“That’s it, I’m done with this,” I huff, setting my phone down in frustration. I lift my sweater to unbuckle the strap compressing my rib cage.
“What are you doing? What’s the problem?” my husband Kris asks from his perch at the counter.
“It’s this stupid exercise contest and the uncomfortable heart monitor belt that goes with it. My feet are killing me from running. I can barely walk or climb stairs my legs are so sore. I’m behind on work because of the time it takes me to fit this in, and this belt is literally cutting me in half. And now there’s no chance of winning the contest, so what’s the point?”
“It’s only day three Sara, you have all month to compete. Weren’t you in first place the other day?”
“Yes,” I snort in disgust. “I worked my tail off for five hours to get ahead yesterday, and did the same this morning, and still this other guy has double my points! I mean, I can’t exercise ten hours a day, that’s ridiculous!”
Finally finding the belt release, I fling it on the counter, plop myself into the chair next to him, and sigh.
I know I shouldn’t let it get to me. It’s a fun competition among friends. But it is also one that triggers my perfectionist and competitive tendencies which makes it harder to get my feelings under control.
I punch the close button on the app’s challenge board currently broadcasting my loser status, grab the belt, and stomp upstairs, tossing the belt onto my bedside table as I head for the shower.
Get a grip Sara. This isn’t life or death. You don’t have to prove anything to these people. They aren’t judging you.
But I can’t get a grip. As the water falls down over me I decide to bow out. It feels better for my soul. Another 27 days of working out while trying to adopt a healthy perspective on this competition would mentally exhaust me.
The discarded belt collects dust as the days pass. Everytime I see it, I vacillate between feeling like a childish sore loser and a wise woman, protecting my spirit. And while the belt’s presence doesn’t consume me, I am aware of the guilt ridden thoughts just below the surface. Occasionally these thoughts win and I strap it back on for a half hearted workout, before setting it back in its place.
Weeks later, I find myself in church on Easter, studiously taking sermon notes as the pastor outlines the way God sees us. It’s a hopeful message to match the holiday. One particular tidbit catches my attention.
“We aren’t finished yet,” my note reads. I begin drawing doodles as the pastor expounds, outlining her case for how our lives are journeys that never end, how we never stop growing or learning until our time on earth is done. And as such, God does not expect us to be anything other than a work in progress.
Logically, I know what she’s saying is true, but my perfectionist side often keeps me focused on end results for tangible proof of my worth. My journey, historically, has always been a means to an end. Something to struggle through to get the reassuring gold stars when the task is complete.
I have always had a subtle belief that I will one day be done with self discovery. That I will become the very best and perfect version of me with no flaws, pain, or missteps from that point forward. Hearing a reminder that it is impossible, that I will always be a work in progress, is initially disheartening. And yet, as I wrap my mind around this truth, I find it freeing as well.
If I can never achieve the “perfect” version of me, if it simply isn’t possible, perhaps I can begin to enjoy the journey of self discovery with greater consistency instead of always feeling as though I’m failing by never reaching the end.
Climbing into bed later that night, I notice the heart monitor band and am reminded of the competition. A competition that was intended to motivate us to begin a healthier set of habits by providing accountability and camaraderie. A competition I became so focused on winning, I failed to find any joy or value in the journey.
But with nine days left of the challenge, maybe it’s not too late to change that.