I can't tell you how many endeavors throughout the years I've started and failed at. I guess fail isn't really the right word, because you can't fail at something you quit. Whether it's weight loss, exercise, learning a new hobby, or accomplishing anything else good that takes time, I have become the master of never reaching the finish line. It's not that I am flaky, it's that I am inflexible about what success looks like or how I am going to achieve it. We often imagine success as a linear event- do the work, be successful. In reality, everything is a lot messier than that.
For example, I recently started running again. A few years ago I was running half marathons when I decided to start training for a full marathon. About six weeks into the training plan, I got a stress fracture in my shin that sidelined me. I never really got back into running after that. I tried a few times, but starting over was hard I just wasn't up for the challenge. When I finally decided to get serious, I bought a training app and some new running shoes, and got super excited that I would be back at a 5k distance in just seven short weeks. But then life happened. I had a minor medical procedure that kept me from running for about a week. I got a sinus infection that drained me. My schedule seemed to get fuller and fuller so the evenings I had free I didn't want to spend them running. It seemed to be one small setback after another. My typical response as I approached and passed week seven without achieving my goal would be to quit. I would usually tell myself things like- eh, I tried and it just didn't work out. I am too busy right now to really make time for running. Maybe I'll try again in a couple of months. But those are all excuses that I make up so I can quit the program before the self-imposed deadline passes and I feel like a failure. I've seen it play out a million times. I mean, how many of us have started a diet only to have a bad few days, gain a few pounds, and think "I just can't do this". So we go buy a cheeseburger and embrace the idea that they will be chubby forever. There is an appropriate time to quit things (that's a blog for another day) but all too often we bail on something great because of a few minor setbacks, unrealistic expectations, or because we've embraced the voice inside our head that tells us we will never get there. In reality, before I even started the training plan I knew that I couldn't keep up with it, but instead of adjusting my expectations, and creating a plan that actually worked for me, I set myself up for failure.
Here's what I meditate on when I am ready to quit something worthwhile- the okay method I follow is better than the perfect method I will quit. Other than me, who cares if it takes me fourteen weeks instead of seven to finish the training plan? Nobody. Literally nobody. I can't imagine anyone in my life being like- "You know what Mandy, I am so disappointed in you for taking so long to finish this training plan. I can't even be around you right now". That's absurd. We are so hard on ourselves when things don't go the way we expect that more often than not, instead of pushing through or adjusting our expectations we bail on the plan altogether. In the grand scheme of life, these minor setbacks, these detours, these adjustments, are meaningless in pursuit of something bigger.
It's okay if your initial plan doesn't work out. It's okay if you fall behind, slip up, bend the rules a bit. It's okay if your plan doesn't look like everyone else's. Your journey doesn't have to look like anything other than something that works for you. Let go of the comparison, the unrealistic expectations, and the shame and embrace your plan. When you allow yourself to do what works for you, instead of trying to do what you thought it should look like or what everyone else does, you are far more likely to succeed. The okay method you will follow is sooooo much better than the perfect method you will quit.