Girl, Make It Happen. It is the empowering message of posts like these that have me time and again scanning the Facebook wall of Ms. Tiffany Thomas, an Ed Tech Consultant that I met last year through my work with Louisiana schools. I took interest in Tiffany’s story when, after meeting her face-to-face in her office in Baton Rouge, I friended her on the popular social tool and watched her run longer and longer races and lose more and more weight. I was impressed. But even more striking than the weight loss was the way Miss Tiffany celebrated herself and her every day triumphs in her messages to followers. That confident come-on-out-here-and-join-me smile was there for running, cycling, and wall climbing, and her “be stronger than your excuses” pep talks encouraged me to do a little bit more myself even though I was 600 miles away. For some reason I couldn’t explain, when Tiffany celebrated her success, I was encouraged to celebrate my own.
Turns out there is really something more to that than just entertaining Facebook posts. A study by Teresa Amabile of The Harvard Business School is one of a number of studies that show that rewarding ourselves for small daily achievements increases motivation and boosts our self-confidence, qualities that can be leveraged toward achieving future and larger goals.
Tiffany said her drive toward change began at the birth of her second child. At 360 pounds it was difficult for the doctors to administer an epidural, and the result was permanent nerve damage to her left leg. She said she realized that the weight had “done nothing but hinder everything in my life,” and in the absence of high blood pressure and diabetes, her doctor agreed to a gastric bypass when her daughter was only nine months old. “My goal was to be able to play with my kids and not be out of breath. The injury with the needle during the epidural could have paralyzed me, and this was a direct result of my morbid obesity.”
Part of the problem with her weight, says Tiffany, was cultural. “Within the black community, working out was not stressed to us. I was overweight because I ate. I ate what was cooked. . . . But when you know better, you do better.” Tiffany began with a walking program and joined Black Girls Run when she needed to add more social activity to her life following her divorce. Previously, says Tiffany, she never considered running. “I had a stereotypical idea of who runners were and what they looked like – petite and fit. In the group [Black Girls Run], I saw people who looked like me and they were running, so I decided to train for a 5K.” Using the app Couch to 5K, Tiffany began training by running five minutes and then walking five minutes and repeating. She says her memory of running that first five-minute span of time is more vivid than the memory of finishing her first half marathon. “I was screaming and celebrating with the group members who were there supporting me, and people were looking at us like we were crazy. But I was on cloud nine.”
Tiffany acknowledges that she doesn’t feel the same level of enthusiasm all the time. “Every day is not going to be a good day, Every workout is not going to be good, but you have to just keep doing it.” When she needs inspiration, Tiffany says she often finds it in the words of others, quotes she shares with her Facebook following and which also often help me push ahead through a difficult time. I believe Tiffany has embraced what Dr. Carol Dweck calls “the growth mindset,” believing that effort is a pathway to mastery, that criticism and failure are just part of the learning, and that inspiration can be found in the success of others.
Tiffany feels that if she were to create her dream job, she would be in the business of motivating others. From where I sit, she is already in that job and inspiring all who follow her story to get outside their comfort zones. “If I am talking about getting over your fears and trying new things, then I need to be out there trying new things,” says Tiffany. All I can say is “Girl, keep making it happen!”