Sunday, April 23, 2017

Confessions of a Mountain Biking Perfectionist

A few days ago I was gifted a valuable lesson in how I tend to be my harshest critic. I've been critical of myself all my life along with constantly comparing myself to others. For example, I grew up watching my mom create beautiful oil paintings yet I hated painting because I felt I couldn't do it "right."

I liked drawing and sketching, but I felt my art was overshadowed by the talent of others whom I admired. I put folks on a pedestal and couldn't accept the gift that I brought to the table. I would spend hours on a drawing, erasing frantically at the perceived imperfections of an eye, nose, or mouth. Fingers and hands were absolute nightmares for me. My drawings evolved to manga and anime-style characters. I still felt what I put out on paper was not good enough to be considered "art." I have spent years without sketching or drawing, perhaps I'll whip out a doodle here and there. My own self is what stopped me from pursuing drawing further. My critical thinking and self judgement.


In high school I took a creative writing class, my very first assignment proved to be an excellent one for me. Descriptive writing was the theme and I got an A. The teacher was notorious for being hard on students and not too easy to win over or please. He wrote on the paper, an expectation for me to "live up to" the grade. I didn't do poorly in class, but I didn't excel- I struggled with having to do certain things vs. just being able to write how it felt comfortable. Standards and expectations that I failed to meet kept me from writing past that class more than a few poems written for loved ones who had passed away.

There is a glorious theme here. I have had a tendency to give up on things that actually brought me joy and happiness because I felt I wasn't "perfect."
I spent most of my life searching for that "one thing" that would make me feel like I was "good" at something. I wanted to feel skilled and talented- provoking the feelings of awe from my peers. I wanted to do something which brought forth feelings of admiration and respect.

How could I if I kept quitting?
If I continued to not apply myself, I would never find myself improving.
How does all of this pertain to mountain biking? Quite well, actually!

I had to swallow a difficult lesson the other day when Travis and I had gone out for a ride on Easter Sunday. Oh, the day was beautiful! Temperatures were fantastic, the sun was out, wildflowers were abundant along the sides of the trails. I was brimming with anticipation of a glorious ride where I would be able to impress Travis with my riding prowess. Instead, it was far from that.

We were going to do the Time Trial course and see how the trails were after some rain. We figured our plus bikes would be the best choice- extra traction and footprint in case things were still a little greasy. The route starts with a lot of climbing- the ride up Luge to Rocky Road felt more like a death march for me than anything. My legs were feeling like lead and I had a feeling of fatigue wrapped around me like a cloak. Oh, this wasn't ideal.

Usually I start to perk up on Little Big Horn and I had a heavy realization that this wasn't going to happen today. As we continued on, my handling would become sloppy at times. I felt like I had to work extra hard to keep my bike on track. The front end wanted to go where it wanted, not necessarily where I wanted.

Today it felt like my bike weighed 60 pounds. It was relentless.
On a climb, I got off-course and rammed my front tire into a small stump. This caused Travis to run into my back tire- my bars turned and the brake lever rammed itself into the area right above my knee. A mighty "Ouch!" escaped from my mouth and I looked down and knew immediately I would be graced with a bruise. (Side note- 2 of three cats had an excellent track record of finding that bruise every time they got up onto my lap over the next few days.)

Everything about the ride was stacking up against me mentally. The bike, how I felt, the lack of control, the inability to hold a line well. Perfectionism was setting in, the frustration with myself started to grow. I took time to be quiet and reflect on my feelings so I could better understand why I was so frustrated.

1. More times than not I'm on a solo ride where I'm not riding with another person. On these rides, the only person who knows if I'm having an off day is myself. I'm not sharing my fumbles and bumbles with anyone- so it's all on me. I can choose to share how my ride went if I want to; admitting anything is completely by choice. There are days where I also rock the solo ride.

2. Time of month and how much I'm riding can definitely affect how I ride. There are times during the hormonal changes where riding is utterly exhausting. It's biology. I can change it only so much- those days I'm extremely hard on myself because I feel like I can't accept that it is what it is.
If I'm riding a lot on a regular basis without proper rest- of course I'm going to feel like crap! I have yet to master my acceptance of days off the bike and days without any strenuous physical activity.

3. When I ride with Travis, not taking into account anything with #2, I have a 50/50 chance of riding well or being "off." Maybe I put too much pressure on myself when I ride with Travis because I expect the worst before we even begin. It's frustrating on my end when days prior I rode really well I have nothing better to show than my "worst." Especially to someone I look up to, who was the person in which introduced me to the sport. I want Travis to see me rock it on the bike, not flounder around like a fish out of water.

Travis was happy to be out, sure, there might have been a moment or two where he wondered what was up, but he didn't hold it against me or tell me I was a "bad" rider for putting a foot down. He knows better than any, that "off" days can happen, where our bodies and minds surprise us with the unexpected. Instead of cursing yourself or your bike, you give thanks for the opportunity to get outside and ride. You embrace the temporary and unwanted chaos and accept that it is what it is. You get a gift- time outside on your bike be it solo or with friends. You shouldn't waste it on a plethora of unknowns and "what ifs."

I realized that my perfectionist tendencies had led me to putting unnecessary pressure on myself to be, of course, perfect. I fell back into patterns of thinking that have plagued me since childhood- the feelings of being unworthy, unskilled, and imperfect. Had I listened to those feelings all during the start of my biking, I would not be where I am today. I would not be writing and I'm certain I would not be mountain biking.

In the beginning if my riding and writing, I had a choice. I could continue to persevere and move forward with something that I wasn't particularly "good" at in order to improve. I was able to accept mistakes and temporary failures were all part of the process. I had desire and I was thriving on pushing myself past the point of quitting and further over the line into the field of achieving. The best part? I was able to take something and make it my own. I could ride how I wanted to ride and write how I wanted to write. 

A person that both Travis and I know gave me the nickname Lil' Bit. The other night I came up with a motto based on that- "Lil' Bit Don't Quit."

It's true. Even tho I battle with myself at times with my own ways of thinking, I manage to find a way to work thru those feelings of self-doubt and questioning. Why? Because I have passion. I have passion for storytelling, for sharing the stoke of women who want to inspire others, and simply for riding and what it can do for a person.

Perfectionism can make this a hard process, but you are in charge of whether or not you allow yourself the opportunity to move forward. Realize that with growth- there will always be off days, and those days do not take away from the amazing things you've already done.
Those days allow us to have a chance to look inward and learn more about ourselves and how to deal with those annoying little voices of doubt, fear, and perfectionism. 

Refuse to let the difficulty of learning something new or taking chances keep you from the ultimate goal: Progression.

"I think anytime you can affect people in general, in a positive way, then you're a lucky individual."
-Sam Elliot

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