Bitter or Better

Pool running time makes for some great thinking time. Maybe too much thinking time. A lot of days I try my best to coincide my time in there with the old peoples’–ah, sorry–I mean, the more mature peoples’ Aqua-Zumba-pilates-jazzersize class…thing. It’s like a couple dozen adorable little old ladies and one bald little old man who is plainly the stud of the group and who appears to have loads of admirers. They all just sort of float around on noodles and discuss the prices of produce, fabric softener, and deli meat, and they listen to the Beatles (you should see them all when they start singing to Yellow Submarine, they are all SO. CUTE.). Suffice it to say, there isn’t a whole lot of actual aqua-Zumba-ing going on, but it’s nonetheless entertaining to spectate and it passes the time relatively quickly. Desperate times.

Every now and then though, there’s another actual human to talk to doing pool running time too, and that’s thrilling! Well most of the time it is, if you have good company it is, but if you have bad company you’re sort of a captive audience and that’s rough.

But on to my story that’s basically unrelated to most of the above. I’m just trying to paint a picture with my words here and this really is going to go somewhere, kind of.

A few mornings ago was one of those days that I got to have company. Hooray! Said company is quite the stud runner–an Olympian in fact–but has, admittedly, been dealt in recent months a pretty sh*tty hand by those gosh darn fickle running gods, and for that reason logs the majority of her mileage in the pool these days. On this particular day however, I was in there voluntarily as opposed to mandatorily, like she was, so I was feeling all good-spirited and motivated and chirpy and annoying. She however, was not, understandably so. She was lamenting her current state of runlessness and beginning to drift perilously close to Pity Party territory–but which totally didn’t bother me because I definitely understand–and her frustration was palpable, and I felt bad that I really didn’t have all that much encouragement to offer her without sounding like I was just blowing smoke up her @** or just being annoyingly unrealistic or whatever. But I figure venting can also be helpful to a certain extent because internalization of these things is no bueno–runners are, after all, an angsty and dramatic bunch–so in my feeble attempts to be helpful and alleviate some of her anguish, I just listened and interjected occasional sympathetic words and noises of agreement.

Eventually the venting session took a turn to how hard it can be to watch what seems like literally everyone else (even though it’s not really) having seemingly endless success and how sometimes it starts to feel downright impossible to cheer everybody else on while you’re sort of stuck in a funk “waiting your turn,” so to speak, except you’re not real sure when or even if “your turn” is going to happen. Or how, in her words, “I just don’t feel like hearing about how amazing everyone else is.”

I almost tried to buoy her spirits by going all Vince-Lombardi-inspiring on her and throwing in some kind of Pollyanna-rah-rah words of sage wisdom (that I don’t possess by any remote stretch of imagination, but just humor me here) but really, I didn’t have a whole lot to say to that because I realized that I have, rather embarrassingly and on several occasions, felt the exact same way. Probably because I’m a bad human and stuff. But in her case, she worked crazy hard, she pays her bills via running, isn’t exactly a spring chicken and has less than a year to get her marathon qualifier and realistically may not have another chance again, but the body has had other unfortunate ideas. Not a great spot to be in. So the ensuing anger, frustration, despair, and perhaps a smidgeon of jealousy toward everyone who seems to be having smooth sailing are all pretty understandable feelings. It can be straight-up brutally unfair at times, and hard work doesn’t equate with success all the time. There’s like that one quote from Oprah that says, “Running is like life because you get out of it what you put into it,” but that’s oftentimes pretty off the mark and quite frankly in many cases I think Oprah’s kind of full of crap anyway.

However, although I didn’t admit it at the moment, I was in agreement with her that it is really hard to always be truly happy and celebratory when other people are getting what you really, desperately want and have worked really hard for, and you aren’t, and sometimes you just want that stuff out of your face.

There are some problems with that though, not the least of which is that we hardly ever have the full story behind someone’s success. All we ever really see are the results and the best-possible outcomes: the victories and the PR’s and and the breakthroughs and the ascension to new heights and the cutesy inspiring hashtags (um, #soblessed!) followed by about 500 happy-face emoticons,
breathtaking Instagram pictures, and all that shiny stuff. You rarely hear about what someone had to sacrifice or go through or the disappointing races and training days and setbacks and shortcomings that they’ve had or what in their life they’ve had to give up in order to achieve what they did. Nobody says anything about that, so instead it’s this phony rosey-colored picture that doesn’t really exist, or like a headline without any text to follow.

So because of that sometimes skewed and always misleading picture of perfection that usually just dumps a bunch of salt in the wounds when the going is rough, it’s easy to think that while you’re struggling, it’s a cakewalk for those other seemingly infallible people whose success you might be envying and whose grass seems like it’s always so much greener than yours is, and that creates a whole lot of bitterness and jealously even when really that’s hardly ever really true.

But in truth, her particular situation isn’t easy, and every runner either will be or has been in that icky place or a similar one. It isn’t always easy to cheer when someone else gets something that you want, which definitely does not just apply to running.

I had this college coach about a zillion years ago who used to say that you could let whatever adversity you’re dealing with make you bitter or make you better. If we had the full story of what some successful person has dealt with or endures on a daily basis to get to where they are, and more importantly came to grips with the fact that a result alone shows none of that, and that maybe some of that adversity is in fact the very reason why they are where they’re at, then maybe the gap between where you are versus where “they” are would serve as motivation and fuel for the fire rather than something to discourage and create resentment.

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