Reaching Your Limits to Find Joy

You are never really playing an opponent. You are playing yourself, your own highest standards, and when you reach your limits, that is real joy.
— Arthur Ashe, Tennis Champion

I love this quote, not just because it's inspirational, but because it is so true of situations far broader than just sports.

I had always hated running. I loved playing basketball and soccer, but just running miles was true torture for me (mentally and physically). Then I ruptured my Achilles tendon playing basketball and decided I should find ways to push myself as an athlete that didn't involve contact sports. I also needed to lose some weight and thought, well, I could start running. At first, I hated it. I went out way too fast and got down on myself when I couldn't go a whole mile without stopping to gasp.

I didn't start liking it until I became part of a running team and had a coach that told me that walking was fine. I would jog a minute, walk a minute, and so on and very gradually build up how long I could jog versus walking. Eventually I became really in love with running, was running a race every month (mostly 5k and 10k) and then decided to push myself to train for a half marathon. It was never easy, but I just focused on improving gradually, and improving based on my own past performance (not based on someone else, or on some arbitrary judgment about where I "should" be). I ran two half marathons and then started training for a marathon. Unfortunately, injuries from a car accident then sidelined my running, but that's not really the point of all of this.

I found real joy in running, something that I had passionately dreaded my whole life.  And, it wasn't until I reframed the entire endeavor to beating myself rather than others that the shift from dread to love started to happen.

After realizing that by just focusing on myself, I could improve and enjoy it, I gained invaluable confidence that I could reach my limits in other areas of my life. I could take acting and voice classes and go to auditions, I could start my own business, and so many other things that seemed insurmountable.

Now I enjoy taking on new challenges because I view it as a way to grow and become better... not better than anyone else, just better than I, myself used to be.