Recently I was taking the “Strengths Finder 2.0” personality test and (go figure) my #1 strength came out to be “achiever”. I smiled as I read their descriptions of people like me: “You have an internal fire burning inside you. It pushes you to do more, to achieve more. After each accomplishment is reached, the fire dwindles for a moment, but very soon it rekindles itself, forcing you toward the next accomplishment” “You feel as if every day starts at zero. By the end of the day you must achieve something tangible in order to feel good about yourself. And by ‘every day’ you mean every single day- workdays, weekends, vacations”. Of course, this is a fitting strength for a professional athlete and I’m sure many others would test the same.
I’ve learned the hard way though that every day cannot be a monumental achievement in training, that you need easy recovery days that are just as
much bringing you towards your goal. And you also need a lot of mundane downtime between training sessions, spent laying around and resting. This has always been a challenge for me, I’m not wired to just watch repeat TV shows on Netflix, I need a challenge to conquer! So this manifests in creating challenges for myself in the mundane periods of life, like concocting a delicious dinner using only random leftovers or finding a coupon online for an upcoming vacuum purchase. I’ve also taken over the role of managing The Hall Steps Foundation in my downtime (so that we could become 100% volunteer run and essentially overhead free!), and the challenge of helping those in extreme poverty is unending.
Recently I took on a new challenge of racing my first half marathon. It had been something I had been wanting to do every since I started running professionally. My first plan was to race the Dallas half in December, but when the ice storm shut the city down and race got cancelled, I moved my sights to the US Half Championships in Houston in mid January. I went into the race with expectations of being able to compete up front, and when the winner Serena made a big move at 3 miles in, 2 of us decided to respond. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to stay with those two and ended up running the last 8 miles of the race in no-man’s land and fading badly the last few miles, running 73 mid- not terrible, but not what I had wanted. Running 8 miles of a race alone after falling off was definitely a new challenge being a track runner, but one I wasn’t quite ready for. I was disappointed as I had had higher expectations for that race and felt I didn’t run up to my potential.
The thing about being someone that craves challenges is you also have to be good about dealing with failure, as you naturally put yourself in positions that require risk, and you always have high expectations of yourself that you won’t always meet. And herein lies a new challenge! Expecting a lot of yourself while still extending grace to yourself. And as you experience God’s grace towards you, it helps you give grace to yourself.
As I look toward the many other goals and challenges I have set out for myself athletically in 2014, I am also realizing that some of the greatest challenges I will ever face are ones that doesn’t necessarily happen on the track or road- they are ones Jesus calls us to. To love others as much as you love yourself and put them first- something that isn’t easy in a self-centered, individual sport where we are constantly focused on our own needs (and need to be to perform well!). To genuinely celebrate others’ victories and not be envious of their success, but instead let it inspire you towards your own goals. To go after big performances and racing to your full potential without letting your performances dictate your identity and self-worth. To not get so caught up in worrying and evaluating your progress towards a goal in the future that you miss all God has for you in the present. To be both constantly unsatisfied and hungry to go to new levels yet joyful and thankful for what you have and have already experienced. And to take risks without fearing failure, but if you fail, to be able to extend grace to yourself.
These are tough! They may even be tougher than suffering the last 8 miles alone in that race. But the good thing is, they are challenges that I can be working on from the couch just as much as on the track! My inner achiever would love to master them immediately, but the reality is it is a life-long process and it can’t be accomplished through my own will-power alone, but God’s spirit working in me. But just like in training, it is all about celebrating the small victories and times you choose the right path that build momentum and help us “Achievers” stay encouraged.