I’ve always excelled at whatever I did and when I didn’t I pushed myself to achieve more. As I’ve been getting older I’m aware of a transition from this competitive, bullish attitude to a competitive, yet appreciative and fulfilling one both in my athletics and non athletic pursuits. I’m convinced that even if my path looks different from yours, we all converge on a performance-over-time spectrum the older we get. Instead of getting down on ourselves, we must learn to appreciate and accept where we are today to create a healthy and fulfilling athletic life for the long-term.
Back when I was in high school, I rarely slept. I had a lot of energy but more importantly I discovered a purpose in my life that drove my ambitions and gave me focus. I can attribute the pivot to a particular moment and person in my life at the time. Growing up I was never pushed to achieve anything. I got decent grades and was always in the honors level of classes, but that was not at the insistence or persistence of my parents or family. It was all me.
I did have ambitions pre-high school but they never quite came through (parental dysfunction). And, when high school actually arrived, I found myself lacking any ambition or direction–I had no idea why I should even try with my education. This was a result of a tumultuous family life, but despite what was happening in my personal life, when I encountered that pivotal moment everything changed.
From that moment, I used academics and athletics to further myself. I didn’t understand how I could have changed my life by applying myself in these two areas. In fact, it would be years before I would figure it out. But, I never thought anything was beyond my reach after this point, and never would have imagined any physical limitations to meeting any goal I set my mind to.
That was then. This is now.
In the early years of my athleticism, I never got hurt, never needed sleep, and ate horribly or not at all. I didn’t break 100 pounds until University and the heaviest I ever weighed was 115 pounds. (I can’t even imagine that now!) Over time, I’ve become consistently fit, exercising often, eating better (or as well as I can), yet I’ve been plagued with the challenge to perform optimally in everything I try to do.
This sense of needing to achieve is deeply rooted in me. I believe I will keep expanding my limits and seeking my potential until I die. However, my mindset around how I do it has changed because of age or other physical limitations.
In my youth, I had no patience for people. Life was moving quickly and it seemed like no one but me wanted to keep pace with it. I felt people slowed me down and therefore, charged ahead, often solo. Eventually, as hind sight would reveal, I found out I had Graves Disease and this hyperthyroidism was causing problems with my physical and mental health, despite that I reaped huge benefits from all of the energy it was giving me.
The thyroid is the control center for managing all of the hormones in the body. I could never determine emphatically when a flare up would occur. Therefore, when my activities would get compromised because of some weird and random physical limitation, I usually guessed a hormone was involved. Little did I know that this would lead to other physical and emotional challenges.
As my body was hit with periodic episodes that led to compromised performance, I would get frustrated, moody, edgy, and impatient. Sometimes, I was in pain. Sometimes it was a constant discomfort that was driving me crazy. When the episodes would finally resolve, I was more than relieved, I felt human again!
It was hard to take this driven passion and pursue my ambitions when my body didn’t want to perform. I would force it, but it wasn’t fun. I’d start to beat myself up and feel incompetent and wonder if I would ever feel myself again….ever be capable of achieving big things, again. I would watch as others would surpass me and find myself in tears over my inability to keep up. It seemed I’d reached a point where the world was going to move faster than I could keep pace with it.
This was a difficult transition to make and a dark and confusing period ensued. For some time, I tried to recreate the drive from my youth but it wasn’t fulfilling and sustainable. After awhile, I started to learn to let go of the end result and start enjoying the process. While it’s cliche to say that, it makes sense, but it was by all means a process I fought tooth and nail, upstream, and against the grain. If it was going to come to this, I was not going to give up easily.
From this tenacity, I learned a lot. I learned to push through the pain and discomfort. I learned to hang in there when things seemed to be going against me. I learned not to trust a test to tell me when something was wrong in my body. I learned how to rest and let my body take the time it needed to heal. I learned to appreciate the small accomplishments, like making it out of bed some days because my body was in so much pain I didn’t want to move. I learned that when the days looked dark and the world weighed heavy that it was most likely due to a hormone imbalance and not to trust those thoughts and impressions. I learned how to get out into the world and find a way to do what I love despite that I may not do it at the grade, pace, cadence, etc. that I might want.
Mostly, I learned that as long as I am still out there doing what I love, whether it’s climbing, running, cycling, hiking, whatever, I can be happy and have fun. My body is challenged to perform the way I want it to, some of it is age, some of it is my predisposition. I still have the nagging feeling in the back of my mind that my pace should be better, that I should climb harder, that I should be able to do x, y, and z. I don’t think this will ever go away completely and I’m not sure that I would want it to. However, today, I can head outdoors and take on the world and be unabashed to simply run, simply climb, simply be active with no agenda and no pressure. I’m free to enjoy the experience without the weight of disappointment when I see for example, that I didn’t do that run in a certain time or at a certain pace.
While I was out running today, I left the HR monitor at home. Today was not a day to track my stats. Today was a day to go out and run the furthest I’ve run since pulling my hamstring this past August and enjoy my running mates and the experience of being outdoors.
I think despite my personal situation, everyone can evolve from a bullish youth into a sensory aware adult into some form of appreciative elder athlete. Don’t let injuries or age set you back. Keep moving, keep achieving, take the edge off and enjoy the experience more. If I kept comparing myself to my youth, I’d never find the motivation to get out of bed and try at all.
Therefore, I leave you with this thought:
Age is not a limitation. Competing with someone else or your former self, is not fulfilling. Give your all in everything that you do, even if your “all” today is not as good as your “all” of yesterday. Never stop trying. Give up the notion that you must be good at everything you set your mind to; instead be good enough in most things, and excel in the ONE thing you love.
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