Are You Stronger By Yourself?

Or how our love affair with independence sometimes holds us back

We love the myth of independence.

Heck, I LOVE independence itself. Total junkie. Open the pipe of “You can do it all by yourself!” and give me another toke. I am always smoking that shit.

But that doesn’t make it true.

Independence is a lovely, sexy, beautiful story we have bought without even having to be sold it. (But we have been sold it, by countless companies, politicians, movies, songs, etc.) America is built on the concept of independence. What’s not to love?

There is almost nothing I want to hear more than “I am the most powerful being.”

And the myth of independence feeds that to me repeatedly.

I don’t want to have to rely on anyone else, wait on anyone else, do anything else with anybody except at the time and place I want to do it. I am all fucking in on the concept that the world revolves around me.

And then I go to my new gym (more on that in another post – finding a new gym can be a scary experience!) and I back squat with a barbell after 18 months of dumbbell squats (thanks, pandemic) … and I find I’m weaker than I realized.

Significantly weaker. I used to warm up with 95lbs. Now? I’m working UP to 5 x 95 lbs.

Holy heck. My 200lb back squat PR feels like it happened not just a million years ago but also to another person and her name was definitely not Lisbeth.

What Happened and What Does This Have to Do With Independence?

See, while the pandemic was raging on and I was happily ensconced in my garage with my dumbbells, doing my Street Parking workouts, alone and without a rack, I was getting stronger in some ways (mentally, nutritionally, spiritually) but I was getting weaker in the back squat. That’s not Street Parking’s fault. It’s mine. (I was also sick during this time but wahhhh let’s not even count that stuff. I could have worked harder.)

The truth is that I neglected the back squat and overdosed myself on independence. I set my workouts at my time with my equipment and did what I wanted and that was that. Independent!

Your story might be similar. So many of us branched off on our own for safety during this time and we willingly fooled ourselves into believing we didn’t need gyms, we didn’t need trainers, we didn’t need programs, we didn’t need community, and we didn’t need no stinking badges. (Sorry, got a little carried away there.)

Do We Really Need Anybody Else?

And maybe some of us don’t need anybody else. Maybe some of us get stronger on our own. (Go, you!)

But it’s not me. Training solo in my garage, I got lighter but I’m not sure I got that much better at anything but conditioning, handling dumbbells, and working out in odd combinations of clothing. (Who was going to see that weird dress shirt and track pants combo? The dog?)

The hard truth is that I needed the squat rack of a gym to keep my back squat strength (or at least MUCH heavier dumbbells) but more importantly, I needed the community. I simply need other people around me. I need the onus of showing up to a space where others are doing the hard work, too.

Community makes me go harder and faster even if I don’t know a single soul there.


The Community Conundrum in a Pandemic Society

We are hard-wired as human beings to want to be with each other. It’s just part of who we are, buried deep in our DNA, for the purposes of survival.

We need each other like dogs need the park.

But, like I mentioned, we also in America have this love affair with freedom and independence.

And while I’d love to blame this pandemic for absolutely everything (“thanks, Pandemic, because of you I’m not an Olympic athlete”), the truth is that the pandemic forced us apart from each other for safety but we also willingly ran in that direction. So many of us want to believe that we can do it all alone.

But I’d caution that while you’re loving your independence, don’t fool yourself into thinking you’re stronger on your own because it may not be true. You might be weaker on your own, or slower, or less capable in the endurance realm. And I’m talking about more than just workouts here. I’m talking about relationships and life and all that other stuff. (Ugh. Can’t we just live in the gym? So much simpler.)

But, really, it’s okay to say we need:

  • other people

  • competition

  • a squat rack

  • a gym

  • anything.

Needs Are Not Weaknesses

We get caught in this concept that needs are weaknesses and it’s far from the truth. A need is simply a desire, a want, something wished for.

You want something. You desire it. You wish for it.

Why is that a big deal?

Now, I say this as a Yankee, a member of perhaps the most stoic of all American subcultures. And I’m an Ennegram 8: I would rather eat my arm than reveal a weakness. But I had to learn to get over that nonsense or life was just going to continue to be a long hard ride. Hanging onto my discomfort over admitting my needs was like peddling an electric bike uphill. Sure, I can do it … but why would I want to do that all the time? Sometimes you could use a little help. And admitting your needs doesn’t mean sacrificing your independence.

Independence Or Interdependence?

I guess what I’m trying to say is that if you’re stubborn like me, maybe it’s time to take a step back and assess where you are.

Ask yourself some questions:

  • Am I good where I am?

  • Am I growing?

  • Am I getting stronger in the ways I want to get stronger?

  • Am I just treading water?

  • Am I getting weaker?

Don’t panic when you answer these questions. Sometimes we’re at a point in life where we’re just treading water and maintaining ourselves. That’s okay. But if you find yourself getting weaker and you don’t want that, do something different.

For me, that meant joining a gym again (where everyone is vaccinated, we all wear masks, and the windows are open) and rebuilding my back squat and my strength. (I’ll keep my pocket gym at home for quick SP workouts or if the pandemic signficantly worsens in my area.)

For you, it might mean something different. But let’s make sure we’re both doing one similar thing: being honest and following a plan that works for each of us. And let’s remember that, as much as we want to deny it, we need each other and it’s okay to admit that need.

Now excuse me as I go limp up the stairs. Those back squats are a gift that keeps on giving.

Heads up! I’ll be speaking (virtually) on mindset on Sept 26th at the Feisty Menopause Summit. This three-day summit is geared towards performance-minded women who want “the information you need for optimal health and performance during the menopause transition and beyond–along with a feisty community to go along with it.” You can save $20 on your registration by using this special link.