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Okay, so it's not news to you that I really got a lot out of the two Brene Brown books that I read over the last few months (Daring Greatly and The Gifts of Imperfection). They are really eye opening books, or at least they were for me. So when I saw that Brene was doing Part 2 of a "Gifts of Imperfection Online Class" through the Oprah network I decided, heck why not? I like all the self introspection stuff, understanding myself helps me understand my athletes, and working on my own self acceptance helps me to be in a clearer place when interacting with others. But that's not why I do it, really it's because I want to be my best for me. I want to be healthy inside and out. It's a major need of mine. So I took the leap. Week 1 was about being creative, and embracing our inner creativity and it was a great week of ah-hahs and learning for me. I loved it. One of the major cornerstones of the week was "Don't compare." I could really grasp this while doing art. I get it, do your own thing, it's your own creativity, you don't need to compare what your art looks like in regards to what others do. Got it, check, okay.

Week 2 was about embracing rest and play, and that one was much needed and something I am really struggling with sorting out in practice. In theory I've got it nailed, in practice I'm like a baby deer just beginning to walk. I have this idea that rest is "recovery" and is just another thing I need to nail in order to be the best athlete I can be. Let's not even talk about rest from resting, as in, rest does not just look like a set of Normatec boots, it's also about crafts, and playing on the floor with Annie, and cooking classes, and margaritas with friends. Total work in progress for me.

Brene held a live webcast, that I missed due to upchucking in the bathroom, but I watched the playback. It was all going well and I was nodding and taking notes and then she got to her last viewer question and it hit me like a ton of bricks. The last question was:

"Is there such a thing as healthy comparison?"

Ummm, wow. I'm sitting there, and I'm a girl who literally spends most of her days preparing myself to compete with others on the playing field of triathlon. I was SO interested in her answer, and she went directly to the issue of competition. And this is from someone I deeply respect, but I know she doesn't do sports, so would she even "get it"?

Here's what she said.

Competition is healthy when it's about doing your internal best, when it comes from a place of play and fun, when it's about learning from others and inspiring each other.

Competition is not healthy when it's about rank ordering, putting yourself in place compared to others, trying to figure out what your worth is, how you stack up against folks, and when you are "attaching value" and "better than."

Yup, that stuck with me, in fact I was like YES THAT....THAT IS IT! I have read SO many mental training books throughout the years and every single one of them comes back to controlling what you can control, not worrying about what others do, and trying to get the best out of yourself. It's almost cliche at this point and yet every one of my athletes including myself struggles with it at times. I just posted an entire article about comparison on the goSonja athlete page and 4 of my athletes emailed me that same day asking "Did you post that just for me?" I find this funny because I had very little trouble letting go of comparison with my art and creativity, but it's a constant work in progress to let go of comparison when it comes to triathlon.

I really got thinking about this and a few things came up. One was I started thinking about my first coach, Steve. He really set the foundation for who I am as an athlete and I went through a lot of those new athlete experiences with him. Things like my first disappointing races (where I wanted to leave and go cry). I remember him having a talk with me that essentially said "Chin up, go celebrate others success, because they celebrate yours when you do well." He always pushed me to be humble.

I remember one time when the timing results messed up and they called someone else as having won a race that I won. The girl they called wasn't even there because I don't think she was even close to wining or maybe hadn't even been in the race, it was a total mistake, and they called me as second, and I wanted to go up and correct them and he said "absolutely not." Go take your second place and smile about it. I did and the results eventually got sorted out, but he wanted me to learn that lesson.

The first time I tackled a 70.3 distance race was at Rage in the Sage and I was the first woman across the line. I remember him telling me that a close friend had said to him "It's not like she won Clearwater". He told me that because he thought I was a little too excited about the win. I did get a huge magnum of wine...but there were also 27 women in the long course race. That was how I was raised in the sport. Be humble, don't show disappointment, support others.

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So I always had that underpinning. And I think with Steve, it was a case of "the ends justify the means." I was pushed to respond a certain way, but it took me a long time and a lot of reading and self introspection to come to the means. But getting to the means was a pretty awesome journey.

What Brene said up there that I wrote is the "means".

You can act humble, or you can be humble.

You can act outwardly like you aren't comparing your results to others, or you actually not compare yourself to others.

One is an outward action, the other is an internal decision.

Now, don't get me wrong, the acting is really important. I believe in life that if we want to work on a skill, we must create a practice around that skill. If we want to be better at running, you must begin a running practice, if you want to feel better about yourself, you must start a practice of self love. For years I was "practicing" at not comparing. As with any practice, sometimes you succeed (and you go running today), and sometimes you don't (and you watch movies and eat popcorn). A practice is just that, not 100% and riddled with hiccups along the way. They are all like that.

So for a long time I practiced being humble (sometimes successfully and sometimes not) and I focused on what I could control (sometimes successfully, and sometimes not), and not comparing (sometimes successfully and sometimes not), and that's been a joy. I think without that practice I wouldn't have gotten to the ah-hah.

The ah-hah for me is that comparison in competition is not healthy. Bottom line, I know this in my core of being. It's pretty simple, and pretty black and white. And I must say that when it comes from the core, the action, and the practice come much more easily, they are more natural, it's an easier response to act from that place.

I will share one last story. This past year I was ranked the #1 athlete in my Age Group in the USAT rankings. I was also ranked #1 in the Ironman All World rankings. This garnered me the fancy gold luggage tag that came in the mail, and my photo in the USAT magazine. In the beginning years I looked at those USAT rankings and I so wanted to be up there. I remember when Mary Miller was number 1 and I was like "wow, I wonder if I will ever be that good." A few years in, and after some distasteful run ins with USAT I quit giving a hoot about the rankings, it just left a bad taste in my mouth. This year with the new Ironman All World rankings I found that every time someone talked about their own rankings on FB I would go to the page and see where I fell in, and that action felt very unhealthy for me. It never left me feeling like I was in a good place, even when I was on the top. It constantly left me with a lot of feelings of shame, I felt that the lady that won Kona should be on top, not me, I explained it away as it just being the girl who raced the most, not the girl who was the best. It acted more as a reminder of where I came up short than where I excelled (and let me tell you, just typing all that is some honest shit going down and not easy to write in a public place). When the luggage tag came in the mail last week I was unsure what to do with it, and the little bike sticker that came along with it. I kept coming back to "who does this serve, who does this help" and the answer to me was "nobody in a healthy way." So I ride by you in a race with my fancy gold sticker on my bike. How does that help you? How does that help me? It doesn't. But I didn't know why I was shunning these rankings that I knew 7 years ago I could only have dreamed about. When Brene said what I posted above it really gave me words to explain how I felt.

Competition is not healthy when it's about rank ordering, putting yourself in place compared to others, trying to figure out what your worth is, how you stack up against folks, and when you are "attaching value" and "better than."

So what will I do with that sticker and that luggage tag? I won't be putting it on my bike or my bike box, because for me that would take me to a place of recognizing and affirming the comparison inherent within it. But if you choose to do so, then I say Kudos, there is no judgement here, only love and acceptance for all of my fellow competitors. I would hate for someone to not stick that sticker on because they felt I would disapprove rather than because they came to that decision on their own. It's just a sticker for heavens sake, or as Angela's husband said on FB today..."most expensive luggage tag ever!"

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