Recently I cheated on the YMCA and took a free trial class at a more cutting-edge, high-tech gym. I followed all the commands and did all the exercises just like the robot on the video, but I was kind of embarrassed that my heart rate was the lowest on the brag screen. I could barely stay in the green zone, and only got to the red zone twice. The handsome young instructor assessed my results and stated, “I noticed that you really don’t push yourself – it’s like you’re saving your energy, not expending it 100%. You could burn way more calories if you pushed yourself.”
Amen, brother, you just summed up my life.
I still play competitive tennis at my age for this very reason. On a hot summer day, sometimes I open the door to get the mail and the heat hits me like a brick, so I close the door and decide to get the mail later. But on that same hot summer day, if I’m playing a doubles match, I will sprint like my life depends on it to get to a drop shot or a lob over my partner’s head. More than I hate to lose, I hate letting my partner or my team down. That’s the push I need to exert extreme energy. I just can’t duplicate that in a gym. Once, during a lesson, my favorite tennis pro, Bruce Caton, spoke these words of wisdom, “Don’t smash an overhead or hit a power stroke when you can dink a short angle to the open court. Don’t waste your energy trying to look cool – just win the point.”
I try to live by his advice.
I hate to run but I did not know this about myself in high school, so I joined the track team. I ran the hurdles, mostly because the jumping distracted me from the fact that I was running. I liked the 100-meter hurdle race because it was over in less than 20 seconds. But I placed more often in the 300-meter race because, you guessed it, I like to conserve energy and not exert myself. So, the fast girls who blew by me in the 100-meter race would run out of steam in the longer race, and I had a chance to get ahead.
I suppose that’s why I’m in two book clubs. My daughter cringes at my messy book table – countless half-read books in multiple stacks. I’m really good at starting a book, just not skilled at finishing. Most of the time, the only books I finish reading each month are the ones we will be discussing at book club. God forbid I be that girl who just shows up for the wine. I will finish that book even if I have to stay up all night. Book clubbing pushes me to read even if I don’t love the book or am extremely busy.
Sadly, I have passed my “exert the least amount of effort possible” gene on to my children. They are all smart and capable of making A’s, but the four of them competed in the lowest-effort-possible-to-earn-an-A contest every semester. If a 90 is a 4.0, why try for a 100? If you’re ranked 10th in the class, you still get a medal that says Top Ten. I remember one of them delighting in his 89.7 A. I think I remember one of them saying to me, “We may be nerds, Mom, but at least we’re not overachievers.”
Before I got this gig, I never dreamed of being a writer. I’m not one to jump – a friend pushed me, and I’ve been tiptoeing toward the deep end ever since. Having a deadline and a team depending on me pushes me to spill words onto the page even when life gets in the way. Without a deadline and dear readers who motivate me with their kind words, I’d conserve my energy for something else. Or piddle all day, I’m very good at piddling. This quote from David Bowie sums it up for me:
“If you feel safe in the area that you’re working in, you’re not working in the right area. Always go a little further in the water than you feel you’re capable of being in. Go a little bit out of your depth and when you don’t feel that your feet are quite touching the bottom, you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting.”
What about you? Are you self-motivated? Do you jump off the high dive of life? Or, like me, do you need to be pushed?