Each time I am at the start line of a running race I feel a little tightening in my chest – a little nervousness that lets me know my competitive edge, although softened a bit, has not completely disappeared. This feeling reminds me where I came from and where I want to be. I share my story in hopes it will offer someone else a chance to let go and live in 2013.
It was a family-friendly holiday 5k race that meandered through the streets of a beautiful Midwestern neighborhood. It was a crisp, 42-degree morning which made for perfect running weather. The sun was quickly rising in the East causing the frost-coated grass to shine like a field of diamonds.
After a short sprint at the start of the race, my husband and I slowed to a comfortable, steady pace. For a brief moment the wind picked up and I regretted not wearing gloves. But after bending my frigid fingers a few times and taking in a long, deep breath, a warmth that could only come from gratitude spread throughout my body.
About a mile into the race, I noticed a small competitor (around age six or seven) eyeing me. With David Beckham hair, big brown eyes, and slick black athletic pants swishing at high speed, I couldn’t help but smile. Although he was approximately five strides ahead of me, he would periodically look back to see where I was. At one point, he slowed long enough that we ran side by side. I feared he was growing tired so I offered an encouraging word.
Either the boy was truly encouraged or he simply wanted to get away from the overly friendly lady in the turquoise cap—he suddenly burst ahead.
His temporary acceleration was short-lived, and I quickly found myself running along side him again. I threw out another compliment and told him how close he was to finishing.
As we neared the end of the race, I could see and hear my children and young nephew cheering from the corner. I noticed that not only did they share the same hair color, but they also shared the same disheveled look from a too-early departure time. As they stood in the morning sunshine their inherent beauty seemed more pronounced in this natural state.
Oblivious to the many runners who had passed before me, my 6-year-old called out, “Are you winning, Mama?”
As my feet hit the pavement in rhythmic succession, I considered her question.
If she meant was I noticing the beauty of the sunrise …
If she meant was I enjoying running along side my love of 15 years and exchanging fist bumps every now then …
If she meant was I encouraging a small child with a determined heart and legs that never ceased to tire …
If she meant was I swallowing delicious gulps of fresh air feeling grateful to be alive …
Then yes, my precious girl, your mama is winning.
But I must confess, I haven’t always regarded winning this way.
Like other well-intentioned members of our competitive society, I’ve always had a firm definition of winning. It was setting a record time, capturing the blue ribbon, taking a first place finish, being the “best.” And I, like so many, got caught up in the extrinsic rewards and public accolades that went along with grand achievements.
Never will I forget the days when I thought tasks must be accomplished with perfect accuracy and efficiency or they might as well not be done at all.
Never will I forget when I pushed myself to 110% output level despite the fact I practically had to kill myself to do it.
Never will I forget how a whole day could be ruined when one little thing on my master plan went awry …
Never will I forget when school projects had to be flawless … when kitchen counters had to be spotless … when the pursuit to get “one more thing” accomplished was endless.
Sadly, I might still be living such an unattainable existence today had it not been for the impact this approach to life was having on my children.
You see, all that pressure to be perfect couldn’t be contained inside my own lines. It often had the tendency to spill out and contaminate my children’s day, their perspective, their psyche, and their joyful little lives.
When I realized the underlying message that my children were hearing, absorbing, and internalizing was “You are not good enough,” I vowed to change. And little by little, I started to let go; I began to let things BE as they were and stopped trying to control everything. I found myself saying phrases like:
It was just an accident; we can clean it up.
I’d like to hear what YOU think about it.
I love to watch you play.
I love the person you are—exactly as you are.
And now here they stand today on a crowded street corner with messy bedheads and joyful smiles. They are kids who will dive off the blocks when they are ready, who wear mismatched socks every single day to school, who know how to disguise a mistake on their paper by transforming it into a heart. They are kids who shrug and say, “It doesn’t have to be perfect” and “I did my best.” They are kids who cheer their mom across the finish line celebrating her moment of ordinary achievement.
Ah yes, ordinary achievement.
It has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?
I’ve decided it’s my motto for 2013 – for myself and my family … and of course for you, if you’d like to adopt it.
2013: The Year of Ordinary Achievement
Capturing a sunset with my eyes …
Reaching out a loving hand to someone who needs encouragement …
Coveting precious pockets of time to spend with the people I love …
Expressing gratitude for life’s simple joys like fresh air, belly laughs, and worn-out treads on running shoes
Just think. If we were able to experience and savor these ordinary achievements, wouldn’t life be rich?
Wouldn’t our hearts be full?
Wouldn’t our time be well-spent?
Wouldn’t our inner doubts be silenced?
Let our self-worth not be based on the number on the scale but instead on the feeling of our body as it glides through the water.
Let our joy not be created by being in the highest reading group but instead by the story within the pages of a book.
Let our success not be based on the number of games won in a season but instead on the memories made and friendships created.
Let our beauty not be determined by our resemblance to a photo-shopped image but instead by our courage to have our own personal style and unique flair.
Let our value not be based on how much we have but how much we give.
Now that would certainly be a year of living “Hands Free,” wouldn’t it? To experience joy in the ordinary moments of life that are really quite miraculous when you stop and really think about them.
After the race, I found my pint-sized competitor. He was sucking down a bottled water while waiting for his family to finish.
I leaned in and said, “Thank you for keeping me going. You helped me finish that race today.”
Although he tried to keep his grin to a minimum, he simply couldn’t. And what I saw was the most beautiful smile I had ever laid eyes on. This precious boy, who was missing four teeth, confirmed everything I have come to believe about grasping what really matters in life.
Happiness trumps perfection every single time – if you just let go long enough to let it.
This post is not implying we should stop setting goals or maintaining standards of success for ourselves or our children.
What this post is advocating is this:
- Let us not sacrifice the joy of the journey by being solely focused on the end result or a specific outcome
- Let us not discount the small triumphs along the way to meeting our goals – particularly the triumphs that are invisible to the eye but felt in the heart
- Let us not allow perfection to steal our joy – sometimes the most meaningful life experiences come from the unplanned and the imperfect by simply letting things BE and evolve
A Year of Ordinary Achievement means letting go of societal standards of success and following your heart to find personal happiness and fulfillment.
There is life to be lived, my friends of The Hands Free Revolution. Is this your year to let go and live? Please share your thoughts. I love your company and your comments on this meaningful journey.
The A Year of Ordinary Achievement by Hands Free Mama, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.