Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Progress And The Art Of Showing The Fuck Up

A few days ago as I was back in the gym and working with my coach, we began discussing my most recent confrontation with terra firma; as we talked through my mental state and he checked in to see where my head game is at, Jay and I delved into the deeper parts of the athlete ego and how, despite the trollish posts and criticism from external sources, publishing the video of my crash and openly discussing how things went wrong was ultimately incredibly healthy for me.


He said "you seem happy". 


And there it was. I kinda looked up and grinned, and then admitted that yeah, I'm doing okay despite it all. I acknowledged the disappointment of not being able to race a track I really, really loved and be able to throw down what I knew could be a repeat of national champs, and then I said "but you know, I don't think I would have learned as much as I did had I been able to ride like I knew I could." 


I still feel that way. No, I didn't race. No, I didn't even get a single solid photo from the multiple great runs I took that day. No, there was no glory and no obvious reward, and yes, I've caught a lot of shit for pulling an amateur move and grabbing brakes.


The thing is, everyone has done it. And by acknowledging that in a very public way and saying 'yeah, I fuck up', I gave myself more space to be human. By not just saying "this is what happened, this is why it happened and this is how it goes sometimes" but actually opening up and claiming the space to be human, I kicked over the pedestal some people tend to put athletes on, and I gave myself the emotional and mental room to grow and progress into what has ultimately been one of the more positive recoveries I've ever had.


Because the thing is this: a lot of people root for me to fail, and that video? That crash? Some folks publicly celebrated it across social media. It was confirmation to them that I don't belong and that I don't have the skill to race at a certain level despite everything to the contrary that I've ever done... And that's okay. Because that isn't about me. Anyone who wishes for a stranger to fail in such a dangerous way has far bigger problems than I do after crashing like that. And it gave me some perspective into being human, into being okay with being human and into looking at the gap, laughing and joking about never taking that much cold medicine again.


Or, you know, just not grabbing brake. 


But there's no such thing as perfection. Have you ever watched the outtakes for some of the best MTB, ski and skate videos on the planet? I have. I grew up on those, cut my teeth to the wails of pros who fucked up and then put it in a blooper reel. And what inspired the shit out of me then shaped who and what I am today -- just because you crash doesn't mean you're out. It doesn't mean we're bad at what we do or that we'll never be our best. What it means is that we're not afraid of looking like assholes in the pursuit of becoming better at whatever we're chasing.


There's no dishonor in that


The real dishonor is in not racing or not chasing dreams because of what we're afraid of looking like. The real dishonor, as a character in 'The Art Of Racing In The Rain' tells Denny, is in "not racing because we're afraid to lose". There's nothing wrong with losing a race or being slower or fucking up and crashing. There's not a damn thing bad about taking risk, fucking up and getting back up again. "What if I lose?", Denny asks Don. "There is no dishonor in losing."


I'm not afraid of looking like a jerk. I'm not scared of looking like an idiot. I don't give a good flying fuck if I seem like an amateur to the armchair quarterbacks who sit at home and scoff at how they could have done better. Why? Because I spent the first half of my life so fucking wrapped up in looking stupid that I wasted most of the best and smartest years by not trying because I was so afraid of failing. I wasted a brilliant mind and an incredible athletic talent on the perfectionist dreams of the people around me and I was so crippled by the potential (or eventual) criticism of family, friends and strangers that it made me into a shadow of myself.


I don't live like that anymore. Not only am I a better athlete and person for it, but the world is a better place because of it. If I look like a moron in the pursuit of making this world a better place or if I fail or if I get hit by a milk truck while I'm helping someone else, so fucking be it. Because at least I tried. I will have tried over and over and over and over and over again so much that when they choose what to write on my headstone, it will be along the lines of "most stubborn asshole on the planet". "That bitch never gave up." "God, she was a like a dog with a bone." 


It's not that I'm fearless. It's that I refuse to let my fears dictate who I am or how I live or what I do. It's not that I think I'm better than anyone else, either -- it's that I know I'm better than myself as I currently am. It's that I believe in trying to be a better person, athlete, friend and human every fucking day and because I often fall so short, I just try harder the next day. Life isn't a goddamn competition against anyone but ourselves. This isn't a game of who has the best stuff or the shiniest toys. It's not about who's the coolest or the most aloof or the least touchable. All of this is about how many times you're willing to look like a dumbass in the pursuit of what you believe in. Life is about looking stupid and being dumb and finding that those things make you want to be better at whatever you suck at. That's what mountain biking is supposed to teach us. It's not about being perfect on the first try. Hell, sometimes that first try is just about trying not to die. Are you dead? No? In the words of Borat: GREAT SUCCESS! Now go try again.


Life is about trying. Life is about making do, showing up and putting the work in while laughing at your own stupid mistakes and letting the shit roll off your back. If looking cool on social media is the only goal you have in life, then congratulations -- I guess you'll have lived a more marketable life than the rest of us. But I'm not ignorant enough to think I know everything or to pretend that I'm not human and not fallible and not trying. 


Because I am. I try way too fucking hard sometimes. I care too fucking much. I jump in too fucking fast. And I reach too fucking high.


But you know what? I do okay, and tomorrow I'll do okay-er. And the least I can do while giving myself some space to be just okay is to let other people know that they're doing okay, too. Because nobody's perfect and the goal isn't perfection -- it's progress. It's about who shows up, who gets up, who makes up on that day. That's what I love about racing bikes. It's not about who's the fastest over a series or on Strava or in friendly comparison, it's just about who chooses to show up and progress. You show up enough and it's gonna pay off. And sometimes showing up hurts. Sometimes taking risk really sucks. But you continue to show up. We show up to the gym, to physical therapy, to that stupid MRI appointment. We show up for the great stuff and we show up for the suck. We show the fuck up. And sometimes we show up for bad shit. Sometimes we show up and someone gets hurt or we get broken off or we waste a whole lot of time and money just showing up. That's part of showing up. It's what makes us hungrier. It's not about people who are MTB Jesus or who can perform miracles. People who look like MTB jesus have often had more than their fair share of showing up just for the suck. But racing and riding and life are about showing up.


It's about the people who can show up, and then figure out how to show up and string a few good days together, a few good minutes, and determine that they're okay with giving a little more 'try'. That hitting pay dirt, heaving your guts out as everyone goes silent, then finally breathing, then actually kneeling, then standing up and walking away is absolutely okay. And whether that takes a few minutes or an entire lifetime, getting up is the heroic part. Getting up, even when you're not sure you can stay standing. Getting up, getting back in whatever ring you're swinging in and just trying to hold on.


Because sometimes, just trying is heroic. 


Fuck the expectations. Fuck the comparisons. Fuck the perfection, the criticism, the armchair quarterbacks. Get up, get up on your own terms and walk your own line. 


That's all that matters.