I remember the first time I realized that I was a good runner.
I was 10 years old and in 5th grade. All of my friends and I would go to the skate center every weekend, and sometime during the 4+ hours that we were there, they would have a skate race. Every time I entered the skate race, I lost. I also discovered something else about myself during this time: I’m not a fast skater.
However, since I’m persistent to a fault, when the day was over and it was time to close, they would always have one last activity: a foot race. Once everyone turned in their skates and had on their tennis shoes, they would line us up by age again and we would race from one end of the rink to the other.
Every time I entered that race, I won. It gave me incredible confidence as a 10-year-old to discover something that I was naturally good at. It was this realization that led me to join the track team in middle and high school.
(This is quite unlike the experience that I had in middle school when I auditioned for five different chorus groups—and was cut from all of them. It was then I discovered that I’m a very, very bad singer.)
But despite my natural running ability and the fact that I enjoyed it and the fact that I had a list of running accomplishments, the strangest thing happened before every race.
I got scared.
I don’t mean I got the common pre-race nerves—that’s normal. I mean I became terrified. I would psych myself out and beg my coach to take me out of the race. I would make up 1,000 excuses about my stomach being upset, my hamstring being pulled, or my toes possibly being broken.
Being scared made me doubt my ability and made me want to quit.
Every time I did this, Coach Martin would ignore this dramatic teenage display, and he would make me go to the starting line anyway. And every time, I would run great.
You’d think that after running multiple events for multiple track meets for multiple years, I wouldn’t get scared anymore. But I always did.
Just because you’re good at something doesn’t mean you don’t get scared.
So finally, one day during my pre-race excuse making and antics, my exasperated coach finally said to me, “Christy, will you just tell me one thing you like about yourself?”
“What?” I said, confused at this distraction from my theatrical performance.
“Just tell me one thing that you like about yourself.”
I paused and then said the first thing that came to my mind: “My blue eyes.” I was confused as to what this had to do with me getting out of the open 400-meter race.
“Great,” he said. “Focus on that. I don’t want you to think about the race, the other runners, or your time. Just focus on your blue eyes.”
Well I thought this was completely ridiculous, but I did it. And you know what? It worked.
Changing my thought pattern from what I was scared about to what I was confident about was just enough to distract the fear right out of me. And Coach Martin called me “Blue Eyes” for the rest of my high school career.
Whether it’s what you’re scared of or what you’re confident of, what you focus on increases.
Sure, there are infinite what-ifs that we can focus on. And I know that walking to any starting line in life is scary and makes you feel vulnerable. Fear will try to make you doubt your ability and it will make you want to quit.
But before you let fear steal your opportunities and rob you of your potential, ask yourself this question: What’s something you like about yourself?
And focus on that.
It may just confuse the fear right out of you and distract you enough to start.