Starting is terrifying. Like super freaking scary. Or rather, the moment right before the start, the instant before you commit – that is the truly terrifying part because it is in that moment that you need to make a decision: are you in or are you out? It was that instant I always dreaded when racing as a rower. All eight of you have your oars in the water and are just floating there (mind, you are floating in a boat a hair past a butt wide – you feel every fidget, every piece of nervous energy) waiting to hear the horn, and waiting for the race to unfold. On the one hand I would sit in my seat wishing that that stupid horn would never blow. Wishing that I could somehow be transported back to shore, back to a place where it didn’t feel like impending death and back to a place where I didn’t have 2000m of pain in front of me (well technically behind me if we’re being literal…) But on the other hand I would sit there, blade ready, willing that horn to blow so that I could dive into the experience – and also so that I could start kicking some serious butt. Duh.
I think part of me always doubted myself as an athlete because of that first impulse – that desire to not be there, to not be in that moment. I thought that such an impulse translated to me not being a true competitor, because true competitors don’t dread the fight they anticipate it, right? How could I ever be fierce if I wasn’t fearless?
This is a question that has been coming up for me a lot lately. This question of can I even aspire to greatness knowing that fear will forever be part of that journey. And to be honest, I’m still a little stuck on the answer. A couple months ago I started to flirt with the idea of not only being a coach, but also being an athlete. Pressure, fear, tension – these were all elements inherent to my rowing career. Lots of happy things were there too of course, but I was tangibly aware at all times of not only the work that needed to be done in order to be great, but also the fear that I wouldn’t be able to do it. When I joined Verve 6 months ago I decided to take all the pressure off – to have zero expectations and thus none of the stressors that came along with rowing. Marvelous idea. Except when I realized that I wanted expectations. I wanted to care. And I wanted to tangibly feel the work. I wanted to strive to be better, and such elevation of the self requires awareness of the effort needed to do so.
I would love to be able to wrap this up neatly, but I can’t. Because it isn’t neat. And because I haven’t figured it out yet. That’s why I’ve hesitated to write in the last few weeks. And I’m thinking this may be part 1 of the, “I’m Totally Freaking Out” series… I think the scariest thing about deciding to try to be a competitive athlete again is that I have found myself at the moment I most dread in competing – the moment before everything starts. But it does start. All you have to do is start. Possessing fear does not mean that you are weak, or that you will shy away from moments of greatness. It can if you let it. But it also lets you know when you are exactly where you are supposed to be. We are fearful because whatever lies on the other side is significant – because we have something to lose if we fail. But the real question is: what is it really that we have to lose?
We like to hold on to outcomes as if they are binary: we win or we lose. Two choices. One option for success. And we continually ask ourselves if we are good enough. Are we good enough to win? It is that question that so often dictates whether or not we start. But, does the answer really matter? The good thing about racing – the answer to that question can’t matter. You are out there no matter what. You have to start. And you do. And you race. And it is glorious despite who crosses the finish line first. Don’t let that answer matter. Just start. And so that’s what I’m doing: I’m starting.