I’m a dabbler. I pick things up quickly. For most of my life I’ve been addicted to the rush of starting something new is what has gotten me from one point to the next. It has yielded a sense of self worth, friendships, and opportunities. But it is never enough.
I used to think the problem was the things I chose to pursue. As I approached high school, everyone got taller than me so I wasn’t as valuable on the basketball team. I quit. As I finished my bachelors degree in theater production, I realized that all of the internships that were my stepping stone from point A to point B were all unpaid. I got a “real job” and had no time to do anything else (or so I thought.) I didn’t have parents bankrolling my lifestyle, so fuck this art form it is for snobs and blue hairs anyway. I stopped making theater. I taught yoga for three years and spun myself into a frenzy about greedy studio owners, vapid class content, cultural appropriation. I walked out and haven’t taken a yoga class since.
All of these situations have an alternative solution. Practice basketball like you mean it, find an alternative to a full time, unpaid internship, find a studio run by folks more aligned with my values, assert boundaries rather than letting insult and disrespect pile up and stew inside of me until I explode. The problem is not these situations, but the black and white thinking I’ve adopted to get me through life up to this point.
It started to happen again with powerlifting. Two years ago, everything was shiny and new. My gym was a dream come true. I was willing to do whatever it took to learn from folks stronger than me and train with lifters better than me. Lately I’ve been caught up in the way people roll their eyes when I ask them to take better care of the equipment (at the gym I work at, so this is not out of my scope), how many times I am interrupted when I am training myself between clients (again at the gym I work at where everyone knows me), what the Crossfit bro in the corner is doing, the fact that I am listening to Slipknot greatest hits for the 5th time this week. And I start to hate my environment, the people in it, and myself. What changed?
It is all a shift in perspective. When something is new, there are infinite possibilities. In this state openness is higher and external motivation is high. When we are new to a community meeting new friends and the positive reinforcement and encouragement we get from this new environment are a powerful fuel. But then we become familiar. Other people start to rely on us the way we once did when we were new. The mindset shifts from everything looking like an opportunity to “Who is there to take care of me? No one cares about what I have to say. I’m not even great at this anyway. I’m just wasting my time.”
When the extrinsic motivation is gone and we have done no work to cultivate intrinsic motivation in ourselves, of course we will feel this way.
Powerlifting has taught me this: the reason I have been so dissatisfied with my life is because I seek approval and validation from others rather than checking in with myself and understanding why I am here doing what I’m doing. So this is a post to remind myself of what powerlifting has taught me and why I am here. This is an inventory to return to when I find myself getting burned out and in my own way. Maybe it will be helpful for you, too.
I got serious about powerlifting after my step brother’s death. For awhile my lifting was defined by this and overcoming this trauma. I wrapped up my identity with it and told the story to people I got close enough to. I was compelling. I had a Reason to be there.
The truth is, no one cares. Relying on empathy and admiration from others to motivate me to lift (which has nothing to do with my step brother) didn’t last. No one cares not because they are heartless, but because we all have our traumas and challenges to contend with. Is constantly reminding yourself of everything that has gone wrong in your life before you deadlift a reason to deadlift? No. It is exploiting your pain rather than processing it so you can move on and grow. This way of thinking was holding me back. When you think this way, you cannot be tough or have the flexibility to solve the problem in a new way. If you are not resilient, you will get stuck.
Strength takes time. Powerlifting training is the same thing over and over and over. This is what is required to build muscle, get stronger, and increase your total. There is no shortcut to getting stronger. There are many ways to get stronger, but there are no shortcuts. If you can’t trust and enjoy the process, powerlifting will no longer be a joy. If we spend our time impatiently waiting for the next like or external validation, we will waste a lot of energy that could be used to get stronger.
We all have 24 hours to do what we need to do. 9-10 of those are spent working and commuting, 7-8 of those are spent sleeping, we need time to eat, bathe, get groceries, clean up our homes, etc (let’s give that 1-2 hours a day), we need to decompress so watch some TV, scroll through Instagram, etc. Oh shit, I just spent 4 hours doing that and I have no time!
No matter how busy you are, how you spend your time is a choice. Tally up your time and see where it is really going. There is always time to do something you love. Some of the “busiest” people I know (gym owners, lawyers, on call doctors, ad agency sharks) know how to use their time wisely. They still train. You can only have so many priorities, but you can always make time for those priorities. As my personal training business built up to 50+ hours a week, I realized that, based on how I was using my time, TV and Instagram were my top priorities. Since then, I’ve had to set boundaries on how long I spend on these things so I have time for my priorities.
On the other side of boundaries--we are the company we keep. If there are relationships that are draining you or tempting you to engage in behavior you do not want to engage in, set a boundary on those relationships. This is different than “cutting out what does not serve me”. It is looking at your issues and resolving the conflict within those issues. Sure, you may need to cut a “toxic” person out of your life. But conflict is not toxic. Most people are reasonable. Boundaries are the container for which you can maintain healthy relationships.
At some point, in order to make progress beyond the shiny and new beginner stage, you need to learn to think for yourself. If you don’t understand why you are doing something, you won’t stay invested for very long. You don’t need a coach to hold your hand. In fact, if everything you do is spelled out to the T by a coach and you don’t understand why you’re doing it, hire someone else. Strength training is not secret knowledge. It is a basic science anyone with enough practice, awareness, and willingness to work can apply. It is 55% art and 45% science.
When it seems like you are out of choices, try looking at it from a new perspective. Find what you are grateful for and why you started the thing in the first place. The reason is still there, but the path may be different than what you expected.