Roadblocks

FEMA_-_40322_-_Road_Closed_signHigh school wrestling season is almost over in Indiana. We’re in the regional week of the state tournament, and that means that anyone who didn’t advance past sectionals is done. Boys not moving on don’t have a lot of motivation to continue practicing with the team.

An injury, rehab, and some extenuating circumstances have kept my son on the bench for the latter half of the season, so he is not one of the boys still wrestling. Of course, he’s disappointed (read: heartbroken), and initially I found myself concerned about his commitment to the sport.

Silly momma shouldn’t have worried.

When I asked Wrestler Boy whether he planned to continue to go to practice (a lot of guys beg off when their season is done–not cool, but it happens), his answer stopped me in my tracks.

I have to, Mom. The guys need me.

Not completely getting it, I probed further. What do you mean they need you? To cheer them on, you mean?

Mom, they need me on the mat. If no one shows up to practice, they won’t have anyone to wrestle so they can keep getting better for state.

What a selfless response.

All season, that kid wanted nothing less than to advance to the state tournament. When he found out he couldn’t, he was crushed. I even thought he might want to quit.

I forgot that he wrestles because he loves the sport. I forgot that he wants to keep getting better. I forgot how important it is to him to see his friends succeed. I forgot that he’s resilient.

Not only did he prove me wrong, but he also taught me a lesson: the world is bigger than me. When my own path to success meets a roadblock, I can still help others find their way.

And the next time I hit the road, I’ll be that much better for it.

Varsity blues

Varsity_LetterBefore I start with the “real” content of this post, I want to say that I am unbelievably proud of my son, who earned his varsity letter for wrestling this year–as a freshman. He worked really, really hard and took at least his fair share of bumps and bruises–to his body and his ego.

Now, onward.

Talking to my son’s wrestling coach the other day, I asked him his thoughts about the program. As much as he appreciated how hard those boys worked, he lamented the team’s lack of depth. Although there are 14 varsity weight classes, they could only fill 12 of them this season, and several of those spots only had one guy. That is, the guy who got the varsity spot took it by default; he didn’t have to wrestle off or prove he was better than anyone else.

Where I come from, said the coach, freshmen and sophomores wouldn’t even be sniffing at the varsity line-up. When I pushed for clarification, he went on to say that underclassmen would be working hard and paying their dues, getting better and stronger in the hope that they would be good enough to earn a varsity spot as a junior or senior.

Of course, as the mom of a freshman who had wrestled varsity almost all season, my initial (internal) reaction was to go all mama-bear and protect my son’s accomplishments. The more I thought about it, though, the more I respected the coach’s position.

After all, if no one is challenging those boys for their spots–if they don’t have to worry about others rising through the ranks and threatening their hold on them–what’s their incentive to get better? They’re already “good enough,” right?

I thought back to some of the opposing teams our kids had faced this year, and the toughest ones always had huge programs. In fact, one team we wrestled even had an A-team and a B-team–both considered varsity–with an even larger number of JV guys hungering for their spots. No wonder they were so good–they just naturally pushed each other upward and onward.

I’m not saying our kids didn’t work hard. Oh, they did–they really did–and I’m proud of them all. But I also know that things look different when you can see the forest beyond the trees, and for our guys, that forest was a long way off. No wonder the coach thinks that the secret to the success of the program is to get more kids interested and participating.

Some people have an incredible internal drive and push themselves to improve no matter what. Even those people, however, need to see where the bar sits. That’s why when I was running in a lot of races, I not only looked at my time and strove to improve it, but I also looked at the winners’ times to see where I needed to go.

Competition can be healthy for all of us. It helps us get better individually and as a team. It doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game with one winner and one loser, either. After all, I might never make varsity but end up vastly better than where I started. Or I might lose my varsity spot to someone who has surpassed my ability–and I have to step it up to get it back.

Sure, there’s unhealthy competition, too. But when I look at this kind of situation, how does it make me a loser if I end up better than where I started? I shouldn’t be afraid of more people on “my” turf; I should use them to spur me on. The more the merrier.

Camp notes

jrobA little more than a week ago, I delivered my son to wrestling camp three states away. For a month. I know it sounds crazy, but unlike many moms, the idea of separating myself from my firstborn for a month never gave me pause, even for a second. Truthfully, I was just as excited about it as he was.

Don’t misunderstand; I’m not looking to get rid of him. He’s actually a pretty cool kid–the kind I’d like to spend more time with, not less. But I digress.

This camp is pretty hard core. When my son didn’t check in with me as promptly as I thought he should have the first couple of days, I poked him a little via text message. His response? Sorry, Mom. I’ve been sleeping every possible chance. They work the kids hard. They teach them the real meaning of hard work, dedication to a cause. Alongside the intense physical sessions (running/lifting twice a day, four times a day on the mat), they also provide classroom instruction on topics ranging from goal setting to time management to handling money. And they expect the kids to learn life skills along the way by having to take care of themselves for a month sans parents. In fact, as my son and I approached the registration table, the parents were told we had to step aside. For the duration of the camp, the kids have to be responsible for themselves and their actions. *gulp*

So what’s my point?

Something the camp founder said during the incoming parent meeting really stuck with me and really explains everything. In a hoarse voice, he boiled 36 years of camp experience into this:

Everyone has a PowerPoint these days, but you don’t get tough sitting in a room talking about getting tough. To get hard, you have to live hard.

And that’s it. If you want to become something, you have to live it. You can talk about it and plan it all you want. You can learn the technique and study the experts, but you’ll never, ever master it until you do it yourself.

Forget the wrestling part. I’m excited to see the character changes in my son when he returns from camp. I expect to see a more confident, more capable, more wizened young man when he returns. I’m already seeing it in his communication with me after a week; how will he look after another three?

You don’t change by talking about something. To get hard, you have to live hard.

Not my day

mini bibsNo one wants to talk (or write) about a bad race, least of all me. In fact, I’ve been trying hard to put my dismal performance at Saturday’s Indy Mini out of my mind ever since I crossed the finish line. Alas, something in my psyche just won’t let me bury it until I ‘fess up. It plagued me in my dreams, and I woke up this morning turning over opening lines for this post in my head.

So here’s the deal. For the second year in a row, I fell apart. It wasn’t my body that let me down this year. The weather was nearly perfect, I stayed reasonably fueled up along the course, and I was more faithful to this year’s training regimen. No, it wasn’t my body; it was my head.

Somewhere along the course, doubt began to seep through the folds of my gray matter. You still have a long way to go. You don’t really want to be doing this, do you? Why did you come out here? You’re going to need to stop soon. I tried to ignore the voices. I turned up my iPod. I even silently screamed back at them. Shut up! I’ve done this before! I’ve got this! I don’t have that much more to go!

I couldn’t fight the voices. 8.5 miles into the course, I took a break. I geared down to a walk, but I told myself I’d just regroup and then finish strong. I refueled with water and Gatorade, and a half mile later, I took off. Two miles after that, the voices had me walking again. I followed that start-stop routine to the finish, though thankfully I was able to gut out Victory Mile at my usual pace. The thought of walking past the throngs of people waving the runners to the finish line was apparently enough to drown out the jeering in my head.

I finished, but I didn’t accomplish a single one of my goals for the year. I’m embarrassed by my performance. Yeah, I know that a lot of people would have been happy to finish at 2:03, but I know I’m capable of more: I finished my first Mini at 1:44.  This year’s performance clearly wasn’t my best effort, and that’s how we should be grading ourselves, right? It doesn’t matter what someone else does; I have to compare me to me.

This year’s top female finisher ran the course in 1:12. I know I’ll never accomplish that, and I don’t feel bad about it. The last place finisher crossed the finish line in 4:29. In my current physical condition, that won’t be me, either. If, then, first and last don’t matter, then neither does any position in between. That means that the only real measuring stick of my success is whether I performed to the best of my ability.

Now I have to begin the process of figuring out why I didn’t. I have to find the right switch in my brain and flip it from What are you thinking?! to Heck, yes, you can do this! And I will. It may take awhile, but I will.

So here are the lessons I learned THIS year:

  1. Like most things, a huge part of running is mental. My psychological game plan is just as important as my physical one.
  2. I am my own measuring stick.
  3. I shouldn’t have to relearn lessons I learned last year. Even so, I only just now–well after the race–revisited them. (You can, too: Click Redefining success and Victory.)

Nope, Saturday wasn’t my day. But today is still up for grabs, and I’m going to make it mine.

P.S. My son also ran on Saturday, and he had a great race. My momma-pride helps take away some of the sting. Way to go, Jake Davis!

Egomania

noegohereApologizing does not always mean that you’re wrong and the other person is right. It just means that you value your relationship more than your ego. —Unknown

I chewed on this quote for a long time when I first read it. It’s good stuff, but as sung by The Fray, “Sometimes the hardest thing and the right thing are the same” (from All at Once). So I still struggle to put that into practice, to wait a beat before I speak and let my head lead my mouth rather than vice versa.

The other day I realized that perhaps “apologizing” is too narrow a term. Listening on a conference call, the posturing was so thick, it almost took material form. I could practically see it. This quote popped into my head, and I thought of it in terms of correcting, redressing, proving you know something, and reminding someone else of what [you think] he should know. I’m sure there are dozens more.

Then I thought about the word “relationship.” People on that call clearly weren’t concerned about relationships, but at least they should have been concerned about getting things done. Stepping on people’s proverbial toes (or egos) should always fall behind accomplishing the goal. Think of how much good we could do (or pick your own result: how much money we could make, how many goods we could produce, how much we could improve quality, how many people we could help, how many diseases we could cure) if we could all just get over ourselves.

No matter how I rewrite that quote, it all boils down to this: putting aside my ego.

Sometimes the hardest thing and the right thing are the same.

Little bites

I know a guy who is really, really good at what he does. He maintains a terrific big picture view while still understanding the details which can make or break the success of his projects. He’s a deep thinker, and when I ask him a question about his realm of influence, I know I’m going to get a thorough and thoughtful answer. Everyone needs a guy like this on her team.

Sometimes, though, this guy becomes his own biggest obstacle. When he has an idea, his mind is off and running. He has gone through steps J, K, and L before most people get beyond A, B, and C. He’s busy solving problems that haven’t yet occurred and probably won’t occur until somewhere down the timeline–by which point a lot of variables could change. He often hesitates to pull the trigger on a project until he can work out the answers to those problems.

Many times, that’s exactly the right approach–but many times it’s not.

Not every project is an all-or-nothing proposition. We don’t have to go from A to Z in a single step. We can launch our project or product and service before we get to Z if

  • The new solution is better than what came before it, i.e. it makes people happy.
  • Each step is a (fairly) natural progression, not a complete rework of the one before it.
  • Showing continued improvements or making updates signals progress/activity/forward motion.

Think of a website, for example. Little improvements over time can actually be a positive thing. It keeps your audience feeling as though your work is fresh, the content is dynamic, and there’s always a new reason to visit. That’s not a place where you want to publish a TA-DA! product and sit back. Yeah, I know, building the infrastructure requires a fairly specific vision for the future, but once the infrastructure is in place, you can always make improvements along the way. The trick is understanding when to forge ahead and when to wait.

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

What have you done for me lately?

superbowl nolaI’ll admit it. I sucked on a few sour grapes watching yesterday’s Super Bowl Duper pre-game coverage. Listening to the commentary, anyone would think New Orleans is the best host city for the Super Bowl Game ever.

Pardon my personal bias, but I thought Indianapolis did a super fine job last year. The city put on a brilliant display of hospitality, and the festivities wowed visitors and residents alike. It was a terrific celebration. In fact, all the commentators said so. Just the way they said…so…this…year… Oh. I get it.

Besides the fact that it’s the commentators’ job to talk up the host city on national TV, Indy was last year. It’s over, and the world has moved on. And you know what? That’s exactly what it should have done.

Years ago, I knew a CEO who gathered his company’s employees together to report results after the close of each fiscal year. Year after year, the company broke records for both revenue and profit. You’d think the meeting would be one of celebration, but after giving hearty congratulations and expressing his gratitude, the CEO developed amnesia. That was yesterday, he’d say. What are you going to do for us today? Tomorrow?

We can’t bask in the glow of the past for too long, or we won’t move forward. Instead of looking behind, we need to look ahead. What goals are in front of us? What do we need to do to accomplish them? How can we do it (even) better next time?

Kudos to NOLA for putting on a super party this year, game time power outage notwithstanding. (Okay, that prompted a little Schadenfreude on my part.) There really is no other city that screams Party on! like the Big Easy. But twelve months from now the Big Apple will be the greatest city to host the Big Game.

Until the next one.