Don’t let what you think you are, get in the way of who you are

From a very young age, we’re taught to define ourselves, to have a label or even put ourselves in a box. This comes along with a sub-text or even sub-genre of a higher calling. When I was a kid I knew that I loved to use my hands and I really enjoyed building and creating. I loved that I could think of something in my head and create it with Legos, Popsicle sticks, hot glue, and a boatload of string. I was told in school that I was a spacial thinker; that I was good at conceptualizing and boiling things down into there respective parts and pieces. They told me I had to (could, should, would) be an engineer when I got into college. This post is a reflection on where I started before becoming a coach, in search of my calling – allowing myself the opportunity to wander.

Letting go is not the same as giving up

It was upon graduating that I realized through a job change, a move across the state, and mounting frustration that I didn’t like what I did. However, in my head – I thought I had to be an engineer. To please my family, to do justice to my degree, and succeed (I thought my path was set in stone). I thought that the only way I would make money, make a name for myself, buy a house, or travel was by being an engineer. I thought I had to work for someone else, and do what I was told to do for long enough to retire, so I could then enjoy the riches of my prime years.

As a coach, I see this in so many of my younger athletes. The mom’s and dad’s, and other coaches tell them – “you’re such a good miler”, or “you’re much better at the 800 than the 2 mile”. As adults speaking to our youth this is meant to encourage the athlete. This may be because we see them succeeding against there counterparts, or even possess some natural ability. However, these conversations should be approached with caution. What’s meant as encouragement can really get these athletes stuck. Stuck in a mind-set where they unknowingly define self-worth and success only in the parameters of the events they initially have success in.

Stuck is where I was when I got older, and out of college. It’s when the frustration mounted, and I was so unhappy, that I finally took a risk. After my 3rd job change, across 3 different companies in 7 years – 3 major moves, and now having to re-interview for the job I had; I cut the cord. I told Katie, my soon to be wife, I needed to pursue things I was passionate about and get out of my comfort zone.

While I was an engineer – I loved my garden. So I went and worked on a farm for a summer. I was able to explore something and be bad at it, I didn’t have the first idea of how to farm and plant on such a large scale. I was so lucky to have a good mentor – he allowed me to fail, even though it meant I was slower and less productive. He wanted me to get it right, to do the job to it’s full extent. Despite his passion and care for the farm; my passion was lacking and I found myself needing something that allowed me to interact with people. So as summer ended I asked myself:  “What is the one thing that get me out the door every morning?”  The closest thing in my mind was the furthest thing from my engineering label, my love and pursuit of running. This would transform into a love for coaching. I derive so much enjoyment from watching kids and adults work hard, achieve their goals, and do it for themselves.

You are what you continuously do…

So why am I sharing this?  It’s because I want to share a little of my journey, as well as ask my youth athletes, their parents as well as my adult athletes to be patient. Slow-down, and let things come naturally – anything worth waiting for is worth doing correctly.  Lauren Fleshman covers this topic perfectly in a recent piece on Milesplit here:

I want to tell you what I wish I had been told.  For athletes from middle school to college and beyond: you have about 30 years in your prime. Which is an eternity!  If after that first 30 years you still have the passion, another 30 years to enjoy the sport as a master and who knows where it could go from there. Do you really think that the 4 years in high school define you? Do I think that my four years in university defined me?

Absolutely not!

There is a lot to be said about exploration, finding something that makes you tick and pursuing a passion. A big part of finding that calling comes with the ‘F’ word so few like to hear.


If you don’t try, you’ll never know. We hear it time after time – but how often do we actually test ourselves? Why not see what it’s like to lose?

If you think something looks fun, or ignites something in you – don’t wait for later. Get guidance, seek to understand, and try. If you tried it, failed, and enjoyed it – you’re onto something. If you can walk away from something you failed at saying ‘I can’t wait to try that again’, then it’s worth keeping at it.

So often we avoid trying something new with preconceived notions of what we’re supposed to be.  We think that anything that is outside of our comfort zone carries the same weight of loss as if we were jumping out of a plane without a parachute.

I’m asking all my athletes, young and old to try something new.  Don’t commit yourself to say that I am only a ‘Miler’, ‘Ultra Runner’, or an ‘Obstacle Course Racer’.  Labeling yourself prevents you from opening yourself to new experiences and prevents you from what you could be?

This quote has been with me all month long…

“Don’t let what you cannot do, get in the way of what you can”

If you let your preconceived notions define you, then by definition – they own you. Give yourself permission to be what you want to be, to wander, and fail a few times before you get it right. I’m asking you to take back your right to choose – and not let what you think you are, define who you are.

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