Personal potential amounts to a pittance without consistent, concerted effort.
Declaring our determination to accomplish great things, overcome faults, or stand for noble causes is easy, especially when those around us are saying the same thing.
From, “I’m going to lose 45lbs and gain control of my health,” to, “I’m going to pursue a new career or vocation,” or “I will devote all my efforts to changing (insert what you want to change).”
Why, after such praiseworthy intentions, do our actions fall short? Why do we waiver as the climb towards personal potential becomes steeper, the reality of required exertion becoming palpable rather than theoretical?
I suspect, regardless of the names we give our excuses, they all boil down to one explanation: we don’t want to discipline ourselves because of the enticing call of comfort and convenience. Real growth and change require a willingness to get uncomfortable and examine our convictions.
Personal Potential Revisited
Recently a friend and I decided to set the goal of running a mile in 5:59 by the end of 2020. It may seem like senseless self-punishment to some, but to us, it’s worth pursuing. We get to push our limits, develop a lasting friendship, and experience the joy of living in a healthy body.
After doing some research, my friend found an acceptable training plan. It didn’t sound too bad. We have been running long distances for so long that the total mileage of each work-out did not intimidate me at first. Between a warm-up, a cool-down, and a series of intervals, the work-outs are still under seven miles on most days.
And then the first day of intervals arrived. An interval means running a specific distance – like 400 meters or 800 meters – really fast, jogging for a minute or two, then repeating as many times as required. The first couple intervals were hard but not strenuous, my legs powered around the track. My heart, though beating rapidly, seemed to be operating at a comfortable anaerobic capacity.
For a moment, I felt like I could reach my goal without much pain – the “I’m in a race, and I’m not sure if I can keep up this pace” sort of pain – when you can feel your heartbeat in your head and every muscle screaming in protest.
I quickly changed my mind after the third round. The familiar but forgotten-until-that-moment battle of grit vs. excuses began. Keeping my legs on pace took exponentially more energy than the minutes before. I started telling myself that no one cares whether or not I run a sub-six-minute mile, and quitting would have no bearing on my worth, abilities, or responsibilities.
Stopping the Debate
Before I finished reciting excuses, I remembered a race from almost 20 years ago—the 800 meters. As I had approached the starting line, I promised myself I would stay with the lead pack of girls or pass out trying. Having, according to my estimation, embarrassed myself the previous track season, I was determined to unfurl the fruits of the hours and miles I ran and swam during the last nine months. My glory banner would be unforgettable, and the top runners in the district would meet their match.
The starting gun fired and we zoomed around the first lap. I felt fantastic, and blessed the swim season for teaching me how to control my breathing. Somehow I was in the lead without feeling like I was running too fast -until we crossed the 500-meter mark. Everything started to hurt. I distinctly remember telling myself the race didn’t matter, and I could try again later. I made the deliberate decision to give up.
Discouragement climbed on my shoulders as I slowed down, getting heavier with every passing ponytail and pair of slender legs. Shades of brown and blonde locks swinging back and forth became unbearable to look at, so I looked down. In under three minutes, I went from determined to discouraged.
Sadness and disappointment settled in for the duration of the season, feasting on my hopes. I kept working hard at practice, but when race day came, I gave up again and again. My coach and teammates wearied of my excuses. I did, too.
A Mind Made Up
Returning my attention to the present, and with the prick of the “failure at 500 meters,” memory, as I so call it, I said to myself, “Not again. I am not going to walk off this track disappointed, promising myself I will push through the pain next time. I push through it now.”
Doubling down, I fought for every second, desperately trying to keep on pace. How wonderful the end of that work-out felt in my soul. Physically and mentally arduous yet marvelous.
The mile I ran in May was faster than the mile I ran in April. So was my friend’s. This month my time will be faster still. So will my friend’s. Giving up is not an option because the sting of regret is more unbearable than the minutes of running on the edge of physical limitations.
While I am tempted to suggest that fitness goals are a more superficial example of dreams meeting the reality of work required, they’re not. They are a straightforward example of overcoming the natural tendency to back down when life asks, “Is this what you want?” Our actions, rather than our words, answer the question.
When plans go awry, or others declare our pursuits the vain attempts of an idiot, and when life all but bottoms out, we have a choice to make.
Feeling sorry for ourselves is one option. Marinating in the shoulda-woulda-couldas is another.
Or, we can put in superior perseverance and come out triumphant, the satisfaction and joy of hard work twinkling in our eyes. Personal potential realized.