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Courage to Start

Courage to start, strength to endure, resolve to finish.

I have this glorious display of medals that I have collected from finishing triathlons, half marathons and 5k’s over the years. They used to be in my office when I was an elementary principal and my students loved them. They would always ask me if I won every race to get each medal. I proudly told them that I didn’t win a single race, but I finished every single one. This often turned into a great discussion on the importance of goal setting and finishing a task. Over the years, my medal collection diminished as I let students choose a medal for accomplishing their own goals.

And now three years into retirement, I wonder why I keep the remaining medals. Maybe it’s because each medal still represents a personal victory for me. Picture an overweight, asthmatic kid with a doctor’s note that said “no PE”… that was me. Memories of sitting in a desk working through health packets while the other kids did the mile run in jr. high still linger in my mind. I didn’t think I could ever run and didn’t go for my first run until after my oldest child was born. Eventually running became part of my life, providing stress relief and camaraderie. The friendships that I made with other runners were priceless, and the race day environment was always so charged with excitement and encouragement.

Although I was so proud of every single one of these medals, there came a time when they were never enough. I was always chasing that next personal record, trying to place in my age division or shave a few minutes off my time. And while healthy competition and goal setting can be healthy, the negative self-talk that was going on in my head wasn’t so healthy.

In 2017 a total hip replacement put an end to my running. It was a tough truth to swallow. Although I never really liked running, I really loved the community and the friendships that I made along the way. Luckily my bestie and I decided that we could still participate in half marathons by walking. Those were my favorite races: races where I didn’t race, where I didn’t care about my time or personal record, but spent the entire 13.1 miles talking with my bestie solving all the problems of the world (or so we told ourselves!).

My running days are long behind me, but I continue to work on letting go of that negative self-talk. It turns out it wasn’t just about personal records and placing in my age division. It was about feeling like I wasn’t enough. It was about perfectionism. I love Brene’ Brown’s description of perfectionism: “Perfectionism is a self-destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: If I look perfect, live perfectly, and do everything perfectly, I can minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgement and blame.” She goes on to say that perfectionism is not the same thing as trying to be your best, nor is it self-improvement, but it is “a 20-ton shield that we carry around thinking that it will protect us, but it actually keeps us from being seen.”

As I work to overcome perfectionism and practice compassionate self-talk, I find that I need to add new tools to my wellness tool kit: daily meditation, yoga, long walks in nature and surrounding myself with authentic, vulnerable people who are willing to show up as themselves. I’m learning to view difficulties and mistakes through the lens of curiosity, giving myself permission to be who I am without that 20-ton shield of perfectionism. I’m honoring myself with good nutrition, daily exercise, quality sleep and deep connections.

So, this revised precious journey of mine takes me right back to the quote on my medal display: courage to start, strength to endure and resolve to finish. But now I look at finishing in a whole new light. I believe that we never really finish; perhaps “finishing” is really just the beginning of a beautiful new chapter waiting to be written.

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