Some of the most discouraging words I’ve ever heard in a school room came from the mouth of my gym teacher during my freshman year of high school. I knew a couple of kids for whom gym was the best time of day – they got to run and scream, and usually they got to throw volleyballs at the slow kids like me. (Don’t get me wrong here, I threw plenty of volleyballs myself. I just had extremely crappy aim.)
Anyway, the time of year I dreaded the most was when everyone was forced to do “the mile run.” For me, “mile run” could be more accurately described as “jogging for two minutes, then giving up and walking so my lungs don’t explode.” Most gym teachers up to that point just kind of looked on with a disappointed grimace, perhaps imagining that I was just some lazy kid who hadn’t exercised a day in her life. (They’d sort of be right, but only sort of.) Well, this teacher wasn’t having it. Having already put our class through the horrors of a combined step-aerobics / choreographed dance, she must have decided that some of us hadn’t suffered enough.
The mile run – or, “Jogging for two minutes, then giving up and walking so my lungs don’t explode.”
The mile run did a fine job of sorting out those who were most fit for her wrath. There were two of us – me, an acne-ridden, skinny goth girl with an atrocious haircut, and a larger latina girl I’ll call Makeup because she was wearing way too much of it. Makeup and I lagged behind the rest of the pack so badly that some of them were literally running circles around us. At first I was too busy suffocating to notice, and I assumed Makeup was having the same problem. But then our teacher started shouting at us. I don’t remember exactly what she said, but it was probably something along the lines of, “If you don’t get your lazy asses into gear I’ll give you something to run away from.”
Makeup, simultaneously frightened and motivated by the screaming, dutifully put her ass in the correct gear. Being the child of a pretty nasty divorce between two very “passionate” parents, I was used to ignoring whatever screaming came my way. I ignored our teacher and continued to plod along at about 15 to 20 minutes per mile.
When I wheezed my way into the locker room, she was livid. The shouting started up again, and all I could do was stare.
“[Something something] TEACHER RATINGS [something something] NATIONAL AVERAGE!” Finally, something she said caught my ear.
“Do you realize you took so long walking that mile that you were SLOWER THAN THE FAT GIRL?” She let that sit with us all. The whole class was paralyzed in that dank locker room. Honestly, the experience was probably more hurtful for Makeup than it was for me, and I felt horrible that an adult would say something like that about her. Still, it was discouraging for me as well. I already knew I was going to fail the class, and I was mentally prepared for that. What I wasn’t prepared for was a teacher that so completely failed to help or encourage her students in any positive way, and instead chose to openly berate those she believed to be the most pathetic of the pack.
Maybe it’s your own voice that puts you down and compares you to others.
Maybe many of you have had a similar experience when it came to exercising. Maybe it’s your own voice that puts you down and compares you to others. Maybe it’s a parent, or the leader of some class at the local gym.
To an extent, I can see where these people may be coming from. There are those out there who are genuinely motivated when their shortcomings are highlighted. When someone yells, “Why the hell are you so slow!?” those people turn to themselves and say, “Hey, why AM I so slow? Let’s kick it up a notch!”
I was never one of those people. I want to be like that one day, but for now I know that I need a gentler touch. If you’re like me, you’d probably be more motivated by something like, “Hey! Great job for being out here and trying!” And I personally think that’s okay, as long as we give that to ourselves while not necessarily expecting it from the world. In my experience, the world has never been that warm and fuzzy. The good news is we can say that sort of stuff to ourselves as much as we want.
It doesn’t matter what anyone else is doing. What I’m doing now needs to be good enough for me.
That was one of the keys for me to finally start my fitness journey. I had to stop calling myself a loser, or lazy, or stick, or broken, or just not good enough. I had to realize that – at least in the beginning – any baby step was good enough. It doesn’t matter what anyone else is doing. What I’m doing now needs to be good enough for me.
I still probably run slower than about 90% of the population, but nowadays I don’t care. And if you’re that slow or slower, or if you can’t even break a brisk walk, you shouldn’t put yourself down for it.
Do like I did and just start where you are. Get moving in any way possible. Thank yourself for doing it. That day in the gym I felt like a complete failure (which I wasn’t, because I ended up with a hard-earned D. Suck it, high school!). In reality, I think I should have felt really awesome for just getting out there and trying. And I think you should too.
So stop reading this. Stop right now.
Get out there and move!