Last September, I had a one of those “well duh” epiphanies that revealed a hidden not-so-pretty secret and freed me to advance in my skiing for the first time in a couple of years. It reminded me once again how very useful it can be to understand what is REALLY driving my decisions and actions. In this case, I had been stuck because I was torn between wanting to prove myself and caring WAY too much what other people think.
Sitting at our annual Women’s Ski Week at Coble Ski School, one of the skiers I really admire was talking about her decision to ski at a slower speed than the maximum for our age group. Having been on a quest for over 10 years just to REACH that speed, I started listening with both ears.
She spoke about having been injured while striving to progress to faster speeds and shorter lines. When she decided that it made more sense for her to stay at 30 MPH and then start shortening the rope, she got unreal pressure from her mostly male ski friends. This was a kind of pressure I was very familiar with.
The pressure takes many forms, sometimes being quite direct and other times, being that subtle form that communicates that you are just not that good of a skier. Skiers know this pressure well.
The direct pressure happens live and real time in the water. You run a full pass at a given speed. If that speed is below the maximum speed for your age group, most drivers who also compete in tournaments automatically want to increase your speed before they shorten the rope. Why? Because if you want to ski in tournaments, that’s how it’s done. Rarely do you run across a tournament skier who will do it any other way – even for those skiers who never plan to ski a tournament and struggle to ski at the faster speed.
For some skiers, including me, it’s a recipe for disappointment cloaked in the intent to help you progress.
That pressure helps some and stops others . In many cases, the less experienced skier sitting in the water just does what the more experienced skier says to do. “Keep trying to go faster. This is how it’s done. You have to do it this way.” Often, the newer skier gets discouraged, wonders what’s wrong with them and maybe quits the sport all together.
Thanks to my conversation with another skier I really respected, I suddenly realized just how much power I had given to what other people had decided as best for me.
Two days after this insight, I broke through a previously impossible barrier for me.
Here’s what I had completely missed about the pressure I was feeling to go the faster speed: I was doing it because that’s what other people say I had to do. It wasn’t working for me, yet I had not been listening to my internal compass; I was too busy trying to prove myself to the “system.”
The next day, instead of trying to go faster, we shortened the rope. Every skier is aware of the “22-off” bump. It had intimidated me for years, so I rarely tried it, and when I did, I stopped after the first couple of turns and immediately went back into my comfort zone. This time it was different. I was able to tolerate the discomfort enough to make six turns down the lake and get pretty close to actually running the pass. The next day, I succeeded in running the pass.
This summer, I’ve spent more time working on shortening the rope and am having even more fun than ever, although it also means I’m spending more time in my “discomfort zone.”
Caring what other people think had kept me from achieving a win for myself. And that win has been SO MUCH more satisfying than proving myself to others.
It was months before I realized that my insight last September fell into the bucket of “caring what other people think.” I would love to say I’ve gotten past all that. Ha. Hardly.
This insight tells me it’s worth looking at all areas of my life where my actions and decisions fall into the “caring what people think” bucket. Not so that I can prove myself somehow – but instead so that I can free myself to be my best.
Where do you care what other people think – and maybe don’t want to admit it? What decisions do you make out of fear of repercussions that really don’t matter in the end? What would it take for you to operate from your internal compass?
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When I worked in Corporate America, the harshest feedback I got was around my competitiveness. All too often people told me that I was “not a team player” and that I was “too competitive”. Along with the feedback came the promise (threat) that I would not be promoted with this approach. So I did what any ambitious person would do: I got very competitive about not being competitive. In my world, competitive became a “bad thing”. The feedback went the other way and I was seen as successful.
Then I became an athlete where competition is the name of the game. Yet I was operating under a that rule called “competition = bad”. Now what? I’ve struggled reconciling this until recently.
My “competitiveness” had an unhealthy facet to it. It was really “comparativeness”. In those days, what I was doing was saying something like “look at me – I’m better than my co-worker, right?” It many ways, it was the oldest game on the planet - sibling rivalry – in full bloom.
It has taken some deep self-awareness work to understand that my pattern of comparativeness doesn’t serve me in almost any venue. Except maybe in comparing products in the store. Do I want the red shorts or the blue shorts?
To some degree, today’s transparent world of social media helped me see my own tendency to compare. You see it every day, both blatantly and subtly on every outlet from Facebook to Instagram. We compare ourselves to others: Who’s having the best weekend? Who has the coolest pet? Took the most exotic vacation? Has the most likes?
What’s underneath the game is that age old question that every human asks in one form or another: Am I enough? With our personal window into the inner voices, doubts, and failures we carry, it’s easy to look at others and think they might have one over on us. We can’t ever know what it really going on inside someone else. So we compare apples to oranges.
The most put together person you have ever seen might have left a house that is a complete mess or just had the worst fight with a loved one ever. Yet here I am comparing her awesome presentation to my pitiful attempt at graphic design and then linking my ability to make pretty pictures to my value in the world. I leap to these crazy conclusions with the tiniest bit of data.
Comparing confuses my value as a human to my skills. It truly is apples and oranges.
Comparative asks the question: where do I as a human being measure up? Am I enough? Or at least, am I better than you? For many, it comes from that childlike question to mommy – who do you love more? In school, we ask the question of the teacher (sometimes non-verbally – but believe me we ask it): do you like me better than little Johnny over there?
Competitive tests my skills: how do my skills stack up? Am I faster? Or stronger? Or where do my skills fit in whatever the measuring stick of the competition decides?
When we operate from comparatives, it’s not for the win, although it feels like that. It’s actually for validation. Do I belong here? Am I enough? In its most evil form, comparative actions go to great lengths to put others down so that I can fare well in the comparison. “At least I’m not lazy, dumb, late, slow…fill in blank.”
Taking my comparativeness off the table while allowing my competitiveness to flourish is not easy. It will be a struggle for the rest of my life – yet one worth tackling.
Where do you confuse your value as a human to your ability to do something? Where do you put someone’s economic value above their human value? What makes you decide someone is “better than” someone else?
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