Courage Is Realizing People Do Care
| Alik Volkov, 16, Canada
I was always very uncomfortable to talk about my body. It always seemed like all the other guys were talking about their workouts and what routines they did. But then there was me, who was too embarrassed to talk about anything of the sort.
I think I started working out when I was 12, but it wasn’t really “working out” at all. I tried working out but rarely got through a full workout. I would write tons of different workout plans for myself on blank sheets of paper and I’d be disappointed every time I didn’t do it, which was almost all the time.
Later, I had started seeing other guys and girls who were strong, successful, and knew what they were doing. I wanted to ask for help, but I couldn’t. And because this simple problem was going on for years, it caused my self-confidence to fall so far that I felt asking for help would be a burden on everyone.
I was afraid.
I was afraid of being judged by my own friends. I thought, “I’ll get through it.” I never did. Not alone in the least. Seeing others' success should inspire one to move forward, right? It had the opposite effect on me. Instead, it caused self-loathing and extreme envy.
A letter was given to me
Months before, as I was being driven to a high school Halloween dance, a good friend of mine gave me a beautiful, colorful envelope. She told me to open it when I was at a terrible point in life.
I had left it unopened for over half a year, waiting to be sad enough to actually read what was on the inside.
In May 2017, I was at a point where I wanted to kill myself. Things were getting so bad that I felt useless, worthless, unneeded, all simply because I felt too ashamed of myself to ask for help about something as simple as workout advice.
I opened the letter.
What was written inside made me cry. Not of sadness, but of joy. My friend poured her heart out as if she knew something like this was going to happen. She reminded me of all the fun we had the summer before when we went to a camp and how I happy I used to be.
From then on, I realized I wasn’t alone and that people did care about me. My self-confidence slowly started rising. I became a counselor at that summer camp from last year, I started getting involved in school clubs, launched my own poetry club, I decided to ask for help from my friends who did care – THEY ALL DID!, I started participating more in public events, and so much more.
I choose to believe that the past is done with us when we are done with it. It was finally over.
Revealing My Past to Everyone
The biggest step for me was to read a poem I wrote called "I Work Out" to a public of 100 people at Count Me In Leadership Summit. I finally got my past into words and I spread it to everyone, making myself the most vulnerable I’d ever been in public.
Revealing what was slowly killing me to people I didn’t know all that well, was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done. But I was greeted by an enormous applause at the end which I didn’t expect and got hugs from so many people. I was crying later because I realized how much I had missed out on the great wonders of friendship.
People do care.
After I read this poem which I didn’t even consider to be that good, I realized it was far more powerful than just a poem on its own. It’s not the poem that mattered. It’s the honest truth behind it. Now I know that that poem was the best poem I have ever written. (You can read the poem below.)
After me revealing that secret in the most public way possible, I had found out so many other people had the same problem. So many other people were suffering silently because they were afraid to speak out.
You Have a Powerful Voice
I learned from this painful process that you have to speak up. No matter how scary, no matter how hard, you absolutely must face this fear because the chances of someone helping you by guesses are extremely low.
People in pain are VERY good at hiding their problems behind a mask. I know because that’s exactly what I did, and I still wanted someone to see through it all. It doesn’t work that way. You have a voice and it’s the most powerful thing in the world. It works. You have proven it so many times.
I’m now passed all this. I work out normally now, I talk to my friends about it. I am the most self-confident I’ve ever been. I love myself. And so should you.
You Win No Matter What
Face this fear of judgment because you will win. Every. Single. Time. You have the support of millions of people you’ve never met behind you. Trust me. You’re the victor of your own life.
I Work out (Poem by Alik Volkov)
I work out, yeah. I work out. You couldn’t tell?
I say that a lot now
Or at least I try to; I really try to,
Which is weird because it doesn’t take any effort at all to say it!
Those three words… “I work out,”
Or two words… “I workout,”
Without emphasizing both syllables on the word,
“Work out,” Oh, there I did it again
I started working out when I was 12
Or at least that’s what I told myself
I “worked out?” when I only did a quarter of the push ups
I “worked out” when I installed dozens of useless fitness apps on my phone
I “worked out” when I watched cheesy motivational videos
Hoping to get motivated when I knew this wasn’t the way because
Nothing about those videos was motivating
Separating my… trying
From their… striving
I knew I wasn’t going to get there…
There. Ripped? Jacked? Big? My “personal goal” that YouTube fitness channels support?
I stopped working out
I hear that phrase “Go hard or go home,”
So I go home every day
To search “hard” on Google Maps
And every time I can’t find it
I keep searching “hard” on Bing Maps
And every time I can’t find it
I keep searching “hard” on the Transit app
And every time I can’t find it
I keep searching “hard” on Wikipedia,
But I don’t want to become a bodybuilder
I don’t have access to a gym
I only have my room that I keep searching in
I just want to catch up with everyone else
So I can stop feeling like everyone stares at
My skinny body
So I keep searching in all the wrong places even though I know they’re wrong
But I never search for “hard” from my friends…
They can’t help me
I can’t be a burden
Every day I would be doing something,
Eating, sitting, watching TV, not working out
And when I finally think everything is okay
I’d get that sick reminder reminding me
That I can’t help myself
This weight in my chest
That irregular breathing
Reminding me I’m all alone and I don’t understand why it’s so hard to go out and ask a simple question,
“Can you give me workout advice?”
Five months pass
I never wanted suicide
But I did consider death
Praying for the end although I did not believe in a God
I did not have depression or anxiety
I had the fear of judgment
Created by today’s social standards
Ruining my everyday life,
Causing me to envy those around me who are successful
Taking over my thoughts
Causing excessive stress
Me knowing that I just need to start working out
But I was afraid for some reason
So I looked at others
But I can’t have my eyes linger for too long
Or they’ll think I’m checking them out
But no I just want to ask for help
Because of this simple problem
Is tearing my life apart
“Somebody help me!”
But someone told me to look up
Someone told me that my friends wanted to help me
That was a year ago
I’m standing here now
I’m repeating the words,
“I work out,”
“I work out,”
“Yes, I work out,”
Because I am done listening to my head telling me
“I’m not worth the trouble”
I am worth it
Because I am alive
And because I am standing here now
Repeating to you the words,
“I work out”
Because I am no longer afraid
I’m finally brave
I work out.