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Practicing Empathy for Myself

I was always the kid who was never satisfied with my own performance. My parents would laugh when I came home crying over a B. I was seldom in trouble because I was too busy punishing myself. As I have hopefully matured, I have come to the shocking conclusion over time that I’m not perfect, nor will I ever be. Perfection isn’t something I strive for, but I am relentless in my pursuit of improvement.

And as a parent, a manager, an athlete and a coach, I have a lot of empathy for others. Life happens. Illness happens. Injury happens. Things happen outside our control. Sometimes, we even just fall short. For others, I can point out what went wrong and what went right. I can objectively look at where they triumphed, how hard they worked, what we can learn from the stumbles, and how it makes them stronger. I can look at mistakes as learnings and show others how to see them as such. It is one of my superpowers, both personally and professionally.

Why then am I so chronically unable to do that for myself? After a year of some great personal challenges, which I am myself impressed with how well I handled them, I went into Ironman Cozumel last week with newfound confidence and appreciation. I had a great build into the race. I had worked VERY hard. I had started a new job, but had creatively gotten in ALL my workouts and hit virtually all my numbers. I was as ready as I’ve ever been. I wasn’t as nervous as I was for my previous Ironman races, and even managed to sleep race week. I had heat acclimated. I had arrived early. My bike and all my gear made it to the race and was operational. In short, I was as ready as I have ever been. I was excited to see what the day would bring.

A detailed race report is a separate and pending post, but in short, what the day brought and what I had in mind were not the same. After a great, on plan swim, and a bike was solid, if not faded a bit at the end due to heat, I felt nauseous but strong heading out onto the run. I believed in my plan and my pacing and planned to follow it exactly - which I did for the first 2 hours. After a horror show of a porta potty incident, the nausea quickly turned to vomiting. No problem, I thought - I spent the last 13 miles of the race vomiting last year, I was going to power through it again. But I passed out on the mile 11 mile marker and woke up in an ambulance. Three IVs and a shot of anti nausea medicine later, I had a little cry as I watched those who had finished being brought in, and let myself feel sorry for myself.

Intellectually, I knew I had done all I could and my body just gave out. And yes, there are lessons learned to take away from this to race better, faster and stronger (like I said, that post is forthcoming). BUT, this post is about empathy right?

Had this been one of my athletes, I would have reminded them of all the long hours of work, how they had it in them, how they fought valiantly, and how conditions, illness, nutrition mistakes, or whatever had happened could happen to anyone. I would have told them how proud I was of their attempt, of their bravery, of their hard work and perseverance. And that this was not their day, but they had done this before, and they would do it again. When my friend Susan, a completely certified badass, recently did not finish a race because of illness, I felt tons of empathy for her. I knew her disappointment, but also knew she gave it her all, and that she was an untarnished badass in my eyes.

Why then have I struggled for a week with giving myself that same speech? That same grace? I know it in my head, but my heart is still a little broken. I am still disappointed in myself - I always always think I could have done better. And maybe I could have, but that did not happen on that day. So, for now, I’ll pour over my race report, look for the learnings, and realize that one of the biggest learnings is that I can forgive myself for sometimes falling short and being *gasp* human. Because that’s what I am and not giving myself that grace is actually quite arrogant. For the record, this is why it would be a bad idea for me to ever coach myself (and why I think it’s kind of a bad idea for anyone to do so!).

So, right now, today, I am going to try and start practicing a little of my empathy superpower on myself. I’m going to write the race report and learn what I can from the experience - and share it even if it is embarrassing because really it isn’t. I may need to remind myself and give myself a kick in the pants, but I too am an untarnished badass.

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