"If you don't believe in yourself, why should anyone else believe in you?"
"You have to love yourself before you can expect another person to love you."
These phrases were etched into my being years ago, but in the past couple of weeks I've had a bit of an epiphany.
I used my early morning walks to catch up on podcasts after my finger surgery when I could not run or swim or bike and zoomed in on an interesting connection from one podcast to the other.
Sometimes it makes sense to hang back and let someone else have confidence in you first.
As in, you got this before I got this.
I was listening to elite runner Tina Muir's interview with NCAA champion Phoebe Wright on the RunnersConnect podcast a few days before Phoebe made Team USA for the Rio Olympics. Throughout her career and certainly in the beginning Phoebe said she relied on her coach and a host of other individuals to boost her confidence.
"I needed someone to believe in me so I wouldn’t feel silly having lofty goals," she said.
It's not that Phoebe wasn't a hard worker, because she was, or that she wasn't a talented runner, because she is. It's just that she came to running serendipitously as a walk-on, meaning she was not recruited, at the University of Tennessee track team because she thought that would be a good way to make friends. It was her running coach who saw something special in Phoebe long before Phoebe herself would ever feel any sense of confidence as a competitor.
In the interview, Phoebe, now a Nike-sponsored runner, talks about the bumps in her road to the Olympics and how important it's been for her to surround herself with people who believed in her, especially when she did not believe in herself.
That morning, I also listened to Gretchen Rubin's "A Little Happier" podcast where Gretchen recalled that before she had a career as a writer, when she was a 3rd-year law student, she had an interview to clerk for Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. On the day of the interview she had coffee with her friend Jim who was already clerking for Justice O'Connor.
Jim was busy telling Gretchen all about the job when Gretchen stopped him.
"Did you ever worry about whether you could do the job, whether you were a good enough lawyer?" Gretchen asked him.
"Sandra Day O'Connor is a justice of the Supreme Court," Jim said. "She has hired dozens of clerks. You let her decide whether you're good enough to do the job. Your only concern is try to get that job."
Gretchen's takeaway from that conversation?
"If knowledgeable people think I can do that job, I can probably do that job."
And then on "Modern Love the Podcast," I was moved by Colin Farrell's reading of “Would My Heart Outrun Its Pursuer?” by Gary Presley, a quadriplegic man who now lives happily ever after with one of his female attendants. The piece is moving from beginning to end but one of the ideas that resonated with me was the brief comment Presley made about the fact that he never felt worthy of loving anyone until Belinda fell deeply in love with him first.
Maybe that's one of the reasons why it was so difficult for me to establish a fitness habit after decades of watching other men and women stay in shape. In my professional world there is so much emphasis on being the best you can be and having the self-confidence to put yourself out there to grab even bigger and better opportunities.
Actually the idea is that if you don't put your hat in the ring no one else will put it there for you.
It's not that I'm suggesting you can't achieve great things on your own or that you have to go out and seek affirmation from others. But a big part of becoming self confident is being self-aware, especially where exercise is concerned, and self-awareness is difficult to achieve without a frame of reference.
We're seeing more and more life coaches and executive coaches turning up in our day jobs, but if you've had experience on a team you might be more comfortable with the idea that it's ok to lean on someone else to give you the confidence you need to go for it. I think this is an area where the athletic world might be ahead of the rest of us.
When I first started training with Reuel at Equinox in 2014 I had no personal experience testing myself physically. For the first few months, I could tell he knew I was having circular conversations in my head when I thought I needed to stop or rest or quit.
That's usually when he would say something like, "You got this."
"Are you sure?" is what I might have said once or twice aloud but every time in my head.
If I had not been training with a trainer or a coach, I would have stopped long before the 8th rep or the first quarter mile on the treadmill.
When my wetsuit disappeared just before the start of the Cape Henlopen Triathlon, as soon as I saw Terrence, my swim coach, the first thing I asked him was whether I could do the swim without a wetsuit.
I was asking him. I had no idea myself whether I got this.
Looking to others for affirmation or support doesn't always have to be a bad thing or a sign of weakness or low self-esteem.
After three weeks of rehabbing my busted hamstrings on my left leg, as I was about to leave for Jamaica to run my first marathon, I said to Kevin that I felt great but thought in a perfect world we'd have one more week.
"You're an athlete," he said. "You got this."
I can tell you 100 percent at that moment in all my life I never would have described myself as an athlete.
We can look to others we trust and whose opinions we value to determine whether we can dig deep and push ourselves harder or longer to achieve the goals we want to set for ourselves, even if we think they might be too lofty, to use Phoebe's word.
When Mia and I ran the Turkey Chase 10K in November 2014, I turned to look at her when we approached yet another steep hill.
"Really?" I said.
She knew exactly what I was thinking.
"You got this."
It made all the difference because although I did not think so, she did.
See you next time!