Yesterday I found myself inside a bookstore to pick up a copy of Chrissie Wellington’s autobiography A Life Without Limits. I had already borrowed the book from a friend last year, but having my own copy is invaluable because I can go back to some of its nuggets of wisdom. The one I was thinking about in particular was this passage:
My only policy throughout has been to keep an open mind and, whatever I may do, give it my all…the limits that I thought I could see in the distance dissolved as I approached them. They turned out not to be real at all, but mere assumptions. And that has been the most exciting revelation of all.
When I first started running, I never thought about competing, but ran for its health benefits. Then when presented with an opportunity to race, I took it and found I enjoyed the races as well as striving to be better. Everything else that followed after was a result of saying “yes” to opportunities that presented themselves. Yes to doing my first marathon on my birthday, which led to qualifying for the Milo Marathon finals that year (it’s our own version of the Boston Marathon!). Yes to doing my first triathlon, which a few years later led to me completing an ironman this year — at one of the world’s best races, no less!
But what was the first step? It was answering “yes” to challenges that presented themselves, that ignited passion and excitement in me. I’m normally more closed-off. I’m not a world traveler, not adventurous (even in food! I always order the same things in restaurants I’ve been to), not spontaneous…
I took an improv acting workshop many years ago, and one of our exercises was “Yes, And”. Two actors begin a conversation. One of them starts with a scenario, and the other agrees and builds onto that scenario. It goes like this:
Actor 1: How was your trip to Africa? Did you see any lions?
Actor 2: Yes! One of them even came all the way up to our truck.
Actor 1: I heard it scratched the door.
Actor 2: That was my door. I’m so glad it wasn’t an open-bed truck, otherwise we would have been like a bucket of KFC Chicken. Nom nom nom!
You’re not allowed to deny anything the other actor says, and you have to build on it. This has the opportunity to build into a great story, and all built on improv! One of the reasons I sucked at this exercise was I tended to say, “No, not really” instead of agreeing with my partner in the exercise.
As I re-read Chrissie’s book I see in myself many of her traits: the desire to excel, a need for approval, the tendency to become a control freak. Someone recently asked me, “Why do you hold onto so much, and hold yourself to so much? It is your biggest limiter and also your biggest asset.” I said it’s because I ask a lot from myself, and I usually get it. It’s great when it fuels me to get the best performance out of myself in a race, for instance. It’s awful when I get down on myself for things that haven’t even happened, doubting myself, resulting in questions like “what if I’m not fast enough or strong enough?” It’s something I am trying, with increasing success, to overcome.
Because of sport I’ve been “Yes, And”-ing things in my life, and it’s opened up so many new experiences, I’ve met great new friends, and been so many more places than I ever thought possible. And there’s so much more to do and see and grow into becoming. It’s not just an external journey, but more importantly it’s also an internal one. I do feel my world and my perspective has grown from all this. I’ve grown not just as an athlete, but also as a person.
I don’t want to say that I can become a world champion just like Chrissie Wellington (she’s a freak of nature!), but I do know that I am on my way to becoming the best I can be at whatever I decide to do. And I know you can do that, too. Anyone can.
But it all starts with a “yes.”