New Year's celebrations are behind us, leaving only the resolutions to eat better and get fit. Don't worry, we're here to help. This week – Healthy Living Week, brought to you by The Milwaukee Y – we will focus on articles and information about exercise, eating right and staying healthy in a variety of ways.
I worked at the Downtown YMCA for 10 years – from 1993 to 2003 – in various capacities. I started out handing out keys and towels at the membership desk, and ended up the assistant membership and marketing director. Somewhere along the way, I picked up a certification as a Spinning instructor and I taught Spinning – now called indoor cycling – for six or seven years.
Prior to my employment at the YMCA, I didn’t think I'd feel much of a connection there considering I was not an "M" nor a "C," but it turned out that the Y offered me extremely valuable insight into myself and others. Today, I still think about some of the lessons I learned during my decade at the Y and am forever grateful for the experience.
First of all, here is what I learned about myself from working at the Y:
People will judge you based on your job. I spent years standing behind a desk – wearing a dorky Y polo and a name tag – handing out locker keys to people who worked and / or lived in the Downtown area. Consequently, I interacted with some of the city’s most powerful and prominent individuals. Most of the Y members were really cool to me and some are still friends today. Others, however, didn’t find it necessary to acknowledge me in any way, day after day, and a few others were downright rude. Today, OnMilwaukee’s offices are Downtown, not far from the Y, so I still see people from my key-dispensing days and I never forget those who treated me with respect and kindness – as well as those who didn’t.
Managing people is hard. After I graduated from college, I was promoted from the girl who handed out the keys to the girl who managed the people who handed out the keys. (I still, as a manager, handed out a lot of keys.) I hired dozens of different individuals for part and full-time jobs. Some lasted a few hours, others committed for a couple of years. These were low-paying, hourly jobs, so frequent turn-over was unavoidable. However, I did my best to retain employees, and I think I was pretty good at managing people, primarily because I was given some words of wisdom early on. My boss at the time told me that people are motivated in different ways and by different exterior and internal factors and it was my job to figure this out. For example, some people would be more motivated by a flexible schedule whereas others are most inspired by a cash bonus. Effective management means understanding what makes the employee tick and creating an environment that supports who they naturally are. In turn, this makes them feel useful and successful and will, most likely, increase production and passion. This is good for everyone.
"The whirlpool is for arms and legs and backs only." I have a host of hilarious and uncomfortable stories from my years managing at the Downtown Y. Sometimes, after other members would complain about a person's unfortunate body odor it was my responsibility to take the person aside and, gingerly and in private, ask them please to wash their workout clothes after every workout. Once, it was brought to my attention that a woman was in the whirlpool, facing one of the jets, and seemingly enjoying the rush of water more than one probably should in a public whirlpool. Unsure of how to broach the issue, I awkwardly asked the member to turn around and reminded her that the "whirlpool is for arms and legs and back only."
Here is what I learned in general while working at the Y:
Exercise fades in and out of most peoples’ lives and that’s OK. Part of my job was to sign up people for memberships, but before a person signed up for their membership, I usually gave them a tour of the facility. At least half of the time, the prospective member would make a comment about how they had not exercised in a long time and that they were apprehensive about it.
Personal trainers as well as personal experiences taught me that most people go in phases of exercising and that once a person stops, it’s really hard to start up again. The good news, however, is that all it takes for a person to start is to, well, start. Seriously, that’s it – after you force yourself to do it, it will be exponentially easier the second visit to the gym. And even easier the third ... and so on.
You might as well go. Even after a person commits to the gym, there are days or evenings when you don’t feel like going to the gym. Whether you force yourself to go or don’t, the experience is valuable. Forcing yourself to go, and the satisfaction that comes after, is a really strong motivator because it puts you in touch with a well-deserved feeling of accomplishment and of pushing through a mood for a greater reward. But not going is important, too, because you usually find yourself later wishing you had gone, realizing that it’s easier and less stressful (and guilt free) just to do it, rather than not do it and feel crappy about it.
There is a connection between mind, body and spirit. This is the Y’s tagline, but I found, first hand, it is more than PR. Anyone who has exercised for a period of time will agree that regular exercise makes a person less stressed and anxiety ridden and helps with weight management, insomnia relief, clarity of thought and a host of other health improvements. Exercising is a part of a healthy lifestyle and most of us feel better about ourselves and the people around us when we do.
The orange Gatorade is the best. It really is.
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.