Dancing with Disappointment

One of my Team in Training teammates, Emmie Vance, wrote a wonderful post on her blog, Pain Comes in Many Forms, about the hit your pride takes when you don’t live up to your own commitments.

I wasn’t putting in the hard work of consistent training that a marathon requires, the very core lesson and triumph of my previous races.  So at some point, I had to admit the inevitable: I will not be running a full marathon in San Diego. This hurts my pride.  I should be better at this, should have done things differently with my priorities when it came to making time to run.

This got me to thinking about my own dance with personal disappointment. I strive to find that balance between self-confidence and humility, but truth be told I am often far more comfortable beating myself up over failed expectations. I have counseled many others to “take the frying pan out of their hand,” but, of course, that advice is far easier to dispense than to follow. I think most of us know intellectually that punishing ourselves for not being our best selves does not actually serve any productive purpose. On the other hand, I wouldn’t want to be the kind of person who is emotionally divorced from the outcome of their efforts either. I do a good job because I care about doing well – so, conversely, it hurts when I don’t do so well. (Brian commented to me this morning that he is always surprised how much I turn on myself in these situations instead of considering maybe it’s not actually all about me and my shortcomings. Not blame myself for things outside my control?  Novel concept…)

Why do I keep hitting myself in the head with a hammer? 

Because it feels so good when I stop.

I guess it all comes back to finding balance. Holding yourself accountable, with compassion. I also find that I often get myself into situations doomed for failure because I have lost my focus. I am so busy flailing around that I’m not actually doing anything meaningful. I have learned that when I start dropping balls left and right, it’s time to start setting some of those balls down. It’s time to exercise that all important word, “no.” Usually, I can get myself back to center when I start eliminating the excess noise in my life.

It reminds me of a situation Brian and I had kayaking a few years ago. We were on our sit-on-top kayaks, paddling around near his parents home. It was February, but the weather was typical Pacific Northwest – cool and overcast, and the water was calm. For no particular reason, my center of balance got off kilter and suddenly I was in the drink.  The Puget Sound runs about 50 degrees Fahrenheit year round and it’s not a place you want to spend any significant amount of time or you risk hypothermia. I was wearing a wet suit, but that bought me time more than protection. I had practiced getting back in the kayak from the water, so I knew I could do it. First attempt, I got my torso up on the kayak and propelled myself right over the other side. Second attempt, I pulled the kayak over my head. Third attempt was no more successful. At this point I realized that I was doing more flailing than making any real progress. I forced myself to stay in the water, take a couple of breaths and think for a moment about what I needed to do. Brian advised that I get my torso on top of the kayak in one motion, stop, and then get into a seated position in a second motion. Because I had taken that moment to pause, I was able to take in his advice and successfully got back onto my kayak in my next attempt.

I think we forget that sometimes we need more than a few attempts to get back on course, and that it’s okay to “stop and drop” before we start rolling. It may take twenty tries to get it right and maybe it is the trying that it is important. Or perhaps no amount of attempts will work. (What do they say in business? If you haven’t failed, you must not be trying hard enough.) In any case, taking a moment to take stock, clear your mind, and make thoughtful choices is never going to be bad advice. The trick, I guess, is figuring out how to give yourself permission to take that moment. It occurs to me that, ironically, maybe even that takes a few tries, so I should probably give myself a break for not being perfect at that either.

For fast-acting relief, try slowing down. ~Lily Tomlin

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One Comment on “Dancing with Disappointment”

  1. […] been to the running rodeo a few times now, I have come to learn that disappointment and running are often partners in endurance running. Injuries plague even the fittest runners. For slow-pokes […]


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