lesser options to work toward the abilities I have now. Taking responsibility for your choices includes not only what you don’t do with your time, but what you choose to do with your energy and unique gifts.
Ultra endurance athlete Rich Roll always refers to us all sitting on “mountains of untapped potential.” The only thing holding us back from tapping into it is ourself. We are our worst critic, which means we can be our worst enemy. No one holds you back more than you.
Honestly, this is the one I struggle with the most. As all driven, ambitious people know: we see our flaws as more blaring than anyone else does. The first step to this is again, to stop letting negative self-talk destroy your ambition. Recognize when you’re saying things to yourself that you wouldn’t say to your best friend. Interrupt that language and replace it with something more encouraging and constructive.
If you don’t love yourself, you can’t love or appreciate others enough, because you’re too focused on yourself. It’s almost a subtle form of narcissism or self-absorption, and will make you seek affirmation and compliments, which is just plain annoying. Some of my favorite people struggle with this as well but when we are together, we are strong, confident women who laugh at ourselves and help each other see ourselves in a positive light. Surround yourself with people who are positive and give you energy. And let the mean, self-absorbed, competitive girls be mean. Their loss.
You can’t control how other people think or behave. You can’t control your results. You can’t control your grades or your curfew, the weather, or the obstacles on your path. You can only control how you react to those obstacles. You can control your mindset. Have a great attitude, put in your best effort to deal with the challenges you encounter, and accept the things you can’t control. Only then will you find yourself and succeed.