You Can Do Hard Things.

Ashley Peters, Writer
20 min readMar 6, 2023

It’s been so long since I’ve published anything I’ve written — almost eight months now, to be exact— that I’m not even sure where to begin. When I’m in the right zone I can write for hours and never run out of things to say, but lately it feels like I never have enough time to actually sit down for long enough to get into that mindset.

Last summer, I planned on finally putting the writing classes I took a few years ago to use and working towards my goal of publishing a book once school started in the fall. This year both kids are in school all day, leaving me with about six hours of peace for the first time in 11 years. It would have given me a sizable chunk of uninterrupted time to write, but unfortunately life had other plans.

I’ve worked as a CAD drawing technician for my family’s manufacturing company for almost 20 years now, since I was in high school. After having kids I’ve mostly worked from home, but shortly after they started school this fall I was asked to come into the office in the mornings to help streamline the production process and to address any issues that come up when my parents can’t be there.

While I have gained a lot from being more involved in the business and have enjoyed being out of the house and having a reason to wear something besides t-shirts and yoga pants again, it’s also meant that I’ve had to put my writing goals on hold— there just aren’t enough hours in the day. It was definitely disappointing in the beginning, but recognizing that the situation is beyond my control has given me the grace and patience necessary to accept the reality that for whatever reason, now just isn’t the right time.

Those things — grace and patience — have also played huge roles in my growth as a person over the last couple of years.

As a mom, I think I spent so much time and energy taking care of everyone else for so long that somewhere along the way, I put my own wellbeing on the back burner. I know that some of it originally came about out of pure survival, but then it slowly became such a defining feature of my life that at some point I looked in the mirror and no longer recognized the person I had become. Even though it obviously didn’t happen overnight, losing myself in bits and pieces over time left me feeling like I didn’t know how I’d gotten there — or how to find myself again.

I think that going through those moments — the deep, dark, consuming, sharp shards of reality— can either break you and define the rest of your life, or they can be a catalyst for reflection, introspection, and change. Fortunately, I believe that decision is mostly your own.

It comes down to a choice in mindset — you can choose to focus on the bad things that happen to you and the negative ways in which they affect your life, or you can make the decision to look for opportunities for growth in the challenges and adversity you face. In the end none of us can truly control what happens to us, but we can control how we respond to it.

Notice that I said respond, not react. A reaction is an immediate, instinctual reflex, while a response conveys more forethought — and hopefully, wisdom. The former often comes from a place of defensiveness while the latter tends to come with a broader perspective and a constructive path forward.

Choosing how you respond to the things that happen to you also gives you agency and power in a way that simply reacting does not. It allows you to decide for yourself how much control you’re willing to let something to have over you, whereas a reaction, by its nature, automatically allows those things to have a larger, much more defining impact on you and your life.

When we choose to focus on the negative aspects of our lives and the events that happen in them, we are also ultimately abdicating the personal responsibility we have for how our lives turn out. Arguably, it’s a much easier path: if you can’t control what happens to you, then why try…right? However, if you decide instead to face those responsibilities and stop making excuses for yourself, it’s amazing how much it empowers you.

I realize that all of this might sound obvious, or like a cliche, corny motivational speech (or maybe all of the above), but it’s all stuff I needed to hear — and hear over and over again — to finally, effectively get through the challenges I’ve faced.

Over the last several years I’ve had to deal with things that I never imagined I would — and honestly, I think that was part of the problem. When you don’t think something can or will happen to you, you’re wholly unprepared to deal with it if it does. I truly believe that having gone through those things, though, has not only made me a better, stronger person, but has also given me a lot of empathy for people and circumstances that I otherwise might not have.

I’m not yet at a point where I’m ready to talk about some of those things — and might not ever be — but I’ve always been fairly open about the challenges I’ve faced with fitting in, in large part because I don’t want anyone to believe they’re the only ones who feel that way. There is a beautiful sense of community and solidarity that comes along with sharing those kinds of experiences with others who have also born that brokenness that cannot be replicated with surface-level relationships.

When you’ve dealt with that kind of hurt, though, there is a part of you that becomes walled-off so that even that kind of mutual understanding can’t fully break through. The inability to blend in when you want nothing more than to be “normal” leaves you feeling exposed and vulnerable, and putting up those walls gives you a sense of security — even if it’s a false one.

In my case, those walls come from spending most of my childhood and adolescence overweight. Although I did lose 40 pounds after joining athletics in junior high, that part of me has continued to linger just below the surface and has affected me and my relationships in so many more ways than I realized for a long, long time.

I thought that I had conquered those insecurities as an adult, but after having our first child and being diagnosed with PCOS a few years later, I found myself facing weight issues — and everything that came along with them — once again.

Following that initial weight loss when I was younger, I never had to put much effort into keeping it off. I knew how to eat reasonably healthy and was able to maintain my weight fairly easily. Dealing with PCOS was different, though.

When my daughter was a few years old, I participated in a fitness bootcamp for two months in which I worked out and switched to a primarily-whole foods diet…only to lose three pounds in the end. At that point I figured I might as well just be three pounds heavier instead of putting in so much effort and not seeing the results I expected.

After a miscarriage, another pregnancy and baby, and a few more years, I was about 60 pounds heavier than I was when I got married. I would like to say that I still loved and valued myself, but that would be a lie — even if it was one I wasn’t yet willing to acknowledge at the time. I was so unhappy, and I’m not proud to say it, but I did take some of it out on the people around me.

It wasn’t even a conscious thought process, but I think that I figured if I wasn’t going to fit in anyway, I might as well not even make an effort to try to get people to like me. I put up even more walls and made sure that the ones who stuck around really loved me for who I was deep down.

At the time I saw it as embracing who I was even if people didn’t like it — as being unapologetically me — but looking back I can see that there were definitely times I should have apologized for my behavior and actions. Rather than being strong in myself and my beliefs, I think in reality I was being combative because it felt better to argue with people I didn’t like than to admit that I didn’t much like myself either.

I can’t really say what changed, exactly, but at some point along the way I think I just got tired of it all. Even though I’m still just as strong in my beliefs now, being in a position of defense and standing up for myself and the things I believed in to that extreme was exhausting and unsustainable. Making that change wasn’t necessarily even an intentional decision; I just slowly drifted away from it and the toxicity that came along with it.

Eventually, something happened in the space that change created — I began to really see myself again. Not for who and how I thought I was, but for what I’d actually become…and it wasn’t pretty. No one likes to feel rejected or the discomfort that comes along with introspection, but sometimes you have to admit that you’re part of the problem. At some point along the way, I think that the inside me that was so unhappy with the outside me just…became me. I knew I wanted to be and do something more, something better, but I didn’t know where to start.

Then one day I saw a Facebook ad for Fit Girls, a program that combines the usual meal plans and exercise routines with fitness challenges that take place in an incredibly supportive, body-positive online community.

Unlike programs I’d tried in the past that promised drastic (and unrealistic) changes in a very short amount of time, I noticed that Fit Girls featured before and after photos of women who don’t necessarily start — or finish — with “perfect” figures. These were real women with real bodies of all shapes and sizes dealing with a lot of the same challenges I was facing, and they were making noticeable, positive changes in their lives with the understanding that true health and fitness is a lifelong journey. Their confidence and optimism was contagious.

I started my first Fit Girls challenge in April 2021 and lost five pounds and a few inches that month. I completed three more challenges before ending up with COVID that October…and again four months later, right when I’d started working out again. In April 2022, a year after my first challenge, I was surprised to find out I’d won one the fourth challenge I finished, along with $100. By that point I’d lost 31 pounds and almost 20 inches overall.

In my Instagram post with my submission photos I wrote:

I can tell a huge difference in my health since I began this journey. Aside from fitting in the “skinny” shorts I’ve never been able to wear, I’m so much stronger and have a lot more muscle tone.

The best part, though, is that while I love seeing the material progress as a result of my efforts, I’m finally feeling comfortable in my own skin again. The past year is the first time I haven’t put inordinate pressure on myself to lose weight, opting instead to focus on getting healthier and accepting from the beginning that it would take a while to get to where I want to be.

Something essential had finally clicked. Instead of giving up when I didn’t immediately see results, I stuck it out with the faith that if I consistently put in the work that I would see changes at some point.

In a recent(ish) episode of the podcast We Can Do Hard Things with Glennon Doyle entitled How to Finally Let Things Go, Glennon talked with her wife Abby Wambach and her sister Amanda Doyle about letting go of old ideas and learning to try new ones, specifically on the subject of a new year and new beginnings. One of the big things that stuck with me was this:

You do the things you do because you believe the things you believe. You are the way you are because you believe the things you believe.

The reason why resolutions don’t work, they said, is because they’re always about actions without deep consideration of the beliefs beneath the action — that unless you actually believe your life will be better because of those actions, it will just become another thing you might become disciplined about. If we are changing behaviors or actions without considering the beliefs beneath them at the same time, then it’s just willpower and discipline — which never last because it’s not attached to real belief.

One of the hardest parts of that, of course, is that you have to do both at the same time for it to work. It brings to mind the verse in the Bible about faith and works:

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
— James 2: 14–17, NIV

There is a back and forth between belief and action in which one feeds into and builds on the other — the more you believe in what you’re doing the easier it is to do (or keep doing), and the more you do it the easier it is to believe in the benefits and effectiveness of those actions. And when those beliefs start to become bigger, your actions also become bigger.

Here, Abby (who is a soccer champion) brought up the example of her tremendous willpower when it comes to working out. She said that throughout her 30 years of playing soccer, she hated working out but had an immense amount of willpower to do it anyway. In the last year, though, she said that she realized that her beliefs around working out were attached to suffering, so of course she didn’t want to do it and needed more willpower than what came with the belief that it was good for her in order to keep doing it.

Glennon pointed out that when you actually believe something, it’s not hard — that it comes down to the difference between living in discipline and living in integrity. Discipline, she says, is “I have to do this hard thing so I’m going to keep overriding what I want. I’m going to keep overriding what I want to do this thing that I have to do — it’s overriding your insides.” Integrity, on the other hand, is “matching your insides to your outer actions — I have to want the thing before I make myself do the thing.”

When I started out, I was only able to make it through a 10–15 minute workout with 5–10 pound weights. There’s no denying that I struggled, especially with the physical effects of having had COVID twice. I wanted to quit more often than not and definitely didn’t like the pain and fatigue. Even though I stuck it out, I wouldn’t say it came from a place of discipline or belief as much as out of pure, stubborn determination.

After a while I was surprised to find that with my increased endurance, I actually started to enjoy working out — and there my belief was established. I found an exercise program that I loved (and still do — shoutout to Rebecca Louise Fitness and the BURN community!) and working out become not only a part of my life, but something I legitimately look forward to every day. Even on the days when I’m super tired or don’t feel well, I know that I’ve never felt worse after a workout — and that if I can just push through, there is a very good chance that I’ll feel better when I’m finished.

In August 2022 I closed all of my Apple Fitness rings for an entire month for the first time. Over the last six months there have only been a handful of times when I didn’t close all of my rings and have just missed two workouts —one when the power was out recently and the other I made up the following day.

With these accomplishments, I have also recognized the value in discipline, which is something that never came naturally to me. It is what gets you through the days when your motivation is lacking, when you’re tired, or when you don’t feel your best.

Once I realized that hitting those goals was possible, though, I didn’t want to settle for anything less. I started to push myself harder, to keep going even after the burn set in and hang on for just a little longer. You really can do just about anything for 5, or 10, or 30 more seconds, and (barring any medical problems or injuries, of course) the burn won’t actually kill you. You can do hard things.

Now I’m up to 15 pound weights for a lot of upper body exercises and 25 for lower body. Every time there is a more advanced modification available to make an exercise harder, I push myself to try it with the expectation that I can do it. When Rebecca asks, “Can you get a little lower?”, I’ve learned that the answer is almost always “yes,” even when it hurts.

Through this process I’ve found out that I am capable of so much more than I’d ever imagined I would be, and that realization has made me feel like I can conquer anything. I’m not just getting stronger physically, but mentally as well — and I think that’s one of the biggest components to success.

When people ask me what I’ve done to get into better shape, something I’ve found is that I don’t think they actually want to hear that it’s taken so much hard work, dedication, and consistency. Everyone is looking for an easy fix, and unfortunately this is not one of them.

They want something to help them drop weight and “lose” fat overnight, but when it comes down to it, they don’t actually want to have to change anything about their diet or physical activity. Change — even positive change — is hard and uncomfortable, and we like easy and comfortable. Most people just don’t want to do the hard mental and physical work of having to think about what they’re putting into their body and push themselves to get stronger every day in order to see those results.

Although the changes I’m seeing now aren’t as dramatic as the initial weight loss, they’re still very rewarding and motivating. I’ve only lost about 10 pounds over the past year, but I’ve still been slowly and steadily losing inches. During that year I’ve cut 2–1/2" from my waist, 4" from my lower abdomen, and another couple of inches from my hips, thighs, and arms. I’m also starting to see more definition in my abs and upper body.

Despite all of these accomplishments, though, I still have days when I’m unhappy with aspects of how I look. Last month, I decided (for some unknown reason) that I was capable of trimming my hair since my stylist was still out on maternity leave…and accidentally ended up with the shortest hair I’ve had since college. Through that, I learned another important lesson: just because you believe that you can do something doesn’t always necessarily mean that you should.

Even though I’ve received a lot of compliments on it, I didn’t realize how naked I would feel without longer hair. I think it’s safe to say that every woman wants to feel attractive and sexy, and I didn’t realize how much of that was tied up in having longer hair for me.

I had finally reached the point where I felt comfortable in my own skin — some days even confident — but this has unexpectedly laid all of that bare and forced me to deal with a lot of those same insecurities again. At this point I’ve accepted that it is what it is and have decided to try to make the best of it, but I’m definitely looking forward to my hair growing back out.

My reason for sharing all of this — the good, the bad, and the ugly — is because I want everyone out there who has struggled with these things to know that (a) they aren’t alone, and that (b) change is possible.

The last few years have been some of the hardest in my life, but I feel like I’m far enough on the other side to be able to see my own growth as a person and the positive things that I’ve gained through it all. I can now say that I know myself, with all of my gifts and limitations, better than I ever have and that I finally like the person I’ve become.

I know that, as a sign on my wall says, I will still be too much for some people, but those aren’t my people — and I’m okay with that. Hopefully my “too much” now is just too much of a good thing and that if I’m turning people off it’s because of my positivity and passion instead of a bunch of negative stuff that no one wants to deal with.

In the end, I want nothing more than to be an example of full, abundant love to the people around me. I want to be the person that everyone knows they can come to and feel fully accepted. I want to be able to share the grace and patience I’ve learned to show myself with others so that they’re able to see their own worth. I want to do as John Wesley said:

Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.

Equipment Recommendations

I’ve considered a gym membership simply to have access to more equipment, but I know that for me, having to leave the house (and find someone to watch my kids in order to do so) is a barrier to making sure I actually, consistently work out. In this season of my life, working out at home is the only way I know that I’ll take the time and effort to do it.

That said, there is a huge array of exercise equipment out there, and knowing where to start and what to buy can be overwhelming. A lot of it is more novelty than useful, so I thought it might be helpful to share some of the things I’ve found along my journey that I’ve actually used and that have served their purpose well.

Here’s a picture of my setup:

Me, in a nutshell: workout stuff, quotes, and piles of books I’m in the middle of reading =)
  • Exercise Mat ($20–35+)— the one I have is 5/8" thick and I’ve had it since 2015. It definitely has some gouges at this point, but it isn’t bad enough to buy a new one yet. The one I’ve linked here is not the exact one I have (that one now costs twice as much as what I paid for it), but it’s probably the one I’ll buy when I do end up replacing it.
  • I also have a “normal” thinner yoga mat for traveling (yes, I even work out when I’m on vacation) and for cardio workouts. A thinner, smoother mat also makes jumping around a little easier, in my opinion, though I wouldn’t buy anything less than 4mm thick. Anything thinner than that isn’t going to provide much cushion on a hard floor, and if you have sensitive joints I’d definitely go thicker.
  • Long Resistance Bands ($15–30) — I found these after a long search for some that were a closed loop of the thicker woven elastic material. The thin rubbery ones and/or the ones that are a long, flat piece just aren’t as strong or versatile. The elastic tube-type with handles have their place, but if you’re going to buy one kind those aren’t it.
  • Short Resistance Bands ($10–20) — same story with these. Skip the thin, rubbery ones because they roll up on themselves too easily and cut into your thighs when doing squats or bridges. Bands in general are a good investment, particularly if you travel a lot — they’re much easier and lighter to pack than dumbbells, although I have to confess that I also bring those if we’re going somewhere for more than just a few days.


I think weights come down to personal preference. The neoprene-covered ones are my pick for lighter weights because they’re a little more comfortable to hold in my opinion, but because my hands are small, the grips on the neoprene dumbbells are too big around for me to hold securely on the bigger ones (15 lbs+). For those, I prefer the ones with hex-shaped iron heads and textured steel grips. I could definitely use some weight lifting gloves to help keep a better hold on them, but I haven’t bought any yet.

You can easily find the neoprene-covered weights at Walmart or Target, but Amazon also makes some in their Basics line that are around 25% cheaper. Your delivery people might not necessarily appreciate the extra lifting, but the free shipping straight to your door aspect is nice.

As far as the heavier weights go, I found a set of 20 lb hex dumbbells with metal handles on Facebook Marketplace for $53 shipped. I bought my 25 lb set during Black Friday on Amazon for about 30% off, so that and after the first of the year are both ideal times to find sales on workout equipment in general.


  • Ankle Weights — they might bring to mind 80s aerobics videos, but ankle weights can actually be very useful in increasing resistance for leg and ab exercises without having to balance free weights and worrying about dropping them on yourself. I have one pair ($27) that has removable 1.5 lb beanbags that you can add or remove to adjust the weight on each ankle between 1.5–7.5 lbs that I normally use for lower body exercises and another pair ($14) with 2.5 fixed pounds on each ankle for ab exercises.
  • Sliders ($8–30) — trust me, these are part of a recipe for sore (in a good way) muscles. I had never used sliders before this past month when the BURN app challenge for the first six weeks of the year featured a couple of workouts with them. They make whatever exercise you’re doing more challenging because they provide resistance and instability on both extension and retraction — basically, your muscles have to work harder to control the sliding motion and bring it back in again. The lower body workout I did with them left my butt and thighs sore for days afterwards, and that doesn’t happen often anymore. To be fair you can absolutely substitute a paper plate if you don’t have these (that’s what I did the first time before mine arrived), but the real deal definitely provides a smoother glide. Just note that unless you’re looking for some serious resistance, they don’t work well on a yoga mat but do just fine on both carpet or hard floors.
  • Bosu/Half Ball Balance Trainer ($55–130) — this definitely isn’t an essential, but if you’re looking to improve your balance and standing core strength it’s a very helpful addition to your exercise repertoire. You can use a few different ways for exercises that span the full body range, and of course it’s more fun and interesting than trying to balance on a pillow. There are workout videos on YouTube specifically for these, and I did a few leading up to the first time I used my standing paddle board (also an amazing and super fun full body workout, by the way.)
  • FitKicks ($15–20) — normally I work out barefoot since even the strength training workouts I do involve some yoga moves, but if my feet are sore or I feel like I need some more support or cushion I wear these. They’re flexible (foldable, actually), have good traction, and as an added bonus, they double as water shoes for the pool/lake/beach.
  • Weight Rack ($40–45+) — this one doesn’t take up much floor space and holds four pairs of my smaller weights on the sides, three on the top (8, 10, and 12 lbs), and my 15 and 20 lb sets on the bottom with some space in between. (Helpful hint: you really don’t want to store the heavier ones super tightly together because you’ll most likely end up smashing your fingers when you’re putting them back on the rack.) I could really use another one of these because my 25 lb set is currently being kept in the floor.
  • Yoga Mat/Block/Band Wall Storage ($25–30) — because I work out in my bedroom, space is a valuable commodity. Storing my mats and other lightweight equipment on the wall keeps more floor space clear for working out.

Oh, and here are the links to my signs, both of which are great quality:

“If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.” — Maker Table on Etsy

“You will be too much for some people. Those aren’t your people.” — Primitives by Kathy