Privilege and the “hard work and consistency” narrative

“24 years and I’ve only missed 4 workouts,” stated someone on one of the lifting forums I frequent, alongside some transformation photos showing him going from a small kid to a beefy, veiny specimen of humanity. Honestly, he looked great. And I kept thinking, “wow, imagine a life that allowed me to only skip 4 workouts.”

I don’t discount the personal dedication and hard work involved in keeping up that kind of training streak. But I’m not going to celebrate it.

I don’t celebrate when someone who makes six figures consistently pays their bills on time for a decade. I don’t celebrate when someone who’s never had any major health issues comes back with “good labs” from the doctor year after year. It doesn’t mean that those events aren’t worthwhile, but I do question to what degree they represent a personal accomplishment.

I’ve had six major surgeries in the last twenty years. Know what takes dedication? Stepping back into the gym to do something, anything, after losing 20 pounds of muscle while bed-ridden for the last two months. Know whose consistency blows my mind? The lifter who gets treated subtly and repeatedly like they don’t belong and they still continue to show up and do their thing day after day, week after week.

This conversation is the heart of understanding personal privilege. Saying someone had more advantages than another person doesn’t discount their struggles, but it does put them into necessary perspective. Race, poverty, gender, disability/ability, health and mental health–these factors can pile on more barriers for some people than for others. We can celebrate the accomplishments of someone while also recognizing that they represent, at least in part, a measure of the personal privilege of that person.

We need to ask ourselves, what has this person overcome in order to achieve this result? We must measure them up against themselves and from where they’ve come, not against a preset, rigid standard.

So yes, celebrate the amazing feats of personal accomplishment in all their forms–the excellence achieved by a few, but also the daily actions of courage, persistence, determination, and grit represented by everyday people willing to get up after being pushed down over and over again.

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