For most of my life I have adopted high expectations and sought independence for myself. I am not sure why. Born a month premature, the joke was that I was vying for my autonomy in the womb. My parents wanted me to do well for myself and gave me plenty of responsibilities and privileges growing up. Being their only child, I wanted nothing more than to do right by them. While I made plenty of mistakes, they were never disappointed if I “fell short” as long as they knew I genuinely tried.
Even so, I was the kid in high school that was a member of several honors societies, was an International Baccalaureate student, and was looking at colleges by the time I was a sophomore. I was also the kid that gave myself a stomach ulcer because I wasn’t doing well in my honors chemistry and math classes. I became acutely aware of how much I was “falling short” compared to some of my peers.
It didn’t help that I was less than popular through most of my tween years. Starting in the third grade, I was bullied about my appearance- an experience that was only perpetuated by early onset puberty. I always had a few close friends that I felt safe with, but for the most part I retreated to my animals. They were my refuge because they accepted me unconditionally. They didn’t have any expectations of who I should be or how I should act. By adolescence, I had become jaded by most of my peer group. I didn’t want to let my guard down and have someone break my trust again. While I didn’t lash out at my peers, I did quietly resolve to be better- to live better- to achieve more.
What resulted was a potent mix of perfectionism and self-doubt. I’d attempt to prove myself to myself time and time again in hopes of garnering respect from those around me, and more importantly, a self-respect that has seemed unattainable at times. I put myself in situations where I felt comfortable- where I knew I could succeed. But when I did fall short academically or socially, it would take a long time to recover.
While my cycle of perfectionism and self-doubt has continued into adulthood, my journey through graduate school led me to the sport of running. Running has helped me learn that “falling short” isn’t always a bad thing. What started out as an endeavor to train for my first 5k has evolved into a long, complex relationship with distance running. In training for and running events of 31-50+ miles, I’ve learned that failure and vulnerability are REQUIRED for growth. Sure it may be unpleasant and uncomfortable at times, but the lessons I’ve learned while running have brought new perspectives and a better sense of control and ownership to other aspects of my life. I am not always going to be the fastest or go the farthest on the course, or be the smartest or the most talented in the room, but I am out there. I’m taking risks. I’m challenging myself. I am coming face to face with the possibility of falling short of my expectations.