I remember the first day of 6th grade. Not the whole day. I remember standing at the doorway to my first class (English), about 40 minutes before it began, staring at the empty desks lit only by the fluorescents spilling in from the hallway. I remember recognizing that I was at a kind of crossroads. The world was now a bigger place. It was going to ask more of me than ever before. I developed strategies for how to be successful. I would fall short of them all.
For many years I thought about where I would go if I could go back in time and start over. Where was the point it all started to go wrong? This was the moment I would have picked.
Then the same thing happened again in high school, college, the first five years out of college, grad school, and the first two or three years after grad school.
Skip to my 18th birthday. In an attempt to find guidance I got myself a subscription to Men’s Health magazine. After a year of rephrasing the same handful of articles (Make More Money, Lose That Gut, Fun Times While Naked) I cancelled that subscription, but not before I saw the following in an article regarding getting into shape:
“What’s stopping you? You may say, ’But in two years, I’ll be 40!’ Look, in two years you’ll be 40 no matter what. The question is: what kind of 40-year-old would you like to be?”
I remember thinking that it was okay to slack off just about anything in life as long as I got it together by 40. It’s an arbitrary deadline set upon a round number, and I understand that. It’s the same mind frame as when I get out of bed in the morning; it has to be when the time ends in a 5 or a 0, but 15 is better than 10 or 20, 30 is better than 25. It’s a way of negotiating with myself that it’s okay to postpone.
It’s not okay, though. It’s bullshit. Approaching a task with an attitude that it’s okay to push it back is NOT helpful. It’s worse when, instead of a singular task, it’s about making a permanent lifestyle change.
I do it anyway.
One year ago today I started trying to get a head start on my Two Years to Forty. It wasn’t a Monday, the first day of any given month, or my favorite arbitrary-self-improvement-start-date: my birthday. It was simply Day 1. My goal was never really about the result. My goal was about making the change to my lifestyle and keeping track of how those results played out. Most of all I’d hoped that by the time my birthday came around I’d have made so much headway that I’d be an unstoppable improvement machine.
Maybe I was trying too hard. Certainly I was drinking too much. By publicizing my journey every day I found myself the recipient of a LOT of advice (none of it solicited, much of it contradictory). Instead of losing weight, I was gaining it. My mood soured, my health got worse, and five months after I began my resolve finally broke, and I quit trying altogether. I decided to take some time to clear my head and regroup.
Then I turned 38. My Two Years to Forty had begun, and I was behind.
I found a measure of success with my summer job. Thanks to a close friend recommending I join him for the World Naked Bike Ride (so many butts!) I found myself the proud owner of a new bicycle. I started riding it to work every day – twelve miles, which took me an hour. Then I’d work on my feet for six to eight hours in the summer sun before riding back home. I’d get home too exhausted to do much drinking. My lunch was either chicken broth or a Clif Bar. I lost 30 pounds in about two months.
So far I’ve kept that weight off, but the progress has stalled since August. It’s been nearly three months since I dropped the weight, and I can even feel some pudge trying to creep back on.
No more. Enough.
Three days ago was my second wedding anniversary. Through a series of merry miscommunications I joined my Lady Love for an 8:30am Halloween-themed spin class she had originally intended to skip. Pedaling through a hangover, in the dark, music thumping loud enough to vibrate my core, hair hanging in my face, beads of sweat chasing each other down my arms to pool at my feet, I had a thought: I could be super-human if I wanted to. I found it odd, but empowering.
So now I’m going to start the same daily ritual I started one year ago today, only this time, I’m not going so public with it. No daily photos. Not indulging so much in habits I know are harmful. I’m tired of looking back and seeing myself make choices I know are the wrong ones. I’d rather look back at moments like this one and recognize them as those first moments I started to do something right.
This is Day One.
“There must have been a moment, at the beginning, where we could have said no. But somehow we missed it. Well, we’ll know better next time.”