I’ve had plenty of time and reason lately to think about things that have gone well in life, and things that have not. Plus my son Evan is aiming to do wonderful things with his company dedicated to helping people come to grips with their perceived failures in life.
My greatest challenge, and this is one I likely share with millions of people, is believing in myself. When you stop and consider what that means, it quickly starts to separate into all kinds of categories. There’s work. There’s family. And for those of us who run and ride and swim, there are all the extras that come with trying to believe in yourself in training, races and the outcomes of all that.
I’ve been through major ups and downs in life. Most people have. I admit to liking those signs in public places that say something like, “Be nice to people, you never know what they’re going through.” That’s so true. When my late wife was dealing with cancer we’d have people reach out to us and many would come to confess that they were facing a challenge too. They’d say, “I’ve got this thing going on, but it’s nothing compared to what you’re going through.”
We’d ask them about it and often, it would turn out to be something really significant. That would lead to a conversation and remarkably, the tables would sometimes turn. We’d often confer after those moments and respond with a “Who knew?”
The answer is often that nobody knows what you’re going through. And people that are critical without knowing the truth about what’s going on in your life? They have their own issues. Ignore them.
Think about things on your own terms. Some aspects of life seem too embarrassing to confess, while others involve too many elements to begin to describe. Health issues are especially difficult. Plus, when athletes get hurt or overtired, there’s an aspect of guilt or feeling like you’re stupid for winding up with an injury or illness. That can eat at your confidence and belief in yourself.
But here’s the truth: Not everything is “your fault.” We all get hurt. Feel pain. Lose confidence. Question ourselves.
For some people, it helps to have a coach or counselor to guide you through those rough periods. Having people around you that can encourage you through therapy or the healing needed to get back to normal are quite valuable. Yet when the wounds are psychological, and emotional pain is real, it can be hard to confess that you’re even suffering. That is a tough place to reside. Don’t do it all alone. Find someone who can (and will) listen.
I can think of one profound moment early in life when I should have spoken up about my mental health. I was a junior in college and the previous summer I’d had a really shitty summer job in a factory where the work environment was physically and emotionally abusive. As a kid growing up with anxiety and reaching adulthood, I didn’t know how to process all that I’d gone through that summer. Come fall in cross country my head was a bit fragile. I remained in the Top 7 but seldom had many breakthrough results.
Then came the conference meet and my mood somehow went completely dark. I’d experienced dark emotions before, but nothing like the emotional tank I found myself in at the starting line. That five-mile race felt like a living hell of negativity and abject disgust with myself. It took me over 28:00 to run a distance I had covered in the low 26:00 minute range that season.
The effects of that terrible run were devastating. Granted, it wasn’t an easy course to race on, and looking back, I don’t recall how my teammates reacted. We’d won the meet by many points so my results didn’t hurt us.
Then came nationals.
Somehow, out of some sense of ultimately determined self-belief, I ran as our fifth man at the national meet even though it was conducted in terribly cold conditions. I’d come through in the end. We placed eighth in the nation that year as a team.
That next year in cross country, I ran as our second man for much of the season, and placed as our fifth man at nationals where our team took second in the nation. I’d overcome the darkness to run in the light.
Those looking for evidence of how sports can toughen you for life need look no further than examples like these to realize that we can train ourselves for life’s difficulties by taking on athletic challenges. When we fall short in those endeavors, it teaches us to look within to find new––or different––sources of strength when needed. We can also turn to others for inspiration or motivation. We learn to believe in ourselves that way.
I’ll admit that I need some of that strength right now in life, as losses of several kinds grind at my generally positive nature. I do believe that I’ll come through in time, and many good things are happening. Because…I’ve come through before. I will do it again.
So when you need that motivation to “come back” from a loss of some kind, or a fear you need to overcome, it pays to look at how you’ve dealt with challenges in the past, and examine where you found that self-belief. Then stand up, take a deep breath, and put those muscles into action. The brain will often follow. Then they can start working together again.