Thursday, September 23, 2010

Perfection and Patience

Today I was reminded, once again, that I am NOT, in fact, perfect. Try as I might--I simply cannot achieve perfection. This is a very difficult lesson for me and one that I've continued to struggle with my entire life. My family is full of overachievers and though my parents never expected their children to be anything short of hard-working, hard-playing, happy people, I still managed to develop a somewhat ridiculously ambitious expectation that whatever I did in life, I'd better be GREAT at it. And not just great...PERFECT. Yep, I am the classic Type A, overly-competitive perfectionist. I do not go into any task without going at it 110%. And if that means I'm faced with some healthy competition or even a bit of adversity along the way...all the better!

I've had some great success with most of the sports I've tried. And a lot of that I attribute to my obsession with competition and perfection. I am an internally ANGRY athlete. Well... I'll admit I know this doesn't sound particularly positive, and perhaps a better description would be that I'm full of a lot of "fury" or "fire" when I'm training or competing. Regardless, it moves at a steady, rolling boil within me, pushing me to do better than the person next to me, or if I'm performance from last time. I don't usually APPEAR angry, because truthfully, I'm having a BLAST! I function best when I'm fueled by this competition, whether internal or not.

Now, while I realize my perseverance and motivation is a healthy, often appreciated trait, it's also important to admit that it has brought some very unhealthy, negative consequences. Lots of injuries. And let's face it...I've sometimes become self-critical, self-loathing, and eventually torn away at the very parts of me I'm proud of--my confidence and self-esteem.

Lately, in my quest to find more and more challenging adventures, I have come across some things that well...KICK MY ASS! Things that leave me questioning my abilities as an athlete, and humbling me on my ridiculous quest for perfection. A couple of years ago, a friend of mine tried to get me to go to a Crossfit workout. I had just completed a 50K trail race and was planning on entering my first 50 miler three months from then. My focus was completely on running...and ONLY running. My friend, also an ultrarunner, told me that she had recently started attending these Crossfit workouts to supplement her running. She claimed that it was going to boost her running fitness levels because it focused on strength and muscle endurance. Unfortunately, she told me that it involved lifting weights. Weights were an absolute NO for me. I was certain that lifting weights would never build true functional strength the way that using body weight (relative strength) could. So I continued with my own regimen of pullups, pushups, plyometric circuit training, confident that I was right and she (and all the other crossfitters out there) was wrong. Hmmmm....she failed to tell me that Crossfit has a foundation of gymnastics. That it balances a regimen of relative strength work AND not "lifting weights" but "WEIGHTLIFTING"...real olympic lifting that involves, I can't believe I'm saying this...TRUE FUNCTIONAL STRENGTH! Yes, I was admittedly wrong. Anyway, it took an injury to my achilles, that prevented me from running altogether, for me to finally agree to try Crossfit. And that's when I got my ass kicked. Over and Over and Over. But I LOVE it. And I love that it's hard for me. Here's a little video about what Crossfit entails.'s THAT crazy! (Now you know why I like it...)

What I don't love is that I'm not GREAT at it. YET. Oh yeah, I'm still going to go at it 110%. But meantime, I'm learning a LOT about patience. Today I set a goal on a specific lift and didn't reach it. I needed HELP on my last attempt and I don't think my trainer knows me well enough yet to know that it was completely unacceptable to me to fail at that today. She probably didn't see how furious I was or the fact that I was already thinking about how I'd need to spend hours on that particular lift to master it (by next week. Ha ha). No...what she DID do was say, "Hey, everyone has a hard day every now and then. Happens to all of us." Oh. There it was again...that PATIENT thing.

The thing is, I might NEVER be amazing at crossfit. But I WILL try. The key is to remember that it's a process and rather than let the moments of difficulty discourage me, instead, let them continue to MOTIVATE me to set goals and work hard to achieve them. I don't think there's anything wrong with wanting perfection, wanting to excel, and wanting to win. What's wrong is not allowing myself to fail at times. Patience is difficult. But when I have embraced it, I usually find the end result to be much more rewarding...and lasting.

1 comment:

  1. I totally feel you on the perfection thing. I admire that kind of ambition, passion, and intensity. It's how I've always been. The only difference is that it's never been about anything physical for me. My perfectionist streak has always been related to school, then my career. B's were a dissapointment and C's were a disgrace. I grew up thinking mediocrity equaled failure. I was your classic overachiever in school. I had to be in the hardest classes, get the best grades, go to a top-ranked school, and be the best in whatever career I chose. Teaching was a huge reality check. It was the first thing I tried my hardest at and couldn't be perfect. No matter how hard or how much I worked, no matter how much I cared, no matter how skilled I was, success in the profession was and is almost completely out of my control, and it's unnerving. My career has been all about developing patience and coping with imperfection, with the kids, with the state of education in California, and with myself. I've been in education for about 5 years now and have wanted to quit every single one, simply because I could not accept that things never could be perfect, in fact, I've learned that being a good teacher is about how one copes with how far the situation is from perfect. adding another 2 "P's", I'm finding it's all about perspective and perseverence. How do I find the opportunity and the optimism in the perpetually imperfect. How do I fill that gap and make it work? How do I accept, adjust, and appreciate the imperfect? And if it all blows up in my face, how do I brush it off and just keep going anyway. Teaching has been the most humbling experience I've ever had and not teaching humbles me even more. Every day has been a lesson in patience, perspective, and perseverence and I'm learning that these matter far more than perfection.