The Constant Gardener

"Why waste time proving over and over how great you are, when you could be getting better? Why hide deficiencies instead of overcoming them? Why look for friends or partners who will just shore up your self-esteem instead of ones who will also challenge you to grow? And why seek out the tried and true, instead of experiences that will stretch you? The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives."- Carol Dweck in Mindset:The New Psychology of Success. As quoted on one of my favorite blogs: Brain Pickings

From the time I was very young I believed in the value of challenging myself and importance of effort. Whether it was basketball, school or anything else, I believed in my ability to work hard and develop myself instead of believing in any fixed talent or intelligence level. When I played basketball, I always use to say that my only talent was my desire and ability to work hard. When I went to graduate school, I decided on becoming a librarian because I loved the idea that my job was constant learning- at any given moment was to become an expert in any and every subject. I always believed I would go back to graduate school for something simply because I loved learning and challenging myself so much.  As an adult, I still believe in my ability to work hard and develop myself and it guides me in my life on a daily basis. I highly value the growth mindset and find that when I am rooted in this mentality I am able to be my best self. I am free to pursue challenges that I have a significant chance of failure at, I am open to choosing goals that will stretch me and push me in ways I never have before, I am free from feeling like I need external approval of my goals or that I have prove myself over and over again. In fact, my worst races have always been ones at which I have externalized too much- for approval and proof of my worthiness. My worst races have been those in which I have fallen into the binary trap of either success or failure. I have thrived on the other hand when I see either success or failure merely as opportunities to learn and grow, the priority being learning.

2011 UROC 100km. Sometimes joy is about learning, digging and discovering something about yourself you didn't know was in there. Photo credit iRunFar (I think!)

2011 UROC 100km. Sometimes joy is about learning, digging and discovering something about yourself you didn't know was in there. Photo credit iRunFar (I think!)

It is not always easy to stay in a mindset of growth however. In fact, it takes an incredible amount of effort and mindfulness. There is a constant barrage of images and sentiment that encourage a one dimensional view of success and very little spotlighting of failure as a tool for growth. Failure is glossed over in stories, pointed out merely to prop up the success story and highlight its triumph more. We all fall in the trap and start "hustling for our worthiness" as Brene Brown calls it. When I hustle for my worthiness, I don't want anyone to see my flaws, I don't want them to see me face down in the arena, struggling or anything but on top, on point and indestructible. But that very mentality severely undercuts my own ability to reach my potential. My true potential is found when I do the work, make the effort, keep inspired, remain curious and stay open to being wrong, being humbled. 

Having a growth mindset for also means being free to explore. I can build my goals toward an adventure, toward a specific level of competition, towards drawing out my own potential and feel free to be guided intrinsically. I can work on different skills separately or together; I can run up mountains and fast along the roads. Because there is no fixed moment in time or accomplishment that I am seeking, instead just seeking a rich full interesting running life, I am able to heap mounds of challenges on my plate. And then instead of worrying if I nail them all at one go, I can look at each and examine the lessons, failures, triumphs and find my next inspiration.

Once upon a time in 2012, I ran a PR of 2:38 at the Olympic Trials, was the fastest MUT runner in the field and then got a hug from Deena Kastor. 

Once upon a time in 2012, I ran a PR of 2:38 at the Olympic Trials, was the fastest MUT runner in the field and then got a hug from Deena Kastor. 

One of the most interesting tests to a mindset of growth recently has been the Olympic Trials. Because I was so busy with the bakery, I very much fell into a fixed mindset when it came to my goals towards qualifying. PSHHHH, I thought, I've run sub 2:43 numerous time. I've already proven this, should be no problem. Just taking the been there done there attitude undercut many of the very mental skills that have allowed me to run such fast times including bracing myself, joy and happy uncertainty. In addition to all of the concrete barriers (many of which I just tried to ignore such as working 100 hour weeks and courses/race days not conducive to fast times), I started to get sucked into wanting to prove myself again. Because of the huge rise in popularity in the ultrarunning world of running the Olympic Trials, as well as being surrounded by many badasses who have qualified for the Trials, I started feeling more anxious and more need to prove myself each time a marathon didn't go my way. I stopped looking at the lessons (which most of the time was you are too exhausted from working 100 hours a week on your feet) and just beat myself up and would go right back into the next race without having learned a thing. I stopped enjoying running marathons and finally realized at the end of the summer that I was simply doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. So I opted again for growth, ran UTCT, was inspired and ran Javelina. And those were absolutely amazing expansive experiences. I put aside the goal of making the Trials so that I could meditate on it further, so I could examine it, re-evaluate it and see what it had for me. I know now with certainty that for future Trials 2020 & 2024 at least (I am young 33! and constantly inspired by my Oiselle teammates especially my twin, Andrea Duke aka Dr. Dre, who qualified for her first Trials at 35 and has been on an upward trajectory ever since. Or look at Kara Goucher (37) or Deena Kastor (42) who are forces), I will put my all in to being there and being prepared to run my best races there. I love the challenge of qualifying and I love the challenge of toeing the line with the best field of competitors I can and being pushed to new levels. 

But what of the impending Trials? I will be there. In what capacity, I am not yet sure. Whether it is fangirling the heck out of my Oiselle teammates or toeing the line, I want to be a part of the special event. I have one chance left to qualify and will be in Houston in 12 days to race. But my perspective is different now. I am not going to Houston to qualify for the Trials. That is not my goal. My goal is to take back the marathon for myself. It is to renew the exquisite joy I get from trying to run as fast as I can. I come in with curiosity, wondering where my fitness is after recovering from a 100 miler and many health issues after the fact, wondering where my fitness is as I kick of a year of adventures and challenges. Houston is my starting line for the year. It is my pre-test to see what skills I need to develop, what areas I need to work, what is my level of competency with information synthesis. Where do I grow from here, what needs tending. It makes me excited to see what I can do with a joyous and playful heart. 

As my homegirl, badass Oiselle teammate and amazing friend Lauren Fleshman says, "Make the race your playground, not your proving ground."