We’re in it now, officially. 2013 has commenced. This is where sh*t gets interesting. The brief stint of frolicking blissfully into the unknown of the new year under the presumption of a clean slate has started to wear off a bit as the reality of the actual progression of a time begins to reestablish itself. January is always a curious month. It is grounded in a sense of newness and yet it is overlaid with the continuation of whatever came before it. It is a renegotiation of sorts. A reorientation of the person we are, the person we have established over the last year, and the person we aspire to become in the next one. If you have ever been to one of my classes, you will know that one of my favorite cues is: set the tone. You hear a lot of times in an athletic setting that it doesn’t matter how you start, it matters how you finish. Yeah, I guess I endorse that statement. Sort of. But to be honest, it matters to me how you start; how you progress; AND how you finish. I find those first two thirds rather crucial. It’s not that you have to start out like a rock star, but that you have to be willing to start. That you have to be willing to throw yourself into the process without totally knowing the outcome. That you have to be ready to struggle. And that you take the opportunity, the responsibility to set the tone, to establish how that business is going to go down, not just how it is going to finish.
I had a student come up to me last week after class and ask if it was ok that everything was still so hard. YES! Oh man, yes! It is so easy to look around in the midst of a class – in the middle of your own butt being kicked – and think, geeze, I am the only one struggling here. False. Struggle is what it is all about. Well, maybe not what it is ALL about, because then who would go to the gym, like ever, but struggle is forever present in the work that we do. And how we respond to that struggle, that is what defines us not only as athletes, but yes, as real live people too. Totally, it is easy for me to write that statement while snugged up at a coffee shop with the only rough patch being the fact that I am a quarter done with this post, but only have a solitary sip of my now cold latte left to keep me going on this freakishly frigid day. But no matter how much we like to exist in a state of comfort, in a state of control, there is no denying that struggle and how we respond to it – that is what defines us, not all the fuzzy stuff.
One of the WODs last week at Verve was a 5k row. I did my per usual workout check to see what super neat thing we were doing that day, and when I saw 5k – well first I said, “balls!” (and quite possibly f*ck me) and then I started to think up legitimate excuses of why I didn’t need to do it. 1) I had taught 2 spin classes the day before – my little legs needed a break. 2) I did that business enough in college – no thanks. 3) Maybe I should do some yoga instead – yoga sounds like a marvelous idea today. I ran through these puppies like a hundred times in my head, but on the hundredth time when I still felt guilty about not going to do the 5k, I had to acknowledge that I didn’t want to go because I knew that it was going to be hard. The problem with rowing in college is that I knew exactly how hard it was going to be and what I would need to do to get it done. More than anything I knew what type of struggle something like a 5k demands. It’s not that it’s physically hard – I mean it is – but more so it’s the fact that the hardest part is in your head, that you have to get in your own head and make the choice every single stroke to keep moving, to keep pressing.
So I had a choice. I could go, I could fight and quite possibly get my butt totally kicked, or I could for a multitude of seemingly good reasons not go, not get uncomfortable, and in fact have a lovely Tuesday evening. How is it that after rowing for 8 years, after fighting on an erg or in the boat that whole time, I still doubt my ability to fight? How is it that I still fear struggle, or more aptly, how is it that I still fear failure so acutely? With those questions lingering in my mind, there was only one option I really had: row a freaking 5k.
We often look at struggle as a hindrance, as something that holds us back, cripples us even. But as I started to psych myself up for the 5k, I started to reorient how I viewed the impending battle. Sure, it was not going to feel totally awesome, but instead of looking at it merely as something that was going to take away from myself through the act of struggle, I started to view it, or at the very least, flirted with the notion of seeing it as an opportunity, as a chance to build and to reaffirm my strength instead of to question it. That doesn’t mean that I had to pull my best 5k ever to achieve that goal. Nope. What it meant is that I had to show up. That I had to dive into that struggle and whatever it presented instead of avoiding it. Just because something is hard, just because it challenges you and demands something significant from you, does not mean that you are weak or not capable. It means that you are brave enough to put up a fight. That you’ve started. That you’ve set the tone and that tone means business.
We so frequently want to move away from struggle. We let it question our strength, our ability to persevere, even our value. Struggle, if we let it, breeds doubt like nobody’s business. But, adversity is also what elevates us if we give it, or more precisely, ourselves the chance to do so. So your workout is hard, like really, really hard? Good! Great. It’s supposed to be hard. Embrace that. Drive right towards that wall that threatens you. Enjoy that you have given yourself the opportunity to struggle, to get down in the mud and fight for something significant. Because if you let it, everything you do in the gym is significant. It may all appear to exist in isolation – your first prescribed WOD, your first unassisted pull up – but what it took to get you there was anything but isolated, and anything but easy or comfortable. No matter how small each piece seems, each little struggle, each little push changes you – makes you more powerful, more confident, and, well, a little bit more of a bad ass. Enjoy that.