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Are you a martyr for fitness?

I am not religious. I like the idea of spirituality and I love that many of my close friends are involved in their churches and get a lot out of their faith. I think that it’s a gift that many hold their faith so dearly. But personally, I have moved away from organized religion after being very involved with my Catholic Church growing up. I was brought up Catholic, attended an all-girls’ Catholic high school (yes, I wore a fairly hideous uniform, but having to wear no make-up was a bonus), went to church every Sunday, was a Sunday school teacher and a eucharistic minister. To say it was a big part of my adolescent life is an understatement. I think someone like me was pulled to it because it gave me something to believe in, a set of tenants to live by, something to hold onto in the midst of chaotic teenage years and something bigger than myself to ground me. I feel it was a very important time in my life for growth and it certainly helped me get through many tough times, such as school mates’ deaths (eerily, there were 4 during my senior year) and many blown-out-of-proportion teenage dramas :) But, looking back, it fits so well in my story because I think my whole life I have been looking for something, something bigger than myself to identify with.

Once I reached college, well…college happened, and it was on to the next thing. I didn’t identify with my high school persona all that much anymore and my new religion became studying and partying. You have all seen my very flattering sophomore year photo (i.e. gem), so you know the kind of damage I could do with some beer and pizza. Of course, I taught fitness classes and personal trained all through undergrad and loved it, even though I was hungover at many of my Sunday afternoon classes…but once I graduated, I got serious about fitness as a career.

Upon graduation, I became a fitness professional and fitness became my new religion. For those of you doing what I call “the fitness hustle” where you are personal training a zillion clients at day at a variety of gyms all over town trying to make ends meet, you know that fitness begins early in the morning and ends late at night with clients working out before and after work. My parents instilled the value of hard-work in me at an early age and long hours was not a problem. In fact, I secretly reveled in it, though I was often outwardly complaining. Working long hours, personal training up to 16 clients a day and running all over the place gave me a sense of purpose. I was up early, worked out, showered and training clients before many people even got out of bed, and it made me feel great. Productivity is extremely important to me but back then, the amount of self-worth I was deriving from ridiculous hours of personal training, teaching fitness classes like a mad woman and doing everything in between, was unhealthy. And even though I was doing it to myself, I used that ridiculous schedule as a way to garner affirmation and “poor Jill”s all over the place. Embarrassing to say now, but it was my way of earning respect and deriving self-worth. I was a martyr for fitness–doing it so that people would know I was up the earliest, at the gym longest, taught the most classes, did the most cardio, was the hardest worker on earth.  Nothing against hard work, in fact, it was and is still a huge value of mine, but the way in which it was manifesting for me was unhealthy.

I was a fitness zealot! lol :) It got even worse when I began competing, which gave me a whole new round of reasons to suffer (which is probably why at that point in my life I was drawn to it): “Look at me, I have to eat this cold chicken breast out of this tupperware at 6am–aren’t I such a disciplined, determined person?? Aren’t I the hardest worker you’ve ever known??” Looking back, it is embarrassing to admit, but the rigidness of the diet and training made me feel “better than.” Self-righteousness is the ugliest thing to me, and looking back and seeing it in myself makes me want to cry…but of course, going through a contest prep program really is something that not many people can do, it takes discipline, hard-work, sacrifice, determination (and a pinch of narcissism), all of which I had in spades, and proud of it!  And competitors SHOULD be proud, it is an incredible accomplishment and obviously, I still love the competition process, as we work with dozens of competitors at any one time. But for me, early on, I was doing it for the wrong reasons.

I wrote about this time in my life in a previous post about how I always thought doing more and going longer was worth more–it meant I was a tough cookie (which, of course I was!)–and it made everyone else lazy by comparison, no one else could keep up. But on the inside I was miserable–tired, bitter and annoyed (who wouldn’t be?). Once I *finally* moved to a “work smarter, not longer” model, I was finally able to relax and was a thousand times happier, even though there was a period of time when it didn’t feel quite right. I was unaccustomed to sleeping past 4:15am. Doesn’t it mean I’m lazy if I sleep to 7am? What about my clients…I have less now. Shouldn’t I take on an extra one if I have an extra hour in the day? Good forbid I have any free time!

But after an adjustment period (and actually having time to spend thinking about anything), I realized my Catholic sense of service and guilt was still with me, after all those years. Part of me still wanted to suffer for something. If I wasn’t bound by obligation and a sense of work ethic, what was I doing? What else could I offer? Could I feel worthy without having to be up the earliest? Could I still make a difference in people’s lives but set up boundaries too, so that I could be happier on the inside? Could I derive a sense of purpose from working smarter, not longer? Finally, I just decided, and the answer was yes. It has been a long road, but I am no longer a martyr for fitness. Some mornings I am up at 5am, other mornings it’s 8am, I am happy with either, makes no difference. My self-worth doesn’t depend on simply being the hardest worker in the world.

Now for you all who are up early, working crazy hours and doing it because you love the feeling of productivity and you need to provide, I applaud you!!! It is an amazingly powerful thing and should be congratulated!! For me, however, looking back, I was doing it for the wrong reasons. I was using it to “be above” and to garner affirmation and affection from others and in the process, was unable to give myself the win. When I was looking to others for affirmation, I could never get it, at least not enough of it. There was only so early I could get up or so many hours in the day to work. But when I can learn to give myself the affirmation I crave, I am able to relax and “just be” feeling whole right this second. No expectations, no where to be and nothing to do. Ahhhhh….

How about you? Are you a martyr for fitness? Are you a slave to your schedule? It doesn’t take a crammed schedule to be productive…it just takes working smarter and actually just deciding you are worthy, regardless of what time your alarm goes off :)

Related: Thoughts of a Reforming Victim

About the author

Jill Coleman

Permanent link to this article: http://jillfit.com/2011/10/14/martyr-fitness/

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