About a million years ago, I ran a 5K with a friend Back East. Being from Colorado, I had the benefit of training in altitude and while it was my first ever “race,” three miles at sea level was not intimidating.
On the day however, I found myself winded within the first mile, or at least that’s what I said out loud to my friend.
“Are we there yet?” I huffed and puffed. For every grunt she made, I grunted back in agreement at the difficulty.
When we approached the finish line we were side by side, but when we crossed it, I was a good two feet behind her.
My husband who at the time was my boyfriend awaited me with a cup of water.
“Good job,” he said. “Why did you let her beat you though?”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“I saw you. You pulled back right at the very end.”
I’ve spent the last fourteen years thinking about this. He was right.
I pulled back right when it “mattered.”
Pulling back, I’ve come to see, was my automatic safety valve. For years I’d try stepping up whether it be in conversation or into the limelight, only to retreat.
I had learned as many of us do that showing up in full color with ideas, opinions, feelings and whatnot, can be met with all manner of abandonment, shunning and exclusion.
Shame settled into my cells as though my body were its natural habitat. I abandoned projects, dreams and desires, because success was too shiny, and failure…well…failure was embarrassing. I made myself “less-than” at every blind corner, because who did I think I was anyway? I compared myself to others to keep myself down; any accomplishment wasn’t nearly as good as what “so and so” was doing.
Ultimately, the cost of safety became too great, so I went in search of knowledge. I learned that shame is only the result of a chemical release in my body – the chemical reaction to an ill-informed, self-degrading thought – a story I perpetually told myself as if the clock were stuck at bedtime.
I ventured into a transition during which I stepped out despite the tongue-lashing of my inner critic, despite risking the malcontent of others, despite failing, despite success, despite a body full of shame trying to convince me to stay small.
It was painful, but for years I practiced being someone new; someone whose voice had every much a right to be here as others, someone who can fail without it becoming the definitive commentary on who I am, someone who can tolerate being shunned, shamed or verbally attacked because I know that that kind of reaction to anything is about them, not me (just as it is about me when I do it to others).
It wasn’t easy, but all that practice turned me into someone new.
I haven’t so much as jogged in ten years, and if I ran that 5K today, I’d lose. Big Time. But it wouldn’t be because I threw the race, and in my book, that’s a big, fat W.