Fear is the Cheapest Room in the House
“Fear is the Cheapest Room in the House, I would like to see you living in better conditions.”
They say that people use social media to only highlight the good parts about their lives and then we go comparing our darker moments to their light, or something along those lines. I know that they say it, but I think we forget it all the time. I’m not one to typically share any sort of emotion outside of my comfort zone: Happy, Sassy or Annoyed.
I wanted to just jot down some thoughts I had in a journal last week, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that this is kind of important. It’s not just important to athletes or aspiring athletes, but it’s kind of important to everybody. And maybe, just MAAAYBE if I just mustered up enough courage to share some of my struggles it might help someone else recognize their own and help to empower themselves. Because, empowering yourself is really something I’ve learned to be VITAL in approaching anything we want to accomplish in life. We can wish forever but we also have to go out and get it.
So, every now and then I have some amazing God moments, or moments of extreme clarity/my intuition speaks to me… whatever you recognize them as, I have had two kind of major ones recently.
This past weekend, doing a post-flight shakeout with my coach in Arizona for the Dessert Challenge Games, I was feeling GOOD and REAL EXCITED to perform the following day. After one drill, I heard a voice tell me
“I have EVERYTHING I need to be successful”
And, that’s completely true. Unfortunately, as far as this year goes, I’ve seemed to misplace that trust and understanding somewhere back in 2013. Because, let me tell you when race day came, I failed. And it hurt. It STILL hurts. I couldn’t even LOOK at my results until THREE DAYS LATER and I still am a little upset I didn’t wait longer.
The most recent revelatory moment I had before my pool session last Monday (because it snowed in Denver, not cool) was
“Stop letting yourself be convinced that everyone knows better than you!”
Wowza. And that one just kept repeating and repeating itself over and over. That’s when I knew, I needed to share something that you’re not supposed to share with people, and that is my failures. Because frankly, that little nugget of advice I kept hearing doesn’t JUST apply to ME nor my track career.
I think about my campers on the regular, and since we are all getting older it made me think of them in their times of choosing universities to attend, or whether they wanted to get married or have babies, whatever. I just remember my path with applying to school, visiting, thinking about sports; it just always seemed like everyone older than me had such great advice. So, obviously they are probably masters of the universe and know everything and I’m just a puny mortal that is bumbling along in the world trying to figure it out.
As I continued through my session, I had a few more thoughts develop.
When I was in Australia, I had to learn how to swim. YUP. Before then, I was like that scene in Garden State where Zac Braff tries to convince Natalie Portman he already knows how to.
The swimming coach at the Australian Institute of Sport said it very simply, “You are trying to use your survival instinct…” (I always thought the POINT of swimming was to not die, but I guess there are people who do it for sport, too…whatevs). I guess he could have elaborated a little more and clarify that I was using my survival instinct because I was afraid to fail. I am TOTALLY afraid to fail. Because failing sucks and winning rules, right??
In Taoism the main idea is “wu-wei” which I always loosely translated as “just go with the flow.” What the more grown-up version of me understands it as now is more like “Water is strong and a river is really powerful. If you try to push against the current it will always push you down. If you go with the flow, you can move faster and more efficiently.” No matter how big, strong and forceful you might feel, water is always stronger.
Other people who are successful in whatever aspect of their lives tend to forget, we all started off small.
Hell, I forget it all the time. When I first started cheerleading in the 7th grade, I couldn’t do a toe touch. NOPE. Sure couldn’t. I didn’t even know how to APPROACH doing one. When I tried out for my high school team, I mustered up enough courage, or how I actually felt, just kind of dealt with not knowing how and instead like did this weird, crooked hybrid attempt of a jump and a kick thing and just stuck with it.
Something that I will always be so grateful for sport in my life, was when I wasn’t even PICKED to play basketball at recess in the 5th grade (at least I wasn’t picked last, I guess…) was that I KNEW I could play JUST as good as all the other kids, regardless of my leg situation. I KNEW when I went into cheer try outs for our high school competition squad that I could figure it all out. I knew it would also probably take more time and start out looking a little weird, but I knew I could do it!
I’d like to continue by explaining some differences I’m going through this year from previous times in my athletic career.
Right now, a difference between the infancy in my cheer career and the infancy of my track career is:
I am afraid to look stupid.
That could probably also be reiterated as “I am afraid to fail.”
Looking stupid really sucks, especially when you want to be successful at something. It’s really easy to spot out when everyone else around you is afraid of failure. When I was working in clinical offices with Ottobock, I could see when a user was afraid to fail using a new knee. The want was there, but you could see when someone wouldn’t even ATTEMPT to put their full body weight through a prosthetic, much less go down an entire flight of stairs. It’s totally scary. When I look in the mirror though, I don’t want to accept that I’m just plain ol’ scared. I wanted someone else to fix it for me. Someone else HAS GOT to have the answer. Sports psychs, nutritionists, coaches, sports med, other athletes… whatever, someone HAS to have the secret recipe. (And trust me, I’ve been looking ALL OVER)
Let me tell you, Kung Fu Panda was spot on when it professed “there is no secret recipe.”
Confidence and trust only exist in the absence of fear, NOT the absence of failure.
I have a new coach and a new training group this year. They are absolutely the cheese to my macaroni and I am so so thankful to have them in my life. They consist of elite level sprinters (in the totally-conventional, able-bodied circuit) and they know what it’s like to make it to the big arenas.
Right now, a difference between my squad mates and me:
Them: They KNOW that they know exactly what they need to do in a track meet to perform at their best.
Me: I AM MOST OF THE TIME PRETTY SURE, I THINK, that I know exactly what I need to do in a track meet to perform at my best.
Once again, this “confidence and fear” contrast is showing up in my performances. It’s not a crime to look stupid, I do it on a daily basis. I thought maybe I could blame it on my training group being SERIOUSLY cute. That’s not the case.
The first week I started working with them I tripped into a GIANT pile of packing popcorn (which we are still cry-laughing about, yet have never discussed WHY there was such a big pile of packing popcorn on the track in the first place.)
In training I know I cannot fail because it’s just training. Competition is a completely different story.
A difference between my thoughts from last year before the gun goes off:
Last year: I would go into every track meet with the same easy-going attitude, looking at each race as a glorified practice and another opportunity to reflect on what needs to be worked on. Right before going into the blocks, I would be overwhelmed with a huge wave of gratitude not only to be living the experiences I had, but also that my body had even allowed me to move and continue moving in a way that earned me this place. It was always just such a happy and exciting moment for me.
This year: “I need to do well. I need to focus. My legs need to do that, I need to remember to drive out, I need to push harder out of the blocks….”
This year, I was told I needed to take track more serious. And, you know what, I thought for a long time that maybe they’re right. As a contracted athlete, I owe it to more people than just myself. But when I really think about the person I am, what has made me successful in the past was my pure, unaltered enthusiasm.
I wasn’t running for everyone else, I did it because I loved the way it made me feel. I won’t lie, the final at 2013 World Championships in Lyon was like going back in time and feeling like a 5-year-old on Christmas morning. I could barely sit still I was so excited to go out there and show off the work I had done to get me there.
This year, after heeding the advice of WAY too many professionals, I’ve approached my performances in this weird, noncommittal hypothetical manner. Like, “I’ll get the times I need once I do X.” And this is something I noticed that WE ALL tend to do to ourselves in a completely unrelated-to-sport-kind-of-way.
“I’ll wear that little bikini at the pool once I’m thin enough.”
“I’ll be in a relationship once I’m strong enough.”
“I’ll know what I should major in once I’m smart enough.”
“I’ll know when I should quit my job once I’m financially stable enough.”
The home girl, Brene Browne, has some incredible TEDtalks on vulnerability and shame. (If you have a spare 20 minutes, I suggest you go on YouTube and watch them in that order). She explains the two phases of shame as us telling ourselves we will never be good enough, then if and when we succeed, we go ahead and ask ourselves in a horrible condescending way “who do you think you are?!”
Now, I’m no mathematician, but I can add and subtract a few things. Where do I think shame comes from? Fear. Fear of failure.
Let me apologize now because I have been using the term “failure” VERY loosely. What it should read is “letting ourselves be vulnerable.” I have assumed for most of my life that being vulnerable only counted with interactions between people. That’s not exclusively true. Every time we make a decision in life, we have to be vulnerable for the outcome. That’s even scarier than letting someone see you at your weak points. That’s letting LIFE see you at your weak points. At least, for me it is, because then you made yourself vulnerable not only to your choices, but essentially, to yourself.
Being vulnerable has absolutely nothing to do with weak vs. strong, uncertainty vs. trust. Trust, confidence, bravery, courage, strength, ALL of those things can exist in vulnerability. But they cannot live inside of fear.
Fear of failure is kind of like the chupacrabra in sport, it doesn’t really exist…but if we believe everyone’s stories it can be REALLY scary. So from today on, I’m not going to live in fear anymore, it’s the cheapest room in the house.