How does a girl who grew up constantly being told “you’re so smart, you’re so pretty, you’re going to go so far in life” spend so many years feeling worthless, only to level-up to imposter syndrome once she gets older? I figured it out yesterday while slow-jögging up Green-Bear, as there is magic that happens when I move my feet in the dirt. Self-worth, for those of us not innately blessed with it, has to be and more importantly, can beearned. While I appreciate the external validation from the well-intentioned adults, it focused on celebrating qualities that were completely out of my control and did nothing to help me develop a sense of value or grow as a person. What I needed was to be taught a growth mindset.
I was smart and pretty enough that a certain level of success came my way without having to work too hard for it. With no one teaching me the importance of persistent effort toward a goal, I took the little slice of luck I was born with and waited for my life to take shape. Oh brother, was I in for a rude awakening. In part, I forgive myself the ignorance because I was consumed by chasing things I thought would fill the emotional void left by a certain level of neglect and abuse in my formative years. My needs were such that I couldn’t focus higher up on Maslow’s hierarchy until later in life. By the time I developed the drive to accomplish, I had no clue what it was I wanted to accomplish. So, I worked hard for several years trying to uncover that ‘what’ so I could unleash the beast.
For a long time I wrongly believed that people had little agency over the hand they were dealt in life. While it’s true, there are some things you can’t change, there are very few instances where you can do absolutely nothing, even if it’s working on your mental game. I’ve worked hard at everything I’ve done my entire life, but it wasn’t until the last number of years that it was in the context of propelling myself forward in a focused direction. Yet another way the trails have served me… providing an arena in which to unleash this drive. After stumbling across the existence of trail running, then ultra running, all of the sudden in front of me was a deep well of accomplishment from which to drink.
I started casually jogging 14 years ago as a way to quit smoking. Can you believe it?!? For the first 11 years, I never ran more than 5 miles at a time. I definitely did not know trail running as I know it now. It wasn’t until moving to Boulder three years ago that this all took on a whole new life. Four years ago was the first I’d ever heard of ultra running and I couldn’t even fathom running one myself until last year. One year and one month after an injury that forced me to set specific goals for my recovery, I’m running a monthly winter average above my peak summer miles when I was training for my first marathon.
I know to many of you, the resounding response to the idea that you have to work hard to accomplish anything is “duh“. Not everyone is born with an innate understanding that perseverance and hard work can alter the hand you’ve been dealt. Though I’m embarrassed to admit that I am one of those people, I refuse to apologize for it. I am learning the lessons I need to learn, like most humans. The good news is that it’s never too late. I could not take positive action on the things I wasn’t aware of. So rather than lamenting my late start or wasting time on regret, I continue to take swift action and appreciate that I didn’t have to wait even longer for this obv-epiphany.
The trails have transformed me, quite literally. I never really tried to be anything more that I already was, I never thought I could be anything more. I never thought I could redefine myself, not like Madonna, but really transform myself through passion and persistence. But now, I look back and I see a totally different person than I am today. Achievement may be celebrated in one moment – I certainly plan to celebrate the fuck out of finishing my first 50 miler, but that’s not where the bulk of the effort lies. It lies in consistent effort – persevering through mental blocks, physical plateaus, and overcoming obstacles. That is where true self worth is created. Knowing that you have what it takes to do hard things and trusting you’ll have it for the hard things to come. Driving yourself forward when you want to quit. To quote the wise Nelson Mandela, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.” If I may extrapolate on his wisdom, achievement is not the absence of failure, but the triumph over it.