Striving for Perfection

There is an old Estonian saying, “Once we get going, we can’t be stopped,” and the same could be said of me, in any endeavor. I love traveling, and once I get traveling, I just want to keep on going, every few days a new hotel, a new city, more planes, trains, buses, boats, cable cars. When I get home I am disappointed. I don’t know what to do with myself until the glow wears thin.

Eating is the same for me, that insatiable appetite. Bring me a salad, bring me a main course, and dessert, and a few more drinks. Ah, yes, drinking, now that’s a real disaster. One beer leads to another. By early morning, I don’t want to remember, though I always do.

Some say I lack self discipline, and I have to say that I agree, 100 percent. But I don’t want to be this person. I dream of the perfect, balanced week, a week of measured consumption and regular exercise. I think we all dream of such a life, for this is the modern ideal, the image of what is the perfect person of our era.

Maybe for our grandparents the ideal person wore certain clothes and lived in a certain neighborhood and had a nice car, but we’ve taken it a step further, the ideal person of 2012 is so much more than clothes or possessions, he is everything, always working and yet always enjoying life to its fullest, always consuming delicious and exotic foods and beverages, and yet — most of all — always physically fit.

Here I am reminded of our dear friend Kaja who runs marketing for a telecommunications company, has six children, goes mountain climbing, and is remodeling her apartment in her spare time. Or our neighbor Janek, who manages a beverage company, goes on business sojourns to Japan, and makes sure to run around Viljandi Lake at every opportunity, even when it’s minus 30 degrees Celsius outside, because Janek is smart, he has special clothes for running in Arctic temperatures, and special shoes for running on ice. This modern woman won’t let work or home life keep her off mountain tops. This modern man will not let mere weather get in the way of his quest to fulfill his ideals.

I am jealous of people like Kaja and Janek and all the others who are in better shape than me. I tell myself that they are older, and that one day I might wake up and start running every day, eat only healthy foods, enjoy a good drink or two but know when to stop, work like a machine, read my children to sleep, surprise my wife with something romantic, and smile all the time, as any ideal person does, because regular exercise does wonders for the find and so the ideal person is always happy.

But, alas, I am not there yet. I lack the self discipline to see the project of “me” through, to master all elements of being an ideal modern human being, including getting in shape. While Kaja repels off of mountains and Janek charges up another hill, I am trying to convince myself to not eat that very delicious piece of pepperoni pizza, to not log in to my time-sucking Facebook account and instead go out for a jog, though I never find the time.

Years ago the English band Radiohead included a track on their seminal album O.K. Computer where a modulated electronic voice recited the words, “Fitter, happier, more productive, comfortable, not drinking too much, regular exercise at the gym (3 days a week), getting on better with colleagues at work …” Singer Thom Yorke called it the most depressing thing he had ever written, but I saw it as a satire of us, modern adults, and our ideal images of who we should be, happy people who work hard and then take off for luxurious holidays, where we can refresh our tans and take wonderful photos of our bodies in the sun to show everyone at home just how fit and perfect we are.

It’s easy to be a mocker, and I am, but I also accept that without some ideal vision of who I should be, I would probably still be living with my parents. Early on in life, I developed my own idea of who the ideal person was, largely pieced together from my father’s stories and books and Hollywood films. My ideal person was some kind of hybrid of an action hero and an artist, taking off for remote areas of the world where he got into memorable adventures and perhaps fell for a love interest before spinning the tales into fiction.

These ideals got me this far but, unfortunately, when I was developing my ideal self, I left out a few things. I forgot to code in moderation, and, especially, moderate, regular exercise, something I now yearn for, but never seem to find the self discipline to attain. Like a lot of people, I see other people doing it every day, but can’t find the will to just wake up and do it myself.

Here, I wonder about my friends Kaja and Janek. Maybe they were different. Maybe when they were children, they had different visions of who they would become. Maybe little Kaja had fantasies of mountain climbing. Or perhaps young Janek looked wistfully at the lake on extremely cold days, and dreamed of the day when he would run around it. But young Justin was too busy stuffing his face with pizza and watching Indiana Jones movies and now he can’t manage to do what millions of other people do every day: get out of bed early and go for a run.

So now, later in life, I have to reprogram myself to fulfill these new ideals, so that I too can be “fitter, happier and more productive.”  And it’s not just a matter of going down and running around the lake, because you know I’ll wear the wrong shoes and overdo it (like everything else) and hurt myself in the process. No, I am going to need to do some research into proper foot attire and training methods, how many minutes to do it every day, what kind of terrain is most suitable for beginners. I’ve got to tackle this thing the way an ideal person would.

My friend in Belfast who is a runner says that it makes sense to go to a special shop where running shoes will be selected by a computer based on the shape of my foot and the way that I run. So, it’s going to take some time. But, sooner or later, I am sure that my new ideal will be fulfilled —  albeit it a moderate, perfect, 2012 kind of way. So watch your backs Janek and Kaja. Soon enough —   I hope — I will be right behind you.

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