Our tendency in life is to measure ourselves against those we see as being the “best” – those who are number 1, those getting attention for their achievements from others either publicly or in our own circles at home and work. Us women in particular are our own harshest critics, rarely prepared to look objectively at ourselves and constantly comparing all aspects of our lives with others, often with a very negative slant. Our cultural upbringing seems to deem it inappropriate to play down our achievements and skills – we don’t want to be seen to blow our own trumpets, and talking about things we know we’re good at seems boastful.
This goes beyond basic self confidence to not only how we measure ourselves but whether we truly believe we have been successful. I was involved in elite sport from the age of 18, playing in an U21 national side and then in the senior reserve side for several years. I trained hard, played hard, and harboured longstanding ambitions to run on just once for the senior national side – something I never achieved. In my mind, I’ve always seen this as a failure as my final goal was never reached – and since moving countries where no one knows my background, it is something I rarely mention or discuss.
It wasn’t until my family mentioned proudly to my kids that I had represented my country, that I saw things in a different light. My focus had been on achieving the elusive goal of getting a spot, just once, in that national team. It was a great stretch goal, but not achieving it didn’t mean my sporting career was not a success. I played at that level for over 5 years, whilst working as a graduate in an investment bank and completing my accounting qualification. I trained late in the often frosty evenings, practicing skills, fitness, strength training, battled a run of injuries – I always felt I could have done more, but not many of my work contemporaries were running 800m reps at 9pm in the middle of winter! On the flip side – very few of my fellow athletes were in such demanding jobs – they were students, trainee teachers with ample vacations and more flexible hours. And the most important factor was, I was not the best player, the most talented, the fastest or the strongest. I was very good – but not quite good enough for that number 1 team.
So what have I learnt? My sporting career was a success, just not against the harsh benchmark I set myself. I learnt a lot about practice, hard work, juggling priorities, and working in a team. But my biggest takeaway was that I have the ability to be a leader. My favourite memories from those days are from my university side, which I captained to the national championship. We had no coach, so strategy, team selection, game day tactics and motivation were all down to me. We came back from a several goal half time deficit to win the Grand Final in extra time – as well as scoring 3 crucial goals myself, I truly felt like I had personally turned the team around.
I’ve found myself dipping back into the feelings generated by that day many times – savouring what success felt like, but also recalling the tougher side to leadership, taking risks on selecting the team, having hard conversations with those who didn’t make it into the line up, and how vulnerable I felt trying to motivate the team when we were in a losing position– followed by how sweet it was when we were, for one moment, truly number 1 – undeniably successful in our small corner of the world.
This experience has served me well over the years, and influenced me greatly in my actions when managing teams and making decisions. I’m still not the best, whatever that looks like – but I can continue to be successful if I build on my strengths and experience going forward.
I’d love to hear comments and feedback on the definition of success! Comment on the blog or on twitter @eyesup2014.