Monday, June 29, 2009

Casualties of Self-Doubt

I was hunched over, my hands on my knees and my breath escaping in small bursts. I looked up and watched her as she continued on. She was like a machine, her arms and legs moving forward in a silent rhythm.

"She's an elite runner, you know," he said. His gruff voice forced me up. I held the heaving breaths and busied my shaking hands by brushing the snow from my sweatshirt. The pains in my side subsided, pushed out by an undefinable shame.

I wasn't good enough.

I was a runner in grade school and high school. Running drove me, it fed a need I never quite understood. I had such a passion for the feel of sweat dripping down my back, the heaving of my chest, the tightness in my legs. I felt alive. And when I crossed a finish line, taking the #1 stick or reaching for the first place ribbon, I was alive. I was most definitely good enough.

College was different. I wasn't the superstar runner. I was a struggling freshman who had no idea what she was doing. Who packed on extra weight, got a first boyfriend, lost her first boyfriend all while navigating the campus as a socially awkward entity waiting for a clue.

But that's just an excuse. The truth--I simply wasn't good enough.

"Some people are just born to run," my coach continued as the snow began to drift across the track. "You'll be a good running partner for her. Once you get into shape, " he added smugly, mercilessly. My eyes followed her as she ran passed us, the snow politely parting for each footfall.

It was one of our very first practices of the season. My coach had already lost faith in me. I had lost faith in myself. Suddenly, I didn't want to run anymore.

But I did. I ran because I had to. I ran because he said I wasn't good enough. I ran because I had to show him that I was.

Every day I ran. Before practice. After practice. Weekends. I pushed my body until it begged for a reprieve--and even then, I pushed harder. There was little doubt that I was improving. But coach never noticed. He was working with the elite runners. And when his eyes did drift over in my direction, I knew what he was thinking, "Why does she even bother?" Some days, I wondered the same thing.

Short of drinking a raw egg, I was Rocky. Theme songs bumped around in my head, forcing me to push my aching body just one more mile. Just. One. More.

Trying hard now
it's so hard now
trying hard now

Getting strong now
won't be long now
getting strong now

Our first meet. I had only one race--200 M. The "elite" runner had the favored first lane while I occupied the last lane of the staggered start. I would be in the lead for only a few moments before the crowd of runners would overtake me.

Pop. The gun goes off as I push my foot forcefully from the starting block. I can't see any of the runners, but I hear their heavy breaths and quick steps in a rush behind me. As we make the turn we are all in a straight line headed for the finish.

I am behind.

But only for a moment.

I surge ahead and pick off a runner at a time. One. Two . . . Five. Six.

I'm in first place as I cross the finish line.

I win.

I remember what this felt like. The rush. The release. The pats on my back. The congratulatory sentiments. I remember . . .

And I feel nothing. Nothing.

I see him make his way across the field. He's pumping his fist in the air and shouting, "Where in the hell did that come from?" He grips my shoulders with both hands and looks at me for the first time.

I want so desperately to smile, to take it all in. But I can't. I don't. I look across the lanes to the "elite" runner. She's hunched over, her hands on her knees . . .

My fingers slowly touched the cool dull metal of my spikes as I placed them in the Nike box; the medals I had won during the season spread out on the bottom. It was a good season. I pushed my spike key into the front of my shoe and tucked the laces inside. I shoved the box under my bed and walked away.

I had proved myself to someone who didn't believe in me. To someone who barely gave me a chance. I proved that I had a talent, that I was good enough.

I was an after school special on how tenacity, drive and determination could mean success.

I hated those specials. They tried too hard and I resented them for it. I resented those who claimed that because of my coach, his doubt, he pushed me and I was better for it. Better? Maybe a better runner, a stronger athlete, but a better person? No. Not better.

The reality, my reality--I was done running. Running had become a casualty of my own self-doubt. While my body forced itself across the finish line race after race, the rest of me grew angry and distant. It was no longer about the running.

Having doubts is natural and in some cases, necessary--I get it, I accept it. But there comes a time when the heaviness of such doubts lingers longer than it should, when the cacophony of voices questioning your value, your abilities fails to hush--especially when it is about something you love, a passion you believe shapes and defines who you are. Especially if he or she who doubts you is a member of your family, a lover, a friend.

"Am I really good at this?" you wonder. "Can I do this?" you ask yourself.

No. You know that is what they think, what they believe they know. They don't believe in you, no matter what they say, no matter how beautiful the words scratched upon the page--they are merely creations posing as truths.

Trying hard now
it's so hard now
trying hard now

Getting strong now
won't be long now
getting strong now

You'll find your place at the starting line again and prepare to prove them wrong.

And, in the end, you'll make room for yet another box under your bed.


A little melancholy, perhaps. Or maybe my sudden rush into self-reflection has something to do with cleaning out a closet--and a room that looked as if the regurgitated remains of my childhood had taken up residence.

31 comments:

thordora said...

That was wonderful.

I find I'm much the same way-push me, forget about me, write me off, and I'll prove you wrong. But I won't care much beyond that.

It's sad really.

Flea said...

Mm.

Trannyhead said...

There are a lot of studies about how coaches for men need to use different techniques than coaches for women. Apparently, the "you're not good enough" thing works for men but not for girls. I'm not so sure it's great for anybody, though.

Kel said...

I ran once-a long time ago and then one day, life happened and it crushed my spirit and because of it, I turned on running - the only thing I had passion for at the time and found something less 'out of my control' to drive me forward. It's been many years and I've started running again, because I miss it, but deep down inside, I still wonder if I'm good enough, if I will ever be good enough or if I'm just holding on to my youth and the belief that someone once had in me when they said I was 'talented' - because in the end, we all want to be good at something right?!

Loved the post!!
~K

Momo Fali said...

Sometimes, looking back isn't all it's cracked up to be. I'm still glad you won that race though.

Kori said...

I think that the whole thing stinks, I really do, and I hate that it still goes on all the time. Not just in sports, but in LIFE.

Lori said...

Quite honestly, I think that story is amazing! Especially since I can't run without falling down (my dad nicknamed me Grace when I was a teenager...ha!).

MommyTime said...

I love this beautiful piece of writing. Sometimes proving oneself is all it takes to kill the passion of youth for something, and sometimes "growing up" does it. I think there seems to be a little bit of both going on here. Isn't it fascinating what those little boxes under the bed can set off in our minds?

LceeL said...

That is an amazing bit of writing - every runner should read it.

Allison Says said...

You really are an amazing writer.

I have done the same thing as you more than once: been told I'm "not good enough" and then gone and proved someone wrong, only to feel absolutely nothing about it. No pride, nothing.

Kat said...

Running can be such a metaphor for life, can't it? Hmmm.

Momisodes said...

Melancholy perhaps, but very well written and well said.
Self doubt has been my enemy all my life. It's awful how someone else's opinion can make such an impact. And your coach, is like my mother. Before I had words to speak, she had already determined that I would never amount to anything. That never changed, and neither did my my self-doubt.

Tara R. said...

I never understood coaching by humiliation either. My daughter faced that while playing soccer in high school. I'm sadden that your love of running was tarnished.

flutter said...

I so get this and I also get that you are so beyond good enough

Kami's Khlopchyk said...

Wow. Words fail me but I do agree with you wholeheartedly. That kind of motivation leaves one empty. So what's the point?

What are you stellar at though, is writing. Beyone stellar. I have always thought so and always will.

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

My husband is a runner, but he only runs for himself. He has done races, but he just doesn't get it.

This was just beautiful.

Kami's Khlopchyk said...

GAH. It's late, that should read, "what you are stellar it is writing. Beyond stellar."

Karen MEG said...

L, this was such a wonderful piece of writing. That you ran for yourself, to prove it to yourself, is huge. I'm sorry you had to go through that, though, it's terrible to have others doubt you like that.

I have self-doubt even though I get all the encouragement in the world. Crazy, eh? So I don't know what the hell my problem is ... I'm just so afraid of disappointing everyone else, I guess. Therapy, maybe that's what I need...

Colleen - Mommy Always Wins said...

I get this...I REALLY REALLY get this.

Its like this job for me right now. I'm doing it to show "them" that I can. I no longer enjoy it...in fact I've come to hate it...and no longer care.

Hugs to you...just a few weeks to go!!!

Tracey - Just Another Mommy Blog said...

Hopefully you're learning that anything done to prove someone else wrong isn't quite as satisfying as something done to prove it to yourself.

As in, you're a lovely writer. I hope YOU know that. And I hope you do it for yourself, not to prove it to someone else.

Nap Warden said...

You know I get it;)

CC said...

Wonderfully written. My son is a natural runner too. But I'm really not sure how that will play out as he gets older.

Jaina said...

That was both beautiful and bittersweet. I hate that external sources have the power to stifle us. Definitely bittersweet. Exquisitely written.

Cheri @ Blog This Mom! said...

Fantastic.

Woman in a Window said...

HOLY BLEEPITY BLEEP BLEEP! Holy.

First off, this is beauti-bleepity-ful. Second off, I don't even know what I was supposed to have learned but I know it's a deep one. I like learning like that. Having it smashed into my face and me wearing the pain for a while before I can see straight again.

Holy~

stefanie said...

Nonviolent me wants to kick your coach in the shins. And kick some of the people in my past too. Self-doubt is a formidable enemy. It has too many teammates.

Just do it for you, dear. Tell me the same.

Did you feel alive when you finished this? I hope so.

Hyphen Mama said...

Wow!

Just Wow!

Anglophile Football Fanatic said...

CoNgRaTuLaTiOnS!! Can't wait to see the pictures.

amanda said...

just came over to say congrats - not sure where i saw it, but hope you are enjoying every second of your newest "pink" family member :)

abby p said...

I have one to many of those boxes under my bed. ONE too many.

Anonymous said...

Saw you on BlogNosh! I get this. I truly do.

Congrats on the recognition. Well deserved.

APT

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