My dirty fitness secret: exercise, dedication, and showing up

I’ll save you the click – I don’t actually love working out. At. All. So… wait, what? How does that work? The answer may surprise you.

I have a confession to make.

At this point in my life, I exercise for at least an hour of vigorous intensity every single day, on top of general daily movement. Weight lifting, HIITs, calisthenics, kickboxing, cardio, resistance, cycling, leg day, body weight, pushups, crunches, you name it. Tough exercise designed to get my heart pumping, build muscle, and get stronger and leaner.

And because I’m trying to fit this huge time commitment around a schedule that often includes morning obligations (like attending events, speaking at conferences, traveling, or long term contract work in an office) I am more often than not setting an alarm to be up before the sun. Sometimes long before the sun, even if it wasn’t currently the middle of winter. Early enough that I sometimes need to lean a little heavily on my pre-workout supplements to give me that extra push.And I do this every single day.

That isn’t my confession though. Heck, you’ve probably seen me post about it on social media somewhere. My dirty secret, the one you would never guess to be true, and the one I so desperately need to admit to you all, is this:

I don’t love to work out.

Nearly every morning, I wake up trying to talk myself out of it. Stay in bed where it’s warm, snuggle, read a book, stare at the internet, or just start into my day and not go through all the exhausting motions. I really, really don’t want to do it. I’m not a morning person, I’m not a workout person, and I’m certainly not a morning workout person. The very idea seems awful and insurmountable and exhausting. And every single time (barring serious illness)… I do it anyway.

But… what? Why? How in the heck can I be so dedicated to a thing I don’t even love? Why would I get up so early and push myself so hard if it’s not because I have an inherent desire to get sweaty and jump/lift/grunt/punch/kick before anyone else is even awake?

If you’re entrepreneurially inclined, you’ve probably encountered this phrase more than once on your career journey: “Do what you love, and you’ll never work another day in your life.” It’s a lovely platitude that sounds very aspirational – who wouldn’t want to feel like their life is 100% fun? But, especially for those of us who are fortunate to work in a field of our choosing, we know that’s not even remotely true.

It doesn’t matter how much you love what you do, some days are just going to suck. Maybe it’s a bunch of tedious tasks, or an angry client, or an update causing a breaking change, or scope creep, or doing billing, or an emergency, or a cancellation. Whatever it is, no matter how passionate you are about your work, there are plenty of days where it just feels like… work. Where you don’t want to jump out of bed and get down to business. Where the job doesn’t “spark joy” or “enrich your soul” or whatever it is doing what you love is supposed to do for your life.

But we don’t just stop doing the work because it feels like work. We recognize that work, even rewarding and fulfilling work, will bring stressors and tedium and challenges. We know that work is not play. We do the work not (just) out of love, but out of a desire to achieve a certain set of goals we have built for ourselves. And in order to achieve our goals, we have to satisfy a series of obligations:

  • To our clients: meeting deadlines, delivering quality, solving problems, adding value, etc.
  • To our families: paying the bills, providing for the household, saving for the future, being there when you’re needed, etc.
  • To our communities: contributing to causes or groups we find meaningful, giving back and paying forward, etc.
  • To ourselves: continuing our education, working with integrity, seeking balance, etc.

This means we can’t just sit around waiting for inspiration to strike, or to be in the “right mood” to get things done. And it also means there is nothing wrong with us if we don’t always love what we do. In fact, it’s normal. Where we succeed is when we continue to do the work anyway.

That doesn’t mean that things always go the way we intend. Sometimes, we take on more than we can handle, or unforeseen circumstances blow our plans up in our face, and we must learn to be kind to ourselves when we need to pull back, turn something down, hand something off, or take a break. But we aren’t saying no because we don’t “love” it, we are saying no because we also have obligations to ourselves.

If I could, I would change that famous quote about doing what you love. I think a more accurate saying would be, “Do what aligns with your values, and you’ll have a good reason to keep going when the going gets tough.”

I choose to be dedicated to my exercise routine despite my near total lack of love for the act because I have goals for myself, things that I value. My desire to achieve these goals means that I show up anyway, even if it’s not pretty, even if it’s not perfect. I’m thrilled when I finish a workout, even if I am not excited to get started. I am proud when I unlock new achievements and achieve personal records in strength, stamina, and endurance, but also proud if I manage any kind of purposeful movement on a day where I didn’t even want to get out of bed.

And yeah, maybe I get a little bit of a kick out of transforming myself into the athletic person I never was, too.

Why are you working out? How do you get through the days when you just don’t want to do it? And how are you kind to yourself when you have reached a limit?

One Response to “My dirty fitness secret: exercise, dedication, and showing up”

  1. Tara Claeys

    Well said, Michelle. About 20 years ago I started running and over the years have been committed to almost daily exercise. I usually take one day off , but never more than one in a row. I just finished the book Atomic Habits by Hames Clear and one of his tenets is to never break a good habit for more than one day in a row or you are then starting a new (probably not good) habit. Even if it is only for 5 minutes, get to the gym and do the best you can for that 5 minutes. Just show up. Kudos for doing this solo. I have found that being accountable when I know others are showing up and waiting for me gets me out of bed at 5 am!


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