Embracing Mediocrity

This post is a failure. Already by posting it today, I’ve failed.

A longtime fan of New Year’s intentions, on January 1st I set a goal to publish one essay every calendar month. As achievable as I expected this goal to be, I struggled several times to try and finish this post. I sat down and tried on January 29th,  and again on January 30th,  and yet again on January 31st. I couldn’t get it done.

I mean, I could have. I could have stayed awake until I finished, or gotten up extra early to write and meet the deadline. I could have forced myself to stay seated in front of my laptop until the goal was met, or I could have published the piece before it was ready.

I didn’t do any of that.

January was a tough month. It’s always a tough month, and entering Year Three of the pandemic hasn’t helped. After the dazzles of December, January feels overwhelmingly blah. It’s dark. It’s cold. We no longer have the distractions of Christmas music or presents, plus we’re now paying for all those holiday expenses and assessing which of our resolutions may have been overly ambitious (looking at you, mandatory monthly publication).

Writing wasn’t the only goal I struggled to meet in January. My joy in running dipped, and finding the motivation to lace up did not come naturally. I ran sporadically, typically only one or two miles during the week and never more than six or seven miles on the weekends.

A past version of myself would never let this stop her. I used to wear my discipline as a badge of honor. I would dutifully follow my training plan to the letter and make endless time for work by sacrificing rest or leisure. My definition of consistency was rigid, and the only metrics that mattered were how fast I could produce and how much I could achieve. My M.O. was to over-commit, and extra over-deliver. I could meet any expectation with another cup of coffee and sheer brute force.

Now I’m finding the softness in consistency. Instead of judging each workout by looking back on the output, I’m shifting my goal to just showing up in the first place.

I missed my publication goal, but I did maintain two other daily goals all January: practicing yoga and walking outside. These goals were neither qualitative nor quantitative – they were binary. I didn’t judge how far I walked, or if I hit any specific yoga pose, or even if I broke a sweat. I only judged if I made it outside and if I made it to my mat. Anything beyond that was a bonus.

I’ve been through 30-some Januaries and two full years of the pandemic, so I’m familiar enough with the January Blues to know these feelings are temporary. I’ve also been down this road often enough to know that when the fog finally clears, it’s easier to ramp back up from a place of daily movement than from a complete standstill.

So I’m embracing mediocrity.

Walking has felt fun and nourishing. It gets me outside where I can breathe fresh air, move my body, and see whatever neighborhood dogs are out for their daily walks too. I’m no longer resisting whatever form of movement calls to me on any given day – the ten minute walk that I can convince myself to do is better than the five mile run I can’t. It’s an ongoing practice to meet myself where I am, but shaming myself for failing to meet a specific goal will never inspire me to keep trying.

The truth is I didn’t even fail because I wrote a lot in January. I journaled daily. I wrote personal essays. I started writing a book.

“Doing your best” looks different day to day, or even minute to minute. There are too many variables, and it’s not realistic to expect a uniform output every time. My most important goals remain being able to move pain-free and building a loving relationship with my body. There’s more than one method to achieve these goals, but they all require grace and flexibility. Ultimately this mindset shift allows me more ways to make progress, and it honors what a victory it is to continue showing up.

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