Sunday, September 8, 2013

Coming up short

Ever get the feeling that the universe is not only sending you a message, it's hurling it at you? Like, multiple copies of that message, each tied to a brick?

I recently finished reading a book in which I've been absorbed for a couple of weeks (I'm a tediously slow reader, and I'm usually reading two or three books at once): Daring Greatly, an exploration by a social work researcher of what it means to be vulnerable. I didn't choose this book; it was a selection for a business book club of which I'm a member, so it was chosen for me. In it, author Brene Brown dispels the myth that vulnerability is weakness, and instead describes it as a measure of courage, and the place where connection, joy, innovation, and creativity begin. A lot of the book made me physically wince as I read it, especially the section on feedback - how treacherously difficult it is for most of us to give it and receive it in an honest and open fashion. The author challenges the reader to seek out feedback in areas where we need it, to graciously receive it, and most importantly, to apply it as necessary. This is a particularly weak muscle of mine. I get a cramp just thinking about it.

The day after I finished the book, we witnessed the triumph of distance swimmer Diana Nyad, who fulfilled her decades-long dream of swimming from Cuba to Florida in her fifth grueling attempt. I've read and watched stories of her previous attempts through the years, with (I will admit) only a glimmer of interest. It's always struck me as sort of a silly goal, a strange outlet for a lot of energy and resources. But her repeated attempts have always intrigued me. What is with that lady? I was all eyes and ears on Monday, though, when she stepped ashore, confounded by the physical enormity of the endeavor and her courageous perseverance, but mostly by her willingness to fail. To fail repeatedly. And to fail publicly. I get a cramp just thinking about it.

Diana Nyad is a brilliant example of a lot of human characteristics that I admire, but the part of her story that resonates for me at the moment is her capacity to innovate. She was the embodiment of vulnerability out there, in both the literal and figurative senses. Jellyfish, sharks, and the threat of a fifth failure. Along with a lot of salt water, she swallowed a lot of pride. With each effort, she learned something new that she applied to the next, recruiting new experts, and experimenting with new technologies. She acknowledged things she had done wrong, and then learned how to do them better.

I want to be better at this. I'm at a point in my career that I need to be better at this. And, as in most things, running has something to teach me about this. No one likes being wrong, or doing things wrong, of course, but some of us handle it more poorly than others. While certainly no perfectionist, the idea of failing altogether at something is gut-wrenching. I don't want to have to pick myself back up after a failure, so I usually just don't do things at which I'm likely to fail. I've had several "failures" as a distance runner, though, and you know what? I've survived them all. Training and racing are constant sources of feedback, with which I make adjustments in my training, my diet, and my lifestyle. And sometimes those failures are pretty public. I've still not qualified for Boston, after a couple of serious attempts. I've put my goals right out there for everyone to see, and not accomplished them. Racing is a great exercise in vulnerability, and I hereby challenge myself to develop those muscles in other areas of my life, too. From coming out on the wrong side of an argument with my husband, to challenging myself to grow professionally, I want to learn how to be wrong, how to make mistakes. How to "bonk," and still be willing to sign up for the next race.
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly ...
From the speech "Citizenship in a Republic"
Theodore Roosevelt
April 23, 1910


  1. So well said!!! Thank you for another great post :)