My family is planning a trip to Disney World later this year. In addition to pinching pennies and debating whether or not we should at any time wear matching t-shirts, we’ve also talked quite a bit about how much walking we’ll do.
After a year with a severely broken leg, my oldest daughter is still a bit out of shape. And after years of busy schedules and sedentary jobs, my husband and I are more than a bit out of shape. Though my youngest could probably run Mickey-shaped circles around us for 12 hours straight, the other three of us are far from ready to go on this trip.
So we pulled our treadmill into the living room.
My daughter — the one formerly of the broken leg? — has proven that she can walk for an hour straight. She’s slow, but steady, and she’s definitely ahead in our family’s race to Disney.
I am barely in the race at all, only able to walk for about 10 minutes before I’m crippled by back pain. It’s humiliating. And frustrating! This trip is probably a once-in-a-lifetime deal for us, and I don’t want to spend any of it miserable because I can’t handle the walking. So I’m determined to work my way up, no matter how slowly I’m having to start.
But, I thought, if there’s a simple way to ease my back pain and make this more bearable, that would be fantastic. So I Googled. And you know what the internet told me?
The best way to ease or eliminate back pain caused by simple walking is to lose weight. Lose weight! Why didn’t I think of that?!
Seriously? Thanks, internet. Like I don’t already know I need to lose weight! That’s why we got the treadmill in the first place! Good grief. INTERNET. Not a waking moment goes by when I am not aware of my need to lose weight. I THINK I KNOW MY LIFE, thankyouverymuch.
So, to recap: To lose weight, I should exercise (you know, like walking? the easiest of all exercises?). But to deal with the pain that exercise is causing, I should lose weight.
I just can’t win.
As I mentally berated the entire internet for not giving me an easy fix for my back pain, as well as for reminding me (AS IF I’D FORGOTTEN) that I need to lose weight, I remembered Captain Marvel.
It’s not a big leap. I actually saw Captain Marvel three times in the theater. In the span of four days.
I KNOW. It IS ridiculous. I’m aware, I am! But I went first with friends, then again with my husband when he said yes, actually he did want to see it, and our kids happened to be at their grandparents’. Then after hearing her parents rave about it, my oldest daughter said she wanted to see it, too. So when I took her to the orthodontist, bright and early on a Monday morning, for her second round of braces, I decided to be the fun mom for once in my life. And I took her to see the movie, too. Three times. Crazy.
Needless to say, I loved the movie. It was funny and exciting and nostalgic, and it did not beat around the bush with all of its messages. I loved the movie and after seeing it three times and thinking about it a good deal, I decided I loved Brie Larson in the role, too.
I wasn’t alone in that opinion, but some people had much different feelings about the whole thing. I read and heard many express their disappointment with Brie Larson’s portrayal of this superhero.
Some people said she was too feminine.
Some people said she wasn’t feminine enough.
Some people said she was too emotional.
Some people said she wasn’t — you guessed it — emotional enough.
She was too strong; she was too weak.
She was too loud or reactive; she was too quiet or reserved.
You get the picture. Like her character in many ways, Larson could just not win with some people.
But you know what? Brie Larson did an outstanding job as Carol Danvers and Captain Marvel! She is strong and smart and funny, and though she may not be the exact same type of woman I am (even before you add in the superpowers, I mean), that is 100% okay. No, it’s more than okay! It’s awesome! Because we should not all be held to some kind of Perfect Woman standard. Even superheroes will fall short of that foolishness.
By my standards, she was outstanding. By my definition of “winning,” she was a clear winner.
Still, criticism abounded. And it had to feel frustrating for Larson to read and hear some of the feedback on her performance and, in some cases, her personality. I imagine she must have felt a little bit like I did when I looked for tips on back pain when starting an exercise regimen — like she just couldn’t win. And yes, I do see the irony in comparing my issue to that of a woman literally playing a superhero with superpowers. But it’s not just in the case of my need for weight loss that I feel this mindblowingly frustrating feeling of, “I just can’t win.”
What woman hasn’t felt like she just can’t win when faced with all the impossible pressure we get from our families and our communities and, sometimes, ourselves? Who hasn’t felt the futility of trying to meet every expectation when they are not just so many, but also are competing?
Stay home. Go to work. Do both! Declutter your house. Keep all their art projects. Get a bigger house. Downsize everything! Work out, eat right, be healthy. Burn the candle at every end, pay off all the debt, don’t be selfish. Self care! Date nights! They only have 18 summers! Why did you get that degree anyway? How will you ever find a job now? You don’t volunteer? Huh. Did you fill out the form and change the laundry and schedule the appointment and finish the report and don’t forget to sign up for the 5K even though you are not a runner. Like, at all.
It’s a lot. And no matter what combination of impossible pressures and standards and expectations you’re faced with right now, I bet you know the feeling I’m talking about. I bet you’ve felt like Captain Marvel, Brie Larson, and me.
Am I right? Do you ever feel like you just can’t win? Like if you manage to meet every single one of your kids’ needs, you’re neglecting your husband? Or if you do the thing that everyone supposedly believes in and take time for some self care, then you just have to work that much harder to make up for whatever time you took “off”? Do you feel great about rocking your career or ministry or work or hobby one minute — but defeated again when you look at the parts of your life that aren’t going so well?
Do you feel like you just can’t win?
Here’s what you — and I — must remember: If we define “winning” as doing all the things perfectly, every single time, with no help and no exception, then no, we can’t win.
We can’t! You can’t, I can’t, and — believe it or not — even Captain Marvel can’t. Nobody can do everything. Nobody can do everything (or, HELLO, anything) perfectly all the time. And none of us can do it all, or even some of it, alone. It’s just not possible — even for superheroes like us.
So what we must remember is that we get to define “winning.” We get to decide what a win looks like — and then we get to change our minds as necessary. A win in this season might not be a win in the next. A win in one area might not be a win in another.
You get to choose. What does it look like to “win” at your life today? What makes you a winner in the world of parenting, marriage, friendship, family? How do you win at taking care of your home or creating something new? What does a winning career look like in this season? What would make your ministry a winner? You get to define your win.
Now, that’s not to say that we don’t ever have to deal with other people’s standards. Sometimes we can do the work of adjusting our expectations and redefining our wins, only run smack up against other people insisting that the bar remain high, so high it’s out of reach. And we have families who rely on us for meals and laundry and rides; we have bosses who demand we meet deadlines and quotas and sales goals. We have kids who want more, more, more of us; we have husbands who don’t understand the juggle and the pressure and reality of our lives. So does it even matter if we redefine “winning,” if other people aren’t going to do the same?
It does. I think it really does. Because even within the parameters of what we must do in order to fulfill our responsibilities and maintain good relationships, we can still choose how we do those things. We can sometimes choose when we do what needs to be done, and when help is available, we can choose to accept it.
So, if you’re feeling overwhelmed and frustrated and like you just can’t win, try changing your definition of a win. Remember that you get to choose. You get to choose and change and adjust and choose again. Only you can define your win.