What is Success, Anyway?

Stuck in the oh-so-familiar low part of the derby loop again, I’ve been thinking about trying to escape it by resetting some expectations for myself in this sport. I’ve been thinking about people whom I admire, and about how they manage the feelings that seem to cripple me. I see them channel anxiety into focused, powerful action, and they soar. I’d always thought they just didn’t have the same fears, but in talking to them, I find instead that they use fear as fuel.

Much of the time, I feel like a giant fail in derby: I’m not fast enough (not as fast as anyone else on my team), not agile enough (ditto), I’m still not in the shape I should be in despite the training, and I’m still slow on the recovery. Sure, I’m a brick wall, and if I can trap a jammer she’s effectively stuck behind the width of two blockers — for a couple seconds, at least. And if my timing is right, I can take an offensive blocker out along with her jammer. But those moments don’t happen with nearly enough frequency for me; not as much as I expect, nor my teammates, probably. And when those moments aren’t happening, I feel like I’m letting a lot of people down. It sucks to feel like a failure at something you love and work so hard for, over and over. It’s hard to sit in that feeling and wait until it passes, to keep coming around to it after the high of each bout subsides.

But when I’m feeling good about derby and can let go of the worries, I really enjoy it. I approach bouts differently now than I used to: I’ve built new bout day rituals around boosting my confidence and focus instead of studying Xs and Os. I don’t review strategies or scenarios, or think about things I have trouble with, or worry about anything in particular. I pump myself up, prepare mind and body throughout the day or so beforehand, and try to revel in the energy of the bout from the start until the last long whistle. But my confidence always bottoms out the next day or so.

So back to #derbyfail. In the midst of my latest post-bout derbysuckfest, I’ve been thinking that I maybe should just accept that my perseverance with derby — in spite of the failures — is my success, in and of itself. I’m getting better, not worse. I’m not injured. I’m still having fun, on balance. I’m learning more every day about how to work with my team to accomplish things on the track, together. It’s a great motivator for my training, and it pushes me to constantly venture outside my comfort zone. I get dozens of positive things out of derby, and the negative things don’t outweigh them.

It’s not the head of the pack that I’m looking for; I just want to play, to be a part of things, contribute, stay in the mix, and have my share of moments. Moments other than skating as fast as I can just to stay in a paceline drill.

The last time I remember being in this position, it was Sophomore year of college and I was killing myself to try to raise a B- in Organic Chemistry. After a couple of semesters of banging my head against a heavy stack of Bio/Chem textbooks and lab paperwork, I dropped the double major and switched to art & theatre instead. Seriously. For the most part, lack of success has prompted a U-turn in my life. And that’s ok sometimes. I’m good at plenty of other things — but not derby, not science, not playing stringed instruments, and definitely not running or cycling or skating fast, ha.

But derby is just hard, for me at least. And I’m sure it is for everyone, in their own way. Even for those who don’t find it hard to stay in the middle of the pack have their own challenges, I know that. One of my teammates wrote recently about athletes recalibrating their idea of success, in a great post on sports psychology and academia. I guess I’m just still figuring out the recalibration part. But I haven’t taken that U-turn yet, and I need to take some comfort in that.

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