As a member of a South Philly Italian household, food was the centerpiece of my familial experience. We love nothing more than to share a chat over delicious foods, pass down ancient family recipes, and ensure that no one leaves a gathering hungry (or without copious amounts of leftovers).

As a result, I was, by default, always a little chubbier than most of my peers because of my family’s culture and my genetic love for carbohydrate-rich foods. It was pretty normal for my family members to be heavyset, so I didn’t think much of it.

Over 40% of adult Americans are obese in 2020—roughly a 10% increase since I was a teenager. No wonder I hadn’t made the realization sooner! It was pretty normal to be overweight in my immediate environment. It wasn’t until I moved to a new school and was targeted for my size did I make the connection.

Being picked on for my weight, knowing it was a variable I could ultimately control, was tough to manage psychologically. If I could sum up a singular takeaway from the lessons I’ve learned up until this point to deliver to my former self who is eating pizza with the fam in some sort of parallel universe, it would be this:

“There is no magic formula to fixing your personal issues. It all comes down to patience.”

Time Management

Time is the most valuable currency in our human existence. What we do with our time shapes who and what we are, in some ways. Doing something repeatedly over the course of a lengthy amount of time will result in change.

If there’s one thing I learned from my WoW days, it was how to manage my time. Due to having to meet at regular times weekly with my guild over the course of several hours (almost like a job), I had to manipulate my schedule in a way that I would be uninterrupted.

I also had to calculate time for breaks, leveling my alts, daily questing, dungeoning for new gear, and more. In addition to managing my high school schedule and periodically a summer job or two, I had no time to waste!

When I was met with the disturbing sum upon typing “/played” on all of my WoW characters (a function that displays how much time you’ve played each character), I realized that, despite having excellent time management skills, I was managing my time rather poorly and in an imbalanced way. It took awhile for me to be in a space to implement change.

Despite bringing my gaming PC to college, I was determined to start on a clean slate and actively work toward building and fostering an IRL friend group by managing my time equally across the areas of importance to me: academics & career, fun & games, friends, and alone time.

The first change was in my attitude. I was inspired and determined to change and felt good about it. The first step toward self-improvement is always the hardest step because it involves training the mind, but it is a step necessary to take to reach your goals.

The second change was one of action. In this instance, I began making an audit of my time. Where was my time going each day? To whom? For why? I wrote it all down and discovered the answers I had been seeking.

Then, I was able to make mental notes and define a schedule that allowed me time to do whatever I wanted with my classes as my foundation. It was almost like I manipulated the space-time continuum in my favor. Doctor who? Doctor Awz.

At my busiest in college, I was going to class full time and working two jobs and an internship thanks to putting my time management skills to the test. In addition, I made time to show up at the occasional party with friends, log into LoL for some matches, and go to the campus gym 3x a week.

I had the skill all along. It was just a matter of recognizing it and implementing it into Monica Miller’s life instead of my online characters’.

Consistency

Consistency was another lesson I learned from my gaming habit. For example, the more time I spent leveling up my WoW characters, the better I became at playing them and topping the DPS charts. The only problem was… this wasn’t something I could put on my resume or directly leverage IRL without some strategy.

Despite not making any outward physical progress, I still showed up to the campus gym and worked diligently on my schedule for each of the 4 years I was at college. Again, taking the lesson I had already learned but focusing it on myself instead of my video games was key here.

It was admittedly difficult going to the gym and sticking out like a sore thumb among the toned collegiate athletes, but I persevered. At least I was showing up and doing something to help myself, right? There’s always a positive.

In order to move past these mental roadblocks, I had to put blinders on at the gym and become the only person in the world while I was there. Zen mode. My “blinders” of choice are big, chunky headphones and avoiding eye contact with other gym-goers to signal: “I’m here for me.”

In just a few short weeks of doing this, I had established a foundational routine and ritual for my physical health that has stuck with me over several years. Gym anxiety is no joke—especially as a woman—so developing consistent habits in this area was crucial to making change.

Regardless of what you pursue in life, it takes hard work to achieve your goals, especially if you set the bar high. If a goal is to improve your physical, mental, or emotional well-being, know that each of these goal-areas will require different levels of time, effort, and energy to reach. You’d be surprised, however, by what you learn along the way, even if you can’t see it in the moment.

The lack of proper nutrition, self-care, and movement for my most formative years clearly did not go unnoticed. I’m grateful I was able to unlearn some of my unhealthy behaviors, but it wasn’t without the help and support of others along the way. These changes over time have enabled me to continue to grow into the person I’ve always projected myself as in video games: strong, wise, agile, and kind.