What it takes

Part of life is making our own decisions. Some say that it is part of being a grown-up, and truly, its just what we gotta do.  We can seek out all the advice we want from all the various sources available, but in the end, it’s what we choose to do that dictates how our lives will play out. Of course, there are some people whose opinions matter more than others (and each of us have different hierarchies of opinion-values). And, of course, there are some decisions we don’t have control over, and there are some outcomes that we just simply can’t predict. Regardless, being a grown-up means wearing the big shoes, and sometimes the big shoes aren’t very comfortable.

I’ve been having a few (ok, several) rough months with decision-making in training, racing, and – most importantly – life. With my fiance 700miles away, a pet that has special needs, and a job that my future life/career depends on,  I find myself struggling with what’s left over. My training is a big pile most of the time, and I sometimes feel twinges of guilt and torment when I read posts like Chuckie V’s “Happiness, Ambition, and Pursuit,” especially while I sit in my kitchen reading it while eating a big bowl of rocky road ice cream as some sort of nutrition-subsidized training for the day. When I reflect on what I’ve done in the past – in racing particularly- and truly focus on how well last season went for me and how much potential I had in the sport, I am knocked off the totem pole when I look at what I’ve become. I work a ton and I don’t manage my time in order to train like I should and could. I find myself struggling to get up early and go for runs when I could just as easily go right into work and get two more hours of stuff done. I stopped going to group training sessions, which is really my only source of social interaction with humans. And, fortunately or unfortunately, I find myself struggling to leave work because I always feel so far behind on everything and want to get as much as I can done. How am I ever going to get ahead? The truth is, I don’t know.

With triathlon, I have been telling myself over and over throughout the last year that I have the potential to do well and that I can continue to improve and become a better athlete. But when I race as of late, I’m so disappointed. I feel out of shape (because I am out of shape), I feel slow and lazy and my run is weak. I feel fat (because that 10lbs around my waistline didn’t come just appear out of nowhere) and fluffy and wussy. While training is fun, and tagging-along is my favorite thing to do, I have a difficult time negotiating with myself that its a better idea to go outside and run, if only for 3 miles, than to stay at work an extra hour or to watch an episode of Glee on Hulu. I just don’t get it: why is it that I can’t find the balance, and why do I feel like a teeter-totter all the time?

Truth is, things are different this year. I know that. I’m not in grad school anymore, and I know that my life right now is not supposed to be focused around becoming a faster triathlete or marathoner. Maybe I made that decision when I took this job, when I said “I want to become the best scientist I can be.” But truly, I don’t think it’s quite that. Taking this job didn’t mean that I have to give up my triathlon potential. But what is potential, really? Taking another page from Chuckie’s book, “potential” is practically fruitless. Wanting something and actually doing it are not the same thing. And having the potential to be the best, without actually striking forth and reaching for it, ain’t worth shit.

A year ago, when I took this job, I made the decision to become a better scientist, to become the best at what I do. No, I take that back. When I realized that my education potential is limitless, that was when I made the decision to become the best scientist I could be. However arrogant or hoity-toity that may seem, I knew the opportunity before it really ever bore its head. When I was preparing for my dissertation defense and knowing that I was the only one that really truly knew and understood the stuff I was about to present, I knew what I wanted to do in life. I may have realized this limitless potential, perhaps, when I was recruiting subjects and sponsors for my master’s thesis project, and was so geeked about data and statistics and mechanics. Maybe I knew there was this “potential” when I was a junior in college, so completely awed by the world of biomechanics that I took the course from two different departments. No, I bet it started before that even, when I was in high school shadowing biomedical engineers at Flower Hospital or maybe even earlier, when I was learning about running gait and proper form from my dad’s physical therapist when I was in middle school cross-country. Regardless, the truth is, I knew what I wanted before I knew what I wanted. Ya dig?

And I want to be the best. I am a competitive person, I admit it openly. But I’m not out to sabotage others who also want to be the best. I am realizing that, in order to be the best, I need to focus on that. And by focusing on being the best at one particular thing leaves little room for being the best at anything else, really. We should all strive to be the best at what we do, to challenge ourselves beyond what we think is possible. Some people are good at a lot of things. They aren’t the best at a lot of things, but they are good. I don’t think I will be the best by any means, but I can’t be my best if I don’t give it my all.

When I reflect on this year, I am not going to be sad about my lack of “living up to my potential”- So, this year I wasn’t a rockstar triathlete like I wanted to be. Big woop. I didn’t win my age group at anything and I even bailed on several races for fear of doing poorly. Who cares? Racing stopped being fun, not because I wasn’t racing great races or traveling to great places, but because I was reflecting on my potential in the sport. I knew what I could do, I’d done it before; how come I am not better than before? Aren’t we supposed to get better? Why am I not even the same as I was last season? My potential ended up leaving me short-sighted; I would tell myself over and over that I could have done better ( … ). Too bad I didn’t.  And perhaps was my “potential” limited me from really, fully, truly enjoying things like this:

Post-Wildflower California Coastline Cruise with PICs Sonja and Michelle

or this:

Pre-race excitement at Kansas 70.3. Photo courtesy Brent Newman

Enjoying one helluva'n awesome bike course at Wildflower. Photo courtesy Eric Willis

or this:

St Louis Tri Club and Chrissie Wellington at Kansas 70.3. Photo courtesy Brent Newman

And I’m not living up to my potential in triathlon. Where has my potential got me? Well, nowhere. My decisions to act on my abilities, however, have driven me straight upward. For a long time, I believed that my potential was limited to my ability to pursue endurance sports and to do well at them. I thought that my potential would some day get me to a sub 3hr marathon or a Kona slot or whatever. But my potential, I’ve learned this year, means crap. It’s what I choose to do, what I commit to achieve, that really matters. And for now, Kona will just have to wait. I’ve got other fish to fry.

About megankillian

Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Delaware. I love biomechanics!

Posted on September 30, 2011, in friends, health, life, motivation. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Great post Meg!

    Don’t sell yourself THAT short tho. While you may not be completely devoting yourself to triathlon lately, it sounds like you’ve been spending plenty of energy on being the best scientist you can be.

    We’ve only got so much mental and physical energy to spend. You aren’t completely wasting your potential, you are just focusing more on reaching your “meg the scientist” potential than your “meg the triathlete” potential. 🙂

  2. It strikes me that you may be trying to “max” things out on a number of fronts. I read a book named “Just Enough” (Nash & Stevenson) a number of years ago that you may find helpful.

  3. Toss a different perspective out there. When I run and swim, I do what my body needs and feels is best. No matter the speed, the distance, the day- I ALWAYS stop and enjoy what is around when I feel I need to. Also I ALWAYS walk or slowly swim the last bit to just ENJOY, PLAY, and BE GRATEFUL!

    For me- that’s the balance of the time out there. Perhaps there’s something here that strikes something in you.

    Just be gentle with yourself. You can push yourself hard without beating yourself up.

    Trust yourself! 🙂

  4. ah… I’ve had a similar year. and all I wanted was IMLou to be over so I could get on with my life and focus on other things w/o having a workout looming over me that had me so anxiety ridden that I could barely function in the other things.

    On one hand I wish I could be the person who is into triathlon every single year, but on the other hand I know I’d miss out on other things I’m into.

    From here on out I’m taking the every other year approach. I know that physically I could be a lot better if I were consistent in triathlon year in and year out, but mentally I can’t do that, so I have to accept that in order to really be as good as I can be I have to take time off. and that means I’ve had to accept that I can’t really be as fast as I could be.

  5. I totally get what you are feeling. The good thing is that as time goes on you will become more efficient at grant writing, work tasks, etc. The first year is a huge learning curve.

    Let me know if you want to go for a relaxing ride to enjoy the fall leaves 🙂

  6. Where we put our energy in our lives ebbs and flows into different pools at different times. While I agree potential is just a word if you don’t take action to realize that potential, the cool thing is that it doesn’t go away. Realize your potential in other areas now while that is what is important to you, you’ll have a chance to realize your other “potential” later on, and who knows it may be something you haven’t even experienced yet!! It’s a journey, the important thing is to have an idea where you are going, where you want to go, enjoy the experience and be willing to find someplace new! Enjoy!! See you in a few days!

  7. It’s a tough path that you’re forging for yourself on many fronts, so don’t feel like you’re not living up to your potential if you’re not doing EVERYTHING you can! Finding balance can be a big challenge that many, no most, no ALL of us have to go through at one time or another.

    Work hard, step back on things that aren’t as high a priority, and re-evaluate later. You’ll be better for it no matter what happens!

    For me, gotta finish this PhD and then run a sub-4:00 marathon next year! Wahoo!

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