Bystander- noun- A person who is present at an event or incident but does not take part.
I was a bystander. Not to just one certain event or incident, but to my own life. I spent 20 years watching my life go by. I was a pro. I had my bystanding down pat. Don’t push the envelope, don’t draw attention to yourself, and don’t do anything that is out of the ordinary. Basically, don’t do anything.
I watched a lot of life. I watched my girls play sports, win state a state championship, travel and play volleyball all over the Midwest. I watched Scott flourish in his dream job. I watched him play football and basketball at church. I listened to stories of my brother in law running marathons and ultra marathons. All the while thinking that I couldn’t possibly ever be the one doing anything worthwhile.
I watched reality television. Biggest Loser, Extreme Weight Loss (of course!), Survivor, The Amazing Race... you name it. I loved watching people challenge and change themselves, and have incredible experiences. All the while thinking, “That could never be me”.
I had listened to the voice in my head for years telling me that I was finished. Life was going to just go by and I would never be anything more than overweight and afraid to try anything. I was afraid to go for something and fail, so why bother trying? I was comfortable in my bystander roll. I was not willing to be uncomfortable.
And then I realized I had had enough. My youngest daughter had graduated from high school, Scott and I were almost empty nesters and I knew that we had a lot of years left in us. Years that were meant to be lived. Not years that were meant to just pass by. I had done all my watching, all the bystanding I could stand.
I knew it was time to stop watching and start living. I know it may sound cliché, but it’s true. I just could not stand to think about watching 20 more years go by. I didn’t want Scott to be bored with me, or wish that we were doing more. We had dreamed about our girls being grown. We were young when we had them and we had always talked about how we would travel and do life. We were going to be young empty nesters and it was going to be awesome. But it wasn’t. And it was time to inject some awesome into our lives.
It had to begin with me getting healthy and losing weight. So, I did. I never would have imagined myself being one of those people on TV, losing weight, trying new things, challenging myself. But, that is exactly where I ended up. And it was the beginning of me shedding my bystander role and becoming an active participant in my life. I didn’t want to just be present at events; I wanted to be in the middle of the event. I wanted to live events, make my life eventful!
And so it is. I choose to make it eventful. Sure, it’s pretty benign on a day-to-day basis, but I have come to love challenging myself. Setting goals. Meeting my goals.
My most recent “event” was the Nashville Half Marathon. After knee surgery last summer, I wasn’t sure that I would ever do another half marathon. I had done one the previous year, and knew then that my knee was an issue. After surgery, I have been advised not to run. Ever. Which was a blow. I thought to myself that my “running career” (I use that term in the loosest way possible) was over. But, as I recovered, I realized I could always walk. And walk fast. And just maybe walk 13.1 miles.
And so, I did. I worked up my mileage through the spring, the knee held up and I did it. After I registered for the race, although “race” is a strong term compared to what I do, I did have self-doubts. That inner critic began to tell me that walking was lame. Tried to get me to question why I was even bothering because it would be embarrassing to walk the whole course.
Then it hit me that the people watching the race would be doing exactly that. WATCHING ME! They would be watching me “race”. THEY would be the bystanders to the event. They would be the ones not participating. And I would be the one involved in the event. Who would have thought it? Who could have known that the afraid, overwhelmed, self-doubting bystander could become the participant? Could become someone who made life happen instead of watching it go by?
How much life have we all watched? How many times have we thought, “I wish I could do that!”? Guess what? We can do that! We can get healthy. We can run/walk half marathons. We can do back handsprings at age 45. We can do CrossFit. We can coach CrossFit! We can fly even though we’ve been afraid of flying for 15 years. We can travel with our spouses. We can wear two-piece bathing suits and not care what anyone thinks. We can be who we’ve always wanted to be. We don’t have to wait another year. We don’t have to wait and wish and hope and wonder if we’ll ever be the ones to do life.
As someone who spent way too many years as a bystander, I know from experience, it’s not fun. Getting uncomfortable, challenging yourself, doing something new, LIVING... that is fun. Are you currently a bystander? Are you watching life go by? How long can you stand to be a bystander? Don’t wait any longer. Start today. Get up. Do something. Participate. LIVE.