One of my Team in Training teammates, Emmie Vance, wrote a wonderful post on her blog, Pain Comes in Many Forms, about the hit your pride takes when you don’t live up to your own commitments.
I wasn’t putting in the hard work of consistent training that a marathon requires, the very core lesson and triumph of my previous races. So at some point, I had to admit the inevitable: I will not be running a full marathon in San Diego. This hurts my pride. I should be better at this, should have done things differently with my priorities when it came to making time to run.
This got me to thinking about my own dance with personal disappointment. I strive to find that balance between self-confidence and humility, but truth be told I am often far more comfortable beating myself up over failed expectations. I have counseled many others to “take the frying pan out of their hand,” but, of course, that advice is far easier to dispense than to follow. I think most of us know intellectually that punishing ourselves for not being our best selves does not actually serve any productive purpose. On the other hand, I wouldn’t want to be the kind of person who is emotionally divorced from the outcome of their efforts either. I do a good job because I care about doing well – so, conversely, it hurts when I don’t do so well. (Brian commented to me this morning that he is always surprised how much I turn on myself in these situations instead of considering maybe it’s not actually all about me and my shortcomings. Not blame myself for things outside my control? Novel concept…)
Why do I keep hitting myself in the head with a hammer?
Because it feels so good when I stop.
I guess it all comes back to finding balance. Holding yourself accountable, with compassion. I also find that I often get myself into situations doomed for failure because I have lost my focus. I am so busy flailing around that I’m not actually doing anything meaningful. I have learned that when I start dropping balls left and right, it’s time to start setting some of those balls down. It’s time to exercise that all important word, “no.” Usually, I can get myself back to center when I start eliminating the excess noise in my life.
It reminds me of a situation Brian and I had kayaking a few years ago. We were on our sit-on-top kayaks, paddling around near his parents home. It was February, but the weather was typical Pacific Northwest – cool and overcast, and the water was calm. For no particular reason, my center of balance got off kilter and suddenly I was in the drink. The Puget Sound runs about 50 degrees Fahrenheit year round and it’s not a place you want to spend any significant amount of time or you risk hypothermia. I was wearing a wet suit, but that bought me time more than protection. I had practiced getting back in the kayak from the water, so I knew I could do it. First attempt, I got my torso up on the kayak and propelled myself right over the other side. Second attempt, I pulled the kayak over my head. Third attempt was no more successful. At this point I realized that I was doing more flailing than making any real progress. I forced myself to stay in the water, take a couple of breaths and think for a moment about what I needed to do. Brian advised that I get my torso on top of the kayak in one motion, stop, and then get into a seated position in a second motion. Because I had taken that moment to pause, I was able to take in his advice and successfully got back onto my kayak in my next attempt.
I think we forget that sometimes we need more than a few attempts to get back on course, and that it’s okay to “stop and drop” before we start rolling. It may take twenty tries to get it right and maybe it is the trying that it is important. Or perhaps no amount of attempts will work. (What do they say in business? If you haven’t failed, you must not be trying hard enough.) In any case, taking a moment to take stock, clear your mind, and make thoughtful choices is never going to be bad advice. The trick, I guess, is figuring out how to give yourself permission to take that moment. It occurs to me that, ironically, maybe even that takes a few tries, so I should probably give myself a break for not being perfect at that either.
For fast-acting relief, try slowing down. ~Lily Tomlin
I am ardent admirer of my friend Siri’s blog, Minus 40 by 40. She has set a goal to lose 40 pounds by the time she turns 40. And she’s holding herself accountable by publicly sharing the journey and tracking her weight loss. She hasn’t been perfect, but she’s following a sensible plan (Weight Watchers) and she set a goal for herself that is challenging yet realistic and that will put her at a healthy weight. She’s doing all those things that contribute to success, and she’s lost 9.8 pounds so far. I am both impressed and honestly a little jealous.
I’d like to say this post was a similar announcement that I set some BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) for myself and we could all watch me transform my life, but sorry to say that is not what’s happening here. I am known for being determined and driven and in former days I even lost 50 pounds following Weight Watchers. However, I am also equally adept at denying and outright ignoring what is right in front of me, and I can rationalize with the best of them. I have set goals for myself and found untold ways to excuse myself from actually fulfilling them. I know about myself that I have to be really REALLY bought in for the big goals to work, and it is easy for me to be depressed and discouraged by setting a goal that is out of reach and therefore giving it up altogether. I need something that is both motivating and real for me where I am in my life right now.
In my daily perusing of the blogosphere on my iPad (hat tip to Steve Jobs, iRIP), I stumbled across something pointing people to register as bone marrow donors. I clicked through and started looking at the medical requirements. I half-hoped that I would be disqualified and guess what, I do not meet the weight criteria to register. I’m officially too fat to be a bone marrow donor. Ouch. I’m not over by much, just about 6 pounds. I sat there and stared at the screen. I will be brutally honest and say I am not totally sure I wanted to sign up for to be a donor, but it’s so much different when you are choosing (or rationalizing why you should or shouldn’t) and having that choice taken away from you. Because of how I have let myself go, this path is closed off to me. I don’t like that feeling – it frankly pisses me off and makes me mad at myself. But I stopped short of hari-kiri and decided that it seems very do-able that I could lose 6 pounds and keep it off in order to qualify. So, here in black and white, is my little goal: I will register as a bone marrow donor before the end of the year. It fits in with my desire to do BETTER (instead of try to be perfect), and maybe I’ll even help someone else along the way (and for a cause I am passionate about – ending Leukemia and Lymphoma), but without requiring that I dive head first into something I know in my heart I’m not ready for yet. It’s the opposite of a BHAG. I’m calling it a SAG, a small-ass goal. (And yes, I appreciate the double-meaning…)
How will I do it? The classic way – consume less calories than I burn. Which means more mindful eating, healthier eating, and moving more. No drastic dietary or lifestyle changes, but I can walk home from work one more day a week, and drop the desserts one more day a week, or eat one more serving of vegetables a week. I stepped on the scale last Monday (yep, faced that number, and yep, it sucked) and will do a weekly weigh-in, no more, no less, to see how I do. Once I have dropped 6 pounds and kept it off for 3 weeks, I will register and share the news online.
Why such a small goal? Because sometimes growing up, being a “big girl,” means being honest with yourself about your own limitations. It’s a small goal and it fits my current limitations, but is also one that sets me up to succeed, which I hope will lead me to seek other wins and down a healthier path. I think it was best said in that 80’s classic, Better Off Dead, “I think all you need is a small taste of success, and you will find it suits you.”