Wednesday 11 May 2011

Extreme Challenges and Headfakes

By extreme challenge I don’t necessarily mean climbing Mount Everest or travelling to the South Pole. I mean the sort of thing that you and I can achieve by our own devices, like running a marathon, creating a work of art, or going on stage. These are the things that need guts to decide for and determination to follow through; the things about which people will ask ‘why on earth would you want to do that’... and although the only valid answer is: “Because I want to!” one will have a list of reasons of which one hopes it will satisfy the inquirer.

My challenge is to take part in a bodybuilding competition. For the first time in my life I will be on stage, in a bikini, wearing fake tan, and I will have to give a 90 second performance to music. I am 50 years old, I am not a musical person, and I don’t know what bothers me more.

If I would be asked for the ‘Why?’ my official answer would be: I always wanted to know how I would feel on stage. I cannot sing, I cannot memorise well, so singer and actor are out of the question, but I am good at my sport, and I want to show the world that it is possible to become healthy and fit even if one is past the best-by date.

The unofficial answer would be: Because I want to! I want my 5 minutes of fame! I want to know how far I can push this and if I might even be able to win! Oh yes! I don’t just want to participate, I want to win!

The headfake would be: I want my legs!

A headfake is a task in which one does one thing to achieve another. Good teachers provide headfakes for their students: “Let’s build a robot so you learn mechanics”. What they actually learn, is the boring skill of programming, and they easily do so because the task is fun. My headfake doesn’t provide fun, but a good reason to keep focused. See, I always was yearning for beautiful legs, well shaped and sexy. Life provided me with a substantial layer of padding from hip to ankle, and I never managed to keep my determination during seasonal food binges, and emotional rollercoaster rides like winter depression and monthly cycles.

All of the above makes this a valid extreme challenge, I guess.

... the more that this sort of thing has quite an impact on my lifestyle and hence on my social environment. Let me turn back the clock to 2004 when I innocently started the whole ‘let’s push the envelope’ thing, and when I had no idea on how many levels this battle would take place.

I was two stone fatter, unfit, suffering from back and headaches, and most of all; I was suffering lack of confidence. This is not a good state to be in when wanting to change things which would affect other people’s lives, too. ‘Time management’ became a much used term. The aim was, to get as much as possible out of my time for myself, and to still keep everybody else happy. In self help books this is called ‘keeping the balance’.

Well, I failed! I failed because I followed stereotypes.

I never asked: ‘Whose or what balance am I keeping?’ Only when I start writing about these things I become focused and can see those questions. The intuitive choice of words of the first draft, reveal a lot.

‘The aim was to get as much as possible out of my time for myself ...‘
‘... and to still keep everybody else happy.’

This means a balance between me and others, and not a balance within my life’s tasks.

There is a significant difference between the two. The first means ‘trying things out, but compromising should I lose control over my relationships. The second does not consider other people; it is the impartial focus on me.

I failed because I mixed up the two.

Let’s turn the clock back even further to the time before 2004. I remember my mum and grandma talking about people, who had learned skills and achieved things everybody envied, and then they did ‘one silly thing’ which pushed it too far, and they lost everything. Back then I believed that those people must be mad, and now I find myself in a similar position.

I was a master of adjusting my lifestyle to others and I received appreciation and praise. It made me feel good, but it used all the time I now need to fulfil my own dreams and needs. Now, that I have put my focus on me and hence am tipping the balance, I would wish that others would do that too, adjusting their lives to mine in order to keep it level.

Well, this is not how it works, is it?

People are not interested in changing their lives to match mine... who would have thought...? Moreover, people got inspired by the idea of personal improvement and began to change, too; just into their own direction, not mine.

I failed because I forgot that I CANNOT determine other people’s actions.

However much I might hope, expect, or ask of people: It is THEIR decision to take! And they will take those decisions according to their own constraints, many of which I don’t have a clue that they exist. They have work lives, friends, and families, all putting the pressure on. They are taking their decisions as much as I am taking mine. All my balancing acts to keep people happy, and hence them in my life, were MY choices and thus voluntary. I cannot blame them for holding me back.

I failed because there is no balance to keep in relationships! There is only a balance that I can keep within myself.

Let me put the above into a nutshell: This matter is not about balance, it is about relationships, decisions and blame. Whether we just topple along, negotiate, or compromise, none of it will guarantee that a relationship will remain stable. There are too many unknown parameters, and even the known ones are changing continuously. The only thing that I can control is ME!

My previous lifestyle had left me sick, scared, unconfident, and with a minor job and I decided to make a change to the better for myself. During the past years, I lost the fear of being embarrassed, and of getting old, but the one fear that rules them all I did not dare tackling: The fear of being alone!

Extreme challenges are limited in time. If a life is robustly settled in a relationship scene, this period will not change anything. If there are instabilities, this period will reveal it all. It is impossible to succeed in an extreme challenge, while trying to cover-up, and there is no going back, once it has started. 

The first small changes already had inspired some friends to leave the scene, would bigger changes challenge my close relationships? On the other hand: If a relationship only exists because I am desperately clinging to it, is it worth it?

I had not planned for those questions to arise, and surely not now. In a few weeks time I have to be on stage and I am questioning my entire existence. That is not good timing! Well, the timing comes with the subject, doesn’t it? While unanswered, those questions held me back in achieving my dreams. Now that the challenge has put the cards on the table, I don’t find them daunting anymore. I now know that my headfake is not ‘the legs’ the headfake is ‘to find the person within myself, who I really like, who I can trust and rely on, so that others can do the same.’

I might not have failed after all!