Warning: I’m about to get at least three different kinds of nerdy here.
This is (almost) 40.
When I was a kid, I was smart. Like, crazy smart. When I entered kindergarden, my elementary school wanted to skip me immediately to the first grade for the first half of the year and then straight to fourth for the rest at five years old. I declined, because I thought it was much more fun to play with my new friends and that sounded scary. When I was actually in fourth grade years later, I turned in all my math homework for the year within the first month, so they sat me at a side table during math with a book of fairly advanced logic problems.
I’m convinced the only thing that saved me from getting swirlies was the fact that I also was fairly athletic, rather buff for a kid my age due to sports. However, I didn’t make a whole lot of close friends in elementary school, I’m fairly convinced the ones I had were probably due to mothers conspiring behind the scenes saying, “Yes, you HAVE to invite her, be nice.” Between fifth and sixth grade, in the transition from elementary to middle school, it hit me that I had the opportunity to reinvent myself, and NOT be the girl sitting out of math because she was better at it than everyone in the room.
Sure, I still did all the honors things, and got what felt like “safe” grades, mostly A’s with a peppering of Bs, I didn’t start smoking under the bleachers during P.E. or anything, but I learned where the limits lie to be tolerated by your peers. You can be good, you can be great, but to pursue true excellence in something, that makes you a target. I pushed the line by showing up to my sixth grade book report with Gone With The Wind (having really and truly read the whole thing in a few nights), but then I got a C in home ec, so it all balanced out.
Slowly, it became less of a strategy and just a part of me.
Just a few months before my brain got the best of me and I quit gymnastics…
The great thing about not pursuing excellence is that it makes life really quite comfortable. For what it was worth, I always felt like sport was a much more accepted way to pursue excellence, but the habit was already engrained. I never pushed myself to any sort of edge of glory, and if I got close, I tended to either self-sabotage or quit. I easily qualified for just about every honors thing that crossed my path. I got into every college I applied to with scholarships. My first semester was a bit of a challenge, but it just necessitated learning the rules to a slightly new game, and I was back in business on easy street before long. I got straight As my senior year while doing a ridiculous amount of partying and on a ridiculously small amount of sleep.
I participated in so much self-sabotage, and it wasn’t even enough to bring me down. I left college exhausted and fat from how I treated myself, but still Cum Laude with Honors.
Finally, I thought. It’s time to be an adult. No more playing around, this is for my livelihood. However, I found the real world similar to my classroom experiences. Being a competent employee was good. Being an exemplary employee, as a peon, was sort of frowned upon and didn’t really garner a lot of favor with the team or even managers. Instead of getting praised for breaking video games in really weird ways, at times I was told, “the dev team says STOP IT”. I turned in a 150 page binder applying for a design job. I didn’t even get an interview – though they did steal at least three things from it.
I have had some brief periods of laying myself out on the line over the years – my last two years of gymnastics, my first actual design job once I finally got the interview, losing 115 lbs, and I’m starting to see the beginning of a similar renaissance right now in a myriad of arenas. I look back on all these times fondly – not because I want to work 100 hours right now or fight my body for a few years to let go of half od it’s precious resources, but because it felt amazing in those moments to just give it my all.
One of the moments where it actually clicked…
I’m sure that everyone in the world would have considered me an athlete before I considered myself one. When I first started racing, it was all new and fun, but then I spent so much time with so little belief in myself when it got a little difficult to produce results. I put a lot of limits on myself, at least subconsciously, because I didn’t find myself perfect yet. I let my head get the best of me – a lot – and so many times backed down in competition and felt terrible about myself.
After finding the place which Calm the F*ck Down calls “the fed up athlete”, I found I needed to do some of the hardest work yet. No, not the swimming, biking, and running. I’ve never found it difficult to pile on the miles because it feels worthwhile, (pseudo) confidence building, and frankly, numbing. The most difficult things were to step back and acknowledge that I needed to work on my mental game, my body composition, and addressing form imbalances. None of these feel sexy at all. None of the processes were anything beyond frustrating, messy, and felt highly unintuitive, especially because some were at the COST of swimbikerun. With already flagging confidence and performance, it feels like sport suicide to decide to dial back the hours.
But dial them back I did. I lifted when I wanted to run. I stretched and did pre-hab when I wanted to be biking for hours instead. I took days off and studied sports (and regular) psychology books. I refrained from numbing out and built a race persona. I kept my calories lower instead of making excuses about my body composition. And y’know what? After a while, it started paying divedends.
The last year has been night and day. I envisioned winning my age group in my first triathlon of 2018, and then HOLY SHIT I did it. I dared to dream a little, and then I dreamed A LOT. Not all of them came true, but I had the most wonderful season because I let myself believe, sometimes just for a moment, that I was worthy.
My bardic muse…
There is a HUGE culture of playing tabletop roleplaying games at work. For so long, I resisted. I told myself it was because I wanted my husband to have something that was HIS hobby, but as I’ve unpacked a lot of emotions and insecurities lately, I’m pretty sure it was also the fact that I thought I’d be terrible. I got coerced into a session and I fell in love with it, even though, YEP! I was indeed pretty much shite. For quite a long time. I picked safe choices of classes that I knew and found my little niche, allowing others to really drive the games while I just piped in to contribute a little and then let everyone else run the show.
Here’s where I probably lose anyone here for triathlon insights, but I press forward.
I’ve been playing these types of games for almost two decades now (just online previously), and I’ve gravitated towards one specific character type: the caster. One who’s weaker in body, but strong in mind, who hangs back at the edge of the battle and slings spells, hoping not to attract too much attention. However, I’ve always pumped up the Constitution/Stamina statistic, which provides a little extra armor if I DO indeed attract that attention I seek to avoid. This is usually at the cost of being truly excellent at the slinging of spells but it feels like a worthwhile tradeoff for extra protection.
This is incredibly telling of my own personality. Unless I push myself, I tend to hang back in life and not really go for things. I would rather play defense to hedge my bets rather than, yet again, pursue true excellence. I’d rather be moderately good at some things rather than really good at something, even though I’d be better served pursuing where my talents lie. If I start getting too good at something, it scares me. I’ve always found myself pacified by being decent at a lot of things, because being decent at something feels much better than sucking at something (and to be truly good at something, you have to accept that you’re going to suck at a lot of other things as we only have a finite lifetime).
This last campaign, I picked something different that stretched my legs a little because it sounded fun. I didn’t realize the psychological implications at the time of becoming a bard. From the start, I felt awkward playing this character, and then after a while, I was called on to be the face and the leader of the party in matters of diplomacy and persuasion. For someone who tends to hang back and say “whatever y’all want to do is good with me”, this has been terrifying and uncomfortable. I tried to just show up and wing it halfheartedly but it doesn’t work for me. I just pissed myself off with my incompetence and stopped having fun.
Thinking about the backstory of all my characters, they have something in common: they’re hiding a big secret, they’re running or hiding from something, and they have a BIG PROBLEM being who they really are. Again, if this isn’t telling, I don’t know what is.
In my thirties, I spent the decade being the person who I wanted to become, at least on the surface.
I wanted to become an athlete. I may not have exactly known that at thirty, but I knew I wanted some sort of motivation to keep myself fit and also, I had this ridiculous competitive drive that’s been with me my whole life that was being utterly unindulged. Enter racing. It. was. awesome. And humbling. And SO SO SO HARD. But it was exactly what I needed to scratch the itch which evaded me in my twenties. Over the course of the decade, I finally got to the point where I could call myself an athlete without an asterisk. Or a sheepish grin. I stand at almost fourty as an athlete and no one can tell me otherwise.
I wanted to learn how to be a strong leader. If I was to really and truly pursue what I do as a lifetime career, I wanted to learn how to lead and inspire a team towards greatness. At thirty, my hands shook and my voice faltered when I had to lead a meeting even though they called me Producer. That instinct to hang back and keep my voice down doesn’t do anyone in this role service, so I had to continue to push myself to be confident, strong, have the tough conversations, and stand up for both the folks that work for me and the ones I work for. I had to learn that my instincts are to be trusted. That I should have faith in my ideas while also being open to the fact that I can absolutely be wrong and admitting such was not weakness but indeed strength. It’s my job to nurture the best ideas into the light, no matter where they come from. While I’ll never stop learning day by day how to do all this better, at almost forty, I feel worthy to stand and lead my team and represent my company and products with confidence.
I wanted to be outdoorsy. I used to joke that I was the embodiment of the meme, y’know, the one that says “I’m outdoorsy, as in, I like drinking on patios”. I learned to love and revel in the elements. I will still complain incessantly about mosquitos, but it doesn’t stop me. I’ve learned to embrace the sweat and the exhaustion of our brutal summers. I’ve found a cheeky smile in the chill of a run in the coldest weather Austin has to offer. I’ve found beauty in the scenery of the barren trees and the scorching noonday sun as well as the temperate falls and the overly beautiful spring days filled with wildflowers. I find peace and joy both in the woods and underneath the waves, in ways that I can’t describe to someone that remains indoors. I find utter quiet and stillness in nature at almost forty and I can’t imagine a life without now.
I wanted to stop being so one-dimensional. I had already made strides into two-dimensional-ness by thirty with both work and also sport. Honestly, who could fault me for having a job and also a hobby? However, it became pretty apparent halfway through this decade that it wasn’t enough for me. Once we had a shakeup at work, it rocked my world. I wanted to make sure I had a plan, one which at this particular moment, I have no immediate timeline to enact, but it makes me much more confident that at almost forty, I have about seventeen different business plans, some with the proper certifications and all with much more knowledge than I had in my early thirties.
I sorely missed my creativity. Even when I had the opportunity finally to delve into it more at work, I realized that also wasn’t enough. Many of my previous hobbies I stopped in my twenties and early thirties because I was scared of not being good enough with them. I’ve had to work to bust through those barriers one by one but I can now say that I’ve picked back up with most of the creative pursuits that meant a lot to me as my younger self: writing (actually putting words together I care about, sometimes deeply), painting, photography, singing and music, and I’ve dabbled in making movies as well. I have to keep catching myself saying, “ugh, I’m almost forty and I’m still not good at this, why am I still trying” but still I persist. I have to remind myself that the joy is in the process, and as Jake the Dog says, “Sucking at something is the first step to being sorta good at something.”
So, forty. I’ve been trying it on for size for the last few months. I’m not thirty-nine again or thirty-nine and three hundred and some days, I’ve been forty for a while in my mind and I actually quite like it.
Forties are the decade where I let the unbridled confidence shine. I’m sick of playing small and masking my intelligence and capabilities. I don’t give a flying fuck anymore of my perception of how it makes anyone else feel. I want to use the big words and the strong thoughts and the swelling emotions in the way that makes me the best human I can be and make the poetry and magic. I’m ready to tell the haters to take a backseat to the cheerleaders and just GO FOR IT, whatever IT may mean at the time.
Forties are the decade where I will fire walk confidently into external criticism. I’m tired of not pursuing opportunities or paths that can improve me as a person because the haters in my head deem me not worthy to even begin to tread the path. If something excites me, and threatens to develop me as a person, I’ll let someone else tell me I’m not worthy instead of having that come from the dark recesses of my own brain. I’ll be open to trying and failing and getting back up and going for it again and again if it’s something I really want, instead of convincing myself I don’t actually want it simply because it’s safe and nice and easy to not try hard.
Forties are the decade I will lay it all on the line on the race course. I will not show up to a start line indifferent and apathetic, I will shed all my defenses and pursue each opportunity as a true offensive exercise, and I will experience each battle to my fullest. If circumstances lead me to less than excellent performances, I won’t let it shake my confidence. Forty is not the time anymore for running scared anymore, hoping either someone else, or mostly my own head won’t catch me, it’s the decade for running those bitches down until I literally give out or find the finish line, victorious either way because I gave everything.
Forty is the year I become the person who my inner bard wants me to be. I wish to build on my confidence and courage, discover what it means to live with vulnerability and uncover what it means to really be who am I am and what I am meant to become in the next decade.
Deep thoughts now cease. Time to drink some whiskey and eat some tacos to celebrate the changing of the decades!