What happens when your best isn't good enough? When you compare to what you did last time, or couldn't do last time, and still you see no improvement? What about when you just can't do something, and it's not for lack of trying? You get into a pretty funky headspace, that's what.
The tire pulls struck again. The last time I wrote about stacking tires and dragging them behind me with a fire hose like a pack mule, it was also a Friday. I believe I dropped a lot of F-bombs and finally quit on the last one. So, when Mat had us start out with that very same exercise this past Friday, I knew it was redemption time. I had come in to the morning Outdoor Fitness Challenge with the mindset that I would give it all I had, take it super seriously, do what was asked and not make "can't" or "no" part of my vocabulary, get a great workout, but mostly just offer a strong performance. I was in a great giddy mood, wide awake, with a four-day weekend looming ahead of me.
Three steps in and that all changed in an instant.
Stuck. Again. For some reason, I can't figure out how to hold the fire hoses, how to wrap them around me or get them to hang over my shoulder just so, in order to get momentum to pull the tires. The other participant had no problem. She just took off and trucked along, making it to the end and back before I could even move a few paces. Same thing happened last time, only EVERYBODY could do it except for me.
I got mad.
Like, really really really mad.
At what, I don't know. Myself? The tires? The ground? Mat, for making me do something he knew I couldn't do? The unfairness of life itself? Doesn't matter. It wasn't rational. It was just the temper that I'd learned to control in most situations coming to the forefront, and I saw red.
This was now a fight to the death and I was going to win against those tires. More F-bombs flew out of my mouth and I raged as I adjusted the tires and the hose, desperately trying to just figure it out and make it work. The top tire kept falling off the pile. Finally, I stopped, threw the ends of the fire hose down, and looped it through all three of the tires together (it had only been looped around the bottom one, with the other tires piled on top; standard set-up which worked for everyone else). The problem with losing your cool and getting frustrated is that losing control often makes things worse, and just as Mat cautioned me to be careful with the fire hoses that still had the nozzles on the end, I whipped them around and knocked myself on the back of the head. Ouch. Didn't care. Re-adjusted, tried to use brute force to keep moving forward. The tires still toppled, and I had to go back and stack them up, and I swear if I could have cut them into little pieces and hurt them, I would have.
By this time I had barely made it to the end of the parking lot, and the other participant had long since finished and was waiting at the other end, with Mat. They were too far away to see or hear my face or words, but I'm sure they knew the point I was at, by my body language. The top tire just wouldn't stay on the pile, even though it was looped with the fire hose, and I got vengeful. I wanted that tire GONE. The problem is, there's no fast way to pull a rubber hose against a rubber tire, and even trying to take it out became an added level of frustration. Once free, I chucked that tire to the side and kept going with two tires, glaring at Mat the whole way. Threw the ends of the fire hose down with a satisfying clang of metal hitting pavement, and growled "no more of that drill. Done."
He looked at me. "Go get the tire." I looked back at him, huffing and puffing and sweating. Staring showdown. In his best stern parent voice, he repeated, "Go. Get. The tire." I wanted to argue, to say, "piss off" or "no, YOU get it" or "I'll get it at the end when we clean up" but I could also feel the tears coming and knew that a walk back across the parking lot and away from the others was probably for the best. Angry tears fell. I got the tire, and again hurled it as hard as I could, off to the side, when I got back to our starting point. It landed against the fence, close to where we pile the tires, and it might still be there, because I refused to touch it again.
Fortunately, Mat didn't expect me to. On the next round, we worked together to pull the pile of tires, and then the sledgehammers came out. Let me tell ya, I channeled all my rage into bashing the hell out of the tire. I was able, technically, to do the rest of the boot camp: push-ups, presses with the fire hose, waves and squats and a gazillion sledgehammer slams. Some zen-like balance work at the end, with eyes closed to challenge our senses. I did it all, but the damage was done from the very first drill. The mood was tense. I didn't talk, didn't want to look at anyone, and the script in my head was very different than the one I usually have.
"What's wrong with you? Why can't you do what everyone else is able to do? How come you're not getting any better? Are you stupid? You suck. Are you even doing this right? Slam that sledgehammer faster, pick up the pace, you're not even on par with everyone else and you're supposed to be better than this. Seriously, you can't go any faster than THAT? Your form is wrong. The hammer is bouncing, control it. Can't you do anything right? All you have to do is stand on one foot and hold your knee up for a second, and you can't even do that. You suck. You suck. You suck. You're trying your hardest and you still can't do it. Why aren't you getting stronger, getting better at this stuff? You're all talk. Poser. Fitness Pretender. What if this is as good as it gets?"
In the end, I still got a good workout. I kept going. And I did everything Mat asked of me. From his outside perspective, watching me, he said that it was good. That's because he couldn't hear what was in my head. To me, everything I did was wrong. I sucked.
So, once everything was cleaned up and put away, I just got in my car and left, mumbling something about having a good weekend. I was not out of the parking lot before the sobbing started. All through the balancing portion, when Mat had us close our eyes to remove one of our senses (and, as he explained later, to keep it just about ourselves, remove any other competition), I was glad for it because if anyone had looked closely they'd have seen my jaw and lips trembling, and when I opened my eyes the tears that had accumulated behind the dam of closed eyelids dropped onto my cheeks, mixing with the beads of sweat.
It became a life-lesson kind of day.
This is where I have to give Mat his moment of glory, because it was in the debriefing and reflective discussion that he truly shone, and the difference between personal trainer and fitness coach was apparent. A trainer might have let it go, or followed up during the next session. I was only home for a few minutes when I heard from Coach Mat. He followed up via text. "How are you feeling? Do you want to talk about it?" He combated just about every one of my arguments about why I sucked, with what he saw. "You are capable of achieving incredible feats. You have to be willing to look them in the eye and say 'yes I will,' and you did. I didn't see the tires falling, or the rock that was stuck under the tire. I saw your will of fire, the 'fuck this I am going to do it no matter what, even if I have to toss a tire in the grass' which, I might add, was quite impressive." Okay. The last part made me laugh and disarmed some of the anger. And "will of fire" sounds so much more poetic than "RAGE" doesn't it?
During the back and forth texting, he asked "You didn't quit, did you? You tackled what I asked you to do?" And that struck the nerve that this post is based on. When do I stop using that as the fall-back platitude? When do I say "not quitting" is good enough?
When we met for lunch to discuss the morning more thoroughly, I explained to him that my thought process is "well, if I can't be good at X, I'll be really really good at Y." Through school, it was "if I can't be good at sports, I'll be an excellent student." Which worked, most of the time, for motivation and dedication. I hung all my pride, all my hope, on being smart. I put all of my emotional eggs into one basket, so to speak, and when you do that and the basket breaks, you're pretty screwed. When I'd fail a test (and I did, occasionally, spectacularly), or somehow "lose" academically, I never really dealt with it well. That's what happened at Outdoor Fitness Challenge. I have put all my eggs in the "being strong" basket, thinking "well, if I can't be thin or pretty, I'll just focus on being really strong." So, when I'm not, I lose my cool.
If I had written or posted this immediately following the boot camp, the ending would have been something along the lines of "when does 'at least you didn't quit' stop being good enough?" That can't be the default platitude every time I have a bad workout or a temper-tantrum meltdown. "At least you didn't quit."
But is simply not quitting really so bad, if you're trying your best as you keep going, even if you're not actually GOOD yet? After the texts and the lunchtime conversation to debrief the day, as well as the distance and perspective provided by a good night's sleep, I feel a little differently about it. I still think I could and should be doing better. I expect more of myself. But, no matter how good someone is, nobody has 100% success rates. Sometimes, you DO suck. Aiming for 100% is okay if you don't truly expect to get there. Success rates vary from business to business, but none are ever close to 100%. When I worked at camp, we had incredibly high expectations of staff because these were children, people's most valuable possessions left in our care. In a cabin of 10 kids, if 9 had a great experience, that 90% success rate was not good enough because it meant that one child had a terrible or traumatic time. But 100% is not realistic. No matter how good I am at my job, I can't help every patron find the right book for them, every time. No matter how great a teacher is, they will not impact every single student in the same way. And no matter how awesome a coach is, he will have some clients who don't reach their goals. Still, for those of us who expect a great deal from ourselves, we continue to aim high, despite the over-reaction of anger and frustration when we fall short of our reach. There is a fine line between giving 100%, and expecting to attain 100%.
Maybe that's the only way to get better: just don't quit. I can't afford to put myself through the emotional hell that I did yesterday, every time. But my arms and legs can tell you that they definitely feel yesterday's workout today! Mat's last text sums it up: "You did good Barb and I'm proud of what you did today, even if you're not. You completed a workout without quitting, you smashed the shit out of that tire and regained focus, you did good. Now accept it and remember, next time you will crush it even more."
He's right. I can't compare how I performed one time with how well I performed a previous time. Factors change. All we can do is give our very best, every time, and hope that "better" eventually comes.
So, I guess I've answered my own question. When is your best not good enough?