Ever heard the phrase, "being your own worst enemy"? Or that catchy song from LIT in the 90s? Either way, the phrase is so true to many of us sports addicts. At times we can be our own worst enemies. The things that make us successful are often times the same thing that can unravel our physical and mental stability. Successful people have develop traits through their life that set them apart from their peers. I have also seen these same traits drive people crazy and cause them to lose the very things they set out to accomplish (another topic for another day, why are so many successful people drug and alcohol addicts?). Why is it that the world works like this? Shouldn't it reward those that have the right traits, work hard, and have earned their status? Well as we all know that's just not how this world works and of course it is not fair, but this is one of the beauties and horrors of life.
I know from an athletic perspective certain traits tend to make you a successful athlete within your discipline. Hard work, determination, commitment, self punishment, desperation, discipline, etc... the list goes on and on. All these traits (along with a little luck) enable an athlete to reach the pinnacle of their respective sports. People like Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Muhammad Ali, and Brett Farve are just a few names that pop to my mind when you think about physically gifted athletes that also had an incredible drive to not just win but to dominate. For those familiar with any of these athletes, we have also seen the down side to some of these traits as athletes age and suffer setbacks. In their peaks they were willing to do anything to win, and sometimes that comes at the cost of their own bodies and psyche. Jordan, Woods, Ali and Farve all saw what age and a few defeats can do to unravel a career that seemed other worldly at it's peak. When they were all on top of their respective games, they were as unbeatable as they come. They not only had the mental make up of a champion, but the physical tools to see their visions of victory through to their goal. This same determination and drive can also cause illusions of grandeur as a career fades or through adversity of injuries or setbacks (a la Woods). To continue to be successful through these hard times requires readjusting practices that once were tried and true methods to success at an earlier age.
One of the most powerful sports documentaries I have ever seen is the ESPN 30 for 30 on Muhammad Ali as he prepares to fight Larry Holmes at the end of his career. To watch The Greatest prepare and realize as an outsider that there was no physical way the he was going to win, was painful to watch. You could still see flashes of his brilliance, but the speed, stamina, and sharpness that made him The Greatest was long gone. Most people I believe chalk this up to a sportsman that just didn't know when to quit and had too many people around him making too much money to tell him no. I see it a little different. The Champion didn't think he could lose and quite honestly didn't believe he had to prepare differently from the past. For him to have been successful at the age of 39 years old would have required a much different approach than any of his previous fights. His body just wasn't capable of taking the pounding that a younger Champ could handle. I saw someone that had become his own worst enemy in his career. His mental toughness and tenacity is what made him one of the greatest athletes to walk this earth, but that same tenacity is why today at 73 he can barely walk, struggles to talk, and has battled Parkinson's since the early 1980s.
I am a firm believer that most people give up too soon on their dreams or aspirations in life. Most people are afraid to take their bodies or their mind's to the level of people like Ali. Jordan, Woods, Farve. Ali got everything out of his physical talent, granted it came at the cost of his physical health later in life, it gave us a rare look at what humans can do when they are truly committed and confident. Obviously, in those later years Ali became his own worst enemy, because in his mind he was still the greatest that ever fought, but physically he was no longer the fighter he was in his golden years.
This internal drive that makes people successful can also cause their demise. Often times this comes from supreme confidence or desire to succeed. Successful people are used to getting their ways and performing at certain levels, and when that level cannot be achieved, then instead of backing off and refreshing like most people would do, highly successful people tend to go the other direction. They throw more and more energy into their mission, often at the consequence of their body, loved ones, or emotional stability. To be a successful person and in particular a successful athlete, one has to be able to handle defeat, injury, illness, and adversity. I believe during these times, is when it is the most important to rest and reset the body both mentally and physically. Even as I recommend this, it's hard for me to follow my own advice. See through injury, illness, and adversity so often working hard and throwing myself to the grind stone, is what has made me a semi-successful athlete. Working hard is the only thing I know how to do.
As many runners and athletes know, most injuries and setbacks occur from pushing too hard at the wrong times. It takes an extremely confident person to relax and not push the envelope at each opportunity. It takes confidence in physical abilities and preparation. This is why coaches are so important. They are often better gauges of what is too much or too little for each athlete. It's hard for me to take it easy. I literally have to have someone remind me to relax. Over the years I have been described by many (including my father) as not having an off switch. That's why I still have a coach, even if he isn't physically near me, he understands that it is easy for me to over do it and push too hard. This fall and winter if I had not felt like a know it all and admitted I was more hurt than I was letting on then I wouldn't still be battling an injury from August, and would have already addressed it properly. Instead I am facing more doctors visits and unknown answers. So the best advice I can give all my athletes or younger athletes, listen to your body and your coach. Don't always try to tough your way through every situation, even if it's all you know. Growing older requires that we approach situations differently. If not it will eventually catch up with you, just like it has every other great athlete!
All Hope is Gone