I went for a walk today and took pictures, a favorite pastime of mine and one I’m very grateful for. As I was perched on two rocks, squatting to gain a better perspective for a photo, I started thinking about a few things, namely goals and motivation. 

For a long time I couldn’t squat, at least not with any comfort. I couldn’t even sit with any comfort. But squatting was even on my list of restricted activities for years while I was in the work comp system. Over time, just the thought of squatting would make me anxious as I’d anticipate unbearable pain.

So I’m thankful that now, that today, I can precariously perch myself on two rocks in the middle of an icy cold river, one just barely bigger than my foot, the other about twice as big but a touch wobbly if I wasn’t centered, and lower myself so that my butt is damn near touching my heels, all so I can get a better angle for a shot on an overcast and cloudy day when the shooting wasn’t all that good anyway.

That’s pretty awesome, right? Considering where I’ve been, I’d say so. Awesome and at the same time simple, which is the beauty of it. 

Goals - amateur nature photography

An icy cold river I like to take pictures of :)

Before

There was a time, before my injury and the pain that stuck around, that I used to squat in the gym, on purpose, with as much weight as I could handle (which was quite a lot, as my ego will tell you).

I was a firefighter. training hard came with the territory. I’d been an athlete my whole life, too, so I was used to it. I thrived on competition. On pushing myself. On proving myself. I took pride in my athleticism and strength, privately (and sometimes not so privately) gloating when I could outlift or outrun the guys at the station or the gym. 

I loved it: the job, being a gym rat, running. Being strong, lean, cut, fit. An athlete. A bad ass. 

And I thought that’s what everybody wanted

Doesn’t everyone want to be an athlete? To be fitter, faster, stronger? To be cut, ripped, jacked? I thought so in my training days, days when I also trained others. I assumed that those who weren’t there already were just lacking the time, resources, skills or coaching.

Or they just weren’t motivated.

Ever hear something along these lines: “If only my patients/clients/family member/friend were as motivated as I am to help them get out of pain/lose weight/be healthy/fill in the blank…”

I’ve been there, I said similar things as a fitness trainer for my fire department. I tried to motivate folks, tried to help them find the time, tried to help them get fitter, faster stronger. Because that’s what I wanted for them.

After

What did they want? I didn’t ask enough back then. I never really thought to until pain stopped me in my tracks when, all of a sudden, a seemingly inconsequential injury landed me on worker’s comp and onto a path of uncertainty, stress, pain, and worry. 

Gradually the running stopped, the lifting stopped, the hours spent in the gym stopped. Life stopped. 

I lost 24 pounds of muscle in the matter of a few months. 

I lost my job in a matter of 2 years.

I lost myself along the way.

Simple things

I came to realize that being fitter, faster, stronger just plain didn’t matter to me anymore. I just wanted to have a semblance of a life again. Not my old life, just life.

A life where I could walk my dog, go out to eat, or see a movie. A life where I could camp, hike, and snowboard. Maybe even ride a bike. A life where I could travel without a fear of planes or cars –  not a fear of crashing, mind you, but a panicky fear that I wouldn’t be able to stand up when I needed to, that I wouldn’t be able to move when I had to. 

I just wanted to move comfortably again. Sit comfortably. Sleep.  

It was an awakening.

I no longer wanted be an athlete, no longer wanted to be lean and ripped, no longer wanted to intimidate people at the gym with my lifting prowess (I was a bit of a douche).

And for the first time I realized that maybe other people didn’t want those things I used to want, either. Maybe they never did.

I realized that for years I had just projected my goals, my wants, my beliefs onto them.

Whose goals are these?

I never said ‘do this to be strong, fit, and lean like me,’ though looking back I’m sure now that’s how it came off to some folks. No, what I said was more like – everyone is an athlete, here’s how to train like one! Or – here’s how working out in this specific way (that I really like and think is AWESOME) will help you achieve your goals and whatever it is you want to do! (what is it you want to do again?) 

I never paid much attention to that ‘what is it you want to do part’, to be honest. Never really asked about their goals and the why for those goals. I just KNEW that strength and conditioning (dynamic warm-up, LIFT dammit!, ESD, cool-down) would be beneficial for EVERYtHING, so what did it really matter?

Goals, hikes in national parks

The Colorado River, Rocky Mountain National Park

It matters more than I thought

That’s the whole point, right? The goals of the individual? The reasons why they want to be healthier or lose weight or be out of pain. What do they actually want to do? Not what do they want to do to get there, I’m talking about what they actually want to do. There’s a difference, and there’s many roads that can get us to where we want to go. 

The gym doesn’t matter as much as I thought it did for the ‘what you want to do’ part. We’re not athletes, we’re not training for the Olympics. We’re not even training for any sort of competition (most of us). 

Athletes are specialized, after all. They train for hours upon hours a week to try to be the best they can be in their sport. They do whatever they can to gain a competitive advantage over their opponents. 

Is that how we need to approach daily life? I don’t think so (bring the backlash!).

The life lived

If we want to be able to walk the dog or get up off the floor or play golf on Sundays, we don’t need to be in the gym every day, we need to be out walking the dog, getting up off the floor, or golfing (grading exposure, building up over time, practicing).

I squatted on two rocks in the middle of an ice cold river to take a picture without ever training to do that in a gym.

It wasn’t a planned thing, but I was ready for it because I have practiced by going out and taking pictures and wanting to get better angles from time to time and having to figure out movement problems to do so.  

I found movement solutions that I couldn’t have, nor would I have, trained for in the gym. 

Training or doing?

My only ‘training’ these days is regularly engaging in activities I enjoy, even when I have pain, which is not as often as it used to be. And even when I know my pain will go up, because sometimes the benefits outweigh the risks. I can make that call. 

I hike, snowshoe and jog. I cross-country ski (badly) and snowboard (goodly). I walk and take pictures. I coach. I move. I play. 

They all took patience, persistence, and practice. I regularly walked before I hiked. I regularly hiked before I started taking pictures. I regularly took pictures before squatting on precarious rocks over ice cold waters to get a better angle.

Flexible persistence

Some days were great, others were not so great, others I couldn’t do these things at all. But I persisted because these things matter to me and doing these things, not training for them, is what mattered to me most.

I’m not saying that regular gym workouts wouldn’t help with these activities, they might.

What I am saying is that doing the activities is more important to me, and may be more important to others. So maybe we should ask them?goals - hiking in high places

 

I like to hike in high places

Would I benefit from strength training? Most likely. I know the research.

But I’d rather be outside engaging with the environment and solving the movement problems it actually throws at me. I’d rather be snowboarding with friends or coaching adaptive athletes. I’d rather go for a hike.

I’m no wimp, mind you (my ego chiming in again). I’m not atrophying and withering away. I can hike 12 miles to alpine lakes. I can snowboard all day if my schedule permits. But I am not an athlete, nor do I want to train like one.

I’m just an everyday Jo who wants to play outside. 

If My Before met My After

If my former self came to me today and pushed what she wanted to do on me, I wouldn’t go along with it for long, and I’m sure I ‘wouldn’t be motivated’ in her eyes.

But I’d be plenty motivated, alright, only I’d be motivated to live my life and not hers. 

Or I might just tell her to f’ off (she was a bit arrogant), and she’d be incredulous, wondering how I couldn’t see the value in what she was proposing. 

But I would see the value, it just wouldn’t line up with my values. My meaning, my what matters. What is meaningful might not be optimal, you know? (For a great read on how we rob the aging and the ill of their goals to make them ‘safe’, I highly recommend Being Mortal by Atul Gawande. And while your at it, for a great book on the meaning and mortality, I highly recommend When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi.)

I want to be active, I want to continually seek the possibilities within my limitations and challenge those limitations, I want to be able to play outside all the live-long day. But what that means for me may not be what it would mean for you.

I don’t want to train, I want to live.

Movement matters

I’m not bashing strength training by any means. I believe it’s immensely beneficial. My point is that it’s not everything for everyone and that people are motivated. They just might not be motivated by the same things we are. And people do see the value in what we’re proposing, it just might not line up with their values at this moment in time. Perhaps it never will. 

We need to stress to folks that any movement can be beneficial, be it dance, jogging, martial arts, hiking, or nature photography. Fishing, skiing, yoga, biking, or gardening. But it’s only beneficial if it gets done.  

So maybe we should make it more about finding out that ‘whatever you want to do’ piece and helping people get into it or back to it, rather than trying to get people to ‘optimal’.

We need to get folks back to doing, not just training in order to do. Most folks aren’t looking to be the fittest, fastest, strongest. They’re just looking to have life. A life that they enjoy and love. A life that they don’t have to train for, but rather a life that they live.

It’s too short and too precious to do otherwise.

Lessons from a lift

I’ve met men and women in their 70s, 80s and even one spry fella in his 90s, on the lifts of Winter Park. More than one of them has told me that their only ‘training’ is to keep skiing. Some mountain biked, too. Or hiked. Or did yoga. But they weren’t training for those things, they were living them. 

My take away was to just keep moving, often, in ways we enjoy that are meaningful to us. Perhaps if we start with that, we’ll want to start training for it, only will we see the relevance.

There are plenty of folks out there who can help: PTs, trainers, coaches…but make sure they’re helping you reach your goals and not their own. And for you practitioners out there, please keep that in mind as well. We are not algorithms nor athletes. We’re awesomely adaptive and resilient humans trying to master the art of truly living. 

Maybe we don’t need to train for living life like athletes train for sport. Maybe we just need to get out there and live.

Isn’t that the best practice? It’s the most fun, anyway… 

My goal - hiking to high places

Parry’s Peak and the Continental Divide

Thanks for reading folks! As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts, feedback, questions, and concerns.

Lots of good stuff has been in the works so I haven’t been posting much (though I have 19 more drafts in the queue!), but the good news is that The Endless Possibilities Initiative website should be up next month. Stay tuned!

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4 Responses to "Goals. Whose goals are they, ours or theirs?"

  1. Wow!!! I thought, while reading this, “this is me!” For all my life I was “an athlete”. It felt good. I felt capable. At age 45, I could do 30 push-ups. I could do one of those fancy jumps with a kick and punch punch, spin around and kick again, totally scaring the crap out of any man who might confront me in the parking lot late at night. As a child protection social worker who “took babies” I was an easy target. And instead of being afraid all the time I trained to be a badass. I almost wanted it to happen and I walked around with a “just try it, mother f-er” chip on my shoulder. I was a badass. I was proud. And then I got sick.
    It is a very rare disease, neuromyotonia, and one of the symptoms is “exercise intolerance”. For a long time I would roll my eyes whenever I heard myself say it and the voice in my head would criticize, “Exercise intolerance? Oh yeah, right. Whatever.” There were many days I forced myself to run two miles, trying to ignore the pain and fatigue, “it’s all in my head, pain is just weakness leaving the body.” And other days I’d find myself a mile from my car, sitting by the side of the road, crying in physical agony and panic, wondering who I could call to come pick me up.

    Giving up seemed to me to be the worst idea ever, shameful even. I fought with all the voices in my head, from my father, my ex-boyfriend, my trainer, my yoga instructor too, who were all still lecturing me about being lazy, making excuses, getting fat, getting old. Guilt had become my motivation, “shoulds”, I realized, had become my religion. F that, I quit. I decided to give in to my illness and stop the fight going on in my head. I took to my bed, in my pajamas and learned to appreciate what health and wellness I had left. I learned to be grateful if I could get into child’s pose for five minutes and get back into bed.

    By year three of my illness I’d lost not only my career of 25 years, but all my friends, my gym membership, my muscle definition and my ego. I somehow managed to attend massage school classes and get my license. I apply my social worker skills and talk with my clients about their goals, but mostly, I just listen. Some of them are fighting the same fights I used to fight, the fear of getting old and fat. Some are driven by guilt and “shoulds”. Some of them walk around denying the chronic pain that they’re in and they kick themselves eternally for walking miles ten through twelve of the Boston marathon. Some of them strive to make it to yoga class at 5:00am. Others are grieving the loss of their fitness since they’ve become parents or became injured, or before they became sick and no long have the time or energy or capability to _____.

    I’ve come to understand that feeling good is the most important thing in life. No matter what I’m doing, or not doing, I’ve got to overcome the guilt, the “shoulds”, the self-criticisms, the fear of getting fat and old. I encourage my clients to learn how to feel good about where they are first, to practice feeling good every day, to think about moving without goals at all, except to feel good about just thinking about moving.

    Thank you for writing this, for sharing.

    • Misty, you are amazing! Thank you so much for sharing your experiences and insights, they are appreciated beyond measure. And as you thought ‘this is me’ as you read my post, I thought ‘this is me!’ as I read yours. I also used to have a chip on my shoulder, I was always out to prove myself, willing to take on anyone to do so. And I was proud. Proud that I was lean and strong, that I could kick guys asses in the gym. And my identity was wholly tied up in all of that, my physique, my job as a firefighter, my badassery. It was a hard blow when all of a sudden I wasn’t those things anymore.

      But I am grateful for those experiences now. I grew so much as a person, I learned so much about who I was, I began to understand the human condition through a wider lens. Not that any of those insights or changes in perspective came fast or easy, though. And as you do, I, too, see so many of the same struggles in the people I work with now. Being ruled by their shoulds and fears rather than their meaning and values.

      For a long time after my pain issues settled in I was super strict about my diet for fear of getting fat, coupled with being able to control something when so much else felt out of control. It was such a negative spiral, one I’m so grateful I was able to get out of. I let go of that control (while still being sensible most of the time, but I like pizza and beer, dammit, and I’m not depriving myself to achieve something that doesn’t even matter to me anymore). I’m softer now, no longer chiseled, hard muscle. And I’ve taken that softness inside, too, which I welcome now. I don’t have to be the hardened badass, I don’t have to be tough all the time. I feel more myself and less a facade now.

      Wow – I think this is going to turn into a whole ‘nother post!

      Anyway, I’m so grateful to you for sharing of yourself here, it means a great deal to me on so many levels. To know that I’m not alone, to know that my words resonated with someone, to know that we are all just trying to figure this life thing out. I love how you approach your work with your clients, they are fortunate to have you in their lives. So much of what you say echoes my thoughts, it’s so cool!

      Thank you for writing this, for sharing ;)
      ~Jo

  2. Interesting posts from both of you. I can see myself In both of them to a degree. I was a detective, a damn good one. Not just the phoning it in type. I loved my work. I started out as a cop of course. I was a hard body, gym rat. I chased and arrested bad guys all night long on some mean streets. I always wanted to be a detective and as soon as I could, I went for it, achieving it with ease.
    This job required a different type of Chase, I loved the hunt for the truth. I loved the more one on one interactions and getting bad people to admit the truth. Bringing some peace and restoring some dignity to the victims . it was a big job, full of double shifts, days and sometimes weeks in court, endless paperwork and follow-up. I needed my shield just to fight the testosterone that was my peers.
    I was a volunteer on an athletic board within the department when my life altering injury occurred. That was 5-1-13 and it is still not resolved. 3 surgeries later, a devastating neurological diagnosis would dash any chance of returning to work or any “normal life”. They took my badge and my gun without a kind word and for a while my identity was lost, all seemingly In an instant.
    For 3 years I had fought to get back to work, to get back to normal. Now I am just fighting to find some kind of a life. I won’t bore you with the details, but going to the grocery store can be a day ending activity for me now.
    I have read Being Mortal, great book! think it should be a required read for pre med students. My disease is what they call invisible which is ironic in a way because that is really what I have become. Treatment from medical professionals in such cases can be really brutal. No jury required to reach their verdict. After 20 years of dedicated service with a spotless employment record I just suddenly became a sloth trying to get out of my last 5 years. We work 25 and out.
    At age 54 I have lost everything, job, benefits, identity, and most importantly my physical abilities. Pain has become my constant companion. I have on many occasions pushed through, attempting denial of my physical limitations, only to be unable to get out of bed for the next few days. My husband would have to bring me my pain meds.
    I am still searching for my new nomal and a balance that right now seems elusive. There is no cure for my disease that has spread to my entire body. I pine for things that so many take for granted. I miss going for a walk with my husband and the dogs. I can’t sit for long periods, so I totally related to your post about travel and the anxiety it can bring. I also feel it if I make plans to go to a restaurant because I can’t sit long enough or it may be so loud that it causes my nervous system to erupt.
    For me, I think it’s more trying to live by my own expectations rather worrying about meeting others. Goals are a fantastic motivator and I agree with you they should be yours. Set by you and adjusted as you go along. I think that is important as well because they can change.
    I have the utmost respect for our firefighters, especially the females. Thank you for your service to the community
    Be well
    Crpstype2 (Barb)

    • Thank you so much for sharing your story, Barb, and thank you for your years of service in the police department. I am so sorry to hear about how your career ended, it’s awful and too awfully familiar at the same time. One of the hardest things for me was losing my fire family, and my reputation in some circles of that family after I’d done all I could for my department. i was a good firefighter, a good medic. I was a peer fitness trainer for us, I taught in the academy, I was on numerous committees. I was respected by the guys, too. Many guys who were vocal against women in the fire service liked working with me and spoke highly of me. So it was devastating for me to get hurt, to not get better, to not get back and to know that I had just confirmed for some people that women shouldn’t be there in the first place. (My next post is about some of the shame I still am trying to work through with all this.)

      All of a sudden my 10 years with the department, my good reputation, didn’t seem to matter much. I lost touch with most of the guys I used to work with. I lost my identity, my sense of purpose, my second family.

      It’s hard to process all of that. And it’s hard to find the way forward when so much was once tied up in our career, a career that was never just a career. Especially when that way forward is mired by the healthcare and worker’s compensation systems, which often do more harm than good to injured or ill workers. The system piles on stress, doubt, fear, uncertainty. It buries you.

      I am so sorry that you’ve had these experiences, that you have lost so much, that pain is a part of your life, now. But do know that there is a way through it. I think it so important to start living by your own expectations rather than trying to meet the expectations of others – which are too varied, too unknown, too unrealistic to ever be able to meet with success. I found that things started to change for me when I started focusing on the things that I valued most in my life, the things that mattered to me, the things I found meaningful. When I was able to start doing that I came to realize that I wasn’t who I was because I was a firefighter, that I had been a firefighter because of who I was and that I was still that same person, just older, wiser, changed by pain. And we all change over time, we all go through experiences that alter the course of our lives and if we are flexible and persistent enough, we can navigate that course with grace, even if it’s difficult.

      I kept things really simple at first. I focused on loving and being loved, particularly with my husband and dog. I learned how to cook since I was spending so much time at home and I like to eat. I took small steps toward increasing my activities. I colored. I read books. I meditated. I wrote. These things all helped me to calm my out-of-control nervous system down. My anxiety started to settle. My pain started to change. But it took time. I took patience, which was often in short supply, especially on the worst pain days. It took being kind and forgiving with myself. It took trying to be a better communicator about my experience.

      I still miss being a firefighter but now I am grateful for the opportunity I had to be one. In my next post I share how I am still bitter and resentful of some things, though, things that have been harder for me to let go but that I will keep working at. I can’t live in the past, after all, but I can be grateful for the good parts of it. And the bad, for that matter, they’ve all made me who I am today.

      I am so grateful to you for sharing you story here. Do you write much? Your writing style is very engaging, I’d love to read more! Writing has been such a wonderful outlet for me, and you seem to be a natural. I’d love to read the book about your life and your experiences as a detective and your experiences with pain.

      Thank you for your service, too, Barb. I, too, have the utmost respect for the women who wear a uniform and serve their country and communities. Thank you.

      In love and kindness,
      Jo

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