Recently, I was talking to a family member about my workout routine. I spoke about my desire to build strength by lifting free weights, coupled with my intense cardio regimen. I reflected candidly on my routine and my family member gently corrected some of my strategies. I met these corrections with disappointment; I had been working out frequently for years and through tiresome research, I’ve tried just about a hundred different ways to hit the gym. As frustration settled in my chest, a quote from the book Think Again by Adam Grant floated into my mind.
“Great joy can be found in being wrong.” I countered this thought with: Well, do I have to be wrong a thousand times over a span of years? Come on.
Shortly into our conversation I apologized for sounding defensive of my routine and he smiled and said:
“Think about this, what do you really want?”
I thought for a moment; “Hm, to be strong and tone?”
He shook his head, and said “No, don’t speak in generalities, what do you really want?”
I found myself stumped for a moment, which wasn’t really common for me considering the introspective maniac that I am. After a few moments passed I looked at him and said:
“I…I want control over my body. I want to be strong so I can use my body to carry me where I want to go in my life.” – Bingo. That was it; control.
The next day after that conversation, I was sore from yesterdays work out and suffered from lack of sleep. My depressive, self-attacking thoughts slithered in shortly into the day and I found myself pacing around until I summoned up the willpower to do some laundry.
As the day dragged on, I felt attacked by feelings of self-hate as I snacked on some unhealthy food, even though I recently vowed that I’d try to be better with my diet. Let’s just say I haven’t given myself much grace, and have nothing in my fridge as I wait for this new healthy meal program to ship out to me (I have to wait till Wednesday, God damn it all).
The negative thoughts continued to churn and I was getting close to calling it a day of defeat.
But then the question from yesterday came back into my mind: “What do you really want?”
With this question, I considered my flood of negative thoughts; all of them were related to not making the right choices to reach my goals? Goals? Nah, goals don’t last forever. You reach them and they fade away; you want to live your values, you want to live your virtues.
Live my values huh? – With that, even through my exhaustion, I threw on my work out clothes, folded my laundry, and proceeded to throw away any of the remaining unhealthy snacks I had in my cabinet (I don’t have enough self-control to not eat it if it’s in the house, it’s a waste, but a waste that’s worth it).
I pushed through my workout and immediately felt flushed with energy and self-appreciation. My willpower reached out to me and I took its hand, lifting myself out of the defeat I felt earlier.
When I returned home, I considered the question once again but applied it to all of who I am.
Mastery of self – the phrase rang in my mind, calling me to sit in front of this keyboard and write out this reflection. I want to master myself, and by master, I do not mean reach perfection nor do I mean that I want to reach a point where I no longer have to work on myself.
I want evolving mastery of self; I seek to know myself deeply in a way that I can understand all parts of my strengths and weaknesses and accept them.
Mastery of self is like earning a PhD for your mind and body, and then seeking to earn another one as information evolves and changes with time.
Mastery of self is embracing the challenging parts of who you are with courage, it is questioning your own perspective while always seeking to learn and know more. I have found that my thirst for knowledge has continued to deepen my perspective on the world as it has on myself; I actively read self-help, development, leadership, and human psychology books alongside my research I do for my master’s in Organizational Leadership. While I may not remember all that I read, certain lines like the quote from Adam Grant’s Think Again stick with me.
These sparks of knowledge that light up in my mind bring me closer to mastering myself. Each day is another chance to move closer to parts that you want to master. Whether that be reflecting on your style, your relationships, your talents, your diet, or your career, there will always be ways to consider how to master a small piece of yourself in each day.
I know, I know, “mastery” is an intimidating word and honestly, there are parts of yourself that you’ll have to master that aren’t so great. Every day, I try to take a step forward to mastering my anxiety. I know it’s a part of me and I have to respect that; while its inherently not a fun thing to have to deal with, I can work to understand it, thus helping me cope and further understand myself.
Self. The self is not perfect nor should it be. It is flawed and messy but also beautiful – to once again quote another scholar, Gareth Chick.
We wince when we think of weakness but don’t realize that our weaknesses can give us so much insight on our strengths and on who we are. Once you understand both sides of the coin, then you will have more control when you have to embrace either side.
So, as I continue to go about my days, I’m deeply hoping to hold onto this phrase.
“Is this action bringing you closer to mastering yourself?” I knew that writing this post would bring me closer to mastering myself, even though it has been quite a long time since I’ve written something like this.
This mastery can be self-kindness, it can be gentle and reassuring, or it can be ambitious and challenging. Both sides of this mastery are vital to becoming the person you want to be, imperfectly perfect, but always seeking to know yourself.