As someone who has competed in three triathlons, you may be surprised to know that I used to loathe swimming. I believed there was no greater torture than to jump into a cold pool, in an ugly swimsuit, cap, and leaky goggles and try to make it to one end without drowning. Knowing that about myself, I registered for my first triathlon as a “welcome to your forties” (cue the jazz hands) birthday present. The stupid, stupid, triathlon, was my mid-life crisis.
I signed up for personal swim lessons knowing that I needed ALOT of work in that area. So every week for 8 weeks or so, I’d leave my precious babies, bundle up against the February bitter air and very grumpily trudge to the rec center for swim lessons. I can still remember staring down at the lines of the pool while trying to coordinate my breathing, and my arms and legs while wondering what in the heck was I thinking?! I could barely hear my trainer over the sound of my chattering teeth.
Ever so slowly I became comfortable in the water and continued my training with a Triathlon training group. Once immersed in the group training mentality and working out every night 6 weeks prior to the Tri, I no longer cared that I was just about last in every group bike ride, run, and swim. I just kept taking steps, my steps - always moving forward toward my goal, not really knowing my why behind wanting to do the race.
I was certain I had prepared sufficiently and that helped to calm my nerves on race day. I surprised myself by placing third in the Fab Forty age group. My two daughters who were 5 and 6 welcomed me as I crossed the finish line. At that moment I knew the purpose and the why for wanting to do the race. I wanted my girls to see me have the grit to overcome my fears and meet my goals. I wanted to show them that they can overcome their self-imposed limitations and that nothing is out of their reach.
I never would have been able to be that example to my girls had I stayed at home where it was warm and comfortable. I never would have known what I was capable of had I chosen to take the road most traveled. I very purposefully upended my comfort and immersed myself in an unknown and harsh experience. When I came out of my workouts I was slightly battered but alive, slightly dejected, but strong, slightly wiped but mentally sharp.
Facing discomfort is not pleasant but the growth can be immense. I have to fight my urge for comfort and complacency every day. I’d much rather take the easy road to try something new and possibly face failure. There is an old Chinese proverb that says, “Do not fear going forward slowly fear only to stand still.” There are plenty of days I repeat to myself, “just keep moving, just keep moving.” I have to constantly remind myself to try something scary every day- as Elenor Roosevelt said that we should. It doesn’t come naturally for me to challenge and take risks. But when I look back at the scary things, they are no longer shrouded in darkness and are no longer the huge frightening things they once were.
“Do one thing everyday that scares you.”-Eleanor Roosevelt
I hope you always find ways to challenge yourself, no matter how small or insignificant. Maybe you want to level up a friendship- go ahead and make that coffee date and practice empathetic listening. Do you want to give up your daily glass of wine habit? Great! 1. Make a plan 2. Make a promise to yourself and 3. Relish in the joy that you feel when you follow through. Hate your job? Try to take a small step towards designing a life that you love. Here's a tip- Begin with the end in mind. This idea is from Stephen Covey's book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and is a must-read for someone who wants to become more self-aware and successful at life. Covey has the reader visualize what their own funeral will be and how they would want to be remembered. Covey also talks about what to do if you don’t know what change you’d like to make. He recommends spending time thinking deeply about what life is calling for you to become. Clear out some mental space and give yourself time to consider your purpose. What does life want from you?
The cold water of the deep end of the pool can be jarring but you may emerge reborn and renewed. Fight the daily battle against settling for good enough. Always seek new challenges- the rewards will transcend your fears and you will eventually become the person you were meant to be. I'd love to hear what scary thing you will challenge yourself to do today!