How do we measure success for ourselves? It really isn’t all that important if others see us as successful or not. If we are content with our current situation, is that success?

I’m reading Grit by Angela Duckworth. I was going along, reading contentedly until, wham! I got to Chapter 11: The Playing Field of Grit. And then I was so struck by the irony, I’m having trouble getting it past it.

I believe I possess the quality of perseverance. Unless of course, I have the less stellar quality of stubbornness. Either good or bad, I tend to stick with things. Here are some cases in point:

I graduated from my nursing school with an associate’s degree and a 13 week old baby who was born slightly premature. This was in spite of a postpartum infection and babysitting problems. I did not get my usual A that quarter, but I did manage to graduate despite everything.

I’ve been married to my starter husband for almost 44 years now. This is in spite of the fact that I was just 20 when we married and young brides aren’t supposed to know what they hell they are doing. That part was completely correct. But we are still married and relatively happy. At least I am.

I am in my seventh year of writing history essays for Little Bits of History with only one of those years actually paying anything (and even then it was a pittance). I have enjoyed learning about so many little items from the vast history of the world and I like to write. So this endeavor isn’t difficult, but the daily grind can become not quite over, but whelming. I took one year off and then came back to my hobby.

And then there is CrossFit. There is no reason under the sun I should be doing this. I sucked so bad on my first stab at it, I should clearly have just walked away. I didn’t. The first time I wanted to quit, I stayed. The hundredth time I wanted to quit, I stayed.

I believe I’m pretty gritty. The rule for the kids when they were in my charge was if you signed up for a team, you finished the season. This is one of the rules of grit and for me it was instinctual.

Now, the part of the book that set me so far on edge that I’m actually writing this.

In chapter 11, Dr. Duckworth claims having grit in high school will help predict later success in life. This sounds reasonable to me, as well. Then she wanted to do a longitudinal study and needed funding. She went to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and received a grant. Filling in her Grit Grid allowed high school students to list their extracurricular activities and how long they participated.

So, in high school, I was in the band (played clarinet for eight years total, flute for three, and carried a tuba for one although I don’t even know how to read base clef) so that got me a point for being there three years in high school. I was in one school play which got me no points. I had a job from the time I was 16 until shortly after I turned 18, when I quit the job in order to take evening college classes while still in high school. That did get me one point.

You got points if you were a stellar achiever in your extracurricular activities. There was no stellar anything for band. I didn’t become CEO of the store where I worked as a cashier. No extra points there. So I got two points which is a pretty crappy score. I’m okay with that part.

Then she went on to study the people who were gritty in high school to see if they were successful after graduation. Success was measured in large part by them graduating from college. I do not have a college degree. I have two associate degrees, which lets me check off the “some college” line on questionnaires. This would seem to indicate that I’m not successful, at least by the good doctor’s metric.

To be fair, in other parts of the book, a college degree isn’t a requirement of success, but in this particular chapter it is.

I’ve always been opposed to this belief. My two-year degree didn’t keep me from working critical care. I worked alongside four-year grads who were less adept at patient care. I passed the same state board licensing exam. All without a college degree.

But here is the part that really griped my ass. Dr. Duckworth begged for money from the college dropout who was at one point the richest man in the world and who has built a global company in order for her to prove that he was not successful. She doesn’t seem to have noticed the irony.

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I posted a picture of me doing a head stand on Facebook. I got some comments from people who simply “couldn’t” do that. These are accomplished people who do many amazing things. One of them has recently taken up deep sea diving. That would freak me out. Literally. I would panic.

I used to be an OR nurse. Before that I was an ICU/CCU nurse and I began my career as a Med/Surg nurse, the normal floor of hospitals. I’ve had many people, including other nurses, tell me they couldn’t work where I worked. ICU was too chaotic. CCU was too many codes. OR was just too much on many levels. That was my favorite job which is why I stayed with it the longest.

No matter the arena, each of us has a preference and an area where we are willing to work for mastery. Something within that niche speaks to us. For Michelle it is diving; for me it is CrossFit. My friend worked ER all her life and I couldn’t have stood that. I don’t mind crisis nursing, but I need a few minutes to prepare for my crisis, so critical care gave me a chance to get ready and OR meant not only me, but the entire team had time to prepare. Mim loved ER.

Over the years I have come to appreciate that we each can shine in our own place. Don’t throw me into the place meant for someone else and expect me to radiate. I will succeed best when I’m in the spot that speaks to my talents and my tastes. Sometimes, maybe most of the time, it is my tastes that dictate my talents. I got really good at running codes because I practiced them way too often. But I had to have the inner strength and belief in my ability to get through the first one.

And so, in my long life I’ve had many successes. And as is my usual routine, I whiz past that shit without more than a passing nod and set up a new goal which is out of reach – at least in the moment.

That’s a problem. I’ve refused to sit still and savor my successes. Sure I saved lives and conquered disease, but there were still sick and injured people galore and so there was more to do.

I’ve successfully written and published things and even gotten paid for it. I have stories in anthologies. I have contributed to many different venues. I first wrote publicly many years ago when my stuff was placed in the Landen Living Magazine because I was the contributing editor for Montgomery Hills. I’ve done a lot of writing since.

I know how to sew and made many of my own clothes as well as clothes for the kids. I know how to crochet and my knitting isn’t as good, but it is passable. I am able to create things out of raw materials.

And I lift weights. Today’s WOD was a bazillion cleans in ten minutes with increasing load. Ready, set, go … how many can you get?

I did it. I began with my original deadlift weight and did 30 cleans with that weight. I added more to the bar and got 30 more cleans at that weight. I added more to the bar as the clock ran down and got a few more.

I was cleaning more than I could originally deadlift. Yesterday was a bunch of deadlifts. I remember when I started thinking that someday I might be able to lift 100#. I zoomed past that long ago. I don’t remember taking time to celebrate my success. All I remember is wanting more. Yesterday, my lighter and more rep count weight was 133# which would have seemed impossibly ludicrous when I started. Today, my goal for a deadlift is 175# and I would really like to get past 200#.

But will I remember to celebrate when I hit that mark? My 80% strict press today was 42# (my original deadlift weight). I should savor that sweet success. I earned it. Instead, I mostly tell myself I “should” have more on the bar.

I’ve succeeded my way through a fabulous life. And with each success, I’ve zoomed right past the moment and only looked towards the next obstacle to clear. I need to savor the moment of sweet, sweet success. I’ve earned it.

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I want to be successful.

That’s pretty much the whole ball of wax. And now I want to look up what in the hell that stupid little phrase means and why the wax is in a ball and why losing a ball of wax is important in any way, shape, or form. Now I want to know where that phrase is from.

And that is my life in a paragraph. Curiosity is important until it is just a means to avoiding what is really important. There are a million, bazillion questions and only some of them are important. Learning which paths to follow and which to ignore is how you become successful.

That’s not the only thing one must do in order to succeed. You have fail your way to success.

No one, absolutely no one, is an overnight success. Success doesn’t come overnight. There is no UPS or FedEx delivery system to bring it to you. You have to go out and earn success one misstep after another. And then, bam, there you are, almost competent at what you do twenty years later.

I want to be a writer. I would really like to be a remunerated writer, but that means too much work. And too little expertise. And scary, frightening things. It means learning how to market myself and brand my writing and on and on and on and what I really want to do is put words on a page and have others read them and like them. Learning something would be a bonus.

I would also like to never, ever, ever have a typo. This isn’t so much about success but about perfectionism. But I would like it. And I can’t sell writing that isn’t perfect (I tell myself) even though I have paid for writing that isn’t perfect and am fine with it.

I want to be an athlete. Not the “everyone who moves” kind of athlete, but a real athlete. I want to be strong and capable and be able to do athletic things. Really, want I want to do is get through a WOD without sitting around and box breathing half the time.

Bragging note: I managed an entire WOD, for the very first time ever, without having to sit down. I did this by walking the runs but I did it. And I walk pretty fast, so I could manage to flip tires and do a rope climb sub without actually having to sit down.

I’ve been a CrossFitter for over four years and this finally happened. This is the type of athlete I want to be. Just step back, breathe for ten seconds, and then get back to work.

But, because of my heart rate, I can’t. It’s not that I don’t want to, it is that I literally can’t physically do it most of the time.

So can I ever be successful? What if I reframed my definition of success? Is that cheating? Is it just a way for everyone to get a trophy? Do I need a trophy? How do I know when I’ve been successful?

I’ve been writing for years, giving most of it away for free. I’ve made a little money at it but decided that was worse than giving it away. I made the choice to not make money. So if I want readers, and I have them, am I successful?

I show up at the box and do the WOD, scaled for a Little Old Lady, and do things most people don’t. And I do things many more people my age don’t do. So am I successful? I didn’t give up any of the many, many times I have thought about giving up. I show up, scared, and then do something.

I want to be successful. Maybe I am. How would I ever know?

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It is the CrossFit Open. We, as CrossFitters, are given the opportunity to compete as one world. Everyone, everywhere, is given the opportunity to do the same WOD and compare outcomes. The top competitors get invited to Regional competitions and the winners there are invited to the CrossFit Games in the summer.

I am not that caliber of athlete. I am, however, a CrossFitter. And so, willingly or not, I’m participating because at our box, the Friday WOD is the Open WOD. So one might think I’m a bit depressed today.

Surprise upon surprise. I’m not. For two reasons. The first is that I had an epiphany a while ago. I did a workout with a woman who was coming back from major surgery. She and I scaled the WOD the exact same way to half. She was happy because she had done the whole thing she had planned to do. I was miserable because I had only done half the WOD as written. She was happy; I was defeated.

It had taken over three years for me to incorporate the mindset of ISYMFW into my practice. I am responsible for my own behavior, but the CrossFit mentality of “having” to put your score on the white board was part of my issue. I had to let that go. My score on the white board is a raw scored number without any other person there in my league. I’m old and feeble. But even though I’m older than when I started, I’m much more powerful.

My competition isn’t the twentysomethings who rage through their workouts with lightning speed. It isn’t the fortysomethings who power through with skill and determination. My competition is me. Only me. It’s always been only me but I kept comparing myself to those others who weren’t me, hadn’t sat around as much, didn’t have a heart rate issue, weren’t feeble old coots.

Once I let that bit go, I started having fun. And surprisingly, I’m actually doing more with what I have to work with. I’ve been moving as well as I can for as long as I can. My heart rate still skyrockets and I have to stop to box breathe. Doesn’t matter. I’m getting more done and having more fun.

Imagine my surprise when I looked at the 16.1 Open list of scaling options. I’m far over 55 so I was all good to go with the masters division. I’m not a serious athlete. I’m a casual athlete. I’m not trying to get to the Games. I’m trying to get better at being me. So the scaled version was all I needed to care about. And I first saw the RX version and wanted to cry. But I scrolled down the page and voila, there was the Scaled Masters.

Today’s WOD as written:
25 feet walking lunges
8 burpees
25 feet walking lunges
8 jumping pull-ups

There was no weight, overhead or racked. I was permitted to walk the burpees in and out as long as I got my chest and thighs to the ground. We determined that since everyone else had to jump over a bar, I would have a PVC pipe to jump over as well and did so with both feet.

My jumping pull-ups were the very same thing I have been doing repeatedly and ad nauseum for weeks now in order to some day get a pull-up and they were the easiest part of the entire exercise. And 25 feet is about half the length of our mat, so that was easy. The burpees – well, they were burpees.

My heart rate soared, I did an extraordinary amount of box breathing to try to get it back down. I worked and I worked really hard. I never gave up. I just kept plowing through the very best I could.

I’m so freaking pleased with this. I could tell you my score, but it is unimportant. It was more than I thought I would really get and less than I really hoped to achieve, but not by much. I enjoyed the entire thing. I worked so damn hard and I succeeded. Not in blowing away a score, but in blowing away my competition – me.

I’m beaming. I’m going to guess they are going to throw some godawful thing in there in the next four weeks and I will have to scale the scaled version. But when/if I do, it will still be awesome because you see – I’m awesome. Really.

I was thinking on my drive home how I just want to be a bit better than yesterday. That’s all. For you youngsters out there under 50, that doesn’t even seem strange. But people my age are on the downhill side and it isn’t usual to be better than you were yesterday. At this age, you are generally just a wee bit worse than yesterday. But not me. I work out. I work really hard. I’m improving.

And I did 16.1 as written. Holy shit.

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I scale everything because I need to. I am unique, just like everybody else, but at my gym, I’m the only person who comes to classes and is over the age of 60. So that makes me an outlier. I’m not the norm, I’m way off the end of the curve.

A few weeks ago, two of us showed up for a brutal WOD and we were given the same half of the WOD to do. Me, because I’m old and feeble, and the other woman because she was just returning after surgery. We each managed to do 55 slam balls and 155 step-ups. It took me only slightly longer. She was happy and did all she had wanted to do. I did half the WOD as written and felt defeated. We did the exact same things, but in my head, I was a failure.

We have a program where you can enter your scores and then it ranks them with all the RX people from lowest to highest times and then all the non-RX people from lowest to highest times (highest to fewest reps, depending on the scoring). It is called the Leader board. But there can only be one leader. For me, it is a loser board. It is optional to post there and so I don’t except for that one time when I managed to RX a weighted WOD and then I didn’t even care that I had the lowest score, I had an RX score.

I hate the white board. I put a raw score up there and my number sits. If I’ve scaled just the weights but leave the rep scheme the same, I have scaled up there, but when I cut the reps back then I put “masters” on the board. But still, what is there is a bald faced number. More often than not, the worst number on the board.

And I’ve been gaming that number to my own detriment. Today, in a fit of sanity not seen in ages, I did the workout for me rather than the white board. I knew I could scale the move from knees to elbows to V-ups and get a higher number. But one of my goals is to get a pull-up and doing knees to wherever I can manage to get them is better for getting to that goal than V-ups. So even though I knew it would give me a lower number on the white board, I did what was better for me and my goals.

The white board is supposed to give you a sense of community and it might do that for those who can put great numbers on the board. But for me, where everything is a struggle and my heart rate is a problem, I don’t have great numbers.

Last Wednesday, the WOD was ground to overhead with the goal of 10,000 pounds for men and 7,000 pounds for women. Since my clean and jerk weight is 42#, that would have been 167 clean and jerks which was deemed excessive. So I only had to do 4,000 pounds which meant 95 clean and jerk. Because of my heart rate, I have a limit of three at a time so it took me over 30 minutes. There was one young guy who did his 10,000 pounds in ten minutes and some seconds. That is tremendously awesome. But so was I. Frankly, none of my friends who are my age could put two tons overhead. But as excited as I was to complete the modified WOD with fantastic form all the way through, it was still in the back of my head that I did less weight and took for damn ever. Three times the fastest time for less than half his weight.

And even in victory, joy can be diminished by the numbers on the white board. I try not to look and I try not to care. The white board has never been a motivator for me. It is only disappointing and humiliating. It is my wall of shame, day after day and year after year.

I inspire people by my dedication and continued presence. I work as hard as I can every time I show up and I show up religiously. I whine and I cry and I pout and I come back and do it all again, simply to be low man on the totem pole. New people come in and zoom past me in a matter of days or sometimes it takes whole weeks. And there I lag, struggling and plodding through. And there are my scores, week after week. Crappy scores, although they are improving with time just as I am. I can do so much more now than I could three years ago. Which sorta lets you know exactly how bad my scores have been over time. All these years later and I’m still the oldest and still the crappiest.

Except that’s only when it is a raw score on the white board. There has to be another way to measure success or failure. Inside my head, I know that I’m rocking this shit. Not because of the scores and not even because of my status as only old fart there, but because I consistently show up and I work at improving even while feeling overwhelmed and totally defeated.

This has been a test of character for me. I was always one of the smart kids in the class, the one with the high scores on the nonexistent white board of the classroom. In that setting, no one would force the dumb kid to advertise his score on a test next to what would have been my superior score. But somehow, I find myself in a place where my score is broadcast amidst the young and the fit and I even have to say when and how I made the “test” easier to accommodate my feeble old self. And I still keep going back.

By the way, I met my goal today. I wanted to get 150 reps and I got to 153. In my head, I was a success. On the white board, I’m going to have, if not the lowest score, then damn near to it. It’s hard to stay positive like this.

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I’ve written about failure or how much I suck for the last couple posts. It sounds like I’m having a horrible time and not doing anything to improve. Both of those things are wrong.

I did more squats today without my legs falling off or locking up. I can tell I was doing squats, to be sure, but I’m not already in pain. And if it does start to hurt, I know how to stretch, how to take a nice hot bath and relax the muscles, and how to drink lots of water to get rid of lactic acid buildup. So there is that.

Because it was earlier in the morning, it wasn’t quite as hot. When I got home and finally checked the temperature, it was hot and humid, but I escaped greater heat by being early. I like that plan. I’m a lark anyway and early for me is good.

I got up and made myself two eggs (in the microwave) and had an English muffin. Then I made sure I drank 16 ounces of water. I also had a hand full of smoked almonds before heading to the box.

Even more important than what I did today, is what I did yesterday. I rested, which was good. I also drank at least 64 ounces of water, but I may have filled my 16 ounce water bottle one more time, I can’t remember. When we went out to eat last night, I had a grilled chicken sandwich and sweet potato French fries. The bun wasn’t paleo and neither was the chocolate mousse. The mousse was much better than the bun.

What I didn’t do was order a glass of wine because I was sure that wasn’t going to make my morning go better. I’m not much of a drinker and this seemed like a bad time to choose one of my occasional drinks. Better to wait and try that later.

The other thing I didn’t do that I believe helped me this morning was I did not have any coffee before I left the house. I waited until I came home and had my coffee then.

I’m sure I want to do CrossFit. I’m not sure I want to go to a paleo diet. I would like to eat healthier, but I don’t know about giving up wheat (bread, pasta), rice and corn, and especially the milk in my coffee. I can eat more natural foods. I can eat less prepared foods. I can’t really eat much less fast food since I don’t eat much fast food at all anyway.

I can see about the diet later. I can know that it is a possibility on the horizon.

What I need is baby steps. I can’t do it all at once, but perhaps I can do it all eventually. Today, I did what I could and what I needed to do.

What am I going to do next? I’m signed up for classes now. I will be there at 6 am (Christine is the coach at that time of day and will help me scale). However, I’m not going on Monday. Wednesday, 6 am. I can.