You told me you looked up to me and I felt a sense of peace.
You see, I strive to train and race with integrity just like any tangible goal.
Your words felt like testament to that.
And, spoken in a moment of honesty, by someone who’s not just friend but also a former teammate and current competitor, carried much more meaning than you know.
When I needed help gearing up for one more day of seat-racing because I’d been so turned off by the “process,” you said, “get mad,” (mmm, you may have used other words), and reminded me that no one has the right to take away something that I’d worked so hard and come so far for.
You showed up Saturday completely fired up to race.
You gave me strength.
And some damn good rowing advice: “Just imagine someone’s face that you really don’t like on your footplate and then stomp on it!”
Piece of cake!
Know that I’d go to the line with you anytime.
When all was said and done, including one well-deserved breakfast out, a near fatal incident with kombucha, and ice cream at 10 a.m. (the best part of making weight is always the immediate aftermath!), you called your coach from my car and I listened to you question whether you’re doing the right thing.
Your tears reminded me of just how heart-wrenching this sport could be. I’ve seen it break open some of the strongest women I know. I’ve also seen every single one of them build themselves back up and continue on with their missions. This is one reason I love rowing—I get to be inspired by my very own friends and teammates every single day. Not many people can say that.
Your tears also answered your question.
I don’t know how your coach responded on the other end of the line, but I do know what you wanted, or should I say needed, to hear at the time.
Because I’ve asked myself that same question more times than I care to know.
The truth is that we all have.
We lose a big race or fall short of goal, and waves of self-doubt and uncertainty very suddenly and powerfully rush in.
Am I doing the right thing?
Have I made the right commitment?
Am I doing enough?
Am I doing too much?
Am I wasting my time?
Am I disappointing my coaches… friends… teammates… family… the myriad other people who support me?
Through rowing, we have chosen to test ourselves. We aim high and set big goals knowing that the path to achieving those goals means always asking for more… of our minds… our bodies… our souls.
Falling short is part of the process.
Self-doubt is part of the process.
Digging our heels in and rising above the fear and the doubt and the “failure” is also part of the process. In fact, it’s one of the things that make sport, in general, so great—because it’s in those moments, when we feel our lowest, that we get to see who we really are.
Allow me to share a quick secret, and then leave you with thoughts that can help with the doubt and the fear.
Secret: There is no “right thing!”
Earlier I said that I’ve asked myself that same question (Am I doing the right thing?), and I have—many, many times. But I’ve also come to realize that there is no “right” or “wrong” thing. We have the luxury of choosing how we want to live and what we want to pursue. Because of that, we have a responsibility to cultivate what we love and then use it to give the best of ourselves.
So, do it. Go out and do just that… embrace the work on the water, continue to cultivate the dream, have faith in the process and leave a positive mark at some point along the way. And please don’t wait for permission from coaches or parents or friends! It’s hard not to seek validation, I know. After all my years racing, and a whole lot of personal growth, I still catch myself looking for reassurance, approval and praise. Resist the urge by reminding yourself of what you want, why you want it, why you deserve it, and the progress you’ve made on the way.
As for the doubt, first, learn to separate results and success. Results matter. Outcomes matter. Of course they do. But there’s value in determining what’s going to make you feel accomplished in rowing separate from being the name at the top. Do this and then make your career your own. We can’t control the wins and the losses, or what our competition brings to the line. We can control what we bring to the line. We can also control how we train, how we respond to the good days and bad days at practice and in racing, and how we interact with our teammates, competitors, coaches and friends.
You will fall short of more goals. I will fall short of more goals. But if you can learn to separate your idea of success from the variables you cannot control, you’ll have a much easier time rebounding from setback and appreciating the steps taken forward. Promise.
Second, I want to share the words of the late Chris Moore, a self-described writer, recovering meathead and sports science research nerd, as well as host of the infamous Barbell Shrugged podcast, and creator and host of Barbell Buddha.
I love the calm in Chris’ voice and his honest way of presenting ideas. In an episode called Back to the Garden (about 20 minutes in), he tackles how to deal with self-doubt head on. He references a quote by Leo Tolstoy and says,
Always try to come back to something you love daily, and try to make it better—just a little bit better—a little bit more helpful, a little bit less heavy with mistakes, a little bit better focused… any small improvement coupled with the daily effort of just trying again is really the only remedy to the self-doubt thing.
Because you’re going to feel that… you’re going to want to be or do something and someone’s going to whisper in your ear that maybe it’s not possible and the only way you’re going to remedy that is to keep doing it, and to stoke and to cultivate within yourself, uh, faith for lack of a better word…
If you want to be a good coach, just keep coaching, man. If you want to be a good writer, find a way to write, even one sentence today… even one sentence, written as good as you could, will make that happen. And if you want to take on a business task—anything you might want to take on—keep up the daily faith and the daily effort. That’s how you will make that a real thing.
I can hear him now.
Lastly, let me remind you of what you told me: Get mad! And then get right back on it.
You are strong. Honest. Reliable. Determined. A worker. You have everything you need to make your goals a reality. Everything you need.
Believe in yourself.
Commit to the process.
And go out and get what you want!