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Last Saturday I had to work the part time job that pays my bills. Those jobs I was meant for. . . that I was so good I could do anything. . . I had counted my cover letters. Fifteen. Maybe a third of them had resulted in interviews. I paused at the front door on the sleepy downtown street. A car door slammed behind me.

“That girl doesn’t back down from a challenge,” the trainer’s words from another day clattered in after me. There was no turning around, just forward, always forward. The Saturday before I had skipped the 8:30 class thinking a break might turn my attitude around. A week later, I was at the gym again on a just warm enough spring morning, but I didn’t feel better. I stepped inside and held the door open for the person walking in behind me. No going back.

“We’re going to play a dice game,” the instructor said.

I saw the list of exercises on the white board and the number the dice had to total for the roll to determine which exercise was next. I scanned the list of exercises and immediately identified the one I didn’t want. The one that would take too long because the reps were too high. The one that would make my arms tired even though it was my legs that were supposed to be working.

The instructor read down the list, “9. Thirty squats.” That was the one.

“Thirty? That’s high,” I said.

“Well, I was going to change some of the numbers after the last time I did this, but the other trainer told me not to.”

“Having lots of choices= control over your life,” writes Simmons.*

My glance over my shoulder said, “Why?”

My lips said, “I should stop coming on Saturday.”

“Oh come one,” was the response.

It was true. One less day at the gym couldn’t fix my general emotional slant any more than attending classes at the gym had in the first place.

“Be amazing at everything you do,” reflects Simmons.

“Forty minutes,” the instructor said. She extended her hand with the dice rolling app on the tablet to the first participant.

Skaters. Mountain climbers. High knees. Push ups.

“9. Thirty squats.”

“What you accomplish matters more than what you learn,” cautions Simmons.

I lifted the 44 lb. bell. Okay. Just once. I finished my thirty squats last.

Jump rope. Skaters. Tac lunges. Snatches. Mountain climbers.

“9. Thirty squats.”

I looked at the 35 lb. bell. I lifted the 44 lb. bell again. It was my weight after all. Should I do less? I couldn’t do less. The rest of the group waited for me to finish.

“Everyone is doing, being, and succeeding more than you are” reminds Simmons.

Snatches. Tac lunges. High knees. Get up sit ups. Push ups.

“9. Thirty squats.”


“No,” I shook my head. “No.”

Impostor phenomenon

Should I put Simmons' book down?

No to being asked to complete something random just because it was the roll of the dice.

Lack of self-compassion

No to an exercise I had already done a million of during the past week.

Should I put the weight down?

Stress culture

No to mindless repetition.

“No,” I shook my head. “No.”

I stared at the floor.

I'm putting myself down.

“Being overwhelmed is the new normal.”

I froze in place.

“Stress is equated with worthiness and productivity.”

“Just do the squats,” she said.

“If you’re happy, it must mean you’re not working hard enough.”

“No,” I shook my head. “No.”

“Swings. I’ll do swings. It’s still legs.”

I clasped the bell. “It’s really having to hold the bell up that was so hard,” I said. Still, it was the weight of my words that I couldn’t hold.

“. . . a generation of girls who may look exceptional on paper but are often anxious and overwhelmed in life. . .” No matter how many achievements they accrue, they feel that they are not enough as they are.”

During class, I was never quite breathless, but my heart pounded at my decision. On the way out of class, I thanked the instructor and apologized for my outburst and my alteration of what all the gym quotes said was "my workout”.

“Don’t worry about it. I would have done the same thing.”

Would she? Maybe. Had she? Maybe. I hope so. I hope she would tell me if she did. The important question was why did I?

“If they once traded their real thoughts and feelings for relationships, they now trade close connections with peers for the pleasure of outperforming them. They give up their curiosity and authentic interests in exchange for narrowly drawn, external markers of success. They learn their achievements must seem effortless and self-generated, that needing help signifies incompetence, that peers are their competitors, and that success means stardom in every domain and at the highest level. . . Supergirl is the new baseline: to be any less is to be nothing at all.”

“Listen to your body,” was the mantra when any exercise became too much. Yet, following through with such a request was more impossible than the exercise itself. It rained all weekend. My dog didn’t stay out long. A post appeared on my Facebook feed that contained a clip of the workout. I saw myself grasping the kettlebell squatting. I had no idea my form had improved so much. For a moment, the distance between what I perceived and what reality made me proud.

Even without the extra squats, on Monday my butt was still sore. Maybe I wouldn’t go to the gym even though I paid for the class. It was a solution, but it was not related to my problem. So what was? Applying to the wrong jobs? Letting perceptions of what people who knew me when could think of me now?

“Why are girls struggling? Psychologists call it ‘role overload’—too many roles for a single individual to play—and ‘role conflict’—when the obligations of the roles you play are at odds with one another.”

Did I adjust or just accept? I had asked myself that question before. Where once I had so much to say in brief, calculated exchanges never quite done, I never listened. I never acknowledged the roles I played nor the ways they conflicted against each other. I returned to the gym on Monday. I didn’t hesitate, quickly slipping off pants and just a sweatshirt in the much improved weather. But one glance at the white board told me something else. “You can skip a day training. The world needs mediocre people too.” Nothing had changed here, but for me the subtext had.

After class tired, I drank my water to the bottom so that no drips leaked onto my shoes when the items nestled together in the plastic bag. If Simmons had rewritten her opinion that it was not lost voices but sore throats that threaten the messages we retell ourselves, so should I. Somehow the space between my sore muscles and the words on the page felt too tight.

“It is true that girls have never been more successful, but they have also never struggled more. Girl competence does not equal girl confidence. Nor does it equal happiness, resilience, or self-worth.”

Stretching one day after kickboxing weeks later, my trainer offered, “You know, someone complimented me on my hair and I wrote all this stuff about how I was lazy and then erased it. Wrote ‘thank you’ instead.”

I pushed back into my heels, but looked up from between my elbows. I supported no weight except my own body. I stretched forward. I reached. “You know. I have a book recommendation for you.” I reached out, because it did matter. It mattered that the next time I said, "No," she knew why, because now I knew, she would understand why.

* All words and ideas in italics are quoted from Enough As She Is: How to Help Girls Move Beyond Impossible Standards of Success to Live Healthy, Happy, and Fulfilling Lives by Rachel Simmons

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