I’ve never been The Best at anything I’ve done (can you say salutatorian?). And here’s a not-so-revolutionary sentence in cause-and-effect relationships – I’ve never given my all in order to be the best. The reality is this: I can do many things reasonably well and am the best at nothing. I rather like it this way!
But for me, this fact becomes more interesting when I look at it through a filter. A filter like fear. Why don’t I try hard? As hard as I could?
Am I afraid of failing?
As it turns out, I don’t need to be the best; I don’t even want to be. And here’s why — I’m afraid of having to keep that up. That, my friends, is fear of success.
I’m pretty good – good enough – at most everything I do. And I do a lot of things! Swim, bike, and run. Market and sell things (when I was employed). Cook. Look like I look. Care for [other people’s] children. Run my household. Be someone’s friend. Entertain people with my writing.
As a kid, I was lucky to have supportive parents and that I grew up in a small community where I could be marginally good at a lot of things — I didn’t have to pick Just One Thing to be good at. No fear! I could do most everything without ever actually failing. Even growing up, I did a lot of things without trying very hard:
I never practiced my sports (volleyball, softball, track) outside of the group practice. Ever.
I rarely studied. I’d do required homework, but I did not open textbooks and stick my nose in them. In undergrad, I barely had an idea how to navigate the library. In grad school, I didn’t even buy all the required textbooks.
My secret? Well, it isn’t that I’m a savant or even your run-of-the-mill brainiac. I figured out very early on that I learn by doing. I never missed a class and I took copious notes during class. I never missed practice. And showing up meant more than just being there; I was actually present. That is how I learned. For the better part of my life, that has always been good enough. I got good grades and I excelled in every extra-curricular activity there was. I succeeded despite myself.
But it’s different with triathlon.
I have been one spot away – from the podium, from the top 10 finishers – every time. And with triathlon, I’m actually trying. I’m trying harder than I’ve tried with anything ever before. I work harder and more consistently at every one of these sports than I ever have anything else. Sure, it’s definitely something to even complete a triathlon and I’m not trying to diminish that; finishing one in and of itself is “good enough” on a lot of scales. But to come SO CLOSE to the coveted podium is a little heartbreaking.
Bleeding heart and all, I don’t know if it’s as hard as I could be trying. Who am I kidding? Of course I could try harder…
- I drink like a fish.
- I am not diligent about feeding my body what it needs, when it needs it.
- Greg buys my gear without me even knowing. Even if I knew he was buying it, I haven’t hand-chosen the exact component that will make or break my next race.
- I loosely follow a triathlon “training plan.” Someone suggests what to do and I do it. Unless I want to do something else that day.
In having this conversation with my best friend, she suggested, “Maybe you should try going all out, just once, and see what happens? Then you know that you can do it.”
Me: BUT WHAT IF I FAIL? WHAT IF I AM NOT ON THE PODIUM?
Her: So what? Isn’t it worth a shot?
Me: The opportunity cost is tremendous! And here’s what’s worse — what if I SUCCEED?!? Then I’ll feel compelled to keep doing it!
Her: Well, maybe it’s enough to realize it’s “good enough” to get there, just one time.
Oh dear. Being good enough all of a sudden got more complicated.