Sweat poured down my face as I leaned back with my hands over my head into a backward bend. I listened to the yoga teacher’s instructions.
“Hold it, way back, fall back, more back, push back…”
My whole body was shaking, and I felt a mix of exhaustion and rage. When we finally came back to standing position and I looked in the mirror, I could see my entire face red from a combination of intense exercise, a hot room and a serious lack of exercise for the last six months.
I also saw love handles spilling over my yoga pants, and my “I had two kids” tummy poking out.
The rage mounted. How had I gotten so far out of shape? Why didn’t I take more time to exercise while writing my book? Why had I insisted that I needed afternoon chocolate to make it through tough deadlines?
What I wanted, right there in that hot yoga room, was to wiggle my nose, I Dream of Jeanie style and to see the abs that I used to have at age 25. I wanted to be that lean, mean, fighting machine that I once was.
For many years, when I studied the Afro-Brazilian art of capoeira, I would train in class with mirrors and see rock-hard abs and biceps staring back at me. I took my superior fitness for granted, thinking that I would always be training martial arts at least 15 hours a week.
But life intervened. And kids. And more intense work. And my 40s. And I found, as have many of you, I imagine, that great fitness was no longer a given. It was something that would take a ton of hard work.
When I did get back to exercising after a long hiatus, my bar was set at immediately feeling like, and looking like, the person I used to be.
No wonder I was full of rage.
Getting Your Groove Back
Reaching a certain level of personal or business success takes a lot of focus, grit and hard work.
But now I believe that getting back to success once you have lost it is even harder. And here is why:
- If you used to have a heavy position, big salary and corner office and get laid off, you will judge your career prospects by how great things used to be.
- If your first book was a best-seller and your second one flopped, you will be wistful about the “good old days” and resentful of the failure of your second book.
- If you used to run a thriving business on the side of your day job, but now you have kids and find you cannot get anything done, you will long for the old, productive days.
- If you used to be the Big Person on Campus who everyone wanted to date, but now that you are divorced, you can’t get anyone to look at you sideways, you will yearn for your younger, suaver, sexier self.
This sure doesn’t make you feel very empowered, does it? Not to mention that it is totally and completely demoralizing to judge current success (or lack thereof) on past success.
So How to You Break the Pattern?
- Focus on the person you are now, and set your goals accordingly.Assess the resources, time and energy you have available to you today. What are clear, realistic goals you can set for yourself that will be challenging without being overwhelming? What are the strengths you have gained in your years of experience that you can use in new and interesting ways?
What would a healthy, active, rested, 47-year old engaged mother look like? Probably not the same as a 25-year old with few responsibilities besides working out.
- Retrace the pattern of how you got successful in the first place.
When I had rock-hard abs and glutes so strong they could crush walnuts, I trained at least 10 classes a week. I did thousands of sit ups and push ups per week. So if I want to get in shape again, I know that I need to carve out serious time to train. I work best in group classes with a team spirit, so I will likely never get back in shape if I rely on getting myself to the gym for a solitary workout (which is why I am going to start taking Brazilian Jiujitsu classes, in addition to yoga).If you were extremely successful early in your career and find yourself looking for a job now, remember the qualities that made you great. Were you a hard worker? A problem solver? Did you have a great boss who brought out your best qualities, or stellar peers?
Lean on the creative practices and patterns that created your success in the past. They will help shape your future success.
- Focus on the body of work you want to create, and whom you care about serving.
What great things do you want to bring into the world? Whom do you really want to help?Your career success is directly linked to how well you can serve the needs of others.
You are more likely to get a great job, or great new clients, if you put your energy into finding out the very specific concerns of potential employers or customers. Don’t worry about how great things used to be, focus on the people you can help and problems you can solve today.
As 64-year old swimmer Diana Nyad showed us this weekend, we have endless capacity to come back from disappointment and accomplish amazing things.
The only thing holding you back from future success is your unwillingness to let go of past failures.
Let them go. We are waiting for your great work.