Sunday, March 14, 2010

I could never do what you do

Anyone who has ever done anything out of the ordinary has probably been told this at least once.

I was reading an article about Karen Stewart, a 65 year old woman with MS who walks marathons. Near the end of the article was this exchange:
"When I meet with other patients and share my story, some of them will say, 'So what, I can never do what you do,'" Stewart said. "My message is really one of hope. Maybe you can't do what I do, but you can do more. We're all capable of doing more than what we do. Wherever you're at, just get out of that comfort zone." [emphasis mine]
When I share my story on my blog and in real life, it's not to make people feel like I'm some special superwoman who is doing something they could never do. But I think that's how some people take it.

When people say "I could never do that" to me, sometimes it makes me feel like I'm doing something amazing, but sometimes it makes me feel like an alien. (Or, usually, both at the same time.)

I suspect that's exactly how they mean too. I remember the first time I saw Kona on TV and thought it looked like fun. But did I say "I want to have that kind of fun too"? No, I said "I could never do that!" and what I really meant was "you people are nuts." Amazing, but nuts.

Now I'm signed up to do an Ironman. So I guess (a) I was wrong that I could "never do that" and (b) now I'm one of those nut jobs too.

But the important point is: I was wrong.

I limited myself unnecessarily by being too quick to put those people on my tv screen into the "not quite human" box. Sure, Ironmen (especially the ones who can qualify for Kona) are amazing and worthy of respect and not everyone can do what they do because you have to qualify to do Kona and there is a time cutoff, too.

But, that doesn't mean we can't do our own version of what they do.

However, instead of being inspired by their example by going out there and signing up for a triathlon, or even just a 5K or a bike race or anything remotely physical, and then doing what I had to in order to get ready for it, I decided there was something special about them that I didn't have and never would have and completely forgot about the idea (at least consciously) for over two decades.

I think I did that for two reasons. (1) I just couldn't picture myself as an athlete ("I am not a jock. I am a brain!") and (2) I didn't want the pressure of having goals I might not make.

So when people tell me that they could never do what I do, I can completely understand where they are coming from. But, or maybe because of that, I don't let them off the hook. I tell them that I was once them and therefore they can be me.

I tell them I'm not some super-special athlete with amazing genes who woke up one day and was able to do an Ironman (or even a Sprint triathlon) right out of the box. Heck, even Chrissie Wellington bombed out in her first triathlon. But she came back to try again and I signed up for the ICE Breaker Tri back when I hadn't even run one whole mile without stopping and was worried I wouldn't be able to finish in less than three hours.

What I am trying to say is: if I can do these things, anyone can. Maybe we can't be Chrissie exactly, but we can be our best version of her. We can let the experiences of people ahead of us in the journey inspire us instead of intimidate us.

No, I'm not saying you have to become a triathlete to be successful. If that's not what floats your boat, that's okay.

My hope is that everyone finds something physical that they love as much as I love triathlons. But you have to be open to it. If you keep thinking of yourself as someone who can't, it's going to be hard to transform yourself into someone who can. You have to move out of your comfort zone, maybe think of yourself as a different sort of person than how you are used to thinking of yourself. ("I am not just a brain -- I'm a whole body!")

Which is hard. I get that. (It did take me several decades after all to embrace my inner athlete.) But, the scary part is not that it's hard; it's that it's completely doable.

So the message isn't: you have to be an Ironman to be a successful WLS patient (or walk marathons to be a successful MS patient). The message is: you can do things you don't think you can.


P.S. Please do me a favor. Please leave a comment telling us about something you have done or are working to do that you didn't think you could or about a time someone told you "I could never do that" about something you did. Thanks.
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