The Value of Female Friendships

A friend and I recently caught up over drinks. This friend is someone I’ve wanted to get to know better for a long time. She’s pretty, she’s intelligent, she has amazing taste in music, and she’s just cool. During the course of the evening, we got on the subject of the importance of female friendships. The conversation was extremely timely, as this topic has been at the top of my mind for quite some time now.

There was long period of time in my life during which I scoffed at female friendships. Though I’ve always had female friends throughout the years, “younger me” didn’t value them like I should have. In the past, you would often hear me say that I preferred the company of male friends because there was less drama. I fully admit I’ve been catty, and I regret it.

I don’t think I truly realized how much I needed the support of other women until I went through my divorce. At that point, I didn’t know a lot of other women my age who had been through the same thing. Regardless, my female friends were the people I leaned on during the initial separation, the divorce process, and the emotional aftermath. My sister was the first person I told, followed by Ginger, Kim, and Ellen.

In the last couple of years alone, I’ve realized that when you go through hardships in life, you come out of them with wisdom and a desire to help others. In that vein, I’m trying to be there for female friends who are also going through separations and divorces. While no divorce is exactly the same, the emotional rollercoaster that comes with it is a common thread.

I made a goal at the beginning of the year to spend more time with women. Each month, my core group of gal besties plan at least one get-together to drink wine, eat cheese, and catch up. Even though all of us are old ladies with early bedtimes (and therefore wrap up our hangouts before 8 PM), this portion of time together is a great way to de-stress and cheer on one another.

Outside the Cruise Crew bestie group, I’ve been enjoying hanging out with girl friends through sipping beer during Wednesday after-work happy hours, swinging kettlebells at the gym, and working on projects at the office. I also got to know several of the members of Birmingham’s roller derby team during my brief time skating prior to an injury. I’ve been fortunate to continue to spend time with many members of the team in various environments, including coffee dates, social media, and a very cool book club.

My favorite part of all of this is that associating with strong, supportive women has made me stronger, more confident, and altogether happier. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the company of my boyfriend or guy friends, but I honestly look forward to seeing my girl friends most of all (with the exception of my best friend Brian, who I have known and loved since 8th grade; our friendship is unlike any other). After all, we live in a “Me Too,” “Time’s Up” world that tries its best to tear women down or tell them they’re less. Our emotions are frequently seen as weakness, our opinions are often ignored, and don’t even get me started on the day-to-day forms of harassment that we face. The solidarity and support women receive from other women is absolutely necessary.

Why I Love Traveling Alone (And Why You Should Try It)

When Ginger and I were en route to Atlanta a couple of weekends ago, our conversation turned to the topic of solo travel. She said, “I think I’d like to go somewhere by myself, but it makes me nervous!” Girl, I feel you. Traveling by myself didn’t come by choice; at least, it didn’t at first. During my days as a software trainer, I spent 75% of my time on the road. Prior to this, I had never been anywhere by myself. I was excited to try it but also extremely intimidated. My head swam with thoughts like “I have to drive alone in an unfamiliar place!” or “I have to navigate LAX with no help!”

My first few solo trips were depressing. I was lonely, nervous, and inexperienced. Back-to-back trips for 3 weeks in a row left me homesick. Being new to the software training gig didn’t help, so in addition to worrying about getting around unfamiliar places, I also frequently second-guessed the information I taught during my training classes and lived in constant worry that I’d be fired because my trainees didn’t learn anything. (They actually did, and my trainings were fine, but I’ve always been a perfectionist).

Once I made it past the hard part, my outlook changed. Turns out, traveling alone has become the most therapeutic thing I could have done for myself.

Seeing Things Solitarily is Inspiring

The first time I visited Mt. Rainier National Park to see the wildflowers in Paradise, I did so alone.

The first time I stood in the Pacific ocean, I was by myself.

I marveled at the Oregon Trail Memorial atop a peak overlooking a rolling prairie with no one else in sight.

I walked around Sleepy Hollow in October by myself, crossing the Headless Horseman bridge at dusk.

I sat secluded and in awe of the Exploding Plastic Inevitable exhibit at the Andy Warhol museum for an hour, songs by The Velvet Underground stuck in my head for several days after. During this same trip, I visited Andy’s grave.

I hiked unaccompanied to the Craggy Pinnacle on the Blue Ridge Parkway in the dark to watch the sunrise.

These experiences probably would have been just as cool if I’d had company, but I don’t think I would have has as much of a chance to deeply marvel if I hadn’t been alone. Solo travel allows you to focus on your surroundings and take in so much more.

You Get Out of Your Comfort Zone (and Learn to Figure Stuff Out)

My self-confidence and independence skyrocketed when I started taking solo trips, allowing me to develop problem-solving skills. The prospect of driving in New York City or Los Angeles used to terrify me, but when you’re by yourself, you’re forced to figure out how to get around (especially if you want to see more than just the inside of your hotel). I’ve braved all kinds of weather on the road, including driving around the Michigan peninsula after they had gotten huge amounts of snow. This was a terrifying prospect to a Southerner like me, but places that get snowy weather frequently are well-equipped to handle it. I’ve dealt with more delayed and canceled flights than I can even remember. I can honestly say that learning to troubleshoot travel hiccups has helped me in other parts of my life as well and has taught me to be just the slightest bit more laid-back.

You Call the Shots

Randomly driving 2 hours to the next state for a steak while doing Whole30, touring Fenway Park or Seneca Falls on your lunch break, or scoring a walk-in appointment at the coolest tattoo shop in Asheville? When you’re traveling alone, you can do whatever you want without input or protest. You can also change your plans in a snap without having to consult anyone else.

fenway park baseball field

You Meet New People

Solo travel allows you to interact with people from all walks of life, especially if you stay in a shared space like a hostel. Although I mostly like to keep to myself when I’m traveling, I also find that I’m more observant of other people and more willing to strike up conversations with strangers. From a friendly Bostonian who was in a Led Zeppelin cover band in college to an MTV celebrity hanging out with his pet pig on Huntington Beach, I’ve had the opportunity to hang out with some really interesting folks, several of whom I still keep in touch with.

These great memories make it seem as though I prefer to travel by myself all the time, but I do enjoy occasionally having company on trips. Exploring a new place with someone else is a lot of fun, and you have someone to share memories with long after you’ve returned from your destination. Solo travel, though, is a wonderful tool for self-discovery, personal growth, independence, and creativity. Waking each morning to go where you want and do whatever strikes your fancy is the ultimate kind of freedom.

By the way, driving in an unfamiliar city becomes easier when you have Google Maps, and when you’ve been in as many airports as I have, you realize they’re all basically the same. Just follow the signs.

How Kettlebells Changed My Life

You may think the title of this post is a little drastic. How can an iron ball with a handle change someone’s life? There might even be a kettlebell in your house, and now you’re glancing at it with hopes that some life-changing energy will radiate in your direction. It’s not quite that simple. More specifically, kettlebell and barbell training, along with great coaches and a supportive gym family, have changed my life.

A Look Back

In high school, I didn’t care about strength training because I never really had the opportunity or guidance to explore that realm. Instead, I focused my energy on running with the track team and playing soccer. In college, I was fortunate to have access to the awesome campus rec center at UAB and took advantage of its equipment often but never consistently. The “Freshman 15” turned out to be a very real thing, then the “Marriage 20” happened. Unsurprisingly, I started to lose my self-confidence.

I stopped and started many fitness routines after college, during grad school, and then in the “real world”. Running was usually my go-to. There’s minimal equipment required, and I figured my days on the track team naturally translated into keeping up a running routine in adulthood. Here’s the thing: I ran sprints and short distances on the track team because I never liked running for long periods of time, yet every time I tried to pick up running, I pushed myself to run miles. I’m sure you can guess what happened. I don’t enjoy running long distances, which meant I didn’t enjoy what I was doing to stay active, which meant I stopped doing it a few weeks after starting. Every time. I got a membership at the Y, where I used the treadmill and elliptical machine, but I got bored. Boredom leads to a lack of motivation. I tried P90X and did the Insanity program from Beachbody a couple of times, but after I finished, it didn’t take long to go back to the same old habit of being sedentary. Also, working out at home may be great for some, but I found it very hard to stay disciplined when my only accountability was a DVD.

I was weak, mentally and physically, and it was disheartening.

Finding Motivation

In 2015, after getting out of a travel-heavy job, I decided to give kettlebell training at HMG Fitness a try on the recommendation of friends and my then-husband, who had lost his “Marriage 20” and gained a lot of muscle from the programming and guidance of Jody and Jenni. I was pretty intimidated before my introductory class and during my first week at the gym, but once I gained some base knowledge and a little confidence, the intimidation changed to excitement.

Side note: If you’ve never done kettlebell swings and then try to do them after watching a video, you’re most likely doing them wrong.

Guided classes led by supportive, knowledgable coaches and camaraderie with my fellow gym members were game-changers for me. They were truly the missing pieces in my search for motivation and consistency. The daily workouts are always a little different, so the variety keeps things exciting. There’s also always something new to learn and techniques to improve.

Some things I had to remind myself when I was a gym newbie and still keep in mind today:

  • Everyone starts as a beginner.
  • Practice is important.
  • People aren’t going to stare at you, they’re going to be focused on their own workout.
  • There’s always room for improvement, even if you’ve been doing movements like cleans and Turkish get-ups for years.
  • Consistently being active does wonders for mental health.
  • You can always get stronger.
  • Have to train at home or while traveling and don’t know what to do? Go back to the basics: kettlebell swings and Turkish get-ups.
  • Your only true competition is yourself.

Moving On Up

One of my favorite things about training with my gym group is that there’s always something to work toward. When we achieve goals, we set new ones and train for them. The difference between where I was years ago compared to where I am today is profound. I had zero upper-body strength when I started at my gym, and last year I was able to do a one-arm overhead press with a 53lb kettlebell. I’ve done 113 kettlebell snatches in 5 minutes. I even had to buy a new leather jacket because I hulked out of my old one (yes, strength training leads to buying larger clothing sizes, and you shouldn’t feel bad about it).

Do I still have bad self-image days? Sure. But I’m also more confident, and I’m healthier physically and mentally. If I hadn’t found my gym, I would probably still be struggling to stay consistent with exercise, and I would definitely not be as strong. Everyone has a different way to stay active, so what has worked for me may not work for you. In the end, it’s all about the right tools, the right coaching, and the friends you make along the way.