As a Professional Athlete and Business Owner, I find myself dissecting situations all the time. What went wrong? What went right? How can I get better? The number one thing I can attribute to my successes has been a willingness to try. Without a playful curiosity with the unknown, we’d be frozen in stagnation. (e.g. how will the race go; what happens if I try this with my training; what will this person say about my proposal, etc)
There are two ways that people fail:
1. Giving up before giving it a try.
2. Looking for the win in the wrong place.
Number one has always been easy for me, but number two is something I have had to make a conscious mind shift and train myself to do.
1. Giving up before giving it a try
To achieve anything meaningful in our lives, we set goals. Maybe we want to get a promotion at work, run a faster 10k, lose weight, or finish our first mountain bike race. When we set goals, the goals are important to us and we get attached to the outcome. What happens if we don’t reach that outcome? Fear claws our vulnerabilities and we start to worry what people will think; maybe we weren’t “cut out” to do this; maybe we’ll never get there. These concerns and excuses are all a fear of the unknown. Sometimes, we get so paralyzed by some of our dreams that we won’t even attempt to reach them. Our limits are often self-imposed due to a lack of confidence. I’ve been there in many different areas of my life. The best reward is proving yourself wrong. It’s not always comfortable to push our limits, but that stretch zone makes us capable of so much more in our lives.
Ten years ago, the dream of becoming a pro mountain biker seemed impossible but through hard work, it happened. If you told me 5 years ago that I would be a World Champion in endurance mountain biking, that I could go off a 6’ jump on my bike, or that I would race in over 20 countries, I would have laughed in your face and said, “yeah right!” The stretch zone will surprise you and show you that you are capable of more than you think.
The point: the more you do, the more you believe you can do. Each time you stretch yourself, each time you grow just a little bit, your frame of reference expands a little more. Psychologist Abraham Maslow believed that what brings us satisfaction and happiness as human beings is to strive to reach our potential. That’s why when we aren’t go-getting, we feel like something is missing and we are looking for inspiration.
“If you plan on being anything less than you are capable of being, you will probably be unhappy all the days of your life.”
2. Looking for the win in the wrong place.
There are two main intimidating parts of a big goal: the time it takes to get there and getting started.
The second part of overcoming failure is redefining your win. What happens along the way when you fail? If you are truly intent on a growth, you will have letdowns along the way. Failure is only permanent if you allow it to be. How do you survive failure? It lies in within your focus. An example is my last race. It was a big goal of mine to win but when race day came, I had no legs and despite my best efforts, I finished in a lackluster 5th place. I was irritated because I knew I was capable of so much more, but I didn’t let it ruin my day. Instead of focusing on where I should be, I chose to look at things that I was doing well. It was pouring rain and I had been working on slippery, technical riding. For the first time ever, I felt confident and enjoyed the sketchy, slick descents. How else can you soften the blow of failure? Always do your best. Your best on one day may be different than your best on another day, but that is okay. With each challenging experience, it gives you something to fall back on the next time it gets hard. How many times have we thought, “Well I survived [x], I can get through this.” Adversity is good. It’s what makes us stronger.
Our perception is our reality. The goal should be to grow and get better, not to be perfect every time.
“Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.”
The engine of my ’94 Nissan Sentra sputtered as I turned the key. My $300 mountain bike was jammed in the back seat of my car (affectionately named The Tough Bastard) and I muscled my way through the turns up the switchbacks to Sandia Peak Ski Area outside Albuquerque, New Mexico. My car didn’t have power steering, but it took me where I wanted to go. I was about to line up for my first mountain bike race; never mind the fact that I had only started mountain biking 3 weeks ago. I labeled myself as a runner at the time and was excited to try something new. When I strapped that very first crisp number plate to my handlebar, I didn’t realize it would change my life. It’s now been over a decade since I started mountain bike racing and it still baffles me that I have made a career out of my passion and travel the world doing it. It’s the adventures and the long shots I’ve taken that continue to define me.
The Tough Little Bastard.
I started as an eager XC racer (that’s 15-20 mile total racing distance) and started racing in the “pro” category 2 years later. When I like something, I’m all in and I went head first into cycling (and tried to avoid going head first when I crashed although it happens on occasion). I enjoyed the competition but after several years, I grew bored racing for 1.5 hours in the same places and riding around in circles. I felt like there was something missing. It seemed that XC racing was more about beating other people and less about a personal challenge. 5 years ago I changed my discipline to ultra endurance mountain biking. The romance of long rides on the unexplored Rocky Mountain backcountry trails clutched at my spirit. I’d unsnap the lid of the black sharpie and trace massive trail loops on maps, load my pack with food and water, and set off to see what would happen and how long it would take. I was struggling with motivation to do the 1.5 hour short interval training rides necessary for XC racing because for me, they lacked substance. There wasn’t a lot of adventure in staring at my bike computer doing intervals on the same stretch of road or trail though it’s almost required if you want to get faster! With an unquenchable thirst for more, I started picking the longest and hardest single and multi-day events around the USA. I found my niche; 100 milers and stage (multi-day) racing. I was able to progress and start winning races around the world and racing across regions of countries like Sri Lanka, Haiti, Nepal, Mongolia, and Morocco and even winning a World Championship. I am hooked because it makes me feel alive.
One of my races through the Sahara Desert
Stage racing, particularly in third world countries teaches you more about yourself than you could ever learn during the daily grind. It strips you down to the essentials- food, water, basic shelter, and getting from point A to point B in one piece. You live like the locals. You learn the importance of community because that group of people you are racing with and against for a week is all you know. They become your family. Everyone has one and the same label: “mountain biker”; as opposed to the labels and expectations that society can place on us in a city. Rich, poor, big house, small house, CEO, janitor- none of those descriptors matter at a stage race. Dinners are spent sharing stories of what you saw or of personal encounters creating true camaraderie. To top it off, no matter what the fitness or skill level of rider, you are physically pushing yourself to the limit for days on end in foreign conditions. If you are not mentally strong, it will break you. I’ve learned some incredible life lessons from racing. Lessons that I use in my every day life, for work, and in relationships.
Here are the three most important.
- Attitude is a choice. We are lucky! We get to choose the lens for the world. Choosing to scan for the positive things around you instead of focusing on the negative makes you more successful and happier. Just ask Shawn Achor, Harvard PhD, author of “The Happiness Advantage.” When I see something challenging in front of me, I feel the apprehension, then laugh at it and kick its ass instead of withering and dreading how painful it’ll be.
- Be brave. It’s worth it. It takes courage to believe in your dreams and take the necessary steps to make them happen. It won’t always turn out the way you expected, but simply getting started when you want to do something will change your life. Overcoming the “what ifs” and taking action will change the way you approach all future challenges.
- You can do way more than you think. Anyone who has taken on a challenge can relate to this. You can think back and say, “Wow! I did all that!” It can be raising a child, running a marathon, or even taking guitar lessons. The more you do, the more you believe you can do.
If you live with these key points in mind as I do, you’ll find yourself doing extraordinary things! If you’d like to hear how I define success, watch my TED Talk (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WYiflJvxTac)
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