By Lisa Ingarfield
Let’s Write a Love Letter to Ourselves
“I am not as fast as you”
“Don’t wait for me, I will take forever”
“Why can’t I be _, like that triathlete?”
These are phrases I have said to myself many times over, and I suspect many of you have done the same. We exist in a culture of comparison, and it leads us down a windy path of self-defeat. Age group placements, national USAT rankings, and world championship qualification places. All of these categorizations encourage us to focus on how we stack up to other athletes. Even the best and the brightest in the sport of triathlon can be haunted by self-doubt. It is insidious, but it doesn’t need to win.
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
Competition and comparison can manifest in positive and negative ways. Positive competition and comparison energizes us and spurs us forward, giving us goals to strive for. It builds us up instead of breaking us down. Negative competition is rooted in comparisons that almost always conclude with a laundry list of our deficiencies. We must resist the lure of self-criticism which begins when we hold our abilities up to others. Each of us, at one point or another, has felt deficient in our abilities as a triathlete because we compare ourselves to others. The yard sticks to measure ourselves against exist all around us, pulling us to focus externally instead of internally. This self-defeating behavior serves only to hurt us, not propel us forward into new adventures.
“Talk to yourself like you would to someone you love.” – Brené Brown
I am certainly not immune from this self-criticism and do battle with it often. I was honored to be accepted onto an all-women’s triathlon team this season, and yet as I learn about my strong and powerful women teammates, the annoying voice of comparison starts to echo in my head. I have whispered to myself and to others that I don’t know how I got onto the team given the caliber of the other members. My partner, who raises his eyebrow, tells me regularly that I have earned the spot and should believe in myself more. And so, I write this love letter to all the triathletes out there who stumble over comparison, and find themselves looking up at “better” athletes from the bottom of the self and culturally created pile. This love letter is a call for us to believe in ourselves with fervor. Let’s agree to turn our backs on self-doubt and the half-joking, half-serious rhetoric of “I’m slow” that I hear so often from fellow athletes.
“Defining myself, as opposed to being defined by others, is one of the most difficult challenges I face.” – Carol Moseley-Braun
Central to turning our back on damaging comparisons is the question: who do we race for? Many of us will likely answer that we race primarily for ourselves. Perhaps, we also race for someone close to us, or in memory of someone we lost. We derive our fuel and passion for triathlon from an internal source. Extrinsic rewards such as the feeling of achievement, a personal record, or reaching the podium, certainly have influence. However, these external rewards are really only the icing on the cake. When you peel back the layers of why we do what we do, extrinsic rewards are not what ultimately drives the vast majority of us. Therefore, a disconnection exists between the internal and the external: racing for ourselves versus our compulsion to compare ourselves to others. Who is that comparison really for? Who or what does it serve? When we truly race and train for ourselves, whether we measure up to our fellow age groupers ceases to have any power or relevance.
“When there is no enemy within, the enemies outside cannot hurt you.” – African Proverb
This February, I want us all to pause and remind ourselves that we are not deficient because we don’t look, swim, bike or run like the pros, elites or other age-groupers in our communities. In fact, we are not deficient at all, no matter where each of us falls on the spectrum of abilities and skills. As we think about expressing our feelings of love, adoration, and commitment to others this valentine’s month, shine some of that love inwards. Write a love letter to yourself. Own your awesomeness. Move away from the comparisons that get you down and hold you back. The only opinion that ultimately matters is your own.