As with most if not all of my posts, I’m writing it because I think it might help others in some small way. But I’m a work in progress also trying to figure things out myself. This comes after 2.75 years of daily walking and writing, 4.75 years of blogging, 5.75 years of a whole bunch of bicycling and almost 1.00 year of daily biking, plus 6.75 years of daily yoga. So I know a thing or two about my own sports psychology. (I’m no professional though, so see a real doctor if you need one.) As I approach the zenith of several goals, one quite big, another that’s Huge, and a third that’s FREAKING GINORMOUS, I know that there’s a big zenith of a let-down coming, too. So let’s talk about what we can do about when that happens.
An admittedly brief web search didn’t bring up much on this topic, but my experience is enough to wax poetic about. Maybe you’ve felt something similar to what I did after riding 5,006 miles in 2019. You plan and work and strive and then the big day finally comes. Boom! You’ve met your goal. And you’re at the top of the mountain (perhaps literally), looking around, but there’s no ticker-tape parade, no pats on the back, no ribbons or trophies. While you may feel all kinds of positive emotions, eventually you’ve got to come down from that rocky mountain high. And that’s when you might start feeling things that are not so positive: sadness, loss, disappointment, grief even. Questions and doubt creep in. What was all that work for? No one cares except me! Why don’t I feel fantastic because of the awesome thing I just did?
That wind being let out if your sails is called an anti-climax. And apparently it’s normal. That doesn’t make it feel any better. But still, we’re all humans here (right?), and emotions are complicated. There is no one right way to feel. Maybe some people don’t have this experience. That’s okay, too. It’s just important to allow yourself have the emotions, let them run their course and not overidentify with them or your story. You did a great thing, and it may have changed you, but you are not that thing. You’re still you. Hopefully a better, smarter, tougher, faster, etc. version, though.
The phrase “the journey is the destination” may be overused, but it has some truth to it. When you’re planning your goal, there’s excitement. Can I do it? Will I do it? What will happen if I don’t? Whether it’s miles on a bicycle, running or swimming, lifting a certain amount of weights, or just getting off the couch 15 minutes a day, keeping up a streak of some kind is a big deal. Jerry Seinfeld gets blamed for the Don’t Break the Chain idea, even though he said he didn’t actually wrote a joke a day for a year. Whatever you did to improve your game, be it tennis, golf, XBox or cricket, trying to beat your personal best over and over can be a thrilling endeavor. It’s exhausting, too, let me tell you. So tired.
But when you’re in the middle of it, you don’t care about philosophy because you’re working hard, head down, making progress. There
may will be blood, sweat and tears. Setbacks like injuries or illness (novel coronavirus COVID-19 global pandemic, perhaps), or just fatigue and burnout. But you’re still doing it, your focus is strong, your intent pure, your discipline unbreakable. People around you without such goals may not — nay, they cannot — understand the commitment, sacrifice, suffering, and pain that are involved. But also they don’t get the reward, the satisfaction, and the joy. So you persevere. Some things get left behind. It’s not a hobby, or a job: it’s your MISSION, your raison d’etre. You may slow down, but you feel as if nothing will stop you. It is your destiny, your fate. You’ve already done it in your mind’s eye.
And to reiterate the feelings and thoughts running through my head, suddenly, the end is in sight, you’re at the top of the summit, wondering what it all means. Was it worth it? Why did I even bother? Did I do the right thing? How many Netflix shows could I have seen had I just stayed on the couch? All good questions. But deep in your heart you know you did the right thing. YOU DID IT! And no one can take it away from you (except that master of thieves, Time itself). The questions and doubt fall away as you look back over your journey, remembering the good, the bad, and the ugly. Take a breath. Savor the victory. Relax, it’s over.
You have nothing to prove to anyone else. You proved to yourself that you could do it. No one else’s opinions matter. And you don’t owe anyone any explanations, either. This baby is all yours.
On the other hand, you can’t let your accomplishment go to your head or inflate your ego. If anything, the challenges you faced on the path made you dig deep into the mudpit of your soul, and you came out of it with some humility. You are not your goal. You are just you, a fallible human who did something pretty cool. Remember to celebrate and be proud. But also BE HERE NOW.
So now what? Take a break. Watch those Netflix shows. Step away from your sport or activity for a while. It’ll be there when you are ready to come back. Talk to friends and family (but only the supportive ones who at least try to get it). Journal your emotions. Enjoy this time. It’s like the fallow fields before replanting. When enough time has gone by, whatever that might be for you, START AGAIN.
Because guess what? The finish line for your previous goal is also the starting line for your new goal. In cycling, you just keep pedalin’ and whatever the similar action is in whatever sport you do, do that, just less intensely. Recovery ride. You’ve got to Just Keep Livin’, as University of Texas professor and Oscar winner Matthew McConaughey told us in Dazed and Confused. He believes it so much that’s what he named his nonprofit, too: The JKL Foundation.
That’s right, live. Do those neglected chores. But pick a new goal, a new destination, a new milestone, a new mountain to climb. Be like the shark, always moving forward. Maybe it’s more and bigger, or replicating the same goal, or setting a lesser goal is just fine. Or perhaps now it’s time for something completely different, to quote Monty Python. Take what you’ve learned about yourself and use it well. Even if it’s just that you’re more resilient than you realized. Be secure in the knowledge that, as Nobel Peace Prize winner, political prisoner, and first Black President of South Africa Nelson Mandela said:
I never lose. I either win, or I learn.Nelson Mandela
What did you learn on your journey when you reached your summit, your milestone, your goal? Did you have a let-down? How did you handle it?
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