Lizard

I’m stressing out about my ski race next weekend.

The race format is ideal for people who are excellent at classic technique.

Classic makes my back seize.

Sometimes.

BUT, I also suck at double polling because I’ve avoided it so long because of my bad back.

SO, that means that this weekend’s race is designed for me to fail.

So if I do fail because my back seizes, or because of my weak double poll (or because I decidedly didn’t give it my all in order to make up for potential weakness) at least I’ll have a reason. I’ll likely place significantly behind the lead pack, which will legitimize my excuses, instead of in fourth place, which will show that I tried (but failed).

As a cross-country skier I recognize (with the help of my sport psychologist)  that there are at least three layers of internal dialogue (voices) that I deal with when I’m preparing for a ski race.

The outer-most layer is the one that interacts with other people. I can always tell my friends that I’m feeling under the weather or have a sore back, that way they’ll understand that if they beat me, it was only because of my ailments.

The next layer in is coercive.  It’s the voice that tries to lie to me when I recognize my ailments and feel like a debbie downer.  It tells me, “No Britt, you don’t feel bad, you can do it”, but it’s pretty pathetic.  I can tell when I’m lying.  Persuasion only works if I’m completely on board.

That’s where the next layer comes in – The Truth.  This layer decides, above all other layers, what my outcome will be. This layer is how I really feel, regardless of how I’m supposed to feel.  When my back hurts, this layer doesn’t believe I’ll be able to race well.  When I’m telling other people I’m tired, but I’m not, this layer knows that I’ll secretly be able to race well but that I have a safety net in case.  This layer also recognizes when I have given myself an easy way out, a “Plan B” if you will.  If it’s easier, this layer always choses Plan B.

Apparently, what I was thinking of as the core of a gobstopper, that raw instinct at my core (the one that knows how it’s going to end), is a lizard.

Okay.

I suppose a gobstopper was a little too inconspicuous to represent such a potentially malicious force. Lizard could work.

That resistant lizard seems to haunt me most in skiing.  Ski races are such clear valuations of your worth as an athlete.  If you try hard and succeed, you are both excellent, talented, and admirable.  If you don’t try hard and you succeed, you are talented, but fewer people admire you.  If you don’t try hard, and you don’t succeed you are inconsequential, no one will think less or more of you.  I think the lizard likes this option. If you try hard and you don’t succeed, you’ve failed.

Thinking further, however, utter failure has it’s up side.  At least you can learn success through a process of elimination.  I think that is admirable.  Having the strength to really fail.

Taking a look at this picture of my friend Heidi, I can easily recognize that she is an admirable skier.  Not because she won this race (I mean come on, I don’t actually remember the results of every race), but because she drained her tank.   No excuses.  She never said she was tired.  She never said she was injured.  She never said she had bad wax.  She always has the strength to look her results in the eye and take accountability.  People who don’t put themselves on the line, will never be able to take accountability. But what is on the line? Nobody is going to think less of you or laugh at you. That’s the part that’s hard to accept.

I have to face my own failures when they come and I’m afraid of that.  It’s far too easy for me to forget about that guilty, empty feeling that follows a half-assed race.  All I can see is the failure.  Remembering properly, I know that feeling of guilt, that feeling of “I don’t, and may never, know how well I could have done”, that feeling is worse.  It’s just easier.

This is where that middle level comes in.  I know you were wondering earlier, what’s the point of having a useless level that lies to you and tries fruitlessly to encourage a change of heart?  Well, when that middle level stops lying, it’s the most important factor for success.  That little voice has the ability to acknowledge a bad situation, understand that there is a chance of failure, and decide to persevere regardless.  When the little voice takes that kind of initiative, I can break down the resistance.

On those days where that little voice feeds me logic, things that my lizard can’t refute, that’s when I win.

It says things like, “Who honestly cares?! Are you going to die if you lose? Are your friends going to laugh? You aren’t losing anything my not winning, but you’re not going to win if you don’t try.” It sometimes even throws is things like, “Hey, I bet you that extra little effort you put in, I bet you it burns a couple hundred more calories. Is there harm in that? Never.”

You know, now that I think of it, every time you decide against doing something that’s difficult, you’re probably forgoing tons of potential burnt calories and built muscles.

Dumb lizard is probably fat.

Now that’s more like it.  I think it will be easier for me to defeat the lizard if I think of him like that.

So right now, I thrash.

Instead of trying, futilely, to convince, persuade, and lie to myself one hour before the race, I will prepare ahead of time.  If I understand now, that the only way to reach a desirable outcome next weekend is to completely drain my tank, I will be able to do it.  If I understand now that losing with accountability will get me further than losing with excuses, I will undoubtedly be able to conquer the resistance. Jabba doesn’t stand a chance.  Waiting gives Jabba the chance.  The longer I postpone my decision to give it my all, the longer Jabba has to gather his artillery. Feeble, last minute attempts at self confidence boosts can’t battle on the vast deserts of Tatooine.

I apologize for the excessive Star Wars references, but I think I make my point.  Even internal struggles need to be dealt with as soon as the issue arises.  The more we feed Jabba, the larger he grows.  Every insecurity feeds our desire to take the safe route.

Writing this post, following my own well reasoned thought process is one way of trashing ahead of time in order to ship ON time.  There are no second chances with shipping in a ski race.  One set of OUA championship races in 2011.  Every sub-100% race is an opportunity lost.  I can deal with my challenge.

My teammates face the same challenge.  Any skier, and hopefully any non-skier, who reads this post can empathize.  Sure, in individual endurance sports team doesn’t mean the same thing as it does in hockey, because our team is also our competition. If I didn’t do everything in my power to help my teammates overcome their obstacles, in a way I would be succumbing to the resistance.  The only way I know I deserved my results, is if I know the other athletes were giving their all too.  I’ll be there for them, as a support system, when they are afraid of failure, and encourage them to ski until they yack. Please don’t question the potential negative health consequences of such things… I’m sure it is in fact good for you… somehow.

Either way…

Though giving into the lizard may result in prettier pictures

The energy put into that smile could have been used to ski faster.

I want to look like this again.

just imagine skis. and snow.

A Leader and a Follower

My fingertips on my left hand have callouses and no sensation.

My fingernails are short enough that it looks like I bite my nails, even though I abhor the habit.

I now spend an hour every day.

I now cough up $120 per month to the Folklore centre.

Neither of my parents have a musical bone in their body.

This is just proof that I never would have started playing guitar this year  if left to my own devices.

I suppose I was inspired.

This summer I won tickets to the Dawson City Music Festival. DCMF is famed for it’s unique location in a quaint, riverside, mining town smack dab in the middle of the Yukon, neighbouring… nothing.  Each year it draws in an unimaginable array of talent from across the globe.  This year’s line-up exceeded my expectations.  I must admit, I was looking forward to DCMF because of the dancing, the food, the random running race, and the socializing.  The music, I thought, was just a catalyst.

I stand corrected.

Mid-afternoon on the second day of the four day fest, I was exhausted in the worst way.  I had been up a little later than originally planned, and consumed more beverages than I care to remember, and to top it off, I woke up at 8 AM to run the Dome Race (just 8K straight up a hill, NBD).  Regardless of all of my ailments, I was compelled to not let the tickets go to waste and in fact listen to some of the music.   My friends and I parked ourselves on a bench in the main tent and enjoyed the first act, an upbeat swingin’ band from Chicago.  It kept me awake and interested long enough to listen to the second act, which I had originally planned to spend asleep on the grass.  Thank god I decided against it.

This act was a compilation of guitarists from all attending bands, gathered together to simply jam Neil Young songs.  It started off slowly, and it took me a while to recognize that they were amping up to Cortez the Killer.  I mentioned to my friends that there was a single female guitarist on the far left rockin’ with a sleek gold guitar.

Interest totally piqued.

Then I noticed that she had a small section of her head shaved…

Yep. Badass.

Then the wicked-super-beyond amazing solo’s began. WOW. I’d never seen someone play guitar the way she did.  Even the male guitarists on stage stopped to stare (why so surprised guys?). At this point I couldn’t decide whether to head-bang, or continue to stare in awe with my jaw on the floor. My (low) energy level dictated that I remain there with my mouth open.

That, dear readers, was the beginning of an inspiration.

Following that performance I:

1) Googled her and discovered that her name was Donna Grantis

2) Made sure to attend each and every show that her and the band the she belonged to (I eventually found out that it was an amazing blues band lead by the talented Shakura S’Aida) played during their entire stay in the Yukon.  That included one night, when the emotional connection between guitarist, vocalist and audience pretty much moved me to tears. No shame (swear it wasn’t just me). And one night in Whitehorse, when my dear friend went up to Donna pre-performance at a local pub, pointed at me, and said “Say hi to my friend, she’s in love with you”. I proceeded to blush, and die.  Then Donna came and gave me a hug, and we chatted, and I was forever inducted into the Donna-followers-for-life club (figment of my imagination).

The connection that Donna Grantis has with her guitar, her music, and her fans is unparalleled from my perspective.  It is safe to say that it is her sheer passion that evokes such strong responses in others.  I must also mention that nearly everyone who witnessed her on stage throughout the festival was hooked.

I equate her to the female version of one of her inspirations: Jimi Hendrix.  The female Canadian Jimi Hendrix from Toronto who studied at McGill, close enough.

Something about Donna just demands a following.  It’s not power of persuasion.  She isn’t incredibly marketed. She could not be labeled as outgoing.  She is, however, sincere, raw, and incredibly encouraging to those whose passions and dreams involve music.  The way she plays just dares the audience to enjoy music as thoroughly as she does.  She does great work in promoting guitar playing among women internationally, as well as locally.  This type of leadership is derived from her relationship with the musical community.  None would categorize her as a leader based purely on her profound “leadership characteristics”.  Her success as a leader is determined entirely based on the dedication of her followers, in addition her depth of connection to those followers at the individual level.

If I am any evidence, then she has been a successful leader. I not only aspire to play guitar beautifully (like she does). I aspire to lead like she does.  The signed poster and christmas card (also the two picks, and pickholder!) that I received from her (via my very smart boyfriend) for christmas, can attest to my motivation.

If I could lead because my followers share my passion, and see me as an aid in achieving their goals, then I would be satisfied.  Inspiring people by demonstrating, by embodying the spirit you want to portray, requires no convincing.  The generosity and enthusiasm that Donna has shown me will, undoubtedly, play a role in the way I treat individuals and live my life in the future.

Now, my story of a follower is going to be more succinct. It took me a long time to think of someone fitting.  The reading assigned, by Baker, reminded me that I’m not looking for someone who “is” a follower, just someone who plays the role with grace.

I realized that this could be none other than my step dad.

He is soft-spoken, good-humoured, and flexible.

Not just any individual could withstand the power that is my mother.  She has vision, ethics, and is characterized in every possible way as a leader.  In order to play the follower in our household one must empathize with my mothers motives, understand her rants, be able to translate goals into actions, and have the grit to challenge her when it is evident that new direction needs to be taken.

My step dad does this.

His actions may be inconspicuous, but they do not go unnoticed (by me anyways).

He knows that my mother wants to have a more workeable kitchen that promotes homemade dinners and moves us away from spending too much money eating out, while embracing the values of whole foods.  He also knows that my mother loves food blogs.  He uses his incredible knowledge and skill in the area of technology, with my mothers primary directives, and takes it upon himself to install a touch screen computer in the kitchen attached to a mac mini.

This is genius.

Food-blogging, recipe-accessing genius.

We advance as a family, not simply because my mom has the ultimate say and is a fearless leader, but because she and my step dad form a partnership.  The leader and follower roles are symbiotic. If my step dad was unable to follow in the way that he does, it would still be just my mother and I.  He would have perhaps been eaten alive if he didn’t possess the ability to ground my mother.  I now have another father figure and a fabulous four and a half year old broski.

From my step dad, I understand the importance of patience and understanding in being and effective follower.  Sometimes the calm, well thought out solutions are required to bring the unbounded passion of leaders back to earth.

I love my modern family.

B

Self Reliance

Somehow, certainly not because It was assigned to me in Organizational Leadership, I found myself reflecting on an essay written by Ralph Waldo Emerson.  The following are my findings:

Emerson explains that for the most part, our population acts with consistency. That is to say, our past actions and characteristics dictate those in our present and future.  In this way, little advancement can be made within one lifetime.  We tend toward consistent actions and reactions it seems for predictability’s sake, so that others can know what to expect from us and when to disapprove.   In order to gain strength and make changes, people must focus on self-reliance and our current perceptions of our surroundings to dictate our actions.  I can see truth in this when I look at the transition between high school and university for people like me, who have had to travel a serious distance from home.  Life transitions like that cannot just draw from past experience if we want to succeed through them.  Imagine if we treated university like we did high school.  Yes “they say” that an undergraduate degree is the new high school diploma. Perhaps it’s because it is necessary to be this educated in the current world, but perhaps people are also looking at it the way they looked at previous learning experience in high school (as a necessity that has to be done, merely for grades and accreditation, because it is expected, how they’ll raise wealth).  The successful students likely used their education for their own means, interpreted information for themselves anew and applied it to their current (and potential future) lives. Regardless of whether they use the commonly adopted tips tricks and strategies to pass or excel grade-wise, they learn, grow, and are likely more satisfied people.  This is not to say that I personally follow this mantra of “the love of learning”.  I recognize that I can capitalize on my education by personalizing my experience, and taking it to heart, regardless of whether or not my peers like to joke about how they “do what they need to get by” and seriously dislike school.  Certain classes don’t speak to me personally, and so I follow to socially accepted minimal effort for maximum return practices (and assumingly retain nothing). There are other classes, however, in which I feel personably accountable to learn to material. This, I assure you, I would have never done based on my experience in high school.

 

Sure, I can recognize that, to others, this makes me a “keener”, and friends of mine may look upon that with distaste.   This speaks to Emerson’s point about originality vs. imitation.  He notes that imitation, in terms of strength, happiness, and advancement, is suicide.  Simultaneously he relates originality to the ultimate goal of self-reliance, with positive results.  Society, he says, stifles originality by expressing disgust to those who break social norms. I, personally, derive satisfaction from those instances when other people look at my actions in awe (whether positive or negative from their perspective).  This ranges from being an over-enthusiastic sustainability-buff, or that girl who full-out jogs to class while singing Neil young at square block’s audible range and wearing rubber boots.  I agree with Emerson on this topic in the way that, regardless of whether or not there is societal evidence, these personal preferences and oddities will benefit me… somehow.  I believe, in fact, that the initial distaste that others put forward when witnessing something “original” is entirely on the surface.  Almost in fear, in case others will alienate you for condoning the odd behaviour.  I feel that they are secretly jealous of my freedom of expression (or of Neil Young’s expression I suppose), and that they recognize the innate confidence.  The evidence is in the fact that I do in fact have friends, regardless of my behaviour.  Some people are drawn to originality.  I believe I could form a Neil Young singing-rubber boot wearing-running club.

This leads to Emerson’s perception of hero worship.  Though individuals in society are drawn to consistency and wince at abnormality, over time, it is those peculiar people that act on their own instinct, who develop a following.  He mentions Calvanism and Jesus, among many other religious leaders or heroes.  The individuals begin with unusual ideas or characteristics, but these eventually become the norm as groups of people congregate under their beliefs.  The picture of Mark Zuckerburg on the front page of Time pops into my head.

Someone without conventional social skills revolutionizes socialization.  Must I again mention that I believe I may lead a group of Neil Young singing-rubber boot wearing-runners, one day.

I do disagree in part with his perspective of society and culture, only in that I believe culture has changed since the time of his writing.  He carries the perspective that nonconformity is thwarted from every direction.  In large Canadian cities at least, that doesn’t seem to be the case.  There are so many fringe groups and odd characters produced due to the perceived anonymity of the individual in a large city that, at least personally, I feel that nonconformity has very few consequences.  Perhaps he is still correct, however, given that currently, there is a group, cult, or sect that fills nearly every distinction.  Few of us are on our own with our individuality, as we find the same individuality in others and gravitate toward them for security and support.  My self-reliance has grown tenfold, however, since leaving home in pursuit of university in a very non-Yukon place.  I haven’t particularly found a cult or a homogenous group that I fit in. I have, however, found myself accumulating friends and succeeding in school while doing things that those around me simply were not.  Being in a bigger city has definitely encouraged me to recognize that my perspective is not at all like the perspectives of those around me, but that expressing those perspectives as my own has improved my skills as a leader.  Even in this third year of school it continues.  I began the school year as “that one girl who rollerblades to class in the rain”.  As the months passed, I saw three more take up the activity (one of whom was my enthusiastic roommate).

Either way, checkmate Ottawa