Today I do pullups. I’ve been doing P90X again and this is one of my dreaded days…legs and back. Because pullups are hard, man. Tony Horton goes around and asks each member of his team how many they are going to do in that set, and I’m always humiliated. They throw out numbers that shame my own…22, 16, even 12. And then there’s me…4!
I’ve never been able to do a ton of pullups, but I used to be better at it. In my rock climbing days I could do 10. But those days feel long gone. And as I struggle to pull my chin up to the bar and finish my set, I humbly throw a foot out on the chair in front of me for support. It is defeating, but I keep pushing on.
Tony Horton has all these goofball words of wisdom. Like “don’t stop breathing. If you stop, you die.” Which is the most pointless thing ever. But one of the one’s I’ve latched on to is, “Don’t say you can’t do pullups. Say you presently struggle with.”
Because it is true. And as I’m thinking through my workout today, I realize that I’ve been working my way up, slowly. And last time, the first set I did 9…without a chair. And today I’m going to do 10. Just you watch.
And although it might not be 20, it definitely feels good to be close to the level I used to be twenty years ago. And all of a sudden, the dread is gone. And I look at today not as punishment, but as invitation. Because with just a little vision, the obstacle is no longer something to fear, but a challenge within reach.
And the metaphor holds true of so much in life. So many of the things I fear in life are phrased in my mind as “I can’t.” Which is defeating. It fosters all kinds of resistance and reluctance. I become my own worst enemy.
But on the other side of dread is freedom. And forget about silly pullups. What about social dread? Or creative dread? Or fear of intimacy and vulnerability? What if, on the other side of “I can’t” is true freedom? Where the goal is not some sort of glorious victory celebration, but instead a more subtle, slow change, of lasting results and of steady overcoming.
And this simple realization can transform our lives. Small victories should be celebrated, because they are like the turning of the Titanic. And they can easily be missed or overlooked as insignificant. But we need them. Because they point us to a much greater reality. That change is truly possible. And we’re stronger than we know.