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When progress feels slow - and why that's perfectly okay

One mom's thoughts on productivity and pace... and why neither are critical for progress. CLICK TO READ THE FULL ARTICLE.

I started dancing when I was three years old, a little girl with a blond ponytail twirling around in tap shoes. When I was 11 I became a real ballerina, pointe shoes and everything. Six years of barre exercises, blisters and Nutcracker performances. Then finally a new love, ballroom. High heels, strong arms, and salsa moves. I made the high school team my senior year. So many years of doing something I loved - not to mention all the dancing in the living room to Disney songs and Faith Hill in between :)

During that time that dancing was such a big part of my life, did I ever appreciate what my legs could do? Balance, twirl, leap, point. Strong, stable muscles taking me gracefully across the dance floor. I think I did. But I know for sure I never appreciated enough the ability to do something as simple as walking. Yeah, as simple as walking. Hah! If only that were the case. Let me just say that lately, putting one foot in front of the other has been easier said than done.

And unfortunately this is round 2 of the “difficulty walking” drama. Four months ago, I came home from an unexpected hospital stay ready to recover and get on with my life, only to wake up the following morning unable to move my legs. For reasons unknown (a disorder from my past took the blame) my legs just stopped working.

It took a white knuckled grip on a walker and a lot of mental focus just to make my feet slowly scoot across the floor, inches at a time. Not exactly what I had in mind when I pictured being at home with my brand new baby.

Thankfully, nothing was permanent and I improved over the course of two weeks. We celebrated the day I walked to my baby’s room without my walker! Now here I am, four months later, struggling once again to walk with my own two feet. This time it’s just my right leg and the weakness even comes and goes.

I’m not leaving the house much but I can at least get around on my own and take care of my little ones. And my walker's kept it's place downstairs, unused, through most of this. There’s nothing like losing something to put things in perspective.

Even though I’m completely hopeful that I won’t be painfully hobbling around forever, I’ve caught myself thinking things like: I wish I’d made those family hikes happen, and I wish I’d gone on morning walks more often, and I’m glad I spent so many years dancing. These thoughts point to a very valid reminder: enjoy what you have, and make the most of what each moment offers. But that’s not really what has consumed my thoughts these past few weeks.

The real lesson of slow

(Besides my impatience of wanting to have answers and know what in the world is going on with my body!) I’ve been thinking a lot about pace. As in how quickly - or slowly, to be more accurate :) - my steps are walking from the living room to the kitchen and scaling the stairs up and down. And the pace at which I’m checking things off my to do list, progressing towards achieving a goal, and using each day to be a little better. And the big question that keeps rising to the surface: Can I be happy with my current pace?

I’m going as fast as I can right now (which is not very fast!) and most days I’m doing my best with the energy and ability I have right now (which is not what I’m used to). And even though that’s the truth, I still felt disappointed in myself when I barely got through my to-do list today.

Take care of my kids. Check.
Finally bring the full week’s worth of mail into the house. Check.
Fold the laundry that’s been sitting in the basket all week. Check.

Instead of feeling happy I accomplished what I absolutely needed to and had been going undone all week, it didn’t feel like enough. Even though it required 84 slow, awkward steps to get to the mailbox and back and 10 minutes of standing and balancing to get the laundry folded, I still felt like a lazy whimp. And so I’m reminding myself: Progress is not defined by productivity or pace. Understanding and honoring my limits is different from validating and hiding behind excuses. And “slow” rarely translates to “lazy.”

Progress... is enough

My progress on all fronts may feel sluggish in comparison to what progress looked like when I was healthy, but there’s no reason to not be content with the fact I’m making my way forward, regardless of how I’m putting one foot in front of the other. Whether it’s strong and fast in a sprint or careful and unsteady with the help of a walker, those steps not only take effort but are taking me forward. That’s progress. That’s enough. Less perfectionism, more self-compassion. Less guilt, more grace. One foot in front of the other. One step at a time.

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