In an effort to make working out a bit more interesting, Jodi and I have started going to a spin class at our gym. I was a little worried going into it. At the only other spin class I ever attended, the instructor came up to my bike during class and asked pointedly but sympathetically, “Are you all right?” I was, but I was drenched in sweat and my face was bright red. Still, I’m in better shape now than I was then, so I figured I would be fine. And, I was right.
Before the class started, the instructor told us that we would be moving between levels 1 and 4. Then he added the most important piece of information: It was up to us to decide what constituted each level since there are actually no numbers on the dials. This immediately lessened any pressure I felt. Of course I can only turn the pedals as fast as I can turn them, so there was no way I could actually do anything superhuman, but having “permission” to cycle at our own pace made the class so much more workable. It made me think about how often I apply some impossible, made-up standard to what I’m doing and how often I fall short of my own expectations. In fact, it wasn’t until fairly recently that I began to see how crazy it is to judge ourselves based on how close we come to meeting external criteria.
Ten minutes of browsing social media can make you believe you aren’t doing nearly enough in your life.
Growing up as a lesbian in the 1950s and 60s, I didn’t see a place for myself on the little imaginary ladder that the rest of the world seemed to be climbing, which immediately made me feel like I was falling short. Even though I did well in school and lived a fairly trouble-free life, it wasn’t until I was living openly as a lesbian that I felt my life beginning. This meant that I didn’t even start my journey on the success continuum until I was in my mid-20s. It also meant that I was starting my odyssey many steps behind everyone else. At least that’s how I viewed it. And that’s where life and our spin class come full circle.
It turns out that the best life is the one we lead at the pace and level that feels best to us. If we can sit comfortably within ourselves, we can listen to our own voice, follow our own path, and decide for ourselves what we want to do next and when we want to do it. Many of us have something that we feel has slowed us down or kept us from achieving a fantasy version of our lives. Ten minutes of browsing social media can make you believe you aren’t doing nearly enough in your life. In truth, assessing our performance based on what others are doing is pointless. This is who I am—age, intelligence, physical attributes, personality, eye color, energy, and genetics. Those are the tools with which I can create my life. Lamenting that I can never do as much as fast as Person No. 1 is ridiculous given that they, too, possess their own unique sack of tools.
The older I get, the more permission I’m giving myself to do things the way I do them. The notion of milestones we need to reach at certain points is a myth we construct to keep ourselves going, but much of that is based on self-loathing. If only I could keep up with those people, I would like myself much better. I’m thinking now that the real joy comes in relishing the swag bag we’ve each been given and in letting ourselves slow down or speed up to the pace that feels most comfortable to us. Trying to conform to any other standard and then turning it on ourselves if we feel stressed or, god forbid, we fail, can’t possibly be the purpose of life. I’m sorry that it has taken me so many years to understand the power of resisting that insidious goal, but I’m glad I know it now, finally.