“The only real limitation on your abilities is the level of your desires. If you
want it badly enough, there are no limits on what you can achieve.” -Brian Tracy
When I attended junior high school (ages 12-15), I knew my limits. There was no way I could run The Mile in gym class.
Those sadistic teachers didn’t know what they were talking about, and I would show them they wouldn’t control me. I walked the whole thing, out of spite. I considered my intentionally-slow gesture a brilliant defiance to The Man -though, I wouldn’t have known about such a term at the time.
Sometime just before ninth grade, however, I changed my mind. I learned about an achievement called The Presidential Fitness Award.
Mostly, I thought I had a chance because I was freakishly good at an exercise we called the dead-arm hang. Basically, one hung from a raised bar (like a monkey bar) with his arms locked in a bent position. It was like holding a chin-up at the part where the chin is up.
Another requirement was the sit-and-reach, wherein one had to sit and touch past his toes without bending his knees.
A third was a set number of sit-ups in one minute.
A fourth was some number of push-ups in that time.
Problem was, the final requirement was running a mile in under 8 minutes. Like, obviously, I’d have to actually run. Like, I’d have to run fast.
I hadn’t recalled the Presidential Fitness Award in many years. Then, right in the middle of my participating in a social media challenge involving planking, a woman at my book group brought it up.
Planking, if you are unaware, is an abominable abdominal exercise. The way I’ve always done it is to go into a sort of push-up position, but upon my bent forearms.
The current world record for planking is 8 hours 1 minute. We were simply encouraged to get up to 1 minute if just starting out, or 5 minutes if we already had some planking under our belt. The friendly contest ran for one month.
Even when not actively exercising, I work on my abs. I’m a bit vain about it, though I don’t show them to anyone besides my husband and the mirror. Point is, I decided to go for the 5 minutes.
At the time that my friend in book group mentioned how she knew she’d never earn the Presidential Fitness Award as a teen, I had just passed the 2-minute mark for planking.
Her comment brought me back to junior high. I could see the gym clothing-clad teenagers slumping around the grass field we used for measuring a mile run. (Yep, we were poor as dirt -and grass- at my school.) I could see myself, quite literally suddenly running each one-day-a-week we ran the mile.
I saw myself stretching forward at night to will my arms and hands to reach beyond my toes; to elasticize my body to pass the reaching test.
I remembered being tested for the arm hang, sit-ups, and push-ups.
Most importantly, I remembered my elation as I finally WON the coveted honor and received my printed certificate.
I was also a bit disappointed that Bill Clinton’s name was on the signature line, as my parents were Republicans.
Each night in the more present time, I continued pushing toward my plank limit. I wanted it badly. I believed in myself. I believed in the cute little chart posted online of adding more time each night until I would finally reach 5 minutes.
On the evening that I made it to 3 minutes, however, I dropped to the ground with rubbery arms. It was suddenly so hard!
That wasn’t supposed to happen. I was going to keep going; I was going to add and add and make it to the ultimate goal.
Maybe I need to work on my arms, I thought, and tried to do push-ups. Yes, they were woman push-ups. I wanted to be able to get up once I was down, you know.
Next night, I got all set to plank for longer than 3 minutes. I played motivational music, stared at a poster of Chuck Norris, told myself pumped-up aphorisms, and drank nature’s protein straight from the guts of the fabled mangu-mangu tree root.
Or, I simply got down to it with my timer.
The seconds counted down from 3:30. I strained. I motivated. I clenched my abs. I told myself I was mighty and could do it.
And… I collapsed after the first minute. My arms knew better than my motivation.
Sometimes our abilities are limited by more than the level of our desires. No matter how badly we want something, even something somewhat-achievable like exercise goals, we may not get there.
I’m not going to tell anyone to give up on dreams, except myself. But that’s my negative self-talk talking and I’m not supposed to listen to her.
Instead, I’ve learned that there are some limiting factors I have little control over. I didn’t fail. Heck, three minutes out of five is 60% on a grading sheet. That, and it was two full minutes longer than I’d ever done before: a 300% improvement.
And when it all came down to it, I won the online contest. All that the participants had to do was comment on their stupid post.