Wellness is an active process, but it can be easy to find yourself complacent or settling. Opportunities to be brave, to challenge ourselves, are tough, but ultimately offer an incredible opportunity for growth and meaning.

My journey to wellness

Emily Mire

Emily Mire, PhD

I’ve been in physical therapy on and off for the past 20 years from an old knee injury that has never seemed to heal. A few years ago, I was working with a physical therapist who told me there was nothing left for me to work on, despite the fact that I was still having pain and was in a place where I didn’t feel anywhere close to 100% during my workouts.

His reasoning? Well, I could walk up and down stairs, I could pick my kid up, and I could go about my “normal daily activities” both at work and at home with minimal pain. Technically, according to him, I could do “normal” activities for someone my age. But wait.

Physical fitness is a big part of my personal definition of wellness. I simply wanted something more.

I wanted to be able to squat heavy. I wanted to be able to run long distances. I’ve had several physical therapists since then, and am finally with one who has taken a drastically different approach. This approach has helped me navigate how to push my boundaries and become a better version of me.

It’s starts with setting personal goals.

For the first time, the goals my new therapist and I have set are focused on where I want to be, not the mysterious target place I should be based on standardized information for someone in my age bracket. This has made my goals real and personal. Not only is the goal different this time, my experience has been significantly different. This cycle of knee recovery has pushed me mentally and physically.

I expected the physical challenge. What I didn’t expect was the challenge to not settle, to pay attention to the power of small changes, to celebrate each victory, and acknowledge each setback.

After a few months of physical therapy, I can honestly say I’m the strongest I’ve ever been! I’ve set PRs (personal records) in the gym and keep pushing the boundaries of what I thought I was capable of.

I went in to physical therapy to address pain and decreased mobility. I didn’t expect to walk (run) out with meaning and a new perspective on wellness and self leadership.

Here are my 4 truths about wellness.

Wellness is not a checklist.

Wellness is not a checklist.

1. Wellness is not a checkbox.

I have had many physical therapists say I should settle. I should be thankful for the movement I have, even if it’s limited. Don’t squat. Don’t run. Stretch more. What took me a long time to realize was that wellness is not something to settle on.

Learn to acknowledge where you are in any given moment. Yes.

Settle and not push forward? No way.

I don’t believe that you can be in a place where you are either well or you’re not. Wellness is a fluid process. I challenge you to push past the mindset of being “well enough” and explore what you want wellness to look like for you. And then work hard for it and allow your goals to grow with you.

Challenge yourself.

Challenge yourself.

2. There’s not an endpoint to being well.

Just because you’re already leader, doesn’t mean you should stop investing in your leadership. Similarly, just because I could do basic activities doesn’t mean I didn’t owe it to myself (and my own definition of well-being) to push the boundaries of wellness and challenge movement in a new way.

Wellness is an active and ongoing process. It evolves as you evolve. It shifts as life shifts. If you allow your goals to change, you design freedom:  freedom to redefine wellness, freedom to change your mind, and freedom to experience growth.

Wellness can be hard.

Wellness can be hard.

3. Wellness can be hard.

Going through physical therapy with this new perspective has challenged me to move differently. Retraining my brain and my body has been harder than I thought, but for the first time, I feel that the progress I’ve made is sustainable.

At the risk of sounding cliché, I never promised that this would be an easy journey. Growth rarely is. But is it worth it? Every single time.

Being well allows me to be a more active as a mom, a true and present partner in my marriage, and more engaged at work. As I reflect on this experience, what catches my attention is that this version of personal wellness has been crafted from a whole lot of failure — treatment plans that had minimal success, medical providers I didn’t connect with, and the hardest one: not being fully ready to embrace the toughness head on. Once I was ready, the hard part became worth it.

Choose your team.

Choose your team wisely.

4. The team you choose to join your journey is critical.

What else I know to be true is that while this current iteration of well-being was hard, the people I chose to place around me were different. The key difference is that I actually allowed people in on this journey. From the physical therapist who aligned treatment to my goals and listened with interest and without judgment, to the people who held me accountable and challenged me when I got stuck, to the professional environment I work in that supports me by prioritizing wellness. Each component is equally important. What’s key is that I chose this team.

I hope my story inspires you to take a look at your own personal wellness journey, to be brave, be honest, and acknowledge where you’ve been, where you are and where you want to go.

Keep on keepin’ on.