When I first found CrossFit I was in my mid-20s and working from home. I had time, money, and was a single, carefree adult with no reason (except perhaps a hangover) to not to go to the gym.
Competitor classes? I was in. Sleep? Man, I could crush 8-9 hours of uninterrupted, deep drool-on-the-pillow type of time. I had no significant other, no kids, no pets, not even a plant that required my attention. I was in a phase of life I look back on and call the PR phase.
Fast forward six months and I was in a job where I was traveling half the time, working crazy hours and, more often than not, super stressed out. And just like that, the same people that I used to compete with started to pass me by. It seemed like it happened overnight. The guy who I always could edge out in WODs was lapping me. The girl whose squat was the same as mine was hitting 20-lb PRs while I was struggling to hit my old numbers.
When did the entire 9 a.m. class learn pistols? Oh, maybe when I was in Ohio last month.
I was in a new phase of my life, where fitness wasn’t —and couldn’t be— my No. 1 priority. And man, oh man, did it suck.
Don’t get me wrong: my life was in a great phase. I had a good job, and was making decent money in a field I went to college for. I got to travel all around the country, make new friends, visit different gyms and eat lots of yummy food. But it was hard, really hard, to let go of that notion that I should’ve been able to keep up with that “PR phase” progress.
Maybe if I had been alone in a gym working out this whole time, I wouldn’t have felt that bad about my progress (or lack thereof). But this isn’t a story about comparing yourself to other athletes (we all do it, we all know we shouldn’t) or scrolling though Instagram and immediately feeling inadequate.
It’s about acknowledging that there are different phases to your life and fitness can’t always be—and may NEVER be— your No. 1 priority. For some, that can be a really tough transition. And I’m not just talking about elite athletes who are past their prime wondering what’s next.
I have a friend who progressed incredibly fast when he first started CrossFit. He was in line for Regionals while he trained as a college student.
Then he graduated, got a demanding marketing job and injuries from a desk-bound life started creeping up. He was forced to slow down. And people who still had 2-3 hours to spend in the gym (and a lifestyle that helped them recover) passed him by.
Was he mad? Sure. Frustrated? Of course.
Did he quit his job to get back to the PR phase? No.
He had a great career he enjoyed and plans to start a family. He shifted his priorities and understood that he was in a different phase in his life than the guys who were still in college pulling double sessions.
I wonder, as I scroll though Instagram how former CrossFit Games athlete Miranda Chivers feels as she slowly comes back from having a baby.
Does she wonder what might have been had she given it one more shot? Does she envy her friends who just go to the gym for hours and don’t worry about having a newborn at home?
Yes, life is about choices and we make ours the best we can. But it’s hard to not feel that twinge of envy when you see people in that stress-free PR phase, with no kids, crazy hours or other time crunches to get in the way of their fitness goals.
You can have everything together in your work or personal life and still feel inadequate when you’re at the gym. It can be both the best month of your career and the worst with the barbell on your back. You have to realize that you can’t have it all, not all the time. Life comes at you in phases and even the best athletes get just a small window to put their fitness first.
As someone who was an athlete their entire life, it’s tough to turn that competitive mindset off. To stop and realize that I have many different goals for my life. Some involve things like squatting three times my bodyweight. But most of my life goals have nothing to do with the gym.
I often remind myself of something elite powerlifter and StrongWoman Charity Witt said in an interview. It’s printed and hangs by my bathroom mirror as a reality check of sorts.
“I made the mistake when I first started [thinking], ‘OK this girl and I started with the same deadlift why is hers more than 100 pounds than mine six months later?’ It really discouraged me at first. But I’ve just realized that it doesn’t honestly matter,” said Witt, who is studying to be a doctor.
“It’s temporary. You have to have a career. People settle down and do something other than a strength sport. If anything I want to take away from it that it’s taught me much more than how to lift heavy, it teaches you how to be strong in your mind, how to love yourself, how to take care of yourself and to not be afraid of competition.”
After all, people have careers, get married, have babies, start businesses, get sick, travel the world, etc.
We are encouraged in the gym to celebrate small victories but to think about the big picture. It’s important, too, that we apply those same principles in life.
Images courtesy of Erica Livoti Photography.