A few months ago, I came home to find my 13-year-old son upset because he could not complete the number of push-ups required in his P.E. class. He was frustrated, humiliated, and disappointed in himself.
"It's so embarrassing, Mom," he said, fighting back tears. "I just can't do it."
"Today," I told him. "You just can't do it TODAY."
That one sentence ignited a spark. My son began rising at 5 a.m. to do push-ups. He walked in the door from school and did push-ups. He did push-ups before he went to bed. Sure enough, his repetitions increased—and so did his confidence.
In the meantime, I was working toward my own goal—a century bike ride. One hundred miles in one day. It was a daunting challenge for this 45-year-old, who had begun riding just six months earlier. But I had been training hard, I'm physically fit, and I had recently completed an 82-mile ride at a pace I was proud of. Eighteen more would be a cinch—or so I thought.
The morning of the ride dawned. It was cloudy, gray, and humid, and I knew when I woke up that something was "off." I lacked my usual energy and focus. I couldn't find my pace. I couldn't get my breathing under control. My right hip cramped, and my left knee ached. My brain was desperately trying to hit override, but my body said, "Girl, you are DONE."
I slogged along, getting slower and slower. Everything hurt and my legs were screaming at me to stop, but I wouldn't—I couldn't. I kept at it, blinking back tears and gritting my teeth while dozens of riders passed me by. Riders who were 50 pounds heavier. Riders who were 20 years older. Riders who hadn't been training as long as I had—until eventually I found myself alone on a long stretch of road with just my inner critic for company—and she was a real bitch!
"Who do you think you are?" she said." You're too old to be doing this. Why don't you just quit already?"
Alternately cursing and crying, I completed 55 miles before I finally threw in the towel and admitted defeat. It was a long ride home, and when I got there, I burst into tears and told my waiting family, "I just couldn't do it."
At that point, my 13-year-old got up, wrapped his sore arms around me, and said, "Today, Mom. You just couldn't do it TODAY."
It was a turning point for me—a chance to find out if I am as resilient and strong as I think I am. To find out if I really believe that age is a number, and if I am willing to put my money where my mouth is when it comes to teaching my children to be kind not only to others—but to themselves. I am fond of saying that it is not our setbacks that define us but how we bounce back from those setbacks that determine who we are. My son had worked hard and had not only completed but exceeded his required number of push-ups. What was I made of?
I had a choice to make. I could wallow in self-pity, licking my wounds, or I could swallow my pride, assess the situation, listen to my body, get some rest, and try again. I decided to try again, and I completed my first century ride just four months later.
We all have that inner critic—but it is up to us whether to listen to her or whether to tell her to sit down and shut up. The only real failure comes when we let her win.