I can tell you the first time I didn’t know an answer on a test. I was asked to estimate the number of students in my school, and I couldn’t decide if it was closer to 500 or 600. I was five.
I can tell you the first time I cried about a grade. I missed a spelling word on my spelling pre-test. I was six.
I can tell you the first time I got a “bad” grade (I got a check on a scale of check minus, check, and check plus). I was seven.
I am, at best, mildly compulsive about doing my best. I am, at worst, a perfectionist. Perfectionism is a weakness, because a drive for perfection cultivates a fear of failure; the fear of failure is a limiting factor for success because it prevents you from taking advantages of opportunities when you may not succeed.
Enter the importance of athletics in my life. I am so proud of being a student athlete. Sure, some NCAA athletes have been under fire for various controversies (UNC scandal, anyone?), but I still love the NCAA commercials that feature student athletes balancing vocations outside of athletics. I think these athletes would pretty unanimously say that athletic participation shaped their careers, even when they “went pro in something other than sports”.
Hence I reach an important way in which athletics have positively impacted my life; sports have taught me that failure happens. Because in sports, failure is inevitable and frequent. I’m not necessarily talking about catastrophic failures here. I’m talking about those times that you try to hit a risky shot and just barely miss it and those times that you miss your target pace in a workout by two seconds. Every failure is a learning experience – did you need a little more topspin to make that shot successful or to pace your 1600 a little more evenly to hit the time? One of my favorite trainer ride YouTube videos is this Nike commercial with Michael Jordan
Athletics, ripe with opportunities for failure, can be a stressful place for a perfectionist, until she realizes that you don’t have to be perfect to be a success. Slowly but surely, athletics teaches a perfectionist that she has to take the risk of stretching herself beyond her abilities in order to learn, grow, and advance, and that lesson is critically important not only in sports but in life.
Thus we arrive at the 2014 Richmond Half Marathon. In mid-June, I had to put training on hold to tend to my injured ear. On July 15th, I did my first post-injury run. I ran ten minutes. My next run was scheduled to be 15 minutes, and I only made it ten. My training in August was spotty at best with my move and my coach transition. So when I started with Kyle on September 1st, ten weeks before the half marathon, having not done a hard or long run in at least ten weeks, I felt confident that the race was well beyond my capabilities. I was afraid of entering the race and failing. And, in at least some sense, I did fail. I stayed on pace for eight miles but failed to hit my goal pace for the last five miles. I failed to PR despite making some very serious fitness gains in the last two months. But if I had let my early fear of failure from training for and competing in the race, I would have missed the opportunity to feel that starting line rush, to feel the excitement of competing again, and to feel that burning race day desire to work harder and get stronger in every single workout as I head into a dark, cold winter training block. Don’t look up my time in the half marathon. It’s not important. I wasn’t perfect, but I didn’t need to be. I needed to race again. And that, I did. Successfully.
Special thanks to Kyle, Samone, Lindsay, and my entire training family at Endorphin Fitness. You have made this recovery process considerably more enjoyable.