Sorry this post is a day late. I meant to post it ON Valentine’s Day, but work and lack of sleep due to stress made my brain too mushy to make real sense. Annnyywayy, take it in the spirit of V-Day, for which it was intended.
As an endurance athlete, especially a female endurance athlete, you get addicted to being tough. Or, maybe, like me, you wedded the idea of toughness long before becoming more serious about exercise. After years of being treated like a doormat and a pariah in middle school, having my first high school boyfriend break up with me and drag my heart through the mud for years afterward, I developed a kind of obsession with toughness. As I grew through my 20s and 30s, I found new ways to seem “tough,” “cool,” “impenetrable.” Only through my writing did I maintain the REAL me. In everyday life, learned to withdraw more and more, to guard my feelings, to always seem like I had it, “together.”
Our culture celebrates toughness. Too often we hear of “hero” stories, where a person pushed through excruciating pain and hardship to achieve a goal. We want to be inspired to achieve things, and to help us to push past our own weaknesses. Never once do we think that, sometimes, these weaknesses can also help us along in our journey.
Vulnerability. It’s a concept that recently slapped me in the face, and has subsequently seemed to come into the forefront of my life as I have experienced so many obstacles in my path over the past couple of years. I even notice the word itself popping out at me as I read people’s Facebook status posts, or get a fortune cookie, or read articles online.
Athletes are so afraid to admit vulnerability. When injured or laid up, we seek the shortest possible route to get back to doing what we do. We are terrified of starting over, of admitting defeat, and so we push past reasonable limits, until, “Uh-oh!” we really CAN’T do anything. Until something’s broken or torn or irreversible, it’s unacceptable to say, “Hey, maybe I need to slow down, to be in this moment of vulnerability,” because it’s scary. It’s so scary to be open, to admit that we need time for self care. Ironically, therein lies our TRUE strength.
I don’t know how to NOT push myself. It seems as though, every workout that I intend to be “slow and easy” ends up in a full-out sprint somewhere, or I take a hilly route, or end up glancing at my pace on my watch in anxious dismay. It is hard for me to be vulnerable and let my whole body agree to just “chilling out” and enjoying a relaxed workout.
In my personal life, I have trouble forming intimate relationships because I’m terrified that people will see me as my true self, which is not “cool” or “tough”– I’m often afraid to admit that I need connection. People in real life have often said that, on first meeting, I seem “aloof,” but the truth is I’m just a big dork, I’m sentimental, and I’m afraid of letting that part out, that I’m not always “perfect.” Wow, shocker, right?
I’m learning that it’s not the impressive things we do that give us the long term strength to carry us over the rough patches, and it’s not those things that make people really want to know us, and love us. It’s the times when we admit that we’re not infallible, that still sing along to Ace of Base in the shower, or that we walked at the top of that big hill because our muscles and tendons weren’t ready for major hill training yet, that we get to a better place in life with others and with ourselves. If that’s the case, being vulnerable is worth training for.