“The real risk is not changing. I have to feel like I’m after something. If I make money, fine. But I’d rather be striving. It’s the striving, man, it’s that I want.” ~John Coltrane
Last weekend my bike team put on our second annual all women and girls mountain bike race, and I overheard a woman say to her friend, I’ll strive to do better next year.
She smiled, hugged it out with her friend, and rung the cowbell that we gave participants as their finishing medals. She had no idea that I was in earshot, that I am the captain of the team (lucky me), and that I had one of the biggest meltdowns in recent history five months ago with the thought of putting on this race.
I woke up one morning in early June, and I just lost it. I felt really overwhelmed by everything I had going on at the time. My plate felt so full I had a hard time prioritizing my time. I felt like that spinning rainbow circle on your computer screen.
Work-wise I was going through another phase where we hired people to do the work that I enjoyed doing, and I took up residence in Panic Town that I was going to be discovered as a complete useless hack. It’s amazing to help hire people who are way more skilled than you, for the record, and really one of these days, I think I will write about the ups and downs and JoyfulTerror ™ of being part of a growing organization. In short, you have to learn how survive hour to hour. Get used to feeling like a yo-yo. Make yourself useful day by day to whomever may need you. Pretend like you have it all together with most people. Melt down on people you trust. Ignore all feelings that you suck at everything. Thanks for reading the first draft of my TedTalk.
Personal-life-wise: I had said yes to too many things. Gawddammit. Again. How many times do I have to learn this? The volunteer work that I had signed up for felt like I was letting people down all the time, and nothing was going smoothly. I felt like I was a disaster at everything. That Yo-Yo feeling at work that I mentioned above? My personal life felt like a bunch of tangled strings.
Writerly-wise: I just wanted to be left the fuck alone to write. And read. And then write some more. I could feel this story coming together in my mind and I had no time to chase it. No time to think about it because of the Yo-Yo and the Tangled Strings. This lack of time and focus was making me grouchy AF.
That morning when I admitted that I had to focus more on the Yo-Yo so I had to cut some Tangled Strings, I drafted an email to the team stating that I couldn’t help put on this race, and really if it were up to me, I would cancel our plans. I wasn’t sure we could pull it off. I typed that email from a super dark place.
Within minutes, maybe even seconds, women on my team responded with phrases like “I can do” and “I can help” and “I’d love to” and “Sign me up for.” As I watched those emails roll in, I realized I should have just asked for help rather than saying that I had to bag out. Saying that I couldn’t do something was easier than asking for help.
Did you catch that?
How many times have I abandoned the hard work of dealing with difficulty because it’s easier to walk away than it is to ask for help? Asking for help means you’re weak. Asking for help means you’re not good enough. Asking for help means you don’t know what you’re doing.
When I overheard that woman say, I’ll strive to do better next year, I felt ten thousand rainbows in my heart. Hearing that declaration also filled me with shame when I thought about how I almost walked away from helping put on this amazing event. I let the rainbows chase away the shame.
I’ll strive to do better next year.
Thank goodness for all of those team mates of mine who said “I can do” and “I can help” and “I’d love to” and “Sign me up for.” That’s really the spirit of teamwork and collaboration. What being a team is all about. Why I volunteer for this hobby job.
What that racer felt is what we’re trying to build with our mission statement. We want more women to race. That racer’s mind was already on next year! What she’ll strive to do. Who she’ll strive to be. Everyone on my bike team believes that racing with other women builds the confidence that we all need in a culture where it is very hard to maintain that feeling. You need those “I can do this” moments to keep your chin up with confidence so you can get through The Yo-Yo Times and The Times of all Tangled Strings.
Racing, I believe, has a spot for every type of woman. You want to be serious a killer who trains year-round? You’re in. You want to wear glitter, dress up in a costume, and compete for the most whiskey shots consumed during the race? You’re in. You want to be solid mid-pack and have fun with your friends? You’re in. You want to race with your daughter? You’re both in.
We can all strive. Together.
Here’s the thing.
I’ve been thinking a lot about asking for help and what that means to all the teaching and learning. As I was scrolling through the stream of things on the interwebs, this list of Coltrane quotes came through, and I chose the one for my epigraph because it sums up the rut I was in a few months ago. He captures the real spirit of how I hope to live my life:
It’s the striving, man, it’s that I want.
According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of strive is 1] to devote serious effort or energy and 2] to struggle in opposition. It’s interesting to me that this word has a history from the French verb estriver meaning “to quarrel” and some synonyms listed are attempt, try, and essay. Sometimes I quarrel with myself as I attempt to try to write an essay.
I will strive to do better next year.
That statement has inspired me so much. It’s had me glowing for days. I’m so honored that my team helped make this race happen. Want one more favorite story?
One of the junior girls waited for all of her friends to catch up to her on one of the hill climbs. You know, it was a race, and you don’t technically wait for anyone. She didn’t want to ride the rest of the trails without her friends. I thought about how rare it must be to just ride with your little gurlfrens with no adults. It must be rad! How much I love that story. We don’t deserve little girls, this world.
Speaking of striving–I’m up to almost 20,000 words with my book, and I’m still in awe that I’m doing it. Like I’m really writing a book. It might suck times to Sunday, but I’m doing it. One of my readers told me she thought it was working, and so what did I do to celebrate? Completely panicked and started writing something else. I’ve decided to enter a local call for writing, and focus on a short piece. Just to clear my brain from the positive feedback. The submission calls for 1500 words, so the 5,541 words that I wrote might need some, uh, editing.
This publication accepted my work in 2012, so I might get rejected to make room for a new writer. We’ll see. I love the spirit of community reads program and the events that go along with it. I also loved the book–To The Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivy–and inhaled it in a weekend. I picked it up first because of her name–Éowyn–she has the name of the character with my second favorite quote in Lord of the Rings: “I am no man!”
Quick Trip To Dork Town:
My all-time favorite Tolkien quote is when Galadriel says:
“And now at last it comes. You will give me the Ring freely! In place of the Dark Lord you will set up a Queen. And I shall not be dark, but beautiful and terrible as the Morning and the Night! Fair as the Sea and the Sun and the Snow upon the Mountain! Dreadful as the Storm and the Lightning! Stronger than the foundations of the earth. All shall love me and despair!”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
Fucking badass, man. Little Frodo almost greased his shorts when she busted out that feminist edict, right? So great. Elfin feminist rage? Me fucking too, yo.
Okay, I’m clearly losing it. Where was I? Right. Trying to get my monthly post done while trying to make some point. Let me just end it here with another beautiful set of words from The Love Supreme wizard.
One positive thought produces millions of positive vibrations.