On %$#@ing Up and Then Moving On: The Importance of Perspective in Athletics and Life

I f*ck up. And sometimes when I f*ck up I am unable to maintain perspective. I denigrate myself and grow my mistakes in my mind to be so big that they displace all the good things I am and have done.

I f*ck up. Like, all the time. I make mistakes on a more than daily basis, and sometimes the goals I set goals for myself go unmet, either on the first try or sometimes forever. I do my best to fix my errors, and even if I don’t meet my goals, I know that working toward them helps me progress more than I would otherwise (and sometimes the third, fourth, or fifteenth time is the charm).

I know I am not perfect and that everyone errs, because all humans do. And yet, sometimes when I f*ck up I am unable to maintain perspective. I denigrate myself, I wallow, I grow my mistakes and shortcomings in my mind to be so big that they displace all the good things I am and have done. I catastrophize that these mistakes will ruin any chances I have for success, love, and happiness in the future.

Perspective is Key

This is something I struggle with on a regular basis, and in this past week, I’ve had enough discussions with people about perspective that I can’t ignore that maybe there’s a message here for me. Some of the people I’ve been talking with have health issues. Some have family issues. Some have money issues. And without exception, these people’s issues are trumping mine. The fact that I didn’t handle that meeting as well as I wanted to pales in comparison to dealing with a chronic illness. I wouldn’t get much sympathy, and understandably so, that I’m sucking more wind in training than I would like, if I were to ask for it from someone who only has enough in the bank this month to cover rent or groceries.

Hearing those kinds of stories really does put my concerns into perspective, but then I can even use that to beat myself up more: Who am I to worry about trivial things when others’ lives are so difficult? And hearing about others’ travails doesn’t help me address my own. So I have to strike a balance between being empathetic and being responsible for my stuff. A saying I’ve heard goes something like, “Just because another’s heart attack is debilitating, that doesn’t make my broken arm hurt any less.” In other words, the magnitude of another’s issues might surpass mine, but my issues still require attention.

Self-Knowledge, not Self-Abuse, Leads to Progress

Sometimes an element of taking care of my issues involves corralling them. If I truly failed, on a weightlifting PR attempt, for instance, or on a professional responsibility, it’s appropriate for me to process it by feeling bad and then examining what went wrong so I can change my strategy. But when I give in to the temptation to camp out at the corner of Self and Flagellation, that’s when it’s time to do a better job of maintaining perspective. Through an unfortunate amount of trial and error in this domain, I have come up with a few reminders of why perspective is always important and how to get it:

First, I don’t want to run the risk of making my friends and family feel like idiots. As I mentioned, when I do something poorly, I don’t just feel bad about what I did. Rather, I use the failure as evidence that I have failed as a person, that I’m unworthy of success, love, and happiness. But if I do that, then I’ve basically turned the people who love me into liars. They think I’m pretty great (luckily for me), and if I insist that I am not nearly as great as they have come to believe, then I am devaluing their opinion and probably making them feel pretty stupid for continuing to love me. So, since I don’t want to lose the them, it’s important for me to put the kibosh on beating myself up too much and even allow them to remind me that I’m really pretty okay.

Second, I’m wasting time. If I don’t like feeling bad about the mistakes I make, then it would behoove me to spend time debriefing them and planning my future actions, so I can improve my odds of doing better in the future. This would seem to be a more effective use of my time than mooning over what I can’t change – unless, of course, I get something out of mooning over what I can’t change, which is a completely different conversation altogether.

mistakes, learning, learning from mistakes, moving forward, fucking upThird, I’m not that important. One of the things about paranoia and wallowing is that it’s actually kind of arrogant to indulge in them. If I mess up at work, it’s highly likely that everyone will forget about it within a matter of days, if not hours. This is because everyone else has things to think about that are far more important to them than the fact that I made a mistake. Thus, beating myself up and assuming everyone is sitting around judging me is actually overvaluing myself in someone else’s estimation, which is exactly the opposite of what I’m ostensibly trying to do: cut myself down. So truly, the humble thing to do is to get over it and move on.

I’m not likely to stop f*cking up anytime soon. I’m quite good at it, and it is one way, albeit a painful one, I can make progress along the path toward self-actualization. So I guess I have to figure out how to f*ck up with aplomb and then deal with the fallout in an effective way. And part of this is ensuring that I maintain proper perspective.

Assuming I’m not the only one, how do you handle your own f*ck-ups? What’s the best way you’ve found for maintaining perspective? Post your ideas to comments.

Photos courtesy of Shutterstock.

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