Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A Lesson from the Shrubbery


Quick metaphor for fitness poeple out there with a poetical bent: when my wife and I bought our house in the spring of 2006, the back yard was an atrocity. Concrete covering 90% of the area, a gravelly, dirt-covered space on one end that the flyer had referred to as a "patio," the ugly side of a hideous fence separating our yard from the neighbor's.

It needed work.

So I spent an exhilerating weekend bashing up the concrete with a sledgehammer (my wife, whose general response to my physical exploits is indifference at best, actually got kind of fluttery watching me heave and sweat. And I was wearing safety goggles at the time, so I must have REALLY looked macho. It must have been a Kareem thing.) We laid down new turf. We had a real stone patio built. And we put up shrubs to mask the fence.

When the shrubs were put in, they were more like skinny trees with branches from top to bottom. Each one was like a newborn colt, barely able to stand on its own, so the contractor drove a six-foot stake into the ground next to each one and wrapped five or six tape rings at 12-inch intervals around each one.

Not having much of a green thumb, I kind of ignored the shrubs for a year or so, occasionally sprinkling them with a little water lest they parch in the blazing Southern California sun. I appreciated them, certainly--I liked the way they looked a lot better than the horrendous "Gates of Hell" fence that the previous owner had been lunatic enough to allow the neighbors to install, and I took measures to make sure the shrubs weren't turning brown. To my satisfaction, they grew about six inches apiece in their first year.

Then, about six weeks ago, my wife said, "Isn't it time we pulled up those stakes? I think they can stand on their own now."

I agreed, but waited about another two weeks to actually take the twenty minutes to DO the job (so that, you know, I could pretend it was MY idea.)

But here's the trippy part: in the month or so since I cut the tape of the shrubs and pulled up those stakes, those suckers have grown as much as eighteen inches apiece. I kid you not. And we're coming up on winter, here, folks, which even out here in SoCal means most plants are kind of taking it easy on the growth thing. But I'm telling you, once those shrubs were freed, they shot up like Jack's beanstalk.

So watch your heads, and get the metaphor abuse hotline on the phone, because here it comes: we're all shrubs, ladies and gentlemen, and after awhile, the very thing that starts out as a help to us often winds up holding us back.

Maybe you've been on the same workout program for two years. It stopped challenging you or yielding results after about six weeks, but you keep at it, vaguely thinking that those productive days will return, or that the new territory of a different program couldn't possibly work as well.

When I first started exercising, I stuck with the same program for literally eight years. I could recite it to you top to bottom, sets, reps, body part split (I know, I know...), exercises, sequence, rest periods. It wasn't that it was a bad program--I've returned to variations on the basic theme several times since then--but no program anywhere, designed by the most inventive, well-credentialed trainer in the world, will keep yielding optimal results for much longer than about two months (unless periodization is built in, of course). But I stayed taped to that stake-crutch for half of high school, all four years of college, and well into grad school--thus largely missing out on some of my most fruitful strength-and-fitness-gaining years--until at last I met a trainer who pointed out the myriad errors of my ways and set me on a path to liberation.

When I really started contemplating the full implications of my experience with the shrubs, I honed in on about a half-dozen habits, relationships, and behavior patterns that at one point in my life had served me but now were holding me back from serious growth. I imagine they're out there in droves in everyone's life. We're clinging to them, convinced we'll fall over without them, but in fact they're the very things that are keeping us from achieving our true potential.

Untape yourself from the stake-crutches of your life.

Here endeth the pop psychology lesson of the day.

1 comment:

Roland said...

Did you say shrubberies? -- King Arthur