The following post has been submitted by Lisa Nigh, in collaboration with Jodi Lee Fleming Photography.
I spent half of my life quitting. I spent half my life afraid. I spent half my life shy and cowering. I spent half my life swallowing my words and playing it safe.
When I was young, in grade school, I was painfully shy. I’m not quite sure why, but I was happy regardless. Who I was was inconsequential at the time, but I know that I was raised in a very strict but loving household. I wish I could go back there and spend time with that little girl, encourage her to keep her chin up, to try new things. I didn’t shine as a child, I was a follower, a wallflower, I was homely and skinny and feared anything that would challenge my strict upbringing.
What happened between then and now is a mystery, as I can’t pinpoint a catalyst that caused an abrupt change in the way I socialized and grew in confidence, but what stayed the same was my deep fear to succeed. I had these great dreams of going places and doing amazing things and I pursued them...all the way until they were a breath shy of completion..then I quit.
Something deep inside compelled me to move from everything I rested my familiarity on. So post-university, I headed all the way to a city 22 hours from my home where I knew no one. It was the first meal I ate alone in a restaurant. I felt liberated and not the least bit afraid of the aloneness.
This is the time that I flourished, discovering who I was, challenging my own values, driven to pursue a new and improved me with only my own compass to guide me. This is the place that I began to become familiar with the woman I was, the journey of self discovery, a very independent woman.
As I went through the next few years in my early 20’s and working in the advertising industry in Toronto and Hamilton, I became confident in my abilities, determined to succeed by just living in the moment. I had no regard of past or future, but I lived with happiness and excitement for the moment. I sipped in all that life poured.
I’ve had several transformative events since those days. Events that, in retrospect, were pivotal in my journey of self discovery, yet were not realized as transformative until much later.
For example: One day, I was looking for a carpool ride, and I decided to pick the middle name on a list that, as per my wing and a prayer usual, and my finger landed on the name ‘H. Nigh’. This is how I met my husband. I often refer to it as divine intervention, but he made me realize that the things that I was chasing for happiness were not what I needed at all; but were, indeed, actually core value alignments to love and regard for family. He loved his dad and his family and that’s what drew me to him. That was an epiphany, truly.
Of course, all of the big life changing events that we all know that cause stress and elation ensued. As many others know, children add a new dimension to self discovery. Having my daughter allowed me to reveal once again that happiness was not my career in advertising, but it was being with my daughter. Wow, I had no idea what the love of a child could do to my heart, but my career became inconsequential and raising her while working part time filled my heart with joy and satisfaction. Raising a family without my own family around, without aunts and uncles or stop-ins for coffees, has been really challenging. However, living in moments and carrying no regret helped pave the way to successful parenting.
The biggest challenge in my life, though, came when I was 32. I learned that we were expecting twins. All the learning and excitement quickly turned into angst as we found out that one of our twins was health compromised and that she may also hinder the growth of the healthy twin. I went on bed rest for three months. This challenged me not only physically and mentally, but it also rocked my faith. Against the odds of the specialist, I prayed for two healthy babies and those prayers turned into prayers to hold twin b, our baby named Hope, alive. At 36 weeks, I delivered a crying and healthy preemie boy...and behind a shroud of tears and bright operating room lights, I delivered baby Hope to silence. I held her for 1 hour.
An hour where my prayers were answered, an hour to know the feeling of being a mother of 3, an hour where nothing else mattered but life.
We buried Hope in Springvale cemetery, underneath the most beautiful trees and sky and I often go there to remember who I am. The neighbours are her keepers, in that I feel secure. Because Hope fought to live, her brother, against all odds, was able to grow and be healthy. I survived knowing that her little life was not lived in vain, but she showed me to fight for what mattered. The docs encouraged me to help with the loss by prescribing medication, which I took for 1 entire day before I instead turned to my happiness pill: exercise. This is where I completely evolved to who I am today. Faith intact.
I took up the sport of powerlifting. It’s a long story, but I had a few game changers in my life that got me there; people who believed in me, and people who endorsed consistency over anything. From that time forward, practising consistency has always paid off, as it eliminated fear. When I have studied with consistency, when I have practised with consistency, when I have done anything with consistency, it's been miraculous how my fears suddenly dissipate.
Powerlifting has been a great teacher. Powerlifting has been a truant officer, a guardian, a loyal friend, a hurtful partner that has caused pain and trauma and heartbeat to a family that has filled the gaps while I’ve been thousands of kilometers from my own. I have stood on a World podium with the Canadian flag draped over my shoulders. I have been Vice President of our provincial powerlifting organization, and I also have lost friends in the sport to the evil that is cancer. Some of the most incredible interactions with others and relationships I have garnered to date, have been a result of delving in to a sport meant to be a one shot goal to gaining fitness consistency. I revelled in the glory of that once meak-mannered child, living in moments of fortitude as a powerful woman.
As I approached my late 40’s, my thinking changed, maybe without my steering. I, for the first time, was very conscious of my vulnerability. I stopped living in the moment, but thought about past and future. Physical setbacks and people coming and going; growing older was at the forefront of my thoughts. I hate being vulnerable, but that resistance to vulnerability kept me in limbo for many years. I kept doing the same thing over and over and saw that inconsistent, fearful and shy me resurface.
It’s not easy to open your life up to people who don't know you. Hell, the ones that do can find fault with your life or resist your best version of you. I am meant to shine. We all are.
It wasn’t until last year that I remembered who I was. I left my home, my family, my job and I flew 2,400 kms away to meet my dad in Thunder Bay as he was having tests for the screen used to mend his hernia. The day I arrived, and after several tests, we still didn’t have answers. My mom asked me to ‘stir up a storm’. There she was, fierce me ignited, locked and loaded ready for the storm. But it wasn‘t a rain cloud, it wasn't even a tsunami, it was an asteroid set to end my world. My dad had metastatic pancreatic cancer, stage 4; a prognosis of weeks to live. Instead of sinking into past and future, I began to live in the precious moments again.
My dad dug deep to keep his chin high and he asked me to stay with him. Dad trusted me with his life. He always did. He was young, fearless, full of passion for life and athletic. At 68 years old, I saw my dad for the first time in a very different way. In one of the waiting rooms, I observed his skeletal back and hunched spine through the hospital gown while he rested his head in his hands as he sat, and I beside him. He sobbed, that wretched, explosive, fully paralyzing sob, knowing that he would not see his grandchildren grow up. That was the only time he cried in front of me. I saw my dad as a human for the first time in my life and I knew what I had to do. I knew that he deserved dignity, as all humans do, and I endeavoured to fulfil his wish of dying at home. 3 months I stayed with my family. 80 days. I worked every day around the clock to give my dad a pain free existence. I drove to appointments, I cooked, I talked, I placed fentanyl patches with care, I loved, I drank wine, I stayed up all night while dad was in delirium. I visited with old friends, I sourced how to explore alternate treatments, I learned how to give injections and IV, and I learned how important it was for dad to have people around. Those people gave him the notion of happiness, if even for a moment of reprieve from the inevitable. I learned the power of community and peace. I learned that one can fully push their existence leading to their own impending doom. I saw the person in me that my dad believed in; consistent and strong. Because of powerlifting, I was able to carry my dad back to his bed at his weakest time and when no one else could. And in all the times I spent seeking the gold at podiums in the realm of lifting, this is the time I felt the most powerful, a time where I made a difference for someone I loved.
Every single thing has its season. I don't believe in reason. I don't believe in fate. Some things just are. The girl that fought so hard to leave and be away from the trappings of family and a small hometown felt at peace and at home back in her roots. I was with my dad during his final breath at home. It changed me down to my DNA. My tear filled eyes changed the world before me.
I often think deeply about factors that caused me to stray from my path of self discovery, but I guess if I’m fully understanding who I am, then any chance I have at growth will be stunted because everything in my path; whether conscious of that course or not, is part of self discovery. It just IS.
What I do know without a doubt, is who I am NOT.
I am deeply rooted in the intricate mechanisms of my internal compass. Anything that doesn’t line up with my inner workings, I actively avoid or delete those things from my life. While I am strong, I have deep fears like anyone, maybe more. I am shy, I can have esteem issues, I am still that little girl, but I work hard every single day to move forward and not back. I am the master of my own happiness. I forget that sometimes, because sometimes I just want to be sad...I want to mourn and I want to be angry, but I give those things lifespans too. They are cancer. I have been accused of seeing life through ‘rose-coloured glasses’, but what is the alternative? I am a student of my own happiness. I am ultimately responsible for my own happiness. And I won’t ever stop.
Today, I work hard at being a beacon to others by giving, by moving to inspire, and by redefining how we age. Women are amazing. I feel the absolute strongest when I am coaching teenage girls and other women. I could be coaching them to compete or to just squat properly, but more so I hope that I am teaching them a little about themselves at the same time. I feel strongest by giving. As the great Muhammed Ali said, “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.” I love to give. Not often, but sometimes, I feel jaded in the act of giving. I’ll ask questions as to why and when and who. In the messiness of being human, it’s easy to get hurt or offended and at times, even jaded. That is fear, and fear derails you from your happiness. It is at that exact moment that I'll feel the little hands of my happiness tugging at my shirt asking, “does this service to others make you happy?” well, the answer always is yes; it does make me happy.
So, it’s been a circle...I began meekly, then I grew worthy of a new beginning, I moved forward with grand ambitions for myself and OF this world. As I self realized, I learned a lot about what’s important and I've learned what defines my happiness. Happiness is consistency, happiness is work, happiness is ever changing, and I ask myself in everything I do: "does this make Lisa happy?"...as for the rest, I've learned to let go.
Now, I am a student IN the world I live in, and I have ambitions for my little world with my sights on my children, my husband and my mom. Family is home and home is happiness. Where I faltered before in thinking that I was strong alone and showing no signs of vulnerability, at 50 I NEED community, I NEED great friends and I NEED family. I NEED laughter and I NEED love.
I will spend the next half of my life alive and being true to myself. I will speak my peace and consistently seek happiness. I will dedicate my time to forging great relationships. I will spend the rest of my life as an encourager, a beacon of light that shines not only for myself, but for others when all they see is darkness. I will spend the rest of my life showing my family that they are my universe, without distraction. I will continue to work on my legacy. I will never, EVER quit..and I will spend the rest of my life giving that young girl inside of me permission to do the same.
God, it’s hard...but by your grace, I go.