Her matter-of-fact, straightforward words smacked me in the face like hitting the ground cheek first crashing my bike.
“I’ve missed out on too many opportunities to ride and have fun with friends because I was afraid I couldn’t keep up. I was worried I would hold everyone else back...you know?”
I could. Not. Believe. My. Ears. It’s not that I’ve never felt this way or that the concept was unfamiliar. Quite the contrary. This has been me nearly every group mountain bike ride I’ve EVER been on. Every time I’m invited to ride with someone I know is faster and/or more technically skilled than me. For sure everytime I’ve been invited to ride with a new person who’s rhythm I don’t know. In any given group, in any given activity, my inner critic shouts at me that I’m not good enough. I’ll never keep up. Everyone will think I’m lame. I will hold everyone back. The anxiety takes hold like you cannot believe.
No, it wasn’t the concept that floored me. It was the source of the comment. My friend who said this just happens to be the former professional mountain bike racer friend. You know, like US national champion pro racer, turned professional cycling coach. Fastest little lady on the mountain? Yeah. Her. SHE was the source of this comment. It rocked my world and shifted my entire perspective.
Wait? Do we ALL have those anxieties? Do we ALL worry that we will not be good enough, strong enough, fast enough, badass enough? Does it actually have NOTHING to do with our skill and fitness level and everything to do with some kind of inner itty-bitty-shitty committee? Really...it seems so.
Where does this come from? This notion that we must do a mental measuring of ourselves against everyone else, place ourselves into some badassery pecking order, and then apologize profusely to everyone we perceive as “above us”? Why do we think we can only hang with the friends who skill and fitness levels are exactly the same as ours? Why do we feel ashamed of our efforts?
Is this a female thing? Do men have this issue too? Maybe they do internally, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard a man giving a constantly rambling apology for how he is showing up to ride, climb, or paddle on any given day. Maybe a quick, “Dude. I’m so hung over. I’m gonna be riding like a little fat kid today” by way of letting his companions know where he is at. But not the nervous, apologetic, repeated self flagellation to make sure everyone is clear that he isn’t worthy to be here. But women? I hear it ALL. THE. TIME. I see it in her eyes, I hear the tremble in her voice as she dodges my invitation to join me for a ride. As she explains that she doesn’t think she can. That this might be way over her head. That she just isn’t as “badass” as me so she doesn’t want to hold me back. Do we feel this way because we are stepping into a formerly male dominated activity? Because we have internalized the messages that women are weaker, slower, or less capable than men? Have we had experiences of being put down by someone about our abilities and now feel like we must provide context for our existence every time? I’m not entirely sure where all parts of this attitude comes from. But dang it needs to stop.
Mama, let’s clear some things up. If I have invited you to come play with me, that invitation is without condition. I didn’t invite you with a “but only if you can keep up with me at every moment” clause. You don’t need to feel badly about yourself or excuse your existence, your value, your worth. If I have invited you to play with me it is because I want your company in the beautiful outdoors. Because I want to share an experience with you. If you fall behind, I will wait for you at the next intersection and cheer for you when you come into sight. I will help you learn the skill you are lacking, or more likely, we can both laugh at our shared difficulty with that particular skill.
Listen, I am no olympic athlete. Heaven knows the chronic illness of the last 3 years has left me unequivocally in the worst physical shape of my life. If I thought I couldn’t keep up before, I really can’t now. But you know what? It’s ok. I still get to hit the trails, the slopes, the crag and I get to do it without hand wringing and self deprecation. And so do you. Yes, inform your adventure buddies of where you are at today. It’s important to know if one party was planning an 8 mile trail run and the other was thinking 2. But once we are all clear on what we are doing today, can we just go have fun together?
Yes mama. You ARE badass enough to hang with me. If you are getting out there and doing it...it counts. There is no pace or special trick required to be in this club. The outdoors welcomes everyone. Whether you can hike 2 miles or run 20 is irrelevant here. You are out there. You are showing up. You are lapping everyone who is on the couch. And you are a stone cold badass.
And if you have friends who do try to make you feel bad about where you are in this journey? We need to get you some new friends. Ain’t nobody got time fo’ dat.
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