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An Exploration of Definitions: Words, Conditions, and Me

Last weekend I wrote about the ambivalence I'd been feeling about not competing in endurance sports. In a Facebook comment to my post, a friend posed the following question:
do you always /have/ to be going forward in everything, all the time? Can you find a way to be comfortable with staying where you are? I think this is emotional work, btw, not physical work. I was just struck, in reading this, by your observation that you can't enjoy something if you're not pushing yourself. But maybe all of this with your foot and knee is your body trying to teach you to be present and be okay with being you just as you are.
I thought about my response and battled with it for a long time. A week, in fact. I decided to further explore my reasons in a follow-up post—this one.

First, I didn't realize my post had come across as negative; my thinking was, ambivalence by definition is neutral, right? So then I needed to look up the word. According to Merriam-Webster, ambivalence is "simultaneous and contradictory attitudes or feelings (as attraction and repulsion) toward an object, person, or action." Therefore (in my mind), the feelings of attraction and repulsion canceled each other out, creating a tepid, or lukewarm, feeling about a thing. But perhaps my tone was closer to repulsion than neutrality than I'd realized; specifically, I used the words "struggled," "lacking passion," "it's hard," "I feel so reluctant," "it's difficult," "less satisfied," the non-running sports "don't grip me," "not sure they ever will." That's a lot of negative-nancy talk.

But beyond that realization, my instinct was to say, why shouldn't I want push myself, always and forever and constantly, in every single thing I do? Okay, I can see the harm in that mentality a little bit now. But the idea of complacence—another word I needed to look up to make sure I understood its connotation—was just so off-putting. In my mind, the word was akin to giving up. But Merriam-Webster tells me otherwise; complacence is "calm or secure satisfaction with oneself or one's lot." Perhaps it is my lens that has been negative, tainting my view of not only myself but my actions. But there's still an aspect of this definition that bothers me: it's the implication that I should accept my "lot." And that's what I was unwilling to do during my foot injury. And ultimately, I'm glad I didn't give up. If I had, I might not have pursued my last treatment option, which ended up being the winning one.

Which brings me to another reason that it's difficult to not push myself in my activities: if I know I can do better, I will always want to. It's the perfectionist in me, that dangerous part of myself that doesn't quite know when to stop and appreciate my abilities, and instead focuses only on how I could do better. I've struggled with having a perfectionistic personality for as long as I can remember. I don't mean that I'm simply finicky about the way things are in my environment or that I have high standards for myself; these things are true, but my particular battle with perfectionism goes further. There are socially oriented, self-oriented, and other-oriented types of perfectionism, clinically speaking. I fall mostly within the socially oriented type, with some elements of self-oriented perfectionism. But one distinguishing feature of socially oriented perfectionism is the feeling that, "the better I do, the better I am expected to do." This perspective doesn't quite allow for a resting place, a space for reflection and appreciation.

But as I said, I'm aware of this part of my personality and, as a grown-up, have had to find ways to cope with it. So I know I'm not off the hook simply because perfectionism affects me in significant ways. Ultimately, my friend was spot-on that the work necessary to be comfortable where I am is emotional, and not physical, work. And I don't think her intention was to say that I should stop trying, even if that was my initial interpretation of her comment. I think there is a way to both appreciate my "lot," so to speak, without feeling as though I'm giving up on myself. I can try to respect the mere challenge of completing daily workouts, even if they don't exist within a competitive context. And then, when I'm ready (and my body is), I can push for more. At least, I think that is what she meant. And I'm grateful to her for making me think deeper and differently about my situation.


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