Giving Up on Perfect
I start with the picture of ancient Greece--a place of incredible history. The wonder of all the world in its time. A marker of a past greatness almost impossible to conceive. A goal its founders had, a goal realized, and yet an object lesson about how perfection fades, even unto ruins.
At some point, anyone (not just ancient Greeks) who is dedicated to a goal, passionately involved in the pursuit of it, and in love with the idea of reaching it, will become a person who will not settle. You won’t settle for less than total attainment. You won’t settle for second best. You won’t let it go until you get it right.
You want the pursuit, and the achievement, to be perfect.
I have been that person. I have been him as an athlete. I have been him as a student. I have been him as a professional.
And I’m here to tell you that you need to get that attitude adjusted.
I can already hear the voices that say, “if you don’t go for perfection, you’ll settle for anything!” I know. I used to believe that anything less than perfect was surrendering to mediocrity.
But for the aging athlete, this attitude will get you hurt.
Understand that your body cannot do what it used to do. Know that this is not only normal, but ok.
When I first began training in earnest, my greatest advantage was that I understood periodization of training. My greatest disadvantage was that I had no idea how to periodize for a weekend warrior athlete who had no idea how far he had slipped.
Within two months, I had managed to aggravate myself into a double sports hernia, which knocked me out of training for four weeks, and the recovery from the surgery was six weeks. Ten weeks: that’s the price I paid for pushing too hard, for trying to be who I once was.
For not settling.
What I’ve found in the wake of that experience is pretty simple. As we age, we need more time to recover. We need more flexibility and mobility. (My best athletic device is a lacrosse puck. It’s remarkable how much it hurts when it rolls across the right spot.) We need more sleep. We need more off days. And we need, when we are involved in training sessions, to listen to what our bodies are trying to tell us.
We need, in short, to release the notion of perfection from our mindset. Or perhaps, we need to redefine perfect. For me, perfect now is a wonderfully conceived periodization plan that makes me stronger, makes me faster, and never leaves me so sore I can’t work, play, and train.
The writer Anna Quindlan says, "The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself." What is true in a holistic sense is also true in the athletic sense. You should begin the work of becoming who you are, right now, as an athlete.
Or end in ruins.