As a 35-year old, working mother of 2, the idea of setting a goal and achieving it is not new to me. So when I gave birth to my 2nd child 18 months ago, I set a goal to lose the weight, get healthier, blah, blah, blah. Like every woman in America it seems, I bought into this whole idea of what it means to be a perfect mother: losing that damn baby weight. Being the achiever that I am, I set a goal to try to get down to 18% body fat. Why you ask? Good question. Before I get to that, here is what I did to achieve the goal.
I am a pediatric nurse. I work part-time in a pediatric gastroenterology clinic. I also work on-call in the pediatric emergency room. I can’t let my pediatric critical care skills lapse. Plus the money is good and those gymnastics classes for my daughter aren’t going to pay for themselves. And I love it. I love being a pediatric nurse. Anyway, back to the task at hand.
On a morning I worked in the clinic, my day went like this: wake up at 5am, run down to the coffee maker, make a cup of coffee (thank you keurig), throw gym clothes on, down my coffee on the way to the gym while rocking out to some good workout tunes, put in piece of gum on way into gym, work out for 45 minutes -1 hour, (doing a wide variety of stuff), drive home just in time for my husband to leave for work. Sometimes I did this on 4 hours of sleep, sometimes when I got home my 5 month old would wake up, he was hungry. Then it would hit me: I needed to leave for work in an hour. During that time, I needed to breastfeed my son, shower, get ready for work, pump what remaining milk I have that my son didn’t drink so he has enough for the day, clean my pump supplies, entertain my 3.5 year old (think PBS people), pack lunch and the pump...that blessed, damn pump. On my days off, I went religiously to the gym for an hour, but not at 5am. So the story goes, I spent hours at the gym. I also tried to eat healthy...healthier. I ate a lot of those pre-packaged salads, drank a lot of water, I also ate “bad” food if I felt like it. Just like all those other mothers had said, it didn’t come easy.
So now you may or may not know, I love setting and achieving goals. Completed task lists, filled in to-do boxes on my daily lists, planned yearly events with my friends and family, spread evenly throughout the year in a uniform fashion to invoke just the right amount of chaos to make your insides churn a little, but not too much that you can’t have fun. These are my things. This is what makes me tick and tock. I love to achieve, love to make endless dream lists, to-do lists, plan, plan, and more plan! Am I making myself clear? I am a planning, doing, and achieving animal. The best way to get me to achieve a goal: tell me I can’t have it. You dirty little bitch, yes I can. I am competitive. I love to succeed. There you have it.
Unfortunately in this instance, the only one who didn’t believe I could do it? Me. So I set out to prove myself wrong. I know it sounds crazy, but we truly are our own worst critics. So off I went. One of the first big things I did with regards to losing weight was breastfeed, eat a lot of salmon, eat a lot of salads, and complete an 8K: The Shamrock Run in Portland, Oregon. 15 months later, having logged more hours in the gym than I ever had before (thank you Club Sport Oregon), and one fateful surprise meeting with a new trainer, Jamie Tautfest-Bernabe, I had my paper in my hand that gave me my 18% body fat status. One would think having made the achievement would have brought my mental state to super human, but for some reason, I was left feeling confused. As I stared back at this piece of paper it didn’t seem to congratulate me, it seemed to mock me. When I envisioned what I would look like at 18% body fat, some of the most elite athletes came to mind, but that's not how I felt when I saw myself in the mirror at my newly achieved 18%. Had I really been out of the fitness world for that long that I had not known what 18% body fat looked like? I was slightly horrified at my own vanity and stupidity, also at the expectation that I could waltz out with my 18% congratulations paper feeling as if I was Heidi Klum. The thought occurred to me…”Did I get mis-measured?” I decided not to believe that one for my own sanity.
That day set a series of emotions into play inside my head. “Am I delusional? Do I really want what I thought I wanted?” The last 15 months was no easy task, forcing myself to the gym after 2-3 cups of coffee some mornings on 4 hours of sleep, hoping I could make it through the workout, not to mention the rest of the day. Chasing 2 kids under 4 around was no easy physical feat some days! Not to mention the rest of the home management that comes with being a wife and a working mother: the juggle of work and home, being the "fun mom" that actually digs in the mud and rides bikes with the kids, gymnastics class, story time, healthy snacks and meals, plenty of time to get that healthy fresh air (in one of the rainiest places in the US), and making sure all the tears of the day are wiped with my magical motherly sleeve. Two words come to mind: “crazy circus!” Also, “good therapist.” You pick.
That night at home, I chatted out my feelings with my second brain, my husband. I expressed my disbelief that I had done what I set out to achieve, but somehow it didn't give me the kind of delight I was looking for. I love him; he wanted to help me fix “it,” the confusion I felt at achieving this goal. Previously an achievement of this type would have given me such a sense of accomplishment. He assured me I looked great and I think I do, but this didn’t appear to be about what I looked like did it?
As I mulled it over in my mind, puzzled at my own indifference at my achievement, it occurred to me that the goal wasn’t really about having 18% body fat. It was about personal achievement. I think the original purpose of setting the goal of going to the gym was to make change in myself where I didn’t think it was possible. I also needed to find something in myself I hoped was there, but needed tangible proof of its existence. I needed more evidence that I had determination, desire to achieve, and the ability to pull the task off.
Surprisingly, it wasn’t just the story a piece of paper or a mirror told that made me realize my true achievement or what gave me that inner feeling of success. It wasn’t the story of the woman who became an all-star athlete at 35, the mother of 2 who made that after-birth come back with her body not once, but twice! No, this wasn’t what I was looking for, plus for those of you who are wondering I did not become an all-star athlete at 35. The meaning for me came from a story of an ordinary woman, who was doing an ordinary thing by setting a goal and achieving it. Once I came to realize this, the sense of accomplishment came. I could then look at that piece of paper with the 18% on it and say to myself, “It was really hard, but YES you and only you did it.” The simplicity of it was its grandeur. The evidence was there: I could still succeed. Peace.
I am not one to gloat, so for those of you who are struggling with a current goal, I will leave you with something to think about, something to inspire you. I love the quote by Theodore Roosevelt, may it guide those of you who are still in the midst of reaching those goals you make for yourself, no matter how lofty:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
Now go get in that arena, and get some dust on your face.
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