Plank. Push-ups. Wall sits. This week, one of the trainers at my Y has been doing fitness challenges every day. It’s nothing more sophisticated than a marker board, an “official” timer and a mat on the floor down by the front doors. Winners get no finisher’s medal, no t-shirt, not even an “I’m SomeBUNNY Special” sticker like my preschooler – just bragging rights. And considering I workout at the Y conveniently located between two large nursing homes, I probably ought to keep any bragging to a self-effacing minimum. (“I can hold plank for four minutes!” “Yeah, well I served in both ‘Nam and Korea, hiking 20 miles a day before you were even born. And I got jungle rot on every body part south of the Mason-Dixon.” Nothing says fun like old person TMI.) Despite the lack of any reasonable incentives, I am still drawn to these challenges like body builders to chest waxing.
Why? Well, for one reason the word “challenge” is like the smell of freshly baked bread to me. I simply cannot walk by with it wafting in the air and not try a little. I’ve been that way my whole life. I’m as competitive as the Kardashian sisters extensions are long. But today whilst holding my wall sit I had a lot of time (3 minutes and 6 seconds to be exact, Gym Buddy Megan and I tied for first place*) to think about exactly why that is. See, I was already sore from grueling workouts over the past few days, had just completed a boot camp class that included wall sits (note to self: do challenges before regularly scheduled workout) and I had already taken first place on the previous two challenges so why put myself through the agony of toilet-sore quads?
Because I have to be good at everything.
Oh, I don’t mean GOODgood at everything. I’m never going to win the Boston Marathon nor go to the Olympics in powerlifting nor will I study yoga under the most esteemed yogi in India while meditating in crow pose for 3 hours a day. I won’t even kid myself that I’m the best at my Y. I mean that I want to be able to hold my own at everything (and after having 5 kids, I include my own urine in that). I want to be able to run fast and lift heavy. I want to be able to bend like Gumby and box like Laila. I also want to be well read and a decent computer programmer. I want to play the piano well enough to feel comfortable doing it in public (rather than dropping my head and mumbling something about “Uh, I used to” when friends ask who plays, like I do now.) I want to be a respected teacher. I want to be a successful author. Oh, and, I want to be a fun, efficient, beautiful, creative, spiritual mother who will be beloved by my progeny for decades after I’m dead. You know, just little things.
The problem with wanting to be good at everything? For one thing, it doesn’t make me feel happy. After the initial high wears off, I realize I have to keep doing bigger/more things to get the next hit. The second problem? It is also impossible. Some things naturally preclude other things. For instance you don’t generally see people who are speedy endurance runners that can also lift really heavy and being super flexible can be an invitation to injury in some sports. And believe me when I say the author and mom goals conflict on a regular basis.
I’m not saying it’s wrong to have goals or even to want to be good at many things. The issue is that not every goal can be in the number 1 spot. You have to prioritize. Prioritize. I hate that word. See, whenever something new gets added to my to-do list, where a reasonable person would drop something of lesser importance I will insist loudly that I can do it all without dropping any balls. And then do you know what inevitably happens? I drop some balls. Or I manage to get everything done but not done well. Or, worst case scenario, my day explodes, nothing gets done right and other people have to step in to fix the mess I’ve created for myself. This last situation happens more than I’d like to admit. I’ve discovered that If I’m unwilling to prioritize my goals, life will do it for me and it won’t be the order I would have picked.
It doesn’t help that the media reinforces this attitude with headlines screaming “Get The Hottest Bod on the Beach in 2 Weeks!” (buy a private beach?) or “Throw a Holiday Party Your Guests Will Never Forget!” (my guests never forget my parties – food poisoning will do that to a person) or “Get Richer Than Your Wildest Dreams!” (this one should be easy – my wildest dream is to have clean carpets and doors that sit plumb on their hinges) or even “Live Your Best Life!” (sorry, Oprah – you know I love you like creme brulee).**
It’s enough to make a girl want to stop trying all together. And that is the real problem with always wanting to be able to do everything. Black-and-white thinking leads to black-and-white solutions. When you fail – as we inevitably all will – it doesn’t become a learning experience but rather an indictment of our character. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stomped my feet and said “If I can’t do it perfect then I’m not even going to try.” (Ahem, tennis.)
Thankfully old age has mellowed me a bit on this. Teaching teenagers will strip anyone of their pretensions. Children are uniquely humbling. As is this website: trying a new workout every month pretty much means I get really good at nothing. So can a perfectionsitic, black-and-white thinker let go of some of her competitiveness? My sore quads sure hope so.
Are you competitive? Can you not walk away from a challenge either? How do you prioritize your time?