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In early 2022, I took one of the big­gest leaps of my life: I went back to school. I enrolled in a yearlong fiction-writing program, during which I would be expected to conceive and complete a novel. Never mind that I’d never written any fiction before. I was ready to stretch beyond my comfort zone and, with the blessing of my colleagues at Experience Life and Life Time, I dived in.

At first, I was excited. Words flowed out of me and a story began to take shape.

Then I was terrified. The words were flowing, but were they any good? Was the story idea compelling enough to warrant a whole book? Was I a good enough writer to be the one writing it?

And there, the rub that’s rubbed me raw my whole life: that question, Am I good enough?

I’ve long battled with feelings of worthiness and good-enough-ness, which I’ve come to understand are engines for perfectionism. Logically, I know that striving to be perfect only gets in the way of progress. Yet the excitement and fear of trying something new often triggers a deep-seated need to be the best, to be perfect.

Mercifully, my brilliant instructor intervened. I share his wisdom here because the foundational principles of making progress are universal — including when it comes to fitness.

You don’t have to be the best to be successful. My teacher ­explained that he isn’t a successful novelist because he’s the best writer, or even because he has the best story ideas. He’s successful because he is committed to writing consistently — and, as a result, actually gets the work done.

Being hampered by pressure to write the next War and Peace prevents many writers from ever starting, let alone finishing, their work. But the consistency and work ethic inherent in a daily writing practice make up for any perceived lack in talent.

Milestones are great, but they’re not the only achievements worth honoring.

As an avid exerciser and fitness coach, I’ve seen this play out. The desire to be instantly good at an exercise, activity, or sport can be demotivating and exhausting and a huge deterrent to progress. If you’ve ever given up on an activity or workout program because you didn’t see instant results or immediate improvements, you know how defeating this attitude can be.

Meanwhile, the times when I’ve committed to moving consistently are the times when I’ve made the most notable and sustainable progress.

You will get better over time. My teacher told us that the last 20,000 words we write will be better than the first 20,000 words — that when we go back to read our completed first drafts, the earliest pages and chapters will pale in comparison to the latter ones. That’s because of the power of practice. Every word, every sentence is practice. And practice over time — especially when combined with coaching — yields progress.

I think of all the times I’ve been a beginner in fitness. My first time trying indoor cycling, picking up a barbell, taking a dance class. All of these activities were uncomfortable and awkward for me at first, but I stuck with them. Over time, the discomfort faded. With every rep and step, I grew fitter, stronger, more agile. Perhaps even more important, I grew confident in my ability to make progress.

Revel in the small moments of accomplishment. You don’t have to wait till you’ve published a book, set a record in weightlifting, or achieved any other big goal to ­celebrate. It can be encouraging to attune to the small wins and take a moment to pause and feel proud.

Milestones are great, but they’re not the only achievements worth honoring.

These bits of wisdom don’t answer the question Am I good enough? But they do serve as a reminder that my hang-ups about being “good” and “enough” are irrelevant to what’s truly important to me: I’m here (here in my writing, here at the gym, here in life) to learn and to grow. Whether I’m worthy of the experience has no bearing.

This article originally appeared as “Back to School, Back to Basics” in the September 2022 issue of Experience Life.

Maggie Fazeli Fard

Maggie Fazeli Fard, RKC, is an Experience Life senior editor.

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