Today's inspiration relates to whether competing is inherently selfish. It's an issue I've struggled with over the years - it felt really selfish to miss my brother's graduation from high school because it conflicted with my Pac-10 Championship in college. It feels selfish to pretty much only see my extended family if they happen to live somewhere I am competing because I spend all of my vacation time traveling to one competition or another. Even more selfish than the competitions, it feels ridiculously selfish to plan my free time day in and day out around training or recovery because my daily schedule also becomes my husband's, and it affects when my mom can call me, or when my gym members can talk to me. My free time, as a semi-professional exerciser, has to revolve around training, and those choices can certainly feel very selfish.
That said, I consider myself to be an unselfish person. It's certainly the kind of person I want to be. I want my life to be very much in tune with the needs of the people around me, and whether or not I am enhancing or hurting them, I care very deeply about how my actions affect my loved ones. At some point in my college career during a winter break I told my high school coach that I was struggling with whether striving to excel in sports (hammer throwing at the time) was a meaningful or worthwhile pursuit. His response was genius, and has stuck with me. He told me that if it mattered to me, it mattered. In my heart, in terms of what I want to accomplish, nothing matters more, even though I've never really understood why. I've come to understand that I inherently value the pursuit of excellence, and I have excellent focus on the pursuit. I'm not necessarily excellent, nor have I actually achieved most of what I've set out to (even though I have gotten very close), but I'm still getting better nearly 30 years after I set out to be great, and it still matters to me.
So, how is a person who wants to be unselfish, and who is pursuing something that requires near complete focus day in and day out, to be a competitive athlete without creating internal conflict?
What I've learned is that pursuing excellence has never been just about me. My parents created endless opportunities for me to compete, and in doing so opened doors for me to attend Stanford, nearly reach the Olympics, and live out every one of my childhood dreams. Now my husband contributes to my success day in and day out - he makes sure food is close enough that I'll remember to eat, he helps me manage my training, he's responsible for most of the daily operation of the gym we both dreamed of, and in doing so creates an atmosphere in which elite training is possible for me. Through empowering my pursuit, he contributes to something that matters to him - and he experiences my success and failure as his, not just as mine. Largely for this reason, each season I continue to train starts with a conversation about whether this is how WE want to spend the year. It's not just about me.
Beyond how training affects my nearest and dearest, pursuing excellence affects the community around me, but not in the way I originally thought. I used to think that people cared if I won or lost, that they'd remember me for my greatness, or somehow that the end result would be meaningful. I've learned that couldn't be farther from the truth (even for people that actually do make the Olympics). The medals tarnish, the memory fades, and an incredibly small number of the things we accomplish in life will be remembered. We remember that someone did something awesome once, and we found it really cool at the time, but most of us forget the specifics.
As humans, I believe we all want to accomplish things we value, and we all face major obstacles. Watching another person pursue a goal, especially as they overcome their obstacles, is beautiful and inspiring in large part because it gives us faith that we can reach our own goals despite our own obstacles. In addition, contributing selflessly to another person's pursuit is one of the most beautiful things in the world - whether or not they realize their contributions, the people who help others surely have a special place in Heaven because they've made the world a better place. It isn't about the outcome, it's about the connection we share as someone who is trying to do something meets someone else who has the ability and willingness to help. Seeing someone else strong enough to keep trying, even when others would quit, can be the encouragement anyone needs to continue fighting their own battles. It's about a whole lot more than achieving the right number of centimeters or few enough hundredths of a second on game day, even though that's what training can feel like it's about most of the time.
So, is training inherently selfish? I don't think it has to be. It certainly can be, and is, if you're doing it for personal glory or fame. As I've gotten older, and realized that I'm not going to grow out of this any time soon, I've come to realize that at least for me, it's about the authentic pursuit of knowing myself and who I'm meant to be - trying to be the best I can be by working to overcome my weaknesses, and using my strengths to help others. I try to share my experiences as openly and authentically as possible because the pursuit is all there is. It's about feeling gratitude for the people who support me, see the value of what I'm trying to do, and give me strength when my own resources falter. We are all in the same race. It doesn't matter the scale of the goal, the obstacles we face, or the apparent likelihood that we'll succeed. Sports just happen to be one of the outlets people can actually see - career goals, family goals, life goals are more private, but no different. Competition, defined as striving for success in an authentic goal, is something we should all pursue, every day of our lives. While doing so, we need to recognize the journey, and the impact we all have on each other.