When I decided I wanted to do Ironman Wisconsin over 15 years ago, I had not swam a lap or ran more than two miles consecutively in my life.
I had some experience biking… I owned a heavy hybrid bike and a trailer that I used to pull my kids in to various toddler activities, or when Jamie and I decided to take them on longer trail adventures. But, I had never ridden on a countryside road, owned a road bike, or even seen a triathlon bike. Truthfully, the only time I had ridden alone at all (without 30+ pounds of small child in tow), was on a borrowed bike to get from point A to point B occasionally in college.
But, when I decided I wanted to take on the longest distance triathlon that I knew of at the time, I didn’t even consider all I didn’t know. I instead sought out people to help me, while receiving loving support from Jamie to use some of our limited financial resources to invest in the sport (ie: a bike, shoes, a wetsuit, and a coach). I moved forward, eager to learn and filled with gratitude to be able to take on a personal adventure in a season of life where the majority of my time and energy was spent caring for my one, two, and three year old kids.
Although I received countless gifts of love, support, acceptance, and mentorship during this time, these are not the highlights, and this is not a story of how I came to the sport. I am not writing this specifically to inspire you to believe that you too can start a training journey at any time (although if it does inspire you then of course GO FOR IT!).
Through my personal evolution as a woman, a coach, an athlete, a wife, and as a mother I have learned that my parents gave me one of the greatest gifts that heavily contributed to my ability to confidently take on such an unknown goal.
They let me screw up. A lot. They still do. Without shaming me.
When one of my uncles, a longtime runner, heard that I was starting a training journey toward Ironman Wisconsin, he asked my mom, “Does she even know what that is?” And my mom responded with, “I don’t know. But I trust she will figure it out and I believe she will eventually accomplish it.”
And that is how they raised me. My parents had me when they were 17 and 18 years old and forwent the college experience for the “school of life,” having two of my three brothers one and a half and three years later. They worked hard as they grew up alongside us. They are imperfect humans and therefor imperfect parents. Yet, I will forever be grateful for how they modeled hard work, grit, and confidence.
And I am incredibly thankful that they didn’t shame me when I made mistakes. They (did and still do) believe in my resilience. They trust that I will “figure it out”—no matter how many times I will fall down along the way.
When I was young I most definitely tested this. I did so many stupid things. The list would likely shock and horrify you (if you didn’t know me then). I operated mostly out of selfishly driven insecurity. I hurt others and myself. I have grown to better see the impact of my decisions on others and have learned to love better. But if you know me now, you know I still say and do a lot of stupid things.
I believe that I am not defined by my failures. And I am not immune to experiencing shame, but I have become more resilient to it. I believe this has opened up countless possibilities for me. I am (mostly) not afraid to try new things. I am (mostly) not afraid to fail. I (mostly) believe in myself (sometimes to a fault, but I learn that way too). I (fully) believe in the power of forgiveness.
Most importantly, I am not afraid to show up as me. With openness. Curiosity. Imperfectness.
It is such a gift to be loved and accepted in your formative years. It has had great impact on all of my roles in life, including as a coach and athlete.
So, what if you did not receive this gift during your upbringing? Is this a lost cause?
No, it is not. My short answer is: read and watch Brene Brown. And Kristin Neff. (In addition to many other very experienced and knowledgeable humans). I have linked some of their resources below. They are experts. I am not. And get a really good therapist too.
But if you are not ready for hours of reading, watching, and therapizing try these few quick tips to get started:
Start talking about the things you feel ashamed about, or were taught to feel shame for when you were young. Recognize what triggers your shame. Shame is fueled by silence, secrecy, and judgement. Open up to those you trust and then lean into self compassion and empathy instead.
Practice vulnerability. Doing so has not only greatly improved my connection to others, but has also opened up more possibilities in my career and my athletic hobby—and it can for you too. Being more vulnerable can impact every part of the journey, from overall goal setting to taking on the hardest moments in training. It opens up your creativity and helps you believe in possibility. It broadens all of your relationships and cultivates a life where you are truly known and filled with love—one where you can go forth in your own capabilities, and extend yourself to others too.
Let others share their shame stories without judgement. Focus on being a good listener and allowing the discomfort to be present, rather than “fixing their problems” or urging them to “look on the bright side.” We can show true empathy and support by allowing our friends, family, and kids to share their realness with us, even if it is hard to hear.
Encourage others to come out of their comfort zone with curiosity. Let them know that you will support them when they fall, rather than try to removed all obstacles that may trip them up along their path. Be gentle with them as you urge them to do things scared.
Gift your kids with the ability to mess up without being shamed— not only by you, but by other family members, friends, coaches, or members of society. Don’t “pick” on them. Stand up for them. Create boundaries, have rules, instill values, and uphold consequences. And when they are crossed or broken try to refrain from judgment or defining your kids by their actions. Believe in the good inside them, even during tumultuous stages of life.
We get one go in this big, beautiful, messy life. And the world tells us there is much to be ashamed of. But, I believe we are all truly amazing, alongside the parts of each of us that are not so great. Don’t hide those.
If you have a lot of true shame resilience already, then celebrate it and support others on their journey. And if you don’t, start to cultivate it in order to live your fullest life.
Give yourself and those around you a life changing gift this season.
Some awesome resources:
Brene Brown (I especially love Daring Greatly): https://brenebrown.com/
Kristin Neff’s work on Self Compassion: https://self-compassion.org/
We Can Do Hard Things Podcast: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/we-can-do-hard-things-with-glennon-doyle/id1564530722