I went to the gym to enquire about personal training. I came back wondering if I should try to write a book. Life’s funny like that.
Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Time flies, doesn’t it? One day you’re leaving school. The next thing you know, you’re attending your 30-year reunion. And then your goddaughter completes her last full day of school, as mine did last week.
Then there are all the things I say I’ll do next week/month. Making a will, for instance. A year (or more) later, they’re still staring back at me accusingly from version 94 of my to-do list.
The months and years whizz by like speeding traffic on the motorway, while I trundle along in the inside lane stuck behind articulated lorries.
So what stops me from accelerating out into the fast lane? Why am I allowing time to pass while I pootle along?
Am I making pragmatic compromises in pursuit of that elusive ‘work-life balance’? Or am I lazily making excuses to stay in the safety of the slow lane?
Saying no to shredded abs
What’s prompted this bout of navel-gazing? Of all things, a consultation with a personal trainer at the gym.
If you have ever considered having a trainer, you’ll be familiar with the sales spiel about the physiological and psychological benefits, having a proper plan for training and nutrition, and so on. Stop making excuses and get out of your comfort zone. You don’t know what you’re capable of. Make yourself truly happy.
And, by the way, here’s how little (ahem) a three-month programme that will transform your body and mind will cost.
It’s a seductive proposition that tugged on all my personal insecurities. If money were no object, I might have said yes. But real life is more complicated (and expensive). I could pay for a programme that would undoubtedly benefit me. Or I could spend the money on a family holiday or the boiler that needs replacing.
Life’s full of choices like that. I know that saying no was partly me retreating into my comfort zone. I know I won’t achieve as much doing it on my own. And I know the gaps in my knowledge and technique will be harder to fix.
I accept all of this. But equally, over the last six months I’ve lost three stone and gone from being a non-runner to completing Parkruns. So I’m not exactly a failure either. It’s a choice. Prioritise one thing over the other when it’s not realistic to do both. And yes, give myself an excuse to settle for ‘good enough’.
I can live with that. Goodbye, shredded abs. Hello, Shredded Wheat.
Priorities – or excuses?
However, this did start me thinking about the decisions I make (or avoid) in other areas of my life.
On the whole, I have a fairly laid-back approach. I focus on a few things I really care about and I shrug my shoulders otherwise. I know I do the latter too often. Procrastination is my fatal flaw, hence the ever-growing to-do list.
To an extent that’s inevitable. There isn’t enough time in the day – or money in the bank – to do everything I could at work, for my family, for myself.
I would achieve a lot more at work if I did an extra ten hours a week. But I choose not to because I’m unwilling to make sacrifices in other parts of my life.
I would love to work four days a week to spend more time with the kids. But I choose not to because the financial sacrifice is too much.
And I would love to invest more in my ‘fat to fit’ journey but … well, you get the idea.
But are there other things I should be prioritising where I’ve instead made excuses because I’m afraid to fail?
The best of times, the worst of times
There’s nothing in my life currently where I have that burning drive to be ‘the best’. I justify this by saying I’m juggling so many things, so the good-enough-is-good-enough principle applies.
Is that really true, though?
There have been times when I was driven to be the best. At school, I was the top performer in my year for most of my time there. I achieved outstanding exam results. And I was accepted into Oxford University.
And then uni provided a rude awakening. I was suddenly in the middle of the pack and I wasn’t mature enough to cope. So I barely scraped through my degree and came out of it a damaged individual. I used to joke that, post-university, I was a balanced person because I had a chip on both shoulders. That wasn’t far from the truth.
It took me over a year to emerge from my funk wiser, (a little) more mature and ready to take on the world again.
I got myself a decent job. I enrolled on an MBA at one of the UK’s top business schools. (MBAs were all the rage for corporate go-getters in the late-1990s.) And I dedicated myself to being the best. I graduated top of my year, exorcising a few demons in the process.
I’m not sure I’ve ever again had that same drive to be the best, though.
Is ‘good enough’ good enough?
Since then, my career has had its ups and downs. I’ve done well enough. But maybe I could have done better if I’d been more dedicated to success.
Yes, that means I’m now safely snuggled up in my own comfort zone. But the truth is my career isn’t as big a priority as my family. So ‘good enough’ is fine and I don’t feel the need to justify my choices (or excuses) to anyone.
Similarly, I’m happy with my fitness progress. I’ve achieved more than I ever dreamt possible over the past seven months. I’ve set goals – and smashed them. And I’ve then set new goals – and reached them too.
Did I underestimate myself? Should I have set more stretching targets from the outset? Maybe.
Equally, I could drive myself insane second-guessing myself. Fitness-wise, I’d say I’ve progressed from 20% to 70% of my potential since last October. I may only ever reach 80% on my own. But I prefer to look on the 60% improvement I will have achieved, not the untapped 20%. I’m never going to be a body-building champion or a sub 3-hour marathon runner. Even if I have that capability, I don’t want it that much. Again, ‘good enough’ is good enough. Am I ‘settling’? You bet.
But is that where I want to be for the rest of my life? Always being ‘good enough’ and never striving for more because I don’t believe in myself or fear failure?
Is there something where I want to be the best I can possibly be?
From a fitness perspective, yes, I want to improve. Yes, I’m sure I’m capable of more than I realise. But it’s not a burning must-do. I’m in a happy place already. I feel I’ve already succeeded, so the fire isn’t there.
I’d like to light that fire somewhere though, to give myself more of a sense of purpose. So where is it?
Being not quite the best blogger
When I started blogging back in 2007, I did it for fun. It was an outlet to express myself. Somewhere along the line, I decided I wanted to achieve measurable success. Rankings. Awards. Publish a book. That sort of thing.
For a couple of years, I strived to be the best writer I could be. I rose steadily up various rankings. I was shortlisted for awards. The Metro website recruited me to write for them. I even started on a book.
I was good. But I was never the best. Eventually I accepted that, took my foot off the pedal and pulled back into the inside lane of blogging.
Was that self-awareness – or an easy cop-out? To this day, I don’t know.
I still write, but not with the intensity I used to. I lack the confidence to really put myself out there. There are a million excuses; I’ve used them all.
Writing is the closest thing outside of my family that I have a genuine passion for. And I recognise that I’m stuck in a self-fulfilling prophecy. I’ll never be good enough if I don’t try.
So, should I start over? Try to write a book again? Possibly. Either way, I do need to challenge myself to find something I want to excel at. Life flies by too quickly to spend it all trundling in the slow lane.