Competition and being competitive

It’s not always a good thing.

My family are all pretty competitive. Sometimes playfully, sometimes seriously. Sometimes it starts playfully and we get carried away and then someone ends up in tears (sorry mum).

With a sociable twin brother and sister who were pretty good at sport, had each other to make it easy to get involved in activities at school, they were reasonably competitive. And rightly so, they were talented and put in effort.

I remember as a kid, my sister and I were in a group singing competition and my dad said to us “it’s not the taking part that counts, it’s beating the shit out of the competition”. This was funny at the time, but maybe not the best message for a 10 and 13 year old girl. We’ll put it down to character building and an explanation for my now sarcastic sense of humour.

To say my dad was competitive, would be the understatement of the century. But he’s done well, so what’s wrong with that? My mum would just roll her eyes, laugh, be quietly cautious and hope nobody broke anything (all whilst drinking a cup of tea). She was just happy to let everyone get on with their own stuff.

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Me. I was the chubby kid in the corner that was a bit too shy to get involved. I was competitive but not very good at anything. There’s nothing more annoying than being competitive but knowing that you don’t really have an outlet to channel it.

Then I found Crossfit. A sport that encourages everyone to get involved no matter their ability or background. Crossfit’s real strength is the community that can bring together people that otherwise wouldn’t have a reason to connect. Emergency services, CEOs, waiting staff. People of all ages, from different countries and cultures. It’s an environment like no other for building confidence and bonding people. As a woman, it’s main benefit for me is that it encourages strong women. It goes against the traditional view that we should be small or skinny, instead empowering us to see what our bodies can do. I can guarantee that in any Crossfit box around the world you’ll find a group of women comparing muscles, discussing pictures of top athletes they saw online, or giving each other a motivational pep talk or a high five after a great session. Gone are the days where men dominate the weights room, now we make the lads jealous of our strength (sorry, not sorry).

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As much as I love Crossfit and everything it has done for my self confidence, the way I look at daily tasks and my approach to adversity. I am currently feeling very conflicted by it. I’ve been sucked into taking training too seriously, over training and trying to achieve too many things at once.

I always like to know what the end goal is and I didn’t know where I was going with training. I know I’m not going to the Crossfit Games and I’m more than happy with that, but I couldn’t decide if being fit and looking good was enough – why wouldn’t it be?! Recently I’ve realised, I don’t want to go anywhere with it. I need to remember that I do this for fun. That there is far more going on in my life and this is my way to let off steam and make friends. I need to have a better gym-life balance, which is easier said than done when you go to the gym to hang out with friends.

In February I took part in the Rainhill Trials for the second time. I’d been training hard and I was feeling amazing, better than I had done in a long time. I was focused and getting to spend time with friends that had the same goals – there were three of us taking part. A week before the competition I’d done something stupid and pulled a muscle in my rib and I wasn’t sure whether I could compete or not, but I wasn’t mentally prepared to fully rest in case it undid all my progress (yes, nonsense, I know). I decided to compete but in the back of my mind I kept stopping myself from pushing too hard incase I did real damage.

Then it came to an event that I felt confident about, a five rep max thruster. Absolutely horrid, but strength is, well, my strength. I got too cocky, I didn’t make any lifts and I didn’t know how I’d react, my friends didn’t know how I’d react or how they would perk me back up. I took 10 minutes to chill out, made a list of why it was a valuable experience, why I should be there even with the injury and tried to move on. Fortunately, Pete would have slapped it out of me and told me I was being ridiculous (if you don’t have a friend like this, you need one). I told Becca about my list but that I was disappointed I hadn’t managed to prove myself and she asked the best question “who are you trying to prove something to?” it was perfect, who was it? Myself. I know that I can do it, so there was no need to get so worked up.

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I need to remember that I am getting better everyday. When I first started I could barely squat 40kg, now I squat 100kg. I couldn’t do press ups, nevermind handstand press ups. Pull ups, double unders, olympic lifts were all impossible tasks. These are all individual epic wins that are so easy to lose sight of. But with increased ability comes increased desire to know what more can my body do?! Because it’s amazing to see how your body can develop and do things you never could have dreamt of a few years ago.

The day I got my first strict pull up I was so excited that I dropped from the bar and ran around the gym (in the middle of a class) screaming with excitement that I had managed it. I’d spent months doing drills that felt hopeless and now I could see how worthwhile it was.

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The impact of social media is hard to address and plays into forever moving the goalposts, the need to post a highlights reel on Instagram, or #fails to make us seem well rounded. But credit where credits due, social media has had a huge role in positively promoting female strength.

Everyday I sit and mindlessly scroll through Instagram and I think “oh wow, that’s great they can do that”, “I wonder if I could try that” but sometimes “how do they get to do that and I can’t, that’s another thing to add to the list of stuff I need to be able to do” and the list forever gets longer. Until suddenly you’re spending three hours a day on top of your full time job and social life trying to improve.

But that comparison with other people is often what gets us up in the morning, the desire to be as strong, fast, flexible, or gymnastic-y as the person training next to us is the fuel that gets us up for the 630am when it’s minus 3 in January. It’s good to have a little friendly rivalry, to have people you aspire to be like. I am surrounded by inspirational men and women every day that make me so happy. Besides, “one man’s strength is another man’s weakness”, right?! I can drool over someone else’s ability to do muscle ups, but they might do the same over mine to lift. It’s all relative at the end of the day, as long as every single person is doing what’s right for their individual goals.  

Becca’s mum said something really valuable while we were at Rainhill Trials that I need to remember more often because it’s so true. “Yes, they can all be good at these things, but can they go out and raise money for people that need help overseas, can they tackle critical political situations and be the face of a business, are they full time lawyers? No, think of the full picture and do what you do.” (Thanks, Bernadette!)

I get told over and over that I’m too hard on myself. That I need to take notice of my wins. And this couldn’t be more true.

At the beginning of 2019 I took two months off Crossfit because I was taking it too seriously and I had fallen out of love with it. It felt like my training needed a purpose.  But in reality, it’s purpose is to spend time with some of the best friends I’ve ever had, to relieve stress before &/ after a hard day at work, to see what my body can do, to build myself up and to add value to my life.

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It is not a way to constantly compare myself to other people or to put myself down. It is a liberating and empowering part of my life that I am immensely lucky to have. I still have the option to be competitive if I want to be. But I need to remember to enjoy myself, the process and not take it too bloody seriously.

I hope this helps someone else to put things into perspective and cut themselves some slack.

“If we are so busy being successful that we don’t have time to be happy, then we need to seriously reconsider our definition of success.”

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