When I was home for the summer after my freshman year of college, there was a game show on television called “The Weakest Link.” Contestants took turns answering trivia questions, and the more questions they collectively answered correctly, the larger the pot of possible winnings grew. At the end of each round, competitors voted for the person they wanted to get rid of – the weakest link. My dad and I would take turns imitating Anne Robinson, the angry British host, saying to each other, “You ARE the weakest link!” I laugh when I remember how much fun we had with that silly line.
I wasn’t laughing this week as that line ran on continuous loop through my mind. Abby isn’t angry or British, there is no million dollar pot at stake, and none of the ladies have ever made me feel badly about myself. But I would be oblivious if I didn’t notice how much stronger and faster everyone else seems to be. There is embarrassingly little movement when I do push ups, I can only plank for a minute and a half, and it probably looks like I’m moving through molasses after about twenty minutes of running. I feel like the weakest link.
There could not be a more ideal environment for tackling the challenges of Body Back; I am surrounded by supportive, kind, and generous women and have been expertly guided to make significant progress toward my goals. However, as I get stronger, so does everyone else. Now I’m just a stronger weakest link. This is alternately motivating and disheartening. Part of me wants to lace up my sneakers and hop on the treadmill right now. But another part of me yearns to throw in the towel and dig into a pint of Ben & Jerry’s. Why put in so much effort when my best will never come close to being the best?
This isn’t a competition, but let’s be real: it sucks to be last. As I struggled to not fall too far behind the others as we made our way up yet another hill, I couldn’t stop thinking about so many of my students who are never at the head of the pack. Despite my efforts to celebrate their progress and focus on successes, we are stuck in a school system that constantly ranks and sorts children. There is always a weakest link – even if all the adults try to pretend that there isn’t. At least I get to choose when to work out and there is no one giving me a C+ because I didn’t do as well as the others. Most kids have to go to school seven hours a day, five days a week, nine months a year. And they get stars or points or letters every day. What must it feel like to wake up every morning and go to a place where you will continually be reminded that no matter how hard you try, your best isn’t as good as everyone else’s best? No well-intentioned teacher can completely mitigate the bite of coming in last.
Not only is my heart heavy thinking about the way our society has chosen to raise our children, but I’m also sad that competition seems to seep into virtually every area of life well beyond school. I think many of us have bought into the notion that we can find belonging, success, happiness, and even love through comparison and competition. Take The Bachelor. Despite the contestants’ insistence that they are “there for the right reasons,” no one is really surprised when the triumphant couple eventually breaks up. The show is based on a faulty a premise – a premise that so many of us, myself included, continue to buy into.
Now I know this is supposed to be the story of my journey to reach my mind, body, and nutrition goals and not a diatribe on competition and motivation. But I’m starting to realize that part of what is holding me back from becoming my best possible self is my tendency to constantly compare. I haven’t seriously considered training for a marathon because I can only think of how embarrassing it would be to finish last. I let myself become immobilized by writer’s block because I know I will never create something anywhere close to as beautiful as to what others have already published. I’m stingy with my affection for my sister because I fear that she likes our brother more anyway.
These thoughts bounced around my brain as I relaxed into a sticky blue mat at the end of Thursday’s workout. Worries about climbing that hill as quickly as the others faded away. I left everything I had out there during the workout. That is what matters. I am going to forget comparisons and stop fearing that I’m the weakest link. I am stronger than I was yesterday and I will be even stronger tomorrow.