We all have secrets. Things that we have discovered about ourselves and want to keep hidden. Things we prefer to gloss over or cover up. Things that make us over compensate, or doubt ourselves, or hate ourselves even. I have a secret. I am a perfectionist. Ok, that’s not really a secret, but it is a coping mechanism I hate to admit is holding me back in many aspects of life.
For most people it is nearly impossible to let go of our constant inner monologue; the image of perfection we create and spend our entire lives striving to achieve. It's the little voice that keeps reminding you that you aren't enough or that you should have done better. Letting go of it is difficult. It takes practice. The more often we try letting go of being perfect, the easier it is to be ourselves and the happier we become.
I wasn’t always a personal trainer. In fact, I had a quite lucrative, if not soul numbing, career as an insurance adjuster for longer than I’ve been a trainer. Like most kids coming out of college, just about any job offer is way more appealing than your parent’s basement. So, I fell into this corporate gig as a place to start, all the while crafting the perfect image of myself and my future career...my fabulous future career. I mapped out a five year plan to greatness, and started on my way. Get a job; check. Save some money; check. Get a graduate degree; check. Get an amazing career making the world a better place…
That’s where the plan started unraveling. The five years came and went. The fulfilling career never materialized. This temporary job wasn’t so temporary anymore. I felt like my life, my youth, was passing me by while I was stuck sitting behind a desk, pushing papers under florescent lights. I didn’t like what I did. I felt like a square peg being forced into a round hole. It wasn't me and it wasn't how I wanted to live.
At first, I got through the days by distracting myself with training for triathlons and other fitness pursuits. I applied for jobs constantly. But as the rejection letters rolled in and the days answering emails and phone calls droned on, the distractions became less and less effective and the anxiety over my future increased. What started as a restless feeling progressed. I don’t know when exactly, but somewhere along the line I started hating myself. I felt like a failure because my reality and the image of myself I’d so carefully crafted didn’t match up. It hindered every aspect of my life.
It took some navel gazing to realize I had to let it all go. It wasn’t easy. It took way longer than I wanted. But it got me to a career I’m better suited for and it was so worth it.
Enough About Me, More About Fitness
Anyway, I know you love hearing about me, but you’re probably wondering how all of this relates to fitness. It’s no secret that your physical and mental health are intimately intertwined. Just look here, here, or here for some examples. If you are struggling to reach your fitness goals, you may need to look beyond the gym to find the underlying reason. The human body is a great vesicle for the psyche. We all have our own defense mechanism and strategies for coping with the difficulties of life. However, we'd be foolish to think they will be effective indefinitely or come without cost.
Your inner monologue can blind you from the truth. You must have the courage to see yourself for who you are, not who you want to be. Only you have the power to look at all your pimples and dimples with compassion instead of judgment, and to realize that it’s ok. There is no such thing as perfect. You are never going to be perfect. Being yourself is perfectly enough. When you stop trying to be perfect and start trying to be the best possible version of yourself, then everything starts falling into place.
You can’t change the past, but you sure can learn a hell of a lot from it. I’m still a perfectionist and I still get caught up in my inner monologue, but at least I recognize when it’s happening now. I can stop myself and look at life more objectively. I use my CrossFit WOD’s and yoga to help me turn off the monologue; to open my eyes and ears; to reconnect. If you are not fully present when hoisting a loaded barbell over your head or in the depths of a tricky yoga asana bad things can happen. When we have the courage and confidence to be ourselves we can more fully connect to everything around us; we can be the best version of ourselves. Everything falls into place.
You should pray for a healthy mind in a healthy body.
Ask for a stout heart that has no fear of death,
and deems length of days the least of Nature's gifts
that can endure any kind of toil,
that knows neither wrath nor desire and thinks
the woes and hard labors of Hercules better than
the loves and banquets and downy cushions of kings.
What I commend to you, you can give to yourself;
For assuredly, the only road to a life of peace is virtue.
Satire X, Juvenal
Joanna Meade (view bio) is a NSCA Certified Personal Trainer at the Downtown Athletic Club. She is a Level OneCrossFit instructor and competitor. She can be reached at Merritt Athletic Clubs Downtown Club at 410-332-0906 or click here for a Free CrossFit Session.