Tara is an undeniable badass. As a 36 year old mother, wife, private practice optometrist, and bodybuilder with abs that will make you weep with envy, it’s easy to assume we know her whole story. We see women with a “perfect” life and perfect abs and think they are nothing like us. We don’t doubt they worked hard, and yet we see their journey as somehow separate from our own.
Some part of us assumes they are built from a tougher, more resilient mold that made their journey easier than ours could ever be. We don’t think about the blood, sweat, tears, doubt, falling down, apprehension, trepidation, and hesitation they endured along the way.
We fail to see ourselves in their story because we are so wrapped up in our own limiting beliefs that we overlook the important detail that EVERYONE who has ever achieved anything did so amidst the same overwhelming fears, doubts, obstacles and exhaustion we all carry.
Tara’s physical transformation is undeniable but her mental and emotional journey from devastated divorcee to confident, strong woman is the transformation I wanted to learn more about. Tara and I chatted for over an hour about how she finally learned to let go of perfectionism and people pleasing to hear her own voice and find true happiness… on her terms.
Hi Tara! Thank you for being my first #WomenCrushWednesday interview. I am so excited for women to hear your story because I think it will help them realize that we are all so much more alike than different. I believe it is so important for women to lift up other women and I appreciate you taking the time to do that today. So let’s get started….
What did you grow up believing, or what did you accept as truth about what it means to be “happy and successful?”
I definitely believed in working hard. I grew up with parents that are extremely dedicated to their work, but that also lead me to believe in perfectionism. I grew up to be a perfectionist. I never wanted to let anyone down.
I wanted to succeed at everything I did, whether that was sports, friendships, academics. I always wanted to be perfect. I never did anything wrong, I never got in trouble, I always followed the rules.
In my world, we went to college, there was no other question about it. Success was doing well in school, going through college, graduating, getting married, a job, a few kids. The trend that everyone defined as “normal” was how I defined success and that is just what I planned to do. I did all of these things and in the end it did not turn out successful.
So you did everything “right,” but in the end you still weren’t “successful” by your own definition?
I was always a planner. My entire life and fallen exactly according to my plan, down to having a boy and girl for my two kids. Literally everything had gone according to plan my entire life until 32.
At 32 I went through a major life change, a divorce. Never in a million years would I have thought I’d be a divorced woman with 2 children. It rocked me to my core in so many ways. I learned so much about myself.
I felt like I was being judged by every single person that looked at me for having a failed marriage, but I learned most people didn’t even know I was divorced and most people didn’t even really care.
I was mortified that this happened to me. This was not in my plans. This was not supposed to happen to me.
I had two choices. I could let it take me down or I could decide to be the strongest damn woman there was, so that’s what I decided to do.
How did your definition of happiness change after your divorce?
I’ve always been a total people pleaser. I like to make other people happy. After my divorce that changed a bit. I learned that you can’t make everyone happy no matter you do or how hard you try.
I’ve gotten better at learning what makes me happy and choosing those things over what other people like.
All of my life I have been considered “the fun hater,” I’m not super social, I don’t go out and drink a lot, and in my mind I was boring, I was labeled boring. That has changed. I’m not boring, I’m just me. This is who I am. This is what I love and I am okay with that. I’m not going to go to parties to make other people happy, I think that part of me has changed. But I still am someone who likes to make my parents proud.
I think for so many of us, we don’t even think to ask the question “what makes me happy?” We just keep going for the perfect version of what we “should” have and assume once we arrive we will achieve happiness. Your divorce taught you that not only can a “perfect” life be taken away at any moment, but that being happy is about so much more than pleasing others. How did you learn to figure out what ACTUALLY made you happy?
When my world fell apart, I found myself with a lot of time to myself. A lot of nights were just me. I started reading, diving into all types of books. I’m a self help lover, they are so thought provoking and really make you think about what is important to you.
I would make lists of what I wanted in my life, of what I was looking for. I started thinking about things I’ve always known about myself, that I was a quiet person, a studier and hard worker who always preferred nights at home with kids over a night out.
During this time, I spent a lot of time with myself and started realizing that it’s okay if I enjoy nights at home. I don’t have to put a show on for other people and pretend to be super social. I prefer quiet. I’m a homebody. I’m a total introvert.
I learned to enjoy how much I actually love alone time, to sit and think, read, just do my own thing. I became really fond of that time and finally realized, you know what, this is who I am. Not only am going to be true to myself, but I like who I am.
So when did you get into bodybuilding?
I started running after high school, 5ks, half marathons, triathlons, duathlons, biathlons…I wanted anything that could challenge me. The year after the divorce I ran 3 half marathons, Chicago muderella and the Chicago marathon. I threw myself into everything that I could to keep my mind occupied, but I kept thinking, what’s next?
Bodybuilding had always been in the back of my mind; I didn’t have a desire to run Boston so decided to just do a bodybuilding show…I signed up for a competition. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. After my first show I said I would never compete again, it was so out of my comfort zone, I hated it. I didn’t like the process, I am not the girly girly with the tan and the makeup and all of that, in my mind I’m an athlete. I also did terrible, I got like 11th out of 13. I was mortified, I was embarrassed, I don’t ever want to do anything I’m not good at.
Some friends I made at the first show kept encouraging me to compete again, I reluctantly did. The next show was better, but not great, but I kept working and all of a sudden I found a fire in me. I decided, not only am I going to keep doing this, but I’m going to be great at it.
I gotta tell you, it was really hard. I had so many people working against me. My parents, I love them but they did not like me doing these shows at all, and that was very hard on me because they are the number one people in my life I want to make happy. I’m now remarried and my husband is not the biggest fan of it, he supported it but didn’t really enjoy it. He definitely had a fear of me getting big and bulky. When people learned I switched from running to bodybuilding I got a lot of “that’s gross! Why would you want to do that!?” I still get that a lot.
I’ve come so far. I’ve made such huge changes in my body. I love the way I feel. I love how I feel in the gym. I’m confident there and I am just more confident in who I am. The comments that bugged me before, I really don’t care what they say anymore. If I put on a nice dress I still look like a feminine woman compared to when I’m in the gym and have a huge pump, but people just can’t seem to see past that. Yes I still have a lot more muscle than most women want and that’s fine, but it’s what I want, it’s what I like, and it’s the body I feel most confident in.
What has bodybuilding taught you that you think others need to know?
Find what you love, find what makes you feel good. Maybe you want to be a runner, or do Crossfit or yoga, personally I hate yoga, it’s not my thing, it’s so not me, but that’s fine. If you like yoga, do yoga! Everyone just has to find what they love. The way I train is how I love to train. I love being there, I enjoy it. My training may not be for everybody. You have to find what makes you feel good. My training makes me feel good.
The physical strength has led to so much mental strength and I’ve gained so much confidence. I’ve always been extremely self conscious, even well into my 20s, if we were going somewhere, wondering “what is everyone going to be wearing” always wondering “what if I’m not wearing the right clothes?” I always followed. I was not a leader. I am still quiet, but I’ve learned to be more vocal with my opinions and I’m not afraid to say what I think.
I’m happy where I’m at and I’m okay telling people, “if you don’t like what I do, that’s okay.”
I imagine when women hear you say “I’m so confident now” they think, of course you are you look awesome, but how can you help people understand that the confidence really is about so much more than the physical transformation?
Now I’m really strong, so I feel strong. I walk with my head taller, my shoulders back because I am strong. I love what I do. Lifting hard and accomplishing goals just makes me feel good.
It has allowed me to become more okay with who I am and has given me the confidence to be me without worrying about what others think.
I’ve spent so many years doing what I was “supposed” to do and following the rules, but now I’ve broken out of that. Girls aren’t supposed to lift, they’re supposed to run or “tone.” I am finally okay being a person who doesn’t do what is expected anymore.
I found something I love and there is no way anyone else’s opinion is going to stop me from being happy….that is confidence.
I am okay being who I am and showing people who I an without worrying about what they think. So yes, the “after” is nice but I’m not more confident because of how I look. I’m more confident because when you see how happy doing what you want can make you, everything else is irrelevant.
How does your happiness compare now vs before, when you were living the “perfect” life?
Everyone thought my life was perfect before. My happiness was all about pleasing others. I would constantly walk on eggshells wondering, “is that the right thing?” I just wanted to make people happy, I didn’t want them to be mad at me, I didn’t want to cause any conflict. I just kept quiet and went about my days. I gained a voice after my divorce, something I would have never done before. Of course, I never wanted my kids to go through a divorce, but it has been the best thing that has happened to me in a lot of ways.
Now, I am entirely grateful for all the little things. My life does not depend upon how big my house is or how great my world supposedly is. I went from a 3000 sqft home where I designed every detail to the home I have now, that is still wonderful, don’t get me wrong, but this house has so much meaning to me. It is everything. It is home, it’s where my family is, it’s where I feel happy. It’s where I feel peace. I didn’t have that before, I just lived in this big house.
Everything is different. I take everything to a little deeper level. Simple things make me happy. Going to the gym makes me happy. I don’t sit and wonder if the people around me are happy, and as selfish as that might sound, I finally realize I get to be happy too.
My own happiness is just as important as everyone else’s. I’m not spending my days trying to please everyone. I now realize that I have to please myself first in order to give to everyone else.
A lot of people say “well isn’t it selfish you take all this time to work out?” Hell no! It makes me really angry when people say that. My health will never be selfish for me and my happiness will never be selfish. I know my happiness is important too, so I am willing to do what I have to do (like work out at 3:30 am before my kids get up) or let go of things I don’t want to do.
When my life fell apart, I didn’t have to be perfect anymore. It was finally okay, I could finally breathe. I didn’t have to hold it together anymore because the worst had already happened, and nothing really changed! I still had a wonderful life, a great support system, but I was done upholding this perfect image.
How would you advise other women to get started on figuring out what THEY want and finding their own path to happiness?
The first thing I would do is sit down and journal, just write your thoughts out and think about all of the things you love about yourself. What do you want to become? What do you want in life? What are your biggest goals and dreams, no matter how crazy they might sound? And then start realizing that hey, if this is the life you want, you can make that life. You are capable of creating the things that you want, but you’ve just got to freaking go for it.
There will always be naysayers and those who pull you back, but it’s deciding you are worth it. You will hit obstacles, but you must keep the mindset and know whatever you want you really can have. It’s never going to be easy.
Everyone wants easy, they want the fast route, they want to skip the struggle…but all the greatness lies in the struggle.
Struggle leads us to who we are and what we want. Start simple, write it out and start envisioning and thinking about “how can I get there?” Small steps. Nothing happens with a huge leap. It’s one day, one simple step at a time.
Start reading. I’ve read so many amazing self help books that help you realize it’s okay to be different. Now that I’ve become honest about who I am, I’ve connected with so many others like me and we are all okay and normal and good in our own way.
Women need to stop worrying about everything and they need to know they have permission to be who they are. We spend our entire lives trying to fit in, fit the norm… it has taken me almost 36 years to get to the point where I don’t care about any of that and just want to be myself.
Of course it doesn’t happen overnight, but once you start making change, putting yourself first, let go of pleasing others, you realize people still love you, people still want to be around you, and ultimately most people don’t really care. All along we sacrificed our happiness because we were so worried about what other’s might think, and the truth is, most don’t even notice because they’re all to busy worrying about themselves.
What do you think? Can you relate to Tara’s story in any way? What can you learn from her experience or how do you think her story can inspire you to make meaningful change in your own life?
Before you go, don’t forget to join Once Upon a Wednesday to get your free eBook, be notified of new posts, and more!