A playlist (the one I titled “kick-ass cardio”) was the only thing that kept me going as I contemplated jumping off the treadmill a measly 20 minutes into my workout.
I was a full 40 minutes away from the goal I’d set when I walked in the gym that day. My lungs protested and my thighs rebelled as I rationalized quitting.
“I could do 10 more minutes, and then do an hour and a half tomorrow.”
Who was I kidding?
Just then, I looked two rows ahead of me, and there I saw the recumbent bikes. Two women stared at one of the bikes. They appeared to be sizing it up, much like a hiker would before a daunting climb. They looked at each other, then back at the bike, spoke a few words, and took deep breaths in unison.
The woman on the left stood there, her hands on her hips as she stared down the machine. The other woman—her face even more intense—was seated in a wheelchair. The woman who stood, squatted, reached around the other woman’s chest, wrapped her arms tight and clasped her hands, as she prepared to lift her companion from the wheelchair onto the bike.
The woman in the chair reached up and around her friend, fingers interlocked behind her neck. I could not hear their private exchange, but I could read the lips of the woman who was squatting:
“One. Two. Three.”
My heart pumped harder and I felt my pulse in my jaw, not because of the intensity of the incline or speed, but out of concern for those two women. Women I did not know, yet my heart recognized them and their pain. I tried not to stare, but I was captivated, cheering silently as the woman with the disability worked to find a position on the bike seat that felt right, and as her companion placed her feet on the pedals, snug within the stirrups.
In that moment, the deep burn in my lungs and my legs dissipated and I unwittingly held my breath as I watched that insanely brave woman try with all of her might to move the right pedal. I could see the focus and determination on her face as she called on neurons, muscles and joints to communicate and cooperate.
Beads of sweat glistened on her face and neck, wetting and catching her dark hair. Her legs jumped and twitched beyond her control, moving, but not in the way she wanted them to. Not in the way required to awaken the bike’s console. Her face reddened, perhaps from emotion and frustration and certainly from exertion. She tried a few more times.
She looked up at her companion and shrugged as a toothy grin spread over her face. “I tried,” she said as her eyes welled with tears. Once again, her friend reached down as she reached up, this time not for a lift, but a hug.
I felt ashamed of myself. My own eyes filled with tears. There I was able to walk, jog, run, bike, dance and yet I considered the easy road instead. Just because it felt hard in that moment.
How often do we choose the path of least resistance and as a result, miss the true purpose for our lives?
When we do that we shortchange ourselves and other people. To quit when times get rough is to deny the very reasons our souls are here, in their current forms.
I know this all too well.
I have hurt others; stunted my own growth; ended good relationships; started bad relationships; ignored blessings; and generally screwed up many things, many times over the years for no other reason than that things got difficult and felt uncomfortable.
I did not have the emotional muscle to power through those experiences. I didn’t realize that on the other side of those hills lived joy, peace, purpose and love.
I now know this to be true.
While this knowledge doesn’t protect me from more difficult times that are sure to come, it is some of the best personal training available as I prepare for them. Pain is a necessary part of life. But, thankfully, it is not even close to being all there is to it.
The truth is you can quit or you can grow. Neither option is painless, but only one, growth, leads to your purpose.
Rather than focus on what is uncomfortable in this moment, pay greater attention to the blessings, gifts and opportunities you have to create good in your life and in the world.
Be grateful for what you have and leave a lasting, positive impact on others in the process.
The next time you want to quit something that is good for you and necessary for your journey, think of even just one thing for which you are grateful and, for perspective, of the people who would love to be right where you are.
Create a kick-ass playlist of gratitude and encouraging people, thoughts and words to help you power through the rough parts and pay just as much attention to those things through the tranquil parts.
Stay the course.
Savor the pleasure.
Acknowledge and use the pain.
Those are building blocks of growth and possibility. They are the byproducts of the journey to your highest purpose and proof of all that matters in life.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Apprentice Editor: Brandie Smith/Editor: Rachel Nussbaum