For everything you have missed, you have gained something else, and for everything you gain, you lose something else.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

I have a confession to make.

I launched this blog at a really bad time.

As I sit here writing, I’m three weeks out from IPL Drug-tested Worlds in Australia, and two weeks from getting on the plane to Sydney. The intensity of training is ramping up, along with the anxiety that always comes with impending competition.

Work stress also happens to be high at the moment. I have all the other usual stuff in my life (a partner; friends; kids who, though semi-grown, still require some hand-holding; mice in the house; cars that need inspection…).

And let’s not forget the part about being menopausal, which means unpredictable and often disrupted sleep and even more anxiety thanks to the effects of hormone imbalances.

So why in hell did I decide to start a website and blog now?

Well, I got invited to appear as a guest on a podcast that’s scheduled to air this month. That’s an opportunity for some exposure, and that gave me a good reason and a hard deadline to get the site launched. (I really need deadlines, especially when the thing I need to do scares me and feels overwhelming.)

So I did it.

And I love it. I’m actually eager to get out of bed at first light every day to write posts and answer emails to new subscribers (have you subscribed yet?) and fix website glitches and do all the other stuff that needs to get done to make these words visible to you, and discoverable by other people.

But while I love working on it, launching this site has also been super stressful. And that’s problematic with a competition coming up.

Stress = stress

If you’re familiar with Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity, you’re aware that matter = energy. Same thing, just in a different form.

This same idea also holds true for our bodies. They don’t differentiate between physical and emotional stress, so if you’ve got tough stuff going on in your life, that will have an impact on your strength during training and on your ability to recover. High levels of stress actually translate into needing more recovery time, sometimes on the order of several days more.

So maybe introducing additional stress into my life isn’t the smartest thing to do less than a month out from an international competition.

Thing is, every single one of us has to deal with a similar struggle at some point—and I think women tend to struggle with it the most.

We have to make choices all the time about priorities. And I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say many of us feel almost constant tension between achieving what we want to achieve in the gym, taking care of ourselves, and letting someone else down.

We also have to be able to differentiate between genuine self-care and laziness/bad habits in disguise. This can be a real conundrum.

Completely coincidentally, my coach (who, by the way, is very supportive of self-care in the proper context) put this up in his Instagram story yesterday (days after I’d already started writing this post):

It’s a completely valid point. As a coach, I have no doubt he sees plenty of clients slacking unnecessarily in the name of self-care.

Are we hitting snooze because we REALLY need more sleep, or because it’s 25 degrees outside and the bed is cozy and we don’t feel like going to the gym?

But: conversely, are we making a bad choice if we do get out of bed at the crack of dawn and hit the gym despite only getting four hours of sleep because our kid was throwing up all night, or because we woke up every hour with a hot flash?

And how guilty will we feel if we instead (justifiably) decide to stay in bed and get more sleep in the aforementioned situation, even though that really is the best choice? Won’t that make us a wimp, a slacker, a loser? What will our coach think?!

To that end, I actually responded to his story with one of my own (and he reposted it):

Hopefully you see where I’m going here.

Perhaps this ridiculous internal dialogue sounds familiar.

High expectations

I’ve actually had to deal with this precise conundrum twice in the last 48 hours: not regarding my training, but regarding this blog.

Two mornings in a row, I fully intended—and passionately wanted, in fact—to get up early and work on this post.

But I slept poorly both nights, even though I went to bed at a very reasonable hour. Menopause be like that.

Both mornings, my alarm went off. I woke up. I took stock of how I felt (utter shit). I did the mental math. And I decided that three weeks out from Worlds, the clear priority has to be getting enough sleep, especially on a training day (and one of these days was in fact a heavy deadlift day).

So I went back to sleep.

And I felt bad about it.

That’s what I really want to talk about. Not so much the choice itself, but being able to make good choices in the face of societal baggage and unrealistic expectations, and to accept the choices we make without guilt or shame.

It’s never enough

As I’ve been analyzing my own situation and mental state, it’s become clear that my struggle has less to do with other people’s expectations and more with my own.

A lot of my current stress is self-inflicted.

And honestly, I think that’s true for many of us much of the time, even in situations where we are dealing with external factors. (To be clear, I’m not talking here about big stuff like domestic violence or food insecurity or a loved one’s death or illness… those types of stressors live in a whole other category.)

We live in a go-go culture that constantly exhorts us to do more, be more, make more money, be fitter, be tougher, take no prisoners, suck it up, keep going all the time.

At all costs.

No pain, no gain.

“Yeah, your shoulder hurts, but don’t you dare stop in the middle of that set, you pussy.”

Occasionally we pay lip service to self-care, but culturally we glorify the warrior. This is SPARTA. Our heroes are those who tough it out and keep going despite any and all levels of fatigue, injury, and emotional suffering.

On top of that, if you identify as female, I don’t have to tell you (but maybe the men reading this can learn something) that women feel a constant burden to be infallible, loving, ever-present and ever-vigilant caregivers (to children, grandchildren, partners, aging parents, you name it) AND breadwinners too. Plus whatever other activities we choose to add onto the pile.

Even when no one is putting those expectations on us directly, we feel them, simply by virtue of our gender and the cultural expectations that go with it.

It’s never enough. We’re never good enough. We’re never doing enough.

When we’re resting, we should be reading a book or folding laundry or making cookies for the bake sale.

When we’re sleeping, we should be training.

When we’re not sleeping, we should be paying more attention to our recovery.

When we’re training, we should be home giving attention to our kids or our partner or our dog.

When we’re driving, we shouldn’t listen to mindless dance music; we should listen to a podcast that will make us a better person or a better lifter or a better entrepreneur.

Better, smarter, faster.

We shouldn’t waste a minute of this precious life.

We should learn to relax.

We should be stronger.

We shouldn’t spend so much time at the gym.

We should spend MORE time at the gym.

We should be more attentive partners.

Should, should, shouldn’t, shouldn’t, should.

It’s never enough.

But, but, but….. the perfect balance must be out there SOMEWHERE, dammit! We can find it if we just look hard enough!

Try harder!!

There is no perfection

It’s a big lie. The perfect balance does not exist.

And for sure, we CAN’T do it all or have it all or be it all.

We DO have to make choices.

More importantly, we have to relax into the choices we make and stop feeling conflicted about them.

Because that tension does nothing but create more stress, which beats our minds and our bodies down and thereby defeats the entire purpose of making the choice in the first place.

You are allowed to prioritize your needs.

At one moment you may need to go train. At another you may need to NOT go train, because you need more sleep .

You may need NOT to track your food for a day.

You may need to tell your friends you’re NOT going out with them because you don’t want to drink and you need to get to bed early. Or you may absolutely need to go out with your friends, because you haven’t spent any time with them for weeks and you miss the hell out of them.

Whatever you decide you need, the key is to own your choices and stop feeling guilty about them.

What’s driving your choices?

But here’s the catch: as I said above, you need to make the right choice in the first place.

All of those internalized shoulds and guilt and self-abnegation are going to try to sabotage you.

But so, potentially, is your own tendency to make excuses when things get hard.

You’ll think, like I do, “I slept really badly last night; I had planned to get up at 6 and [insert task here] but I’m so tired….” and immediately the mental in-fighting will begin. “You’re just being lazy.” “Loser.” “Getting up early is a key success strategy.”

At that point, you have to do some honest reflecting.

ARE you just being lazy? Because maybe you are.

Are you choosing the appropriate balance?

I can’t answer that for you. Maybe you’ve been struggling with trying to change your habits and staying in bed on this particular day would in fact be ill-advised.

Or maybe you did in fact sleep terribly, and you trained yesterday, and the extra hour in bed is going to goose your recovery and keep you healthy. (Lack of sleep hits both recovery and immunity very hard.)

Choosing wisely

Only you can make these choices around your own life balance.

What I’m trying to convey here is the need for awareness about what’s driving the decision-making process. Is it trustworthy and objective and truly taking your well-being and best interests and goals into account?

Or is it driven by unrealistic expectations, perfectionism, and guilt?

For my part, coming back to the blog/Worlds conundrum, I’ve started attacking it on multiple fronts.

First, I had to see the problem. I tend to internalize stress to such a degree that my entire body turns into cement with muscular tension, while I remain oblivious to the underlying emotions causing that response.

I needed to wake up to how much pressure I was putting on myself to pump out content, to get this blog publicized, to get new subscribers… to be “successful,” immediately, right out of the blocks.

Ha. It doesn’t work that way. And that’s entirely self-inflicted and unnecessary pressure. My thanks to my friend and super badass broad Stephanie, who helped me crystallize some of this, and suggested that writing about it/sharing it might help relieve that pressure (she was right).

Yes, I’ve got some kind subscribers, and hopefully they’re enjoying whatever content I’ve been able to post.

But I very much doubt any of them have been sitting there impatiently drumming the tabletop and muttering, “where in God’s name is that new post?!”

The only one expecting anything from this blog right now is ME.

So following the awareness, my second step has been taking a deep breath and realizing there’s nothing life-threatening riding on any of this. It’s ok to set my own priorities.

And right now, my top priority has got to be my training because of my upcoming competition.

By the way, there’s nothing life-threatening riding on the competition, either. Yes, I take competing seriously, but it’s also good to remember that ultimately I’m going to just give it my best on the day and have fun and learn from the experience.

It’s ok—and, in fact, to achieve real balance it’s essential—to let go of the pressure.

Intensity, good. Stress, bad.

Remember who you’re doing this for

Situations may arise where we need to de-prioritize training, drop out of a competition altogether, or take a break from the gym due to other priorities, and that is FINE—again, assuming those other priorities legitimately serve us.

I’ve seen elite lifters walk into world competitions having not touched a barbell for two months because a loved one had had a stroke.

I’ve also seen lifters absolutely twist themselves into knots trying to decide whether or not to drop out of a meet in a very similar situation. And their inner struggle wasn’t because they had worked so hard and didn’t want to miss the meet, although that was a factor.

Mostly, they were flagellating themselves because they were so afraid of letting everyone else down.

But how crazy is that? Yes, people support you. Yes, your trainer or your coach or your friends want you to do well.

But ultimately, whatever your reasons are for lifting, whether you compete or do it for your own pleasure or health or appearance…

You lift FOR YOU.

No one else.

YOU get to decide how important your training is relative to the other things in your life.

See clearly and be real

I have no easy answers about finding balance. I suspect most of us have been battling with this issue for our entire adult lives.

But I’m pretty sure the key is to be as honest and objective as we can, both about our own motivations and about the expectations society has dumped on us.

If we can make ourselves aware of all of the emotions involved in making these choices—and be real both about the “shoulds” and also about our own bad habits, weaknesses, and areas where we’re prone to making excuses that don’t actually serve us well—then we can learn to make sound decisions about our priorities, and to trust and live with those decisions.

Most importantly, I think we need to accept that there IS no perfect balance.

We WILL sacrifice something every time we make a choice. That’s just true. The trick is figuring out which losses we can and cannot tolerate.

That math will be different for each of us.

Whatever you conclude, just know you’re not alone in this struggle, and you’ve got support when the going gets tough.

And if you see a little less content from me for the next month or so… now you know why, and hopefully, dear reader, you’ll grace me with your understanding!

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