In 1962 President John F. Kennedy declared that before the decade ended, we would land a man on the moon. Specifically, the president’s words were “We choose to land a man on the moon, not because it is easy, but because it is hard”. Although JFK would not live to see it, his dream was realized on July 20th 1969, in the nick of time. His words were challenging and spurred on an amazing accomplishment. I found myself thinking about the true meaning of these words just the other day when I was at the gym of all places
The idea of something being unbelievably hard occurred to me as I attempted to complete just one “Push-up”, then one “squat”, and one “lunge” during my “Old ladies” personal training session. My stated goal is to gain upper body and “core” strength, and just to feel better and stronger. I thought this would be quite straightforward, but was totally unprepared for how friggin hard it would be…just plain physically painful and hard….not fun at all. My trainer for this project is easily half my age, but he is teaching me that developing a strong body is much the same as developing a strong mind, a courageous spirit, or a resilient emotional life. All of these endeavors take persistent practice, and incredible determination. The muscles get fatigued, my trainer tells me, but this is good because it encourages them to grow.
I think it is much the same with “pushing” ourselves in other areas of life. As a long time sufferer of anxiety, I know that, among other things, anxiety is a disorder of avoidance. What I mean by this is that, in order not to feel the anxiety, us anxious people will go to great lengths to avoid those things that will, or may, make us anxious. This explains how people develop persistent fears of flying for example, or leaving the house. It is, after all, just human nature to avoid these things if we can, in favor of safer and less risky things…like staying home, watching TV, or using substances like alcohol.
Insidiously, overcoming many anxieties means moving toward the exact thing that makes us afraid…much like me moving toward completing that “push-up” even though every fiber of my being is protesting loudly. Does it hurt? Absolutely!. It has been explained to me, though, that there cannot be any gain without the pain. The trick is to push just hard enough to get that gain without pushing so hard that injury results.
I like the fact that muscles grow best when the strength training is every other day, rather than every day. It seems to me that our psyche also needs periods of rest in between periods of pushing beyond our comfort zone. The periods of rest allow for integration and assimilation of new experiences at a slow and measured pace. Like the tortoise, slow and steady wins the race.
So, the way I see it, only one important question remains. What is the “walk on the moon” that you would like to accomplish?… My advice? Go for it, but don’t expect it to be easy. Choose it precisely because it is hard.