When I quit weightlifting in May, I had broken two ribs and had just competed in the national championships for the 3rd time. I was turning 31 and felt a change in attitude that I couldn’t hold off anymore- I was finished, not just with weightlifting, but with competing in sports.

A few years ago, I wrote a post about why it’s important to compete, and I still believe this is a necessary experience for most people- generally I think people choose not to compete enough, that we tend to shy away from challenge instead of move into it. Competing helps teach us grit and confidence in the face of adversity, and I wouldn’t trade in any of my competitive experiences.

However, I’ve been competing since age 7, and that has had some consequences. First gymnastics, then competitive dance, then crossfit, then weightlifting, and coaching people through all these sports along the way. I felt a kinship to people who also found value in competition; it felt like there was an elite club where only the strongest survived, and I got to be a part of it. I talked about how my future kids would be Olympians, how I would choose a mate based on Olympic potential, and do whatever it took to ensure their athletic success. I often put aside responsibilities to train in my sport, often at the detriment of relationships, friendships, and success in my jobs. Competing was simply the most important part of my life; it WAS my life, and often that attitude was perpetuated by those around me, including coaches.

For the past 6 months I haven’t competed in anything. I haven’t trained towards anything. I’ve had goals and things to work towards, but the milestones are now much further away with less validation in the meantime. I’ve had to rely on my own self confidence in my character to get me through obstacles and challenges. It may sound strange, but choosing to live with integrity, honesty, and compassion without anything else to bolster my belief in myself has not come naturally to me.

I’ve heard it my whole life: Character matters more than medals. Duh, everyone knows that. But for me, the words didn’t truly sink in until I stopped being an athlete.

Before, I could place validation in the fact that I competed at regionals, or snatched 90kg, or I coached someone in the crossfit games. I can’t rely on that now for confidence. I had to take a better look at myself and figure out if I was happy with what I saw. Since then, I’ve had more personal accomplishments in the last 6 months than I have in the last 6 years. I’ve lived more honestly, fostered more relationships, and created more opportunities for myself. I have lived more boldly and done many things I used to be afraid of.

The funny thing is, I think I would have competed better with this mentality. I think I would have performed better if I knew (in my soul) at the end of the day what mattered was how I lived in each moment, not just the ones on the platform.

I think everyone around me knew these lessons, and in fact writing them now seems silly, as I’m sure everyone already knows this stuff. But as an athlete with her head stuck in competition for so long, this is a lesson I never truly internalized and lived by.

I have only one regret about my athletic career. I don’t wish I had gone to the crossfit games, or stuck with gymnastics longer, or gotten a college scholarship. I do wish I would have found Sean Waxman (Waxman’s Gym) sooner. In my entire athletic career, in all sports, I can say without a doubt he was the best coach and created the best gym I’ve been to. He understands the importance of character and living with integrity, and that’s the way he coaches. His way of living honestly and authentically and compassionately is by coaching, and I was truly lucky to experience that. I just happened to find his gym at age 30, after training in sports for 25 years. I am truly thankful I held out long enough to experience it and truly sorry I don’t still get to be a part of the magic.

So what’s the lesson here? Why am I writing this? To remind you that there’s a middle ground available to you that I never found- a way to continuously work on yourself, value the work you put in, AND find a competitive outlet to condition the fight within. Your ability to compete will be based on the foundation of habits and mindset you develop on a daily basis, but with the end goal being strength of character, not simply strength on the platform. It was these two end goals I unknowingly switched, to my own detriment, until I did not know how to value myself without athletic accomplishment.

Competing is not a substitute for character. If you want a life full of magic you have to create it, and it starts inside you. I’m thankful I get to witness some of your magic on a regular basis at Synapse, but it goes well beyond our little gym. The gym is simply a mirror, a tool, for the rest of your life. Your confidence can’t be based on your PRs; in fact, you’ll probably PR more if you have the confidence first.

Thanks for reading; now, let’s talk about it.