This topic was recommended to me a few weeks ago by a friend of mine and while it had obviously come up for a reason back then, now seems like a perfect time to reflect on this a bit. While I’ve given it quite a bit of thought, it seems to be something I struggle with in my life. As a swimmer, and then in normal life as well, I’ve prided myself on my ability to “push through”. Be it in workouts and challenging yourself for that extra little bit or in life and just pushing through to ups and downs that come your way, is there a limit to the benefits of this skill? It’s funny to me actually, this is so ingrained in me that even asking the question seems wrong to me somehow. Maybe because I feel it’s taken me far in life or maybe it’s because I am also now a coach and far too often people don’t know how to reach for more and push through the first barriers to reach their potential, but in the end, it seems to be that health and shorter term success have different lines drawn in this case.
I write this now knowing without a doubt that I must learn where those lines are drawn and find the blend of wellness and pushing to the success I want for my swimmers. I’m hopeful to be recovering from the worst set of illnesses I have experienced in years. A fever and upper respiratory bug that floored me, only to recover for a couple days to then turn into the worst headache I have ever experienced and again taken my out for like 3 days again. In part because I wasn’t sure I could handle anything anyway and in part because I’m really trying to be smarter about these things and take care of myself, I have had to miss more workouts than I normally would in an entire year or two. In fact, I am not sure I missed this much when I was diagnosed with cancer. But still every single decision to miss workout left me feeling on edge and frustrated.
For those that know my cancer diagnosis story, it’s largely the same thing. I went through 6 months of pretty significant pain (no real idea when any “discomfort” started) before I (okay, it wasn’t even me at that point that made the decision) went into the emergency room to get checked out. In this case, the timing led to the treatment I went on and the story is a success, but only out of blessed timing.
As the Winter Olympics continues to share story after story of incredible grit, determination, and athletes that have been able to push themselves through more than their competitors and are on sports highest stage because of that push, I ask myself if it’s too much. Is it healthy to have that as what you pride yourself on? Is it possible for someone to be aware enough to know when to “push through” and when to rest? Can we coach that awareness to ourselves and/or others?
And just to complicate things a bit more, who defines those levels? I fully admit that I have a long way to go to be more self-aware of these things, but I can also appreciate that my levels are going to be different than others. For instance, I’m a stage 4 lung cancer survivor that has chosen to work 7 days a week and travel to share my story from time to time, but the general schedule is not my concern. I live better on structure and passion, it’s why swimming has always been so great for me. Many people would think that it’s too much, but I don’t share that same concern. First off, I said work, but this are really my passions and I feel extremely blessed to be able to do what I do. If I can inspire one person to live life to their potential, then it really isn’t work at all. I do understand how I must get better at taking care of my body and mind though, to help me handle the stresses of life that will always be there to some degree.
So how do we pride ourselves on being “tough” and being able to push through almost anything thrown our way, but then also be aware enough to take care of our bodies and minds when it is needed? In the era of “no limits”, how can one recognize their limit for that day and understand that sometimes rest is the best step?
I wish I had an answer that satisfied the tiger inside of me and didn’t leave me questioning if that understanding is possible and if it can be found without impacting top end performance. How does one believe they can push through any obstacle, but then understand when it’s time to not push through? For me then, how does one take the benefit of this attitude into something like a cancer journey and see the incredible benefits of it, but then also be aware enough to not beat myself up when it’s time to take a step back from the drive and let myself rest?
I’d love to hear thoughts, but for me, I’ll continue to just try to be aware. To train myself to be especially aware of things when I am too tired, sick, or stressed to want to be aware of anything, and teach myself that strength isn’t just doing the planned action or assumed expectation, but it’s about being aware of what is best in the situation and doing that. To not have my actions driven by any potential perception of others or feeling judged for not living up to the expectation I have built up in my head, that is the struggle.
It still makes me chuckle to think that when I was younger I really thought I’d have this thing called life figured out by the time I was in my 40’s. Now I feel like I am only beginning to figure out the bigger picture, or at least how the collage of life all comes together differently for each of us.
So I will continue to push through, and to try to learn when to push through and when to rest (whatever that may look like in each circumstance). I hope each of you can find your potential in everything you do, but find the balance and understanding to know when to not push through as well. I hope that each of you are extremely proud of the people you are, but also that each of you understand that there is more to you than a single skill or attribute to define you.
Push through until it’s time to rest, then rest because you know it’s the best thing for you to do at the time.
Thanks all and have a great weekend!