Getting comfortable in my own skin

My swim set yesterday revolved around sprints. I had to sets of 10 each of 50 yards, 75 yards then 25 yards. That’s a lot of sprints for me (and for the record, I stated to die in those 75 yard sprints) but I knew it was about knocking one set off at a time, not getting ahead of myself, not worrying about the time aside from keeping track of my 20 seconds of rest in between each sprint.

During one of my rest intervals in my 50-yard sprints, an older gentleman in the lane over started to make a comment to me. He had a thick European accent and it took me a minute before I could realize what he was saying:”You could faster,” were the words out of his mouth as he pointed to his watch.

I tried to crack a smile, but it was difficult, trying to catch my breathe, keep track of 20 seconds and remember how many 50-yard sprints I had already done.

“I probably could go faster,” I replied, being both truthful and sarcastic at the same time.

“I was only teasing,” he said.

I laughed. At least on the inside.

And here it was. Yet another lesson in perspective. Thank you, universe.

In my world, I was just plodding along but to this gentleman, I was swimming fast. In my world, my boyfriend’s worst run is my dream run. In my world, I still sometimes wonder if I can call myself an “athlete” since others in a similar situation of athletic ability tend to not view themselves this way.

My world clearly needed a good summer cleaning, because too often, I’m looking at the clutter.

It’s part of what we create when we start using external measures to judge ourselves. Heck, it’s what we create when we judge ourselves period, let alone nitpicking over what measurement to use. On any given scale, someone will be “better” than you and someone will be “worse” than you. But if you’re participating only to move up and down in that perceived category, the process will lose joy and success, as you’ve determined it to be, will be difficult to obtain if you get there at all.

Need an example? How about the recent story on Olympic swimmer Amanda Beard which appeared recently in the New York Times? Beard was the face of American swimming since she was 14, yet she reveals in the article that those years were filled with anger, depression and self-injury. “Swimming was like my escape, but it was also like this huge prison because I felt like I had to swim up to people’s standards,” she said in the article.

Beard found success despite her focus on other people, but she did not find joy.

Sure, Beard had an amazing swimming career, but at what cost to her?

What’s the point of the gold medals and the international acclaim if you can’t be happy in your own skin?

It wouldn’t surprise me if Beard would trade in one of her medals for a few more years of peace and happiness. Maybe not. Sometimes we need to go through the pain to learn the life lesson, to appreciate where we are now.

In her work with athletes of all levels, sports psychologist Dr. JoAnn Dahlkoetter has examined traits that develop mental toughness. The first one on self-direction seems to be the most basic, the key ingredient, to starting and maintaining one’s enthusiasm for pretty much any goal, athletic or otherwise:

“The goals must be ones that you have chosen because that’s exactly what you want to be doing. Ask yourself, what keeps you training? Who are doing it for?”

What keeps me training? An excellent question to ponder on today’s long bike ride.

Who am I doing this for? That’s easy. I’m doing it for me and slowly giving up the habit of trying to justify, to myself or to others, my passions and my dreams.

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