“Ready”

There’s a countdown app on my phone that says there are 50 days until the CPU (Canadian Powerlifting Union) Nationals.

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I’m registered. The trip is paid for. I worked my ass off to qualify, and I got it done.

But right now? Right now all I want to do is withdraw, because I am not ready.

My squat isn’t where I imagined it would be. My bench press is all kinds of awful – it’s inconsistent, it’s the weak point relative to the other two lifts, and it’s not progressing. My deadlift, the strongest of the three lifts, looks horrific and I’ve developed the bad habit of setting up the lift and then gently “booping” the bar away from my body with my shins when I go to grab it.

Not. Ready.

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I need better technique. I need practice. I need to get stronger. I need more time to recover from the car accident that happened in fucking JUNE. I need to lose weight.

I am not good enough. Yet.

But let’s back up for a second, to fifteen years ago, where I never, ever in a million years thought I would be competing in anything athletic. Like, NEVER. Like I would go WAY out of my way to not get involved in any kind of physical activity. Or to ten years ago, when I had lost 100lbs and I was just getting started as a personal trainer – I thought it didn’t matter whether or not I accomplished anything great as long as I was out there participating, dragging my middle-of-the-pack butt over the finish lines of fun runs, community triathlons, and later on, obstacle races. Or even to five years ago, when my weight had ballooned again and I was on the brink of giving up on everything.

I never imagined that one day, at age 40, I’d be competing in anything at the national level. That’s bananas shit.

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So here I am, in spite of everything…and all I want to do is run away because I’m not ready.

Here’s the problem with “not ready” though: I will never be ready. I will never be where I want to be before I get on that platform – if I wait until I’m ready, it will never happen. There will always be a couple more kilos there, technique to tweak, strength to gain, injuries to overcome. There will never be a moment where I say, “that’s it, the work is all done” and waltz onto that platform without a hint of consternation. “Ready” is an illusion. “Ready” is fake news.

So here’s what’s going to happen instead. I’m going to follow my program, get my workouts in for the next seven weeks, and when Feb 20 rolls around I am going to get on that platform the way I am. I won’t be ready and that’s ok because on Feb 21 (or, let’s face it, Feb 24 or 25) it’ll be time to get back to work to qualify for CPU Nationals 2019. I will have learned some lessons and have new numbers to chase.

We’re going into a week where typically I sit down with a lot of people and have a lot of discussions about New Year’s resolutions, and their dreams about what the next year could look like if they could just get rolling on making them happen. Most of those people will tell me that they’re motivated, that it’s time to get down and get to work…and they’ll get some instruction once they’re in shape and ready to take it to the next level. But you know what usually happens to them – “ready” never happens because, well, life. And because change is hard.

Here’s the bad news: time is going to keep marching on whether or not you go after what you want. It doesn’t make a shred of difference to anyone except you.

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Want the good news now? The good news is, there is virtually no downside to grabbing the bull by the balls and going for it. If you don’t succeed, so what? You’ll know a little bit more about yourself, you’ll know one path that doesn’t work, and you can dust yourself off and keep trying, or go after something else.nr5

But if you wait until you’re ready – ready to get in shape, ready to level up, ready to compete (in whatever; this theory applies to pretty much anything) you will not move forward. “Ready” will never happen because there will ALWAYS be more to do. Might as well jump in with both feet, commit to the process, and enjoy the journey.

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Change to Spare

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So, mah dudes, 2017 is almost over. How are we feeling about this? Last year, at the end of 2016, the general concensus was that people could not wait to see the door hit 2016 in the ass on its way out. Not so much this year, although I feel a general sense of optimism about 2018. Seems as though culturally and socio-economically there’s a sense of relief that the sky didn’t actually fall in 2017 and there’s nowhere to go but up from here.sc2

I have mixed feelings about 2017. I started it with some pretty wild expectations (I was born in 1977 so it was a milestone birthday year) and maybe that’s where I went a little bit wrong…because there were some wild successes but also some colossal failures, and life threw me a couple of curve balls that left me reeling for months – I’m STILL working on some course correction. Here’s the thing, though: we PLAN for the good stuff; we work our butts off for it over the long term, and we earn it. Usually – I mean, there’s some element of being in the right place at the right time and luck and all that – but when awesome stuff happens, it’s highly likely that some work went into it. The bad things that happen, on the other hand: more often than not, they’re a surprise.  And because of them, I learned some tough lessons, grew in directions I wasn’t expecting, and was inspired to put some processes in place to guard against that shit happening ever again. All told, it was a pretty epic year.sc3

I was at the mall with my twelve-year-old daughter recently. We were standing in line at Starbucks when I glanced down at my baby and saw someone I was not expecting: a young woman. Tall, strong, smart, beautiful, kind, independent… It was like an anvil dropped out of the ceiling of the mall and fell right on my head. I was not prepared for it at all – I mean, this is my youngest kid, who dresses like a unicorn had explosive diarrhea all over her, who loves playing with Lego and who, given the choice, would just be a kid for her entire life…and she is growing up. The bittersweetness of it made me choke up for a minute.

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Do you ever feel kinda overwhelmed by changes? Like you push and push and push for things to move forward and suddenly everything comes loose and you can either dig in and resist and get crushed, or jump up and ride the wave and see where it takes you? That seems to be what’s going on in my corner these days.

I mean, don’t get me wrong – change is good. I can be okay with my daughters growing up, they are turning into amazing women who will make the world better. I can grow and change as a professional; I have stuff to say and embracing some discomfort is necessary in order to get my voice heard. Change is inevitable and it’s almost always a good thing. Sometimes, though, change is a harsh bitch who forces you to take a really close look at what and who you’ve grown attached to and why that attachment formed…and if we’re honest with ourselves it can be eye-opening. Still, nasty and shocking or exciting and stimulating, change always carries with it opportunities to grow. I mean, you could just squeeze your eyes shut and stick your head in the sand but how interesting would that be?

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If you ask me, the hardest part of embracing change is not dealing with the new, but letting go of the old. Even if the old SUCKS – it’s familiar and it’s comfortable, like an old pair of sneakers that are so worn out they have holes in the bottoms. You know that pair. You throw them out and then haul them out of the trash an hour later because nothing is quite as comfortable as they are…until you wear them outside again and realize that your feet are cold and wet because those fucking shoes have holes in the soles. Chuck them out and get some new ones!  Because if you look around, things are shifting and moving and changing everywhere at an alarming rate – the social climate, industry, culture. All you have to do is open up whatever social media platform to see that under a microscope (which can be kind of horrific). In order to not get sucked out to sea in the riptide of change, some introspection is necessary – what ideas about myself am I hanging onto that I’d be better off letting go of? How do I redefine myself so that I am on the leading edge, shaping and steering the change rather than trying to keep up? How do I stay relevant?

sc6These are the questions I’m pondering as I shape my goals and aspirations for 2018. I’m seeking out opportunities to change and grow because I know things aren’t going to progress in a linear way and I want to be ready.  It’s going to be an interesting year.

What do you want to do in 2018? Hit me with it – I’m always listening.

Trainers Are The Worst

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I was in the locker room the other day and overheard two women talking in the next alcove over.

“You coming to spin class today?” asked one.

“No, I need to get my strength program done,” the other replied.

“I don’t know how you work out around the trainers,” the first one said. “I only do group fitness because I can’t stand being around them. They’re always watching everyone out of the corners of their eyes, judging and critiquing in their heads. Trainers are the worst.”eyeroll

There was another woman in the alcove with me and up until that moment we had been quietly changing. She knew who I was though, and at that moment she leaned over and whispered, “for the record, I don’t feel that way.” I thanked her and she headed out to do her workout. I loitered in the alcove for a few more minutes so as not to pop out and embarrass anyone and make them hate trainers more…

But, okay, I guess this is a thing that needs addressing because it’s not the first time I’ve heard someone say something like that. I’m probably preaching to the choir here but hopefully this clears up some misconceptions.

Disclaimer: These are just my opinions, but they are based on working with a lot of other trainers over the last dozen years or so and I think my generalizations will apply to 90% of the trainers out there. (There are exceptions and that sucks, but that’s the reality in any field.)

  1. Yes, we are watching you. Being a trainer in a big gym, especially at peak times, is a little like being a lifeguard at a swimming pool. When you exercise, you are subjecting your body to a physiological stress that lots of people in the gym are not accustomed to, and the unexpected can happen in a hurry. I’ve been in situations many times where I had to react quickly to someone (not the client I was working with) fainting, greying out, or throwing up. It happens. We are also on the lookout for impending injuries – recently I was working out with my trainer and the guy on the next bench over accidentally loaded two plates onto one side of his barbell and only one on the other one. Had that guy tried to bench press that kind of lopsided weight it might have ruined his day. I didn’t notice myself because I was focused on what I was doing, but my trainer was paying attention to what was going on around him. So, while we are mostly focused on our clients, we usually maintain some degree of peripheral awareness to make sure everyone stays safe.Big-Brother-is-Watching-Your-Squat
  2. We are not judging you. Let me say that again: WE ARE NOT JUDGING YOU. Everyone has to start somewhere and we see some bizarre things go down in the gym…but unless you are about to hurt yourself or someone else we usually keep a lid on it. If you’re in the gym and exploring and having fun and moving, all the power to you. If you have a question, we’re here to help and support and educate…you know, if you want us to. Which leads me to #3:
  3. Some people get upset that that guy over there has a crappy squat set up or she’s arching her back bench pressing or whatever, and we’re not stopping them and fixing them. But you know what? Unsolicited advice doesn’t usually go over very well because seriously who wants to get interrupted in the middle of their workout? I was working out incognito at a different gym a few months ago and a young trainer sidled up to me and gave me a 10-minute mansplain on how I could improve my deadlift…and it took some serious effort on my part to stay polite and thank him for his advice in hopes that it would make him go away. So again, unless someone is going to hurt themselves or someone else, usually we will let them be. That said, most of us establish some degree of rapport with the regulars where we work, and being on a first-name basis with you makes it way easier to offer assistance with cleaning up your technique if and when it’s needed…squat2
  4. …but the other thing to remember is that most of the time that we’re out there on the gym floor, that person (or people) we’re working with is paying for our time and attention, so if we’re focused on them and not so much on everyone else, don’t be offended – that’s really what we’re there for. If you have a quick question or need help finding something feel free to approach us but if you want your form critiqued or measurements done or something that will take more than a minute or two, please book an appointment. We’re happy to spend the time getting to know you whether or not you are looking to train over the long term.
  5. Finally, almost all trainers do what they do out of a genuine desire to help people. Methods differ (wildly, sometimes) but those of us who end up in this field for years on end do it because we get great satisfaction out of helping our clients find a better quality of life. We’re not judging or laughing or critiquing or thinking any less of you for anything you’re doing. If you want help, we’re happy to assist in any way we can but if you want to be left alone to do your thing, that’s cool too.thumbsup6

 

Making Space

toughlove_LI (2)Anyone need a little bit of tough love today? You know, since it’s the beginning of a new week and we all have a nice clean slate to write on? Yeah, I thought maybe it was time.

I was in the gym locker room right at lunch hour the other day when two ladies walked in, mid-conversation.

“I’m soooo tired,” said one. “It’s a good thing I have you to drag me here or I’d never have come.”

Her friend shrugged and said, “I’m tired too, but I’ve figured out that I’m better – more awake and more productive and happier for the rest of the day if I get here at noon and get my workout in. If I have to I’ll stay later at work if I’m behind on stuff, but noon is my workout time.”

So…let’s say you want to start doing something new. Just for arguments’ sake, let’s say it’s something that will make you feel better and significantly improve the quality of your life over the long term, like…oh, I don’t know…exercise. Exercise can be HARD to fit in. I mean, sure, it looks like there’s time available in your schedule; all you have to do is show up and do it. That’s what all those buff internet trainers say, right? But if that was all there was to it, wouldn’t it be easier?

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And here’s why: time is a limited resource. We know that. So why do we keep trying to add shit to our schedules? It’s a lovely idea; to be all productive and stuff, but here’s the reality: we all have 24 hours in a day and they are all full. If you decide to make a lifestyle change and take up exercise (a class or a sport or just going for a walk every day; doesn’t matter what you do) you can’t just MAKE more time in the day, you have to STEAL that time from something else. The question then becomes, what are you willing to give up in order to make space for activity? Because if you are going to add something, it means that something else has to go; that’s just physics. Beware, though: DO NOT TRY AND STEAL TIME FROM YOUR SLEEP. Lots of people go there first, but it’s a recipe for disaster (I wrote about that here.) – you can’t just decide to sleep an hour less over the long term.notime

Assume for example, that you spend an hour each evening surfing the internet, looking at tumblr or kittens or playing Farmville (is that still a thing?). That’s fair – you’re tired at night and getting up the energy to go to the gym seems unrealistic…but that’s the only available time. What if you went to bed instead of playing candy crush or scrolling through IG until it feels like someone peed in your eyes? Then you could actually consider getting up a little earlier and getting exercise in. But you will have to give up time you spend on SOMETHING to make room for something else, otherwise life will get overwhelming in a hurry – you can’t do everything. You know what happens to people who try to do it all? They get paralyzed and do nothing. It’s not a character flaw when that happens, it’s just part of being a person. So decide what needs to go: maybe your house is just going to have to be a little messier. Maybe you’ll have to outsource some stuff, like laundry or using a premade meal service.

Here’s the thing though: you made the promise to yourself that you’d kick that pain in the face/get comfortable in your skin/look good naked. You’re going to go hit the gym every day at lunch/after work/whenever.  Now that you’ve decided when that will happen, move it up a couple of notches on the priority list. Make that date with yourself and DON’T BREAK IT. It’s one hour (give or take) that you have decided to invest in yourself so that you can be better – what’s more important than that? Stuck in a meeting at work? Sorry guys, I have an appointment, gotta go. Contractor coming sometime between 8am and 8pm? Nope, that won’t work for me. Some days you will have to play some commitment Tetris and move things around so that they fit – that’s ok as long as you leave working out among the things that need to get done. Because if that workout doesn’t happen, what then? Are you (YOU) going to be better off? Or are you going to feel ashamed/sluggish/resentful/disappointed/tired/etc for the rest of the day? Are you in danger of thinking ‘meh, it’s Wednesday and I’ve fallen off the wagon – I’ll just drown my sorrows and bad feelings in gravy and start again Monday’? SAY NO to whatever else is going on – you are no good to anyone else if you don’t look after yourself. There’s a good reason that the flight attendants always advise you to put the oxygen mask on yourself first, before you think about helping other people.selfcare

Now, of course there will be days that are legitimately NOT work out days: illness and emergencies happen and when they do you officially have a pass from me to cut yourself some slack and deal with what’s in front of you, as long as that doesn’t become a habit. Sniffles or a deadline at work don’t qualify – if you’re tired or a little under the weather or stressed, show up anyway and give it what you have. Follow the 10-minute rule. If you’re working with a trainer you trust, he or she will modify as needed to make the workout fit whatever you’re going through, and he or she will make sure that you do not die within the hour they are responsible for your well-being. And ladies? Your period is not a reason to bail on workouts (of course there are extreme cases where working out really isn’t a good idea, but those are rare). I know sometimes it feels like your uterus is trying to kill you. It won’t. Chances are, if you’re having kind of an off day, your workout will leave you feeling a whole lot better.

The take-home message here is that 100% of the time, you will not get the results you want if you don’t show up. So schedule it in – figure out what can be eliminated so that you can add doing something positive for yourself to your timetable, don’t give yourself room to think too much about it, and get it done. Because you know what will happen if you don’t? Nothing.

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Weight Bait

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It was 1 degree Celcius outside, and there I was in a sports bra and booty shorts, striking a pose in front of a metal container in a deserted shipping yard. “I don’t want you to lean against it; it’s too cold,” the photographer told me.

“Don’t worry,” I said, “I have plenty of insulation!”

“Actually, you don’t,” she replied. “I know you still feel like it’s there, but it’s not. It takes longer to get rid of the weight in your head than it does to shed it from your body.”

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She was right. And you know, I know the weight is gone. I do. I mean, that’s why I was there – I booked that photo shoot for a bunch of reasons, but one is that I reached my goal weight. The weight I was at when I finished high school. The weight where I promised myself I’d stop the weight loss mindfuckery and just learn to maintain.

Except…except that since that photo shoot I’ve dropped five pounds. I didn’t do it on purpose; in fact since CPU Westerns (the first week of September) I have put zero effort into losing weight. I stopped tracking, I stopped weighing myself regularly, I stopped being careful about what I was putting into my mouth…I just, you know, kept on eating the same way I was used to eating, and training the way I was used to training. And the other day I was driving home from the gym and pondering life, and a strange thought hit me:

I could try and drop to the next (powerlifting) weight class down. It’s not that far away.

NOPE, I told myself. I’m not playing that game anymore.

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See, I’ve been either dieting or letting my weight spiral out of control since I was 13 years old. The last four months of paying zero attention and maintaining have been a major anomaly, although if I’m honest I have to confess that the last year or so of tracking macros and training hard has been a labour of love. I actually enjoyed the process – it wasn’t about control and self-loathing anymore. It wasn’t punishment for letting myself go; I was driven purely by my big-ass crush on strength sports.

But there’s always the next goal. The next opportunity for improvement. The next mountain peak….actually fuck mountain climbing. The next set of plates on the bar! That’s how I roll, yo.

So the real question is, how do you learn to trust yourself after 25+ years of bungee-cord dieting?

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We are the sum of our habits – how we live dictates who we are. And if the outside of us doesn’t match what’s inside, you’ve got a great recipe for shame and unhappiness brewing.

Because weight loss is never just about carrying around less fat. The number on the scale, while it can seem all-encompassing when it doesn’t jive with how we see ourselves, doesn’t matter – not really. The real battleground is inside our braincase – whether you think have 5lbs to lose or 50lbs to lose, the feelings are the same when you look in the mirror and think, “ugh.”

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Every weight loss program out there teaches you (in whatever roundabout way) to eat less calories, but a big piece of the puzzle that most of them miss is that you have to learn to stop defining yourself as an overweight person and start thinking like the person you want to become. Otherwise, no matter how much success you have on whatever plan you’re using, that phantom flesh hangs on and keeps messing with you – and if you ask me, THAT is the reason why most people fail at weight loss. That’s certainly why I failed, over and over and over again – it took a massive shift in how I saw myself to lose the weight and keep it off…and I clearly still have work to do in that department.

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I might still have work to do in the weight loss department, too. Because do I stop here? I could. For the first time in my life I feel at home in my body; like my meat suit reflects what I value, and the past few months have taught me that that I actually can trust myself to maintain; at least over the short term. Or I could keep pushing for a few more months and see what happens. Either way we’re in uncharted territory.

One Weird Trick – Seriously

Tell me if this sounds familiar. You work out, you eat right – mostly – and you just. Arent. Seeing. Results.

Probably you also have a job that takes up some time. And maybe family that needs a lot of your attention. Hobbies. Email. A home that needs looking after. Candy Crush.

Yvonne* has been training with a colleague of mine for a few weeks now, and despite her best efforts she is just not seeing the results she’s working so hard for in the gym. She’s training three times a week with her trainer, she’s doing an hour of cardio on the off days and tracking what she’s eating. Her trainer asked me to sit down with her to discuss her nutrition because she’s starting to wonder if there’s something wrong with her…

But after talking to her for a few minutes I realized that the missing link had nothing to do with her workout program, or her nutrition. Sure, there’s room for improvement – there ALWAYS is – but neither factor was the deal breaker.

See, Yvonne works full time. She has two busy teenage kids. She and her husband just sold their house and are moving in two weeks. They have dogs that need walking morning and night.

Most nights she’s up until midnight, catching up on work email so that she can put her mind at rest before she goes to sleep…and then she’s up at 5:30am to do it all again.

Any guesses what the missing puzzle piece here is?

Yup, y’all were right: the missing link that is holding her back is…(drumroll please) SLEEP.

Because nobody can do it all on five and a half hours’ sleep at night.

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Yvonne’s story is not unusual – we all tend to put sleep last on our list of priorities, especially when life gets stressful. Here’s the problem though: life IS stressful, and that pattern of putting sleep last on the priority list can become a habit. Often we don’t even notice it at first. When that happens and we slowly but surely start to burn out, we start eating absentmindedly, we develop digestive issues (heartburn, anyone?), we crave sugar, the number on the scale starts creeping up, we work out harder and try harder to control calories…and the cycle continues until we burn out.

Does this pattern sound familiar? Forgive me if I need to get on my soapbox here and lecture through my bullhorn: if you are not getting adequate sleep, you will not see the results you are looking for. Think of your overall health and wellness as a triangle: on one side there’s exercise, on the other side there’s nutrition, and on the bottom – the base of the whole operation – there’s sleep. Your body needs adequate rest and recovery for your muscles to grow, for your brain to process information, for all your systems to recover and find some balance again. When that doesn’t happen, the wheels start to fall off.

But don’t just take my word for it: the National Institute of Health recommends that adults get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep at night. Everybody’s a little different but for most people 7 hours is the bare minimum before serious health problems start to manifest. “She’s full of it,” you might be thinking right now, “I get by just fine on six hours a night. Besides, I don’t have time for more sleep; I have too much to do – so much that I can’t even remember what’s next on my to-do list.” If that’s you, do yourself a favour: take off your martyr hat and go take a nap – you’ll have an easier time remembering stuff when you wake up.

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Sleep loss is linked to all sorts of health nastiness that I could go on about for days – memory problems, brain fog, speech problems (ever feel tongue-tied on Friday afternoons? I know I do) but that might get long and boring and put people to sleep…so we’ll focus on most people’s primary goals in the gym: muscle gain and fat loss.

So you’ve been busting your ass in the gym in order to get bigger muscles – a noble pursuit! But it’s not the hours in the gym that are going to give you sick guns or delts that look like the great pumpkin; it’s the hours you spend sleeping. Why? Because when you work out you are actually causing damage to your muscles.  When you’re sleeping, your body produces growth hormone, prompting your body to repair that damage and lay down more muscle tissue. If you don’t get enough sleep, you don’t grow.

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Ever get really tired? Stupid question, I know – but think back to the last time you were freaking exhausted but you were at work or doing something where just going to sleep wasn’t an option. How did you feel? Hungry, right? That’s because sleep loss increases ghrelin production – the hormone that stimulates hunger and prompts us to reduce our energy expenditure. Basically what happens is that when we get tired and don’t have the energy to keep going, our bodies crave sugar – gotta get energy from somewhere! Being short on sleep also decreases leptin production, the hormone that tells us to stop eating when we’re full, making it easy to overeat.

But the biggest factor – the one that shoots most people in the foot – is that sleepiness makes it really hard to give a fuck about fitness goals. When was the last time you had a “fuck it” moment at 9am and ate a bunch of stuff you know you shouldn’t? Probably hard to remember, because at that time of day we’re focused. We’re rested, on our best behaviour, and ready to kick some ass! At 9pm, though – that’s a different story. Put the cheezies down and go to bed!

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Getting Started

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I was cleaning some stuff up this morning (hey, it happens sometimes) when I came across a pile of dumbells and little interchangeable plates. I pulled them all out from their hiding place in the dark recesses under my desk and looked at them, sitting there in the sunlight. My husband turned from what he was doing and saw them sitting on the floor. “Wow,” he said. “Remember when you bought those? I bet the you from back then wouldn’t even recognize you today.”

He’s right.

Because what I found under my desk was my very first set of weights. I bought them from Canadian Tire in 1998, along with a workout video on strength training. I bought them because even though I detested exercise, part of me knew that I needed to get stronger if I was going to be able to live with myself – see, at that point I was 21 years old, dangerously obese, and slowly but surely losing my mind because of back pain. At that point I was also investigating the possibility of breast reduction surgery because clearly that was the only permanent solution to the consistent ache between my shoulder blades.

So I did the first 15-minute section of that workout video a couple of times. I was doing 1-arm dumbbell rows with a 6lb dumbbell (for context I use ten times that today) and it was hard work. It temporarily relieved the pain in my back, but it made me feel weak and angry and my muscles hurt for days afterward…so I stopped. Fuck that shit; it wasn’t fun. I was just not an exercise girl.

Here’s the thing though: exercise is a skill. Getting better at it takes patience and practice and time. It’s uncomfortable and it sucks sometimes…but a big part of why it sucks is that we have this idea that we *should* be able to just do it (because who’s heard that slogan before?). But consider this: nobody ever air-dropped into the Kalahari and was suddenly fluent in Khoisan. Nobody ever picked up a trumpet and was able to play it well the first time. When you learn a new skill, you have to start at the beginning. You have to suck for a little while; that’s what makes getting better worth the effort – if you started out awesome then you’d never see progress and how fun would that be?

Start where you are. Adjust your expectations. Learn. Play. And most importantly, don’t quit.