The fact is, I am smart. I don’t say that to be boastful, but because the fact is, I am smart. I tested well in school and was assigned a higher IQ score. I learn easily. I adapt quickly. I can put new thoughts together and come up with different ideas. I have always done well scholastically. I am smart. And because of that, I often think I should be able to think my way to winning.

I don’t remember anyone ever telling me I had to win, but I do remember hearing the “do your best” admonishment. Or the “Is this really your best?” criticism. I can’t really tell you if it was directed at me or not, but I was somehow inculcated with the idea that I should always do my best. It is impossible to always be at your best. This creates a problem for me and I don’t know if also does so for others, but I thought I would explore the idea.

What does “Do your best” really mean? How do you know if your product is your best work?

I’m smart (see above) and so if I got a 95% on a test, was that really my best? What happened to the answer(s) I missed? Why didn’t I get that correct, too? The only way for me to know I did my best was to get 100%. I don’t know if this is just me, just smart people, or everyone in general. When you did what you thought was right and it turned out wrong, and then someone asks the dreaded question, what is the answer?

“Yes, this pitiful incorrect mess is my very best. This is all I can manage. I am unsuccessful and a slug. I’m so sorry I’m taking up space on the planet.”

The only way to save face is to say you were just being sloppy, but does that outward statement really help? My best was usually good enough. Why isn’t good enough good enough?

And this leads me to my current state as an old fart. Here I am. I’m not senile yet so I’m still smart. Inside my head I know how often my best is simply awful. That is because I have decided to step outside the realm of academia and enter into the world of fitness. It is simply not in me to be young and strong and super wonderful. I’m in the gym with teenagers and they can whip past me like I’m standing still. I’m in the gym with people complaining about how old they are and how difficult it is to compete against the teenagers. These people are the same age as my children. I do not feel especially sorry for their plight.

Intellectually, I know I’m pushing myself to the limit each and every time I show up. I don’t even have to guess. My heart rate is so high and gives me confirmation about how hard I’m working. It doesn’t measure how much I am actually achieving, which is miniscule and minimal and way less than anyone else there doing the same stuff as I do. And so I’m always faced with that paragraph above.

This pitiful mess is my absolute best. I give it all I’ve got when I show up. I try to game things and choose a lighter weight to move more often. Whatever I try, I know I’m working to capacity since my heart rate goes sky high and I can barely breathe. I’m not faking it. This horrible mess is the best I can do. And it is pitiful.

Because my best is so pitiful in this arena, I have eschewed other activities along the same line. I could do yoga. I’m certainly not any worse at yoga than I am at CrossFit. But I’m not any better, either. I suck at that, too, and there is only so many things I can fail at and keep my sanity.

I am so afraid of failing, that I am limiting myself in areas which don’t even have winners and losers. I just can’t make myself be the worst at stuff when I live in a culture of “is this your best work?”. It is my best work. It sucks and is horrible and is the best I can do. So I withdraw. I don’t even try. I don’t HAVE to do this stuff. I can excel at wasting time.

I read well. I can color up a storm. I can knit and crochet. I can play mindless computer games. And since all of this is solitary, there is no one asking me if it is my best work, even in my head. I’ve never asked myself as I read some trashy novel, if this is my best and shouldn’t I be reading Kant or something? Never. I just read whatever crap I’m interested in. Without any judgment, I have read anything from science fiction to philosophy (although never Kant). There is no questioning, even internally, about my effort.

Why do I put this sort of pressure on my performance at what is essentially non-competitive stuff? How do you win a CrossFit WOD? Three times a week, I go and nearly kill myself. I’m sore and tired and sweaty and disappointed in my performance. No matter how good I do, I’m the worst on the board. Always. Worst. But by what measure? I’m the only old fart lady there. There is no one else over 60 there. DeWayne is close to my age and an amazing athlete. He was at the CrossFit Games out in California, that’s how amazing he is. He is in the top 20 athletes in his age group in the world. It is not fair to compare myself to him, even though he is close in age, if seven years is close.

How could I lose at yoga? There isn’t even a Games thing anywhere for yoga. It is completely non-competitive. The entire idea is non-competitive. And yet. I suck at it. My balance is pure crap and so I fall over and just suck. And don’t participate because I’m humiliated by my performance. There are 100 year old women who do yoga and then there is me. Pitiful me. How can this mess be my best? Do I want someone to think I’m a slug who doesn’t try or that I’m pitiful and just can’t manage? I don’t know but if I don’t participate, I don’t even have to ask the question.

This is my best. And it is not enough.

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