“Do you ever wish you could turn back time?” I remember casually asking a friend one day. I was thinking about when I first started lifting and when many things seemed simpler, when progress was a straight line from Point A to Point B, and when I had fewer questions and more certainty about certain things.
I was wistfully remembering when things seemed easier. Wishing myself back to being 38 or 39. Back when I didn’t have the first inkling of what challenges, disasters, triumphs and lessons lay ahead and was blissfully unaware of how little I knew.
“What, and have started lifting sooner?”
“Sooner?” I asked.
“Yeah, do you wish you had started when you were younger, like in your twenties.”
That was not the response I was expecting. I hadn’t been considering going that far back. And that fact alone is what really got me thinking.
I get asked that a lot, actually, asked if I regret not starting sooner, begrudge getting older. I’m asked if I find that the road ahead looks scary, pessimistic, and like a bleak downward spiral. “At what point do you think you’ll start getting weaker?” is a common one. There's an implied futility in it, one that I have had to learn to shuck off without a glance.
And the answer is pretty straightforward. No, I actually don’t wish that I had started sooner and I’m grateful for the assets I have as a mature lifter. I think they make me stronger. Getting older isn’t something I consider to be a bad thing because as I get older I see my life becoming increasingly richer in quality. And as for scary or bleak…. that’s a choice of how one sees something. Getting under a new one rep max could be scary. Or it could be an exciting challenge. Fighting to put more weight on the bar over the next decade or two doesn't scare me in the slightest. Deciding not to fight.... I think that would destroy me.
We're all getting older.
That's not a fear, it's a fact.
I have decided that that fact is not one that I'm going to worry about.
I would be lying if I said it hadn’t whisked through my mind as a “what-if” the odd time (especially when I’m trying to sort out recovery and feeling a bit beat up and I wonder if twenty-somethings hurt that bad after a similar workout), but do I actually wish that I could go back and rewrite my twenties to include lifting? No. I don't think I would have been a better lifter if I had started younger. In fact, it quite possibly might have been the reverse. Had I started when younger, I’m not sure I would have appreciated the opportunity or been as wise about my approach.
Before I lifted, I was many things. I still am many things. I was an academic. I was an artist, craftsperson and photographer. I was an administrative assistant in a law office. I was/am a mother. I was/am a wife. I was a runner and a running coach. I was a student. I was a tourism guide and worked as a program developer for municipal tourism.
From those parts of my life I learned some extremely important lessons.
From academia I learn the value of research and sticking with a large project to see it through.
I learned languages and how to look at different cultures and perspectives.
I learned to teach. I learned to write. I learned to listen.
From marriage and parenthood I learned the importance of trust and teamwork and investing in something that is far bigger than one person alone.
And with John I have learned the value of true and lifelong friendship.
As an artist I learned the incredibly important lesson that things have to get messy before they get beautiful. You have to wade through the muck.
I also discovered when making an art piece that hard work isn’t always linear; life, like art, has a mind of its own and takes twists that you don’t expect. Recognizing those as gifts and not disasters lets you see an outcome that exceeds your initial expectations.
When I ran I discovered the joy of physically pitting myself against a personal challenge and coaching gave me a way to share that joy and make it bigger.
Photography taught me the value of an image to shape thought and also the importance of both shadows and light in photographs and life.
Tourism taught me that people will see many things, some of which you never intended but are equally valid interpretations. It reminds me that there are many angles to a situation and to look twice.
Working in a law office taught me that while office work is a wonderful career for some, it’s not for me; I learned that pursuing someone else’s dream has a price and that sometimes you choose between working where your heart pulls you and working at something else for a salary so that you can DO in your spare time what your heart calls you to.
All of these lessons, all of the things I have been, make me the person I am now and the person who walked into the gym a few years ago to become a lifter. The years of my life spent in other ways have given me the tools to study lifting, learn as a lifter, be patient as a lifter, overcome challenges as a lifter, and to say with unequivocal certainty that I have many years yet of getting stronger ahead of me.
Plus I don’t have a body that has been torn up by a decade or more of kamikaze training.
I am massively stronger now in my forties than I was in my twenties or thirties, both physically and mentally.
There are other gifts that come with age.
As you get older, blocks of time are seen differently in your head; they change in their relative size. Where once upon a time a week seemed like an eternity, it now flies by. A training cycle is a short time invested, so your willingness to try new ideas grows.
You understand the value of time committed to a pursuit and you know from absolute experience that there are no real shortcuts in life; you have to do the work.
You learn to protect the anchors in your life, to use them to stabilize each other, and to not let any of them sink into the sand too deeply at the expense of the others.
You see that time passes whether you use it well or not and you become more careful with how you invest your energy and effort. You learn to say “no” without apology and you learn that when you say “yes,” it works far better if it’s with your whole heart.
Somewhere along the line you also understand that you are accountable to no one but yourself for your life’s choices and the fucks that you give about the opinions of others diminish greatly.
You get better at doing YOU. You learn to not do what works for someone else, but to discover painstakingly what makes YOU stronger. And you do that without apology.
Often as you get a bit older you also have a life established; you have an established career, family, circle of friends, and/or a home in some way. Those anchors make training more possible as you have money, support and a place to live. You also have a much stronger sense of self.
I’ve been many things and still am. But one of the things I have never been is regretful of what I have done with my life.
Will I get older? Yes.
Will I get stronger? All of my life.
But that’s not just about weight on the bar, is it?