Against all logic, I’ve spent the last week battling a constant anxiety that sits in the pit of my stomach like an ulcer. Occasionally, the anxiety turns into this paralyzing fear that something terrible is going to happen to someone I love… and when the fear is triggered, I can’t help sobbing and I don’t want to do much of anything. To be honest, I was beginning to think that my instincts were warning me about some accident, some devastating tragedy that I couldn’t control.
Then I spoke to my mom. She described with striking clarity a similar feeling she battled the year before starting medical school. According to her, the fear is likely associated with a major upcoming life change. You are a little bit excited but also terrified of all the unknowns. That is a much better prognosis and one that makes a lot of sense. You see, Aspire, in less than a week, I will begin classes at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. Needless to say, my life is going to change in a very meaningful way. I will spend the next 3 -5 years earning my MBA part-time, while still trying to balance full-time work, friends, family, and Flirt. I truly believe that this new education will be a wonderful thing for me and for my future – but change is hard for me. I hide that better now (I’ve been working on it) but I am still scared. Very scared.
It’s funny how it all ties together. Wiola mentioned in her blog that if your dreams don’t scare you, they are not big enough. So I must be doing something right… although I have to admit I did not expect to have such a sustained emotional reaction. After all, my dreams have not changed and the past few months with Flirt have been the standard roller-coaster of equestrian sports.
We had an abysmal showing at Zone Finals, followed by the realization that Flirt needed some veterinary maintenance. Then we had some great times – followed by some more trouble. We changed her bit to a variation of a Myler snaffle that both she and I love. In the past month, I have been working to adjust my body position – keeping my hips balanced and back while remaining elastic with my arms. I’m learning to ask her to move forward from my half seat. And as all the adults in the world can relate – it is very difficult to get your body to do what your brain wants at this age! Flirt has jumped from places she never would have before and I’m still working on improving my accuracy over bigger jumps… because when you have a little horse, accuracy really matters.
Early in December, I rode in a clinic with Kevin Babington, a show jumping Olympian from Ireland. During the clinic, I rode very well through some difficult and technical exercises. Yet I left feeling like a failure – comparing myself to those around me and feeling as if I wasn’t good enough. I wasn’t doing the things I wanted to be… yet when all was said and done, I did have trouble the last day. In my mind, all I could think was “I was wrong – even though I try so very hard and I work my butt off, I truly am still a “novice.”” I sincerely tried to be proud of the things I did well. In the end, I just felt sad.
The following weekend I attended orientation for my MBA. There, an adventure racer spoke to us about teamwork. She told us that when you are miles in, exhausted, and at your limit – the only way to succeed is to take the ego away and ask for help. This resonated with me in a startling way. What happens when I take the ego out of my riding? I’ve been reminded several times that I have set some very challenging goals for myself. So is my stubborn insistence holding me back? Am I convinced that I’m better than I truly am? If I were to sit back and take a realistic look at myself and my riding – what would I see?
So began a long hard look at myself and my partnership with Flirt. There are a lot of good things that should not be forgotten. But there is also the realization that, as much as I don’t want it to be true, I may not be able to achieve my goals with this horse. I have no doubt I can do it all one day – but perhaps that day is with my next horse several years down the road. Flirt has taught me a tremendous amount and made me the rider I am today. She is mine and will continue to be mine until she is ready to go into retirement. But realistically, I may not be able to achieve my lofty, challenging goals with her. I am not afraid of a challenge, I am certainly not good at being patient, and I will keep trying each and every single day to reach for the stars. I am driven and determined to give these goals my best shot and every inch, every lesson that Flirt teaches me will be repaid ten-fold in the future. But recognizing that it’s OK to not achieve these goals with her – that is a huge step forward. So much pressure is gone.
Fast forward to last week. A movie I watched one morning triggered an acute episode of depression and I was in a real funk. I made it to the barn on time for my lesson but was seriously toying with the idea of canceling so that I could go home and crawl under a blanket. Instead, I sucked it up and I was given a gift I will never forget. The jumps were big – bigger than I had jumped in a long, long time. And Flirt and I jumped around perfectly. Not “the perfect trip” – no, with mistakes that we were able to overcome as a team. I still dream about the power she displayed over the big oxers and the feeling of being completely with her in the moment… I left the barn that day with my mood completely turned around.
Toni Robinson wrote “Horses change lives. They give our young people confidence and self-esteem. They provide peace and tranquillity to troubled souls, they give us hope.”
On that day, in that moment, all the trials and difficultly was worth it. I was the troubled soul and my horse gave me hope. The triumph of success – accomplishing that with Flirt, knowing that feeling when I needed it so badly – it still means a lot.
Is it significant that just as I let go of my egotistical need to keep up, I feel as though I’ve taken the first real steps toward improvement and success? Perhaps I was holding myself back all along? I don’t have the answers to those questions and I don’t think I want them. But as 2014 begins, I want to share with you two quotes that have inspired me:
“Courage is not the absence of fear – but the ability to overcome it.”
– Personally, I value courage above many other traits for exactly this reason. It’s OK to be afraid; courage itself can take many forms but is always a true accomplishment of the heart.
And “Dreams are like stars. You may never touch them, but if you follow them, they will lead you to your destiny.”
– Far more fantastical than the first, I love this quote because it reminds me that things change. Dreams evolve with me as a person and as long as I keep going and do the best that I can in every moment, I will get to where I am supposed to be.
All this being said, I can’t promise exciting stories of glory or even frequent posts about my challenges as a rider. But I do promise a year in which I will chronicle this new adventure for all of you. I will write the ups and the downs and I will share my heart with you. To me, that seems like a pretty good new beginning.