Pushing Boundaries

A few weeks ago I placed second in a bikini competition. There were enough people who were intrigued by my accomplishment that I was asked to share my motivation to compete and how I found the courage (at the age of 56) to put on a bikini and stand on a stage in front of hundreds of people?

The answer is “it wasn’t easy”, but it flowed naturally from the vision and belief system we have at Gabriella’s Kitchen.

At Gabriella’s Kitchen, we believe in striving for ever greater heights. We believe in pushing boundaries. We believe that everyone has within them the ability to be truly great. That doesn’t mean we believe that our journey should be a straight line upwards to success. Or that we won’t falter, feel afraid or even doubt ourselves – because, at times, we do. It also doesn’t mean that success comes easy, because it doesn’t. But it does mean that we push ourselves and those around us, and it means we don’t give up. We don’t give up. And I don’t give up. I don’t give up on myself. And I don’t give up on others.

BCABBA Competition Margot Micallef

Last year I published a book with my friend and co-author, Warren Broad. The book is called It’s the Landing That Counts. It’s about bouncing back from adversity and in the book Warren and I talk about the many set-backs we’ve experienced in our life. From Warren’s depression and issues with addiction, to the death of my sister and being fired from a high profile job, to the break-down of my marriage and being cheated by a friend and business partner for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Whatever it may be for you, I get it. All of us encounter varying degrees of adversity in our life. It’s inevitable. If we live a fully engaged life, we will hit roadblocks, set-backs, obstacles or worse. Sometimes these downturns are so severe or hurt so much that it feels like our life has been turned upside down or that we will never feel good about ourselves or our life again. Warren and I call these downturns “free-falls”.

What is important when we hit a roadblock, a setback, an obstacle or when we find ourselves in a free-fall is to know that we will recover and then to start on the road to recovery.
A few years ago I found myself in a free-fall. I had just lost my sister and one of my close friends lost her 26 year son (who was like a son to me), my romantic relationship had ended and my best friend felt she needed space and withdrew her love and friendship. I felt utterly alone and in pain. I turned inward and reflected on my life. I intensified my exercise regime and schedule and while I’ve always eaten relatively well I really started taking care of myself.

It was also at this time that I took on the reigns of Gabriella’s Kitchen (the maker of skinnypasta™).

Let me digress to give you some background: Gabriella was my sister’s name. She and I started our food manufacturing business in 2003 as Hollywood Foods Inc. I recently changed the name to Gabriella’s Kitchen to honor her. Gabriella is my inspiration. She took our idea to create and sell a healthy alternative to traditional pasta from a concept to a business. You see, Gabriella and I (and later our aunt) gave up eating pasta because it was not healthy. It spiked our blood sugar, made us feel bloated, added what we considered empty calories and loads of carbs to our bodies without contributing to our wellbeing.

Gabriella established our manufacturing plant in a small Toronto shop on a street named Ossington. She sold our pasta from a small retail store at the front of the manufacturing facility. Eventually, she convinced Joe the owner of a natural food store in Toronto to carry our product and then others came on board.

Around this same time, Gabriella was diagnosed with cancer and she intensified her focus on eating well and taking care of herself. We learned first-hand how isolating eating differently than everyone else can be and how difficult it is to sustain such a diet regime in the face of that isolation. Meals are intended to be shared. Eating is a social experience. When we taste something we love we will often cut off a piece and offer it to a friend or loved one dining with us. We do that because we want to share the joy of the experience of eating delicious food. This realization changed our company. It stopped being about making a healthy pasta and it became about making “food with a purpose”. It became about making delicious food that happened to be fortified and functional so that it alleviated symptoms of illness and aided in wellbeing but most importantly was delicious enough to share with everyone even if they didn’t adhere to our lifestyle choices.

Gabriella lived almost five years longer than any doctor said she would and she had better quality of life than anyone but she would have imagined. When she passed away, Gabriella’s Kitchen went into ‘sleep’ mode. Sure we kept growing the business, but the light had been turned out, the passion was gone and I found it too painful to be involved in the business.

They say that things happen for a reason, and whether that is true or not, when I found myself in a free-fall and searching for meaning in my life, Gabriella’s Kitchen became my beacon.

I made a decision to take over the leadership of Gabriella’s Kitchen and see the dream that Gabriella and I shared fully come to life. As I recovered from my free-fall I realized I was living the skinnypasta™ brand and I was living to my sister’s ideals. skinnypasta™ and Gabriella’s Kitchen is about nourishing your heart, your body and your soul – the same values that my sister emulated. Gabriella believed in living life fully. She danced in elevators, sang (off key) while she worked and laughed at every opportunity. For Gabriella there was no hardship that didn’t make a good story (and a humorous one at that!).

Now fast forward to today.

Living the skinnypasta™ lifestyle to me means eating well, exercising, pushing myself outside my comfort zone and striving for those greater heights. My trainer and friend Yvan had suggested several times that I should compete in a body building competition. These competitions have varying levels of performance from the more typical body building (think Arnold Schwarzenegger) to fitness, figures and bikini category. Even though I had been training very hard for over two years, I never saw myself as a contender or even a competitor. I had not grown up as an athlete and found that my childhood image of myself as un-athletic stuck with me. Nonetheless, after much encouragement I pushed myself outside my comfort zone and entered the BC Association of Body Builders Western Regional Fitness Competition and placed second in the Grand Masters Class. I was proud that at the age of 56 I could compete amongst an impressive group of women. To win second was extremely gratifying and really thrilling. I’m continuing to live the skinnypasta™ lifestyle by eating well, exercising and giving back to my friends, family and the community.

If you feel stuck. If you are in a free-fall or alternatively if you are feeling too comfortable I encourage you to take on something challenging and push your own boundaries. It doesn’t have to be physical. But it does have to push you. I believe in you. I believe that you have within you the ability to be truly great. Now you need to believe in yourself!

Send me a note. Tell me what you wish you had the courage to do or tell me what you have pushed yourself to do. Or tell a close friend. Tell someone. That’s how it starts. Live life fully. Love life fully. Be good to yourself in every way and nourish your heart, your body and your soul.