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Time to wax philosophical once again.

I haven’t written much, partially because there hasn’t been much to write about. I have a couple summer race reports, and not much more. Summer is actually a busier time for me professionally, with three week long children’s programs, a local community festival and the kids out of school.

In early August, I usually get a couple weeks of slowdown, which for me, has always been a time to reflect. As I am about to mark an anniversary, 15 years in ordained ministry, I am even more prone to delving into the deep “what’s it all mean” stuff.

That can be dangerous, because I keep falling back into a pattern that is unhelpful. I don’t know if I will ever break away from this pattern, but the more I am aware of it, the less damage it does.

The pattern is familiar to addicts: “should’ing” myself.

This is what happens when I think about my progress or growth. I look at myself and take an assessment. And surprise, surprise, what I see is never good enough.

I should have been under 200 pounds by now. 

I should have run a sub 30minute 5k by now.

I should be able to swim a mile under 30 minutes.

I should be able to do pushups.

I should have a more impressive resume by this age.

I should have letters behind my name by now.

Should, should, should.

It doesn’t help that none of those are pipe dream goals. The athletic ones are all pretty low-bar goals. None of them are all that noteworthy, and decidedly average. That makes it all the harder to acknowledge. I’m still not capable of average.

Add to this, the ease with which it appears that others have made huge transformations in short times. Every couple weeks on the main forum I read, there is another new user with an amazing story of going from fat sloth to ultra-athlete in six months. It is really easy to read all these, and cloud what should simply be an inspirational “good for you!” with a self-hating “come on man, what’s your problem?”

Stand-up comedian Kyle Kinane captures this angst rather well in his whole act, but distilled down he has a great line …and then I remember there are people my age who are astronauts.

Now look, I know. I know what you’re going to say. “Never compare yourself to others, just be the best YOU That YOU Can be.” And intellectually, that is certainly true, but emotionally it can lead to the terrible choice of 1. I am the best I can be, which I am nowhere near satisfied with… or 2. I haven’t worked hard enough to be the best I can be, which is its own disappointment.

THIS IS WHAT COMES OF SHOULD.

Should is cancerous. It holds me back, it tells me “why bother,” it tells me that “if it hasn’t happened yet, the odds are it won’t.”

And that, dear readers, is why I continue to write this blog.

I’m a cock-eyed optimist enough to believe that I am on the path that will eventually get there. And if there is any value in putting this out there for others to read, it is in encouraging you to stop should’ing all over yourself. My life is on display, failures and all, so that I can be but one case study in stubbornness, and slow, painfully slow, progress. I don’t think that story is all that interesting, but it is a true and real one. There is a great scene in season four of Breaking Bad where Walter Jr. had seen his Dad in a moment of vulnerability and weakness, literally beaten and bruised. In the morning, Walt pleads with his son not to remember him that way. Walt Jr. tells him straight: I’d rather remember you like last night than the way you’ve been for the last two years. At least last night was real.

I really wanted to be remembered differently. I was going to be the guy who everyone could point to as the fat sloth who got off his lazy behind and became a monster athlete in a year and blew everyone’s mind and inspired the masses.

But I am not going to be that guy. And the idea that I won’t be that guy has been a source of depression, discouragement, and if I’m honest, frustration and outright anger for me.

I am working on letting that go. Like a man grasping an apple inside a vase, with my fist stuck, I will never get the fist out, or the apple, unless I let go and turn the vase over. I’m letting go of the need to create some dramatic, almost unreal story of who I wish I was. I’m embracing the value of the story of who I am, ///

SHOULD lives in the past. I live now. I learn from mistakes and move on. But the biggest mistakes I’ve made have been the hardest to learn from, because my mistakes tend to be missed opportunities from inaction. Then I can’t learn anything, since I did nothing. 

There’s a parable in the Gospels about servants being given assets to watch for a time. The one that returned them as-is was called out for doing nothing with it. He took no risk, and therefore saw no growth. My biggest failures have not been in trying the wrong thing, they have been in trying nothing.

For some reason as yet unclear to me, I set the Red Bull Series to record on my DVR. Sometimes it’s XTerra triathlon, sometimes it’s dirt bikes. This weekend, it was surfing. Watching the surfers, it occurred to me that one could sit in the ocean waiting for the perfect wave to come, and end up with a score of zero. We can’t control the waves in our lives, we can only control what we do on them when they come along. Too many people live as if destiny is secured, and they are powerless to forces around them. I tend to live the opposite problem: I am convinced I have the power to mess everything up instantly, so I am paralyzed by inaction.

Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. – There is so much wisdom in that bumper-sticker sized thought. I know I’ve done just that. Worried that I wouldn’t lift weights the best way, I have avoided the weight room. Well, part of the benefit of being dead last in a race is to train myself to accept less-than-perfect as still-worth-doing. 

When will I get to the “destination” of the body/health/achievements I want? I don’t know. I have to let go of a timeline as a judge of success. Perhaps when I truly let go, it will come more naturally. Just as my wife had sworn off dating right before I walked into her life. I’d like to think that worked out OK for her.

Starting this weekend, I have a race every weekend for five weeks in a row. I get to exercise my extrovert muscles as I reconnect with the endurance tribe. That helps me re-focus on why I want to do this, and inspires me to keep at it, even when I doubt my progress compared to where it SHOULD be.

 In the meantime, I will do my best to accept where I am, not comparing myself to all the amazing people I will be “racing” with. They always show me love, care, and acceptance beyond that which I give myself. Their energy, YOUR energy, gives me inspiration.

I’m going to be an ironman. I’m going to be lean. Whenever it comes, it comes. No should’ing on it.  

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2 thoughts on “Don’t SHOULD on Yourself

  1. This really resonated with me. Thank you, once again, for baring your soul. Always meaningful, well written, and inspiring. Thank you!

  2. That is well said Andrew, you are a very driven man and are very inspirational i know too well the frustration that comes along the way but the only goal that is not achieved is the one you never set. Shoot high shoot long and run strong.

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