Sometimes I'm fighting for air in the middle of a workout and realize I'm still wearing my "Parent" sticker from pre-school drop-off. "Oh that's right," I remind myself, "I'm not a professional athlete... I'm a mom."
Competing used to be a huge part of my life. It was my goal to race for Team USA before I started a family. I knew I would have less time to pursue such things after having kids, but failed to recognize the fact that my drive and desire would remain. It doesn't have to be kids, there are many life events that make us feel forced to repress parts of ourselves that we so strongly identify with.
How large does your canvas need to be for you to identify as a painter? How complex does the arrangement need to be for you to identify as a musician? How much money do you need to make? How big does the audience need to be? For me, the question was how can I identify as an athlete and competitor if I'm not actually winning at anything? I started telling people that now I just "work out for fun", but honestly, it’s taken me a very long time to figure out exactly what how to do that.
“Why train if you're not going to compete? And why compete if you're not trying to win?” I used to ask. Well... because LIFE. I’m competitive by nature, but life now does not exactly lend itself to weighing and measuring all meals and working out six days a week... which I truly loved. All in. That'all I knew. Working out for just fun was not fun at all for me at first.
Shortly after kid number one, I realized that "having it all" is complete bullshit. We all have to make choices to accommodate our priorities, which means that not everything can be executed at the highest level at all times. Such a bummer, I know. However, that does not mean that we can't continue to train (or pursue any other interest) with the same passion and dedication. There’s a big difference between training to be THE best vs. training to be YOUR best.
It’s taken me a while to come to this realization. There were sooo many moments of "What's the point? Who cares what my time is? I'll never be as fit as I used to be." Is there such a thing as an existential CrossFit crisis? If so, I was having one. I had no idea how to train without a competition on the horizon.
So, in an effort to give meaning to my training, I signed up for a local CrossFit competition. The RX standards were doable for me, but in no way would I excel at the workouts programmed. Based on the women in my category and my current level of fitness, I knew exactly where I would end up at the end of the day... far, far away from the podium.
The challenge for me that day was not the workouts, it was keeping the competitive fire lit knowing that I didn't have a chance in hell of climbing the leaderboard. I wouldn't have had the guts to do this five years ago. Back then I only competed in events that I had trained for excessively and specifically with the intention of winning. This time it was the complete opposite. What was I doing signing up for a competition that I was sure I was going to lose? Who does that??
"Mom! I hope you win today!" my four-year-old exclaimed as I dusted off my lifting shoes.
I laughed to myself as I replied, "Ya know what sweetie, today we’re going to learn all about doing your best no matter what.”
Constantly measuring progress and performance (especially against others or even your pre-kid self) can be defeating. I’m not gonna lie, part of me hated seeing my name at the bottom of the list. But as soon as I took my eyes off the numbers and focused on the feeling of being on the competition floor, the feelings of self-loathing subsided.
Here’s what happened: I climbed ropes! I lifted heavy shit! And most importantly, I made a distinction between needing to win and wanting to win. This allowed me to put all my energy into the actual work being done (ropes and barbells) instead of worrying about the outcome (times and leaderboard). In the past, I felt like I needed to win in order to justify my training or to validate my athletic ability. The focus was more on the results than on the actual performance.
I still want to win, but I don’t need to. And let’s be honest… I can’t! I had to stop looking at a score to validate my athleticism and start focusing on what itis that brings out passion and drive and love and grit. Turns out that trying to win, even when we know we can't, can do just that. It's the stuff that we teach our kids, but how often do we actually practice it ourselves?
Things change. Life changes. It’s just that sometimes it feels like it changes without us. We can let our new labels suppress our old desires, or we can continue to pursue our passions from a new place and with an evolved perspective. Personally, I've decided to continue to act like an athlete even with there's a sticker that labels me "Parent" or a leaderboard that tells me I've lost.
Whatever it is that you love, I hope that you never stop doing it just because you can't be the best. Approach every challenge from the perspective of a competitor with a desire to win (even when you know we can't) because it's the fight that makes it fun, not the finish.