Why are you doing that?
Another day at the gym and another few hours battling the discomfort and pain that is part of the spin bike, stair climber or interval runs on a steep hill at my local State Park. Hour after hour, day after day, month after month, this is what it takes to attempt one of the largest mountains in the Himalayan Range.
During a 2-3 hour workout, it is not unusual for people to stop and chat. Some of them are friends, others are strangers. The short conversations usually focus on the length of the workout – and how I might be less than mentally stable for engaging in these types of workouts. Occasionally, someone will ask, “Why do you do it?” Naturally, I have asked myself the same question. Why do I put myself through these regular, long workouts during the week and even longer ones on the weekends? I’ve reflected on this many times and it really comes down to the same two reasons.
First, I was brought up to do my best, whatever my endeavor. It was ingrained in me and expected of me – whether that was academics, team sports, individual sports or any kind of employment (including childhood jobs). I was not pressured into achieving success and certainly not to “be better” than anyone; “winning” in the traditional sense was nice, but never the objective. It was about learning and growing through challenges and successes. It was just what I was supposed to do, to better prepare me for life later on. And “later on” is always. This developed into a lifelong mindset that could not be abandoned at a certain age or level of achievement.
The second reason grew out of one of my very early mountaineering experiences. I was on a mountain far from home making a summit attempt in the middle of the night. My lungs gasped for air and my legs felt the burn of the thin atmosphere. My mind began to wander, following thoughts of other places – warmer ones, beaches, those more comfortable places and of course in between those images my mind kept wondering, “how much longer to the summit?” Slowly, I inched my way along on the ice, feeling that I was on the moon, rather than on a mountain. Hour after hour, I crept along, my mind racing as much as my heart, until I finally gave in to those voices telling me to forgo the summit and head down. I made it to base camp, fatigued, cold and hungry, and crawled into my tent for warmth and rest.
As the sun rose, I began to think back on my steps leading up to this mountain attempt and it occurred to me that I had probably not prepared for this endeavor enough, and I also knew that deep down I had quit before giving the mountain my best. And in this failure was my discovery of the second reason I now do what I do. The pain of failure was far worse than any pain or discomfort I felt on the mountain or in its preparation.
This pain of failure, the pain from the failure of not giving it my all – ran deep, lasted months and was more uncomfortable than anything I would have imagined. Even today, years later, when I think back upon that night, I still feel the twinge in my stomach and am reminded of the time I gave in to “the quitting conversation.” The pain from giving in and giving up is always worse and lasts much longer than any discomfort from the work needed to reach your goal. I guess that is why II do what I do…to avoid the pain that lasts a lifetime.