Ok, let it be said: I HATE PEOPLE TELLING ME WHAT TO DO.
I hate being corrected.
I hate being observed.
I hate being criticized.
All of which makes me wonder why on God’s great Earth I chose to move to Italy, and to Rome, a place where being told what to do, being corrected, being observed and being criticized, or at least being a party to everyone’s opinion about everything to do with you, is freely expressed ALL THE TIME.
Cultural? Partly, I think. There is, I believe, an American cultural tendency to want to tell people to mind their own effing business. “Who asked you?” and “We do it ourselves.” That whole independence thing.
Personality? Yes, definitely. I was raised in an environment of perfectionism and judgement that probably bordered on pathological. Not that I’m saying it was anything bad, in and of itself, but I’m sure that having felt under the microscope most of the time in my upbringing, and being an overachiever and a subsequent type A perfectionist, all definitely shaped my (in)ability to accept constructive criticism and be open to being told I’m not doing it right.
Usually when I go to the gym early in the morning, there’s no trainer. So I’ve been basically teaching myself how to lift weights, by learning things from books and online, and very rarely being observed by my own coach. I suppose this has led to some false sense of security that I knew what I was doing.
Today, Sunday, is a day I almost never go to the gym, but I had a sitter and decided to go and get a workout in since I probably won’t have time tomorrow.
I had written up a plan that turned out to be like a skinny, hungry person at an all-you-can-eat buffet. They load up their plate with a million delicious-looking things, and find they can’t even eat half of it. At that point, you either throw the food away or make some meager attempts to hide the fact that your eyes were bigger than your stomach.
Um, yeah, so, that was me at the gym today.
I realized, once again, that my journey in the weight room, without trying to sound too philosophical, is often a microcosm of my journey in life in general.
I started doing this one exercise that I really love because it’s badass and you get to fling a dumbbell over your head. I’ve become kind of obsessed with the idea that I want to keep increasing my weight and I ended up getting in literally over my head.
The trainer was staring me down, watching me. I felt totally observed. He had already given me an earful about how the barbell I chose for my barbell squats was “too heavy” for me because it was for adding a ton of weight plates. I didn’t know that. I just chose it because it was the one that was there. I didn’t know why there were so many notches on it. It seemed kind of weird but I just went with it.
No one has ever really taught me anything about anything at the gym. Most of the trainers are idiots who don’t do anything so I’ve always ignored them and they’ve ignored me. Like so many things in my life that I’ve accomplished, I taught myself and just worked my ass off and studied harder than the average person until I mastered it. That’s always been my M.O. for everything, because I have a really, really hard time asking for help. I’m like the typical man who never asks for directions. That is so me. I’ll wander for an hour before I admit that I have no idea where I’m going.
So I look over, and I go, “You’re making me feel observed.”
And he comes over and tells me how my form is all wrong, and who taught me this exercise, and why am I even doing it, and what muscles am I trying to build, and I was like a deer caught in the headlights. He was pushing ALL of my buttons. Putting me on the spot, making me feel criticized, telling me what to do, making me feel judged and inadequate. Holy crap man, I was speechless, which for me is RARE. ARGH.
So instead of being HUMBLE and being like, yeah, I admit it, I’ve done most of this myself and tried to teach myself things, and I’m the kind of person who rushes into things and doesn’t have patience for slow progress, and I’m probably trying to lift too much weight before I’m ready for it, etc. No. I just go on my merry way and change exercises.
Then he comes back over to criticize me again. “You know, when you’re doing those presses, you really shouldn’t let your elbows drop down so much.” Then he used some fancy words I don’t even understand to describe some muscular process and my eyes started to glaze over.
Actually what did I do? I moved to the OTHER SIDE of the weight room and started doing only body weight exercises. I started ripping out burpees, push ups, mountain climbers, planks. I went straight for what I know, for what I am sure I do with good form, for things I do well.
“Can’t criticize me on this, bastard!” I thought.
Meanwhile I took my headphones out and heard him talking to other guys and a woman on the other side of the weight room, about ME. WHAAA? “Yeah, that girl over there was trying to do presses on an incline, which is even harder than what you’re doing, blah blah blah” I don’t know what he was saying. But it was really annoying me. Annoying me that he thought he was a frickin know it all. He was butting into everyone’s workout, trying to give them tips, pointers, corrections, information.
And then I watched how the other people in the gym were reacting. A skinny boy who loaded too much weight on the lat pulldown machine? Trainer says, bluntly, “You’re too small for this much weight! Don’t do it full out! Just do it halfway until you build strength.” And the kid didn’t get offended. He just listened and did it differently.
Hot guy with fairly decent muscles working on dumbbell presses? Trainer: “I was watching you, and you weren’t doing it right. You need to do this, and that.” Guy listens, does another set, and trainer says, “See? That was great. You just improved your output 100%.” Then the guy not only ended up chatting with the trainer for a few minutes, he was open to letting the trainer show him a new exercise and admitting that he didn’t know much yet about weightlifting.
It is a very, very valuable quality both in the weight room, and in life.
I am sure that it was for my benefit that the trainer, having seen me beeline away from him as soon as he started trying to give me tips, kept repeating in a stage whisper to the others in the gym, “It’s not about how MUCH weight you’re lifting. It’s about good form. The weight will eventually increase, piano piano, but if you’re doing it all wrong from the beginning, you’re only going to end up hurting yourself.”
Thank you, super obnoxious trainer. You taught me a very valuable lesson today. Not being an expert is nothing to be ashamed of. Not doing things perfectly the first time is nothing to hide.
Being able to open up to others and accept their observations, their critiques, and above all their expertise, wisdom, life experience and knowledge, especially when they have more in an area in which you are lacking, is an authentic sign of strength.