One of the biggest challenges in life is learning to separate what we want from what we’re told we should want; failure to do this leads to a lot of stress and unhappiness. Over the past couple of days I’ve been discussing this with Personal Trainer Pamala Sharpe and wanted to share a little of what we talked about. Pamala and I are chalk and cheese – polar opposites – yet we have a common hatred for the way we’re bombarded with sales messages and a desire to do the right thing. Also, neither of us are ‘girlie’ types. We’re not friends but I follow her honest and heartfelt posts on her facebook page and every so often we’ll have a long chat.
Pamala had posted the other day to say she was going off-line for a while. She was finding the constant stream of unrealistic expectations and ‘rose tinted’ views of people’s perfect lives to be a bit demoralizing. She works hard to paint a very real and honest picture yet she’s swimming against the tide in the fitness industry. She’s stuck between a rock and a hard place trying to market her business without becoming part of the problem. I wanted to get in touch because I had recently launched this site – partly as my defense against a sea of unwanted sales pitches. I realized that my website is exactly the type of thing that she found to be damaging to her clients; it can be seen as setting unrealistic expectations for others. Yet from my perspective it’s very good for me and I know for sure that some do find it inspiring. For example, I received this message on the day I launched my site:
“Brilliant idea. When I was running, I did it alone, for me, and sticking with it did get tough at times. Bright Blessings Hon. I don’t say much, but I follow your amazing progress. You are quite simply awesome.
I’m now stuck in a body that is gradually doing my head in, and I miss being super fit. What you do for other folk is wonderful. Everyone should know what it is to feel so empowered. Not just those endowed with great bods. Power to you my sweet, and thank you for the inspiration you give me to keep going. x”
Part of the problem is that we’re all different and what helps and inspires one person damages the next person. No one in the fitness industry is setting out to damage people. In the past, information would be shared on a one to one basis with everyone receiving the message that was appropriate to them. In the age of the Internet and social media we’re receiving all messages without any filter; quite frankly some of those messages, whilst perfect for some people, are completely unsuitable for others to the point of being extremely damaging.
My complaint is the opposite to Pamala’s. I get heartily sick of everything being ‘dumbed down for the masses’, of being told I should ‘take it easy’ or that my achievements should be hidden away so as not to upset anyone. I want to put my heart and soul into things; I want to pull out all the stops and just see what’s possible. I love the “if you want it enough you’ll work for it!” or “Go hard or go home” type motivational message. I want competition to stretch me; I seek out pressure.
Is this a division between lazy and hard working people?
Whilst putting the world to rights last night, Pamala and I decided – absolutely not! We can only do so much as there aren’t enough hours in the day to do it all; many people feel driven to try which leads to one of two probable outcomes:
- Dwelling in misery because you can’t keep all the plates spinning.
- Managing to keep all the plates spinning but driving yourself into the ground in the process and taking the pleasure out of life.
All any of us can do is get the high priority stuff out the way and work down the list until we run out of time. If we were to list, in order of preference, the things that are most important to us then my list would look something like this:
- Paul, my husband
- My dogs
- Emotional security
- Financial security
- My home
- My training journey – a life long pursuit
- Being fit, strong and capable.
- Looking fit, strong and capable.
- Acquaintances – people I enjoy sharing my interests with – mainly fitness.
- My campervan / hiking / touring trips
- My business
- Social events / nights out
- Looking ‘attractive’ or ‘sexy’ (This would probably slide a little further up the list if it weren’t for the fact that it was thrust down our throats so much!!)
I’m 54 and settled in life; husband, dogs, emotional and financial security and home are all fine. I have all the time in the world for my training – it’s my passion. Being (and looking) fit and capable are important, but they’re secondary to the training process itself. I would like more people to share my fitness journey with, so that’s a little gap in my life. I love my trips away in my campervan; we’re in a position to drop everything and head for the hills on a whim. We’re in semi-retirement and considering fully retiring very soon so business is on the wind down. Friends, social events, children and ‘looking attractive’ are too far down the list so I simply don’t have time for them. I’d do anything for my family but they don’t live near me and as long as they’re OK I don’t feel the need to be in contact – and that’s a mutual thing. I can honestly say my life is pretty close to perfect; it’s nothing special and most would probably hate it, but it’s what I want. I’ve finally figured out what matters to me.
Wind back a few years and life was less perfect. I hadn’t learned to distinguish between what I really want out of life and what I was expected to want. It used to bother me that I didn’t have children, friends, family, hectic social life. It was weird, because when I tried to do these things it did nothing for me, yet I used to feel bad about not being good at these things; I’d try and fake interest. Instead of focusing on what I valued in life, I focused on the things I thought I should have – even though I didn’t actually want them. It makes a huge difference when you finally separate out what you really value from what you’re conditioned to think you should value!
I’m not going to risk guessing at Pamala’s priority list, but I do know that people – friends, family etc are much higher up her list than they are mine. She’s less than half my age so still building her life; she doesn’t have my stability and security. She gives her business much higher priority than me; for me it was always just about making a living – for her it’s a passion. Her training is very important to her, but I think she places less value on the actual outcomes. We both value the journey above all else, but I think I’m a lot more results focused than her.
So here’s the thing..
When Christmas comes around and Pamala starts posting up excited messages about her hectic social life and big gatherings of friends and family I’ll probably have a few unsettled feelings. Around Christmas there’s a huge amount of marketing telling us how our ideal life should be. For a good month it becomes unavoidable – the world stops for Christmas and it’s all about friends and family. That can be a tough time for me. I’m 100% certain I’ve made the right choices in life and I really don’t yearn for company over Christmas time. However, I’m made to feel that there is something very wrong with my life and it’s hard work keeping faith in your own choices at these times.
Think how hard then it is for young women. 365 days a year they are bombarded with messages telling them they should be thinner, more muscular, stronger, sexier…you name it. It is absolutely relentless. Personal Trainers like Pamela don’t have the option to go off line and ignore it all. Daily they have to deal with clients that are damaged by the onslaught of messages telling them what they ‘should’ be. I have a massive amount of admiration for the way Pamala sticks her head above the parapet and tells it like it is. She really cares about her clients and works so hard to find a path through it all – a path for her clients to follow.
I stand by my approach of having a website to showcase what I value. It helps me immensely. It reminds me of what matters to me and it helps to drown out the constant sales pitch telling me my life isn’t worth living if I don’t have x, y or z. I know my website and stories inspires some people, yet I am mindful of the fact that it damages others so I will try to do what I can to mitigate that as I move forwards.
What happens if you simply can’t have the things you really want in life?
As the song goes “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with”. Instead of worrying about what you can’t have, focus all your attention on what you can have and make it so awesome that everyone else wishes they had it too! I honestly can’t say whether I got what I love out of life or whether I learned to love what I could have. All I know is I muddled along for years and eventually got to a place where everything is pretty much perfect.
“If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with”