I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Ready?

One of the most self-limiting stories I tell myself is that I’m not a “real” athlete. I’m a runner, sure, but in my mind I’m not an athlete – or at least not a real one – and I can feel that that perception is holding me back because it leaves me feeling like I’m constantly on the outside, looking in, at the life I want but “can’t have.”

It’s actually one of the most common negative stories, I think, this idea that you’re not a “real” whatever – a real adult, a real runner, a real writer, a real cook – and it’s stories like these that leave us feeling like impostors in our own lives.

And it all stems from comparison. From comparing ourselves to what we see other people doing and how we assume they feel, and it’s so easy to be intimidated by that, isn’t it? To tell yourself that you’re not a “real” healthy eater because that dude over there is doing it so much better. And to tell yourself that you’re not a “real” entrepreneur because you’re not doing all of the things that one girl you know is doing. Nope, you’re not real. You’re faking it.

Except you’re not. Because, fuck, what makes anyone a “real” anything?

Which is where my Change Your Story project comes in, because if there’s one story we absolutely need to change, it’s the one where not feeling “real” means that we hold ourselves back from taking chances and moving forward.

Because guess what? You don’t need someone to come in and validate your cooking skills in order to be a “real” cook. Do you cook food? Great, you’re a cook. Do you write? Great, you’re a writer. Do you run? Hey, look at that, you’re a runner.

As for me, I’m working on changing my story so that I believe that I am an athlete, but in order to for that to happen I need to do more than just cross my fingers and hope it works. In order to change my story, I need to change my actions. And in order to change my actions, I need to get to the heart of where the negative story came from in the first place.

So, in order to break down the roots of my story, I asked myself a question. I asked, “What are the top three things that I believe make someone a real athlete?” I thought about it a lot, and here’s what I came up with:

1. Athletes are part of a team and/or have sponsorship
2. Athletes have photos of themselves doing athletic things
3. Athletes compete against other athletes

Okay, great. So that’s what makes someone an athlete in my mind, and in order to start feeling like an athlete myself, I need to at least try to do some of those things. Because that’s the key: Once you’ve identified the things that someone living your new story would do, you have to actually do them.

So I did. I was nervous as hell, but I applied for a spot on the nationwide Oiselle Team – a group of about 150 female runners that I really respect – and I was lucky enough to be accepted. I’m now surrounded by an incredibly positive and supportive virtual community of lady runners, all over the country, and I have a year-long sponsorship contract with Oiselle – a running apparel brand whose gorgeous gear and powerful motto (“go fast, take chances”) speaks right to the heart of what running means to me.

After I got accepted to Oiselle Team, I hired my insanely talented friend Erin to do a running-themed photo shoot of me, wearing my new Oiselle gear, on the beach path where I log my daily miles here in LA, and every time I look at those photos I feel strong and, dare I say it, totally athletic. Step 2: complete!

Nicole Antoinette Running Photo Shoot on Tues., Apr. 23, 2013. // Erin Parker Photography

Lastly, I thought a lot about what it means to me to really compete. To race. To go all in. Because, of the three things on my list of what makes an athlete an athlete, this one felt the scariest – which is how I knew it was the one wrapped in the most insecurities.

Because, even though I’ve been participating in races since August 2011, I’ve never gone balls out. I had never done a true max effort race, and I knew I needed to experience that to feel like a real athlete. Because that’s what athletes do. They commit. They give their all. They compete.

So, a few weeks ago, I ran a small local 5k and just fucking went for it. I blasted two minutes off my PR from February and came in second in my age group – but more than anything I finished that race knowing for absolute sure that I couldn’t have run any harder. And that? Is an incredible feeling. And to me, that’s being an athlete.

Now, real-talk time: Does it mean that all of the sudden I feel like a true athlete every second of the day? Of course not. Changing your story takes time. But – and this is the most important thing – I’m actively working on making that change. Which means that now, whenever that little bitchy voice in my head starts to speak up and tell me that I’m not a “real” athlete, I can raise my eyebrows, put on my Oiselle racing singlet, glance over at the photo of me running along the beach, remember the feeling of crossing that 5k finish line, and tell that little voice to fuck the fuck off.

Yeah? Yeah.

Now, this is the part where I go from sharing my story to encouraging you to share yours. Why? Because articulating your current story is the first step toward rewriting it.

Nicole Antoinette Running Photo Shoot on Tues., Apr. 23, 2013. // Erin Parker Photography

So, go ahead. Click down to the comments and fill in the blank: “I’m not a real ____.” Then, ask yourself what you need to do to change that story. And then? Well, and then you need to go out and do it.

And in the meantime? I have a little treat for you!

Later this week, I’ll randomly pick one person from the comments to win my absolute favorite outfit from Oiselle – the Bum Wrap (so cute & comfy omfg) and the Winona Tank (the softest ever!) because sharing your story should totally come with prizes, right? RIGHT. Oh, and a discount code, too! Just enter BIRDLESSBS at checkout between now and Sunday to save 20% off your Oiselle purchase. And in case you need help choosing, I particularly love the Roga Short. And the Lesko bra. AND, UGH, EVERYTHING ELSE FOREVER.

Wow, that wasn’t helpful at all, was it?

::cue me frantically using my own discount code because, uh, that’s what athletes do, right?! BUY MORE RUNNING GEAR??::

[Update: Our winner is… Kelly L!]