I always feel like slalom is special from a self-evaluation perspective. We’re required to adapt, be flexible, be rigid and also have strict discipline. You need to learn to relax, and know when to wind yourself up. Letting go of hard things is a skill. Letting go of nice things is even harder. One of the most difficult things to overcome for me is quite hard to talk about, because it’s not a heroic story of struggle and success. It’s a characteristic that’s ugly, and quite hard to train yourself out of.
A few blog posts ago, I mentioned that society sort of trains us to see the failure of others as a personal success. For you to enjoy something fully, it has to be something that someone else can’t have. It breeds this feeling of satisfaction when someone misses out, or fails at something they tried extremely hard at. It makes you feel superior. Nothing is more likely to develop a character based on arrogance, when you feel your personal value lies in something unique to you. We’re all unique, of course. But we’re also all human, and sharing the qualities that we have in common is so much more important than contrasting, and by default, comparing them to others.
For example, in a training environment, it can be highly valuable to observe what others are doing. How often they train, the sort of fatigue cycles they demonstrate as a result. There’s also nothing wrong with taking inspiration from things they do that you might not have thought of. Having role models is incredibly powerful. But the problem comes from comparing your own situation to someone else's. Because we are almost never completely educated about a person’s exact situation. To assume you can see the whole picture of someone’s life when really all you’ve seen is the finishing touches, is a problem. It makes it easy to award value, or remove the value of that person on an incredibly superficial level.
Slalom can be a hard sport for this. An old coach said, “you’re only as good as your last performance.” Which I guess, from a spectators perspective, is true. If slalom was a highly spectated event, then maybe that would have some kind of value from a TV or sponsorship point of view. It also wouldn’t be an athlete’s responsibility to manage that. What I’m trying hard to illustrate with this blog is that the true value of a person really isn’t in their sporting achievements. I used to think it was; my identifying characteristic was WATER. I’m that ‘water girl’ or the ‘crazy girl who likes to be cold all the time’. A crazy sport. I guess what I’m trying to say is that where one person may identify themselves by their sport, another might find more value in just identifying with the sport. Use it as a model, a system to better yourself. But don’t place your personal value on the outcomes, the tangible results, that take up about 1% of your total on-water time.
An exercise that's brought a lot of value to my experience of slalom is watching out for moments where others find immense value in the doing of something, rather than the outcome of something. Watching expedition videos, where the final performance is actually a tiny fraction of a trip that might be months of harrowing travel, is strangely relatable. I think true athletes are the ones that gain value from every part of what they’re doing, and I guess expedition kayaking is a great illustration of that. Nouria Newman recently posted about a trip to find whitewater in Quebec, where she has completed some of the most insane first descents I have ever seen. Ever. Like, to see another woman for whom ‘first female to…’ really, clearly isn’t enough. On this particular trip they didn’t find any whitewater, but spent weeks in rural Quebec enduring some truly horrifying conditions (people who follow Nouria have probably seen the haunting photos of mosquito bites). I didn’t for even a second feel that Nouria regretted the trip. Which is kinda cool.
I talked a bit earlier about recognising that part of yourself that is gratified by or gets satisfaction from other's failure. Having a position that is dominant, or something that somebody else can’t have, can be reinforced by someone else’s misfortune. It’s pretty typical; I think it’s why ‘gossip’ is so powerful. People don’t actually want the information. They are chasing the feeling of being more fortunate, or more superior than someone else. I guess it can be dressed up in a lot of ways. Concern, interest, especially ‘analysis’. I might be totally wrong, but I really feel like most of those are to do with having a feeling of deep enjoyment at someone else’s situation. There’s nothing wrong with it I suppose. It’s just distressing to think that we’ve become so far removed from compassion and support in chasing our personal addiction of feeling slightly nicer, in a world where everyone is qualified to complain in some way.
This brings me on to the next thing I’ve learnt about myself that’s not easy to talk about, but is much easier to cope with now it’s obvious. I'll analyse it in more detail in my next post, because I think I've dissected society enough for one reading! Basically, if I compare my situation now to my first year of university, my financial, mental, physical and emotional wellbeing is so much better. I have everything now that I desperately wanted when I was 18. I’ve raced at world cups, I can afford rent, I get to travel. But the problems have shifted. There are still things that keep me up at night, to worry about. My wants and needs have shifted, and so on. I’m pretty sure once I’ve achieved my current goals, I’ll have accumulated another set of ‘worries’. It sounds so obvious once you identify it, but having problems never stops. They just shift and become relative. The reason I added this to the end of the blog post is that I've found it adds to the moment, the enjoyment of doing rather than outcomes. So often, we allow worries to take away from what we're doing right now. I'm just saying they will always be relative; so they don't need to take anything at all.