About five years ago someone told me that they started to notice subtle changes and little niggles in their body right around when they turned 43. I remember listening with compassion and also thinking, “I hope this doesn’t happen to me”…

Well. I turn 43 next week. And.. it is happening. I feel like suddenly I have been thwacked upside the head with the awareness that I am, in fact, aging. I physically look older. For the first time in my life, I feel a little older. I am experiencing hormonal shifts that happen as a result of getting older. I am struggling to hit high power and paces in my workouts. I often feel sort of mentally, emotionally, and physically disinterested, or “flat,” which impacts my athletic identity.

Now, I am not AT ALL claiming that 43 is “old,” I truly see aging as a privilege, and I am thankful for every single day on this planet. So, please don’t come at me. 😉 I am speaking from my own experience and to a collective one that I know I share with many other women and men my age. It seems midlife is a time for this kind of realization and reflection, and the time to make some short and long term decisions on how you are going to handle the aging process. 

This is not a blog about aging, or the struggles and successes of master’s athletes, although I will write one of those some day. Today, I only want to set the scene for a short and simple message that impacted my old(er) bones just the other day: 

A little compliment can go a long way. 

I am not talking about those about our physical appearance. I am also not at all claiming that giving and accepting compliments about how we look is bad. And, I am not suggesting that you should stop giving them. But, the ones that I see have the most positive, and lasting, impact are the compliments on who we are, how we act, what we accomplish, and how we treat and serve others. 

I have alluded through some of my messages that I have developed an internal struggle with my swim capability (or decreasing ability). It has impacted my confidence on race day and stunted my goal setting. I was telling myself I was doing all I could. I swim often. I recently hired a swim coach and competed several 1:1 sessions. My swim is improving, but the other morning I was frustrated (yet again) with my struggle to hit paces I believe I am capable of. 

Then– I had one of those “aha” moments during my set. I don’t know exactly what lead to this truth bomb, but I suddenly had the honest realization that I just don’t like pushing myself as hard when my head is underwater. In my reflection I realized I am not as good of a swimmer as I can be because I don’t like the feeling in my body when my heart rate nears threshold in the pool. And feeling anaerobic? No thank you. Basically put, I hold back ever so slightly for safety and comfort. 

(Okay- if you are reading this as a non-swimmer it likely sounds logical to feel this way. But, as a 16-year veteran, I know my limitations. I will not put myself in harms way. And, I also know that I can give more.)

After my epiphany, I stopped at the wall to consider whether or not I was going to salvage this swim and truly show up, or keep the intensity low and focus more on form. And then (possibly) push harder tomorrow. When I stopped at the wall I smiled when I realized I was sharing a lane with my boys’ JV basketball coach. (Who had, and continues to have, a massively positive impact on my boys’ high school sports experience). He smiled at me and said: 

“I thought that was you. You are an excellent swimmer.” 

I laughed and shrugged off his compliment. Even though I didn’t necessarily agree, his timely kindness made an impact. It gave me a renewed interest in pushing myself in the water. I  wasn’t trying to impress him, or live up to his expectations of my excellence. But, it challenged me to show up to what I am capable of. And at the end of the workout I left the pool feeling empowered and ready for my day. It helped my attitude shift, and I have carried it with me into my workouts since. 

Open your eyes to seeing people beyond their physical appearance. We are not just our weight, our clothing, our bone structure, or our hairstyle (etc). See strangers as people who are worthy of sharing space with you. Vulnerably share the things you see and love about them for who they are. And when you recognize that people are doing something well, tell them! 

(I like this list of 121 compliments that are not about physical appearance.)

A little compliment can go a long way.

What if an acquaintance was on the verge of making a life altering decision, and you unknowingly told them they are strong?

What if a student in your neighborhood was preparing for a massive test, and you told them they are smart?

What if the barista at your local coffee shop was internally struggling to get out of bed each day, and you told them you appreciated their hard work? 

And what if someone was struggling with their training, or their identity in their sport, and you told them they are excellent?

Sometimes we know the struggles of others, and oftentimes we don’t. Either way, give more compliments. And let’s all be better at receiving them too.