Faster, Higher, Stronger – Darker?

Inspired by “Let it go” (Idina Menzel)

„I did it“ – These were the three magic words I said after crossing the finish line of my first 10k run six months ago. I remember in detail how I ran into the Olympic Stadium being ready for the last glorious 400 meters of my first running journey. Even before I could see the finish line I had to fight back my tears because I was so proud. It was a bit weird, but intimate feeling. Somehow naive and infantile. Then, last week it was different… 

I looked forward to my second official run because I was confident to beat my last personal best. My training pace was faster than expected and so I wanted to see what’s in for me. In the end, I finished two minutes faster compared to October. Amazing – most people would think. But all I had in mind was „I could have been faster“…

Dosis Sola Facit Venenum – A Devilish Rush.

However, sometimes I think life is like the Olympic Spirit. We strive for development, beauty and wealth, create huge networks and trustful relationships, follow a healthy lifestyle, fulfill amazing physical performance or impress with personality and successful kids. And even if we already have all these things, we are thirsty for more: Faster – Higher – Stronger.

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We want more of this magical one drug which lets us stand out of the crowd. And there is nothing wrong with having a bit of the Olympic Spirit in our lives. Developing further as a person or team and realizing our own capability, is not only inspiring but also important.  Development gives meaning to our life, it entertains us and makes us happy. We learn to solve problems creatively and experience appreciation. And even if this external attention is often superficial, it boosts our ego and self-worth, so that we get encouraged to go on.

Anyway – as it is with everything – it’s the dose alone, which makes the poison. For whatever reason, many people literally get crazy about the things mentioned above and suffer a lot from all the pressure to fulfill today’s status quo of permanently beating their own achievements. Way too often I have experienced close friends losing their way. And I found myself in such a situation as well. The dangerous part is this certain point when we can’t do anything but watch. The people we are concerned about don’t listen anymore and even worse: they start to interpret every well-intentioned recommendation as jealousy or lacking appreciation. I had to learn that we heavily underestimate the dark side of success, while focusing on the aspects worth to achieve.

The Sad Wolf.

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As a dancer, I strived for becoming better every day. At least a bit. I was confident that satisfaction leads to stagnation and I preached this mantra to my athletes as well. I even became angry when they didn’t show the same level of dedication to their sport. Funnily enough, I was really successful and have gotten lots of positive feedback about my attitude, my lifestyle and my personality. And of course we all like to get praised. Our brain makes us repeat all the actions so that we slowly get addicted to the rush and start to seek higher doses, but it also triggers a diabolic cascade.

In dancing at one point there was such a hype around me, that the toughest challenge was not to find motivation anymore, but to keep my feet on the ground and the performance level high. However, I had to learn, that the better you get the more familiar others get with your extraordinary performance level. What was „amazing“ or „outstanding“ yesterday is normal today, boring tomorrow and even worth to lacerate in a few months. You’re expected to deliver nothing but a high-level performance. And suddenly you get judged for a good but not perfect performance, what makes you work harder in return. You get even insulted for things that are not related to your performance, because you are already at such a high performance level, so that others can’t find any weaknesses anymore. And if you are not too snobbish while coevally open enough to criticism, you start to question and downplay your own achievements, what – sooner or later – ends up in inveterate self-doubt and lack of trust in others.

So it got back at me years later, after the initial hype was gone. By striving for getting a tiny little bit better every day (including all the external attention),  I was ending up as a sad lone wolf who felt hunted and judged by everyone and who measured the own worth based on appearance, status & performance.

Distorted Realtiy

I had a certain image in mind how to look, what to achieve and how to get the next higher dose. I worked for it… every day a bit… obsessed with the perfect show, the perfect choreography and technique, the perfect music, the perfect image and the perfect body. All spurred on by „friends“, training buddies or spectators who praised my size zero, my six pack or my expression.

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I was literally caught in hell. And even worse: Next to sports it quickly took over other areas of my life. Just to name an example: For quite a long time I was so focused on appearance that I unconsciously planned whole days around it: „How do I have to look…what do others expect from me…how long do I have to prepare…who will be there…who will (negatively/positively) talk about me tomorrow at school, university or training if I would go there looking like shit…“ and so on. If the whole scenario was too time consuming or spontaneous, I decided against free time activities or meeting friends, because the predicted consequences were too tough. Way too stupid from my current perspective, but that’s how reality was for me.

Anyway, due to my ambitious personality, I reached so many things in a freaky short time. I was confident that I can reach everything if I just work hard enough. I wanted the perfect career, the perfect boyfriend, the perfect life. I wanted everything. And I worked for it…hell yes, I worked and sacrificed so much for it. But I had to learn that even if I do so, I’ll never be able to control every single variable and that things change in the course of time.

Feeding the Flames

Sometimes giving it one’s all is still not enough. And it never will be enough if there is no finish line. And maybe that’s one of the reasons why I fell in love with running so much – there is a finish line. But with the things mentioned at the beginning, there is no visible end. What is beauty? When can I call myself beautiful? When are we „rich“, when is a network big enough, when do I practice a healthy lifestyle, when can I call my kids successful? When am I a better version of me? There is no answer to these questions. It depends on the perspective. And that was the problem with my perfectionism. Every time I found myself trying to be perfect, the problem started with not having a clear defined goal or instruction – a trigger where to stop, to breath and enjoy. But as long as the magical line is missing we cannot do anything but failing. We perceive it as failure, although we have put in all our  effort and dedication and wanted to perform perfectly. So, while I was caught in my cascade of perfection, I totally failed to realize that I already had so many things others would die for. The whole scenario literally fed the flames.

What’s next? Or: How you can really annoy me.

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Nevertheless, the question for me was and still is „what’s next“…and this question mostly comes up before crossing the finish line.  If I tell people something about my new design course, they always react with a „nice but what do you want to do with it afterwards?“. If I’ve talked with friends or family about my ex partners, I was always asked „And when do you get married?“. If I talk about my runs it’s „and what comes after the half-marathon?“. It doesn’t matter, it seems like we have to get familiar with the „what’s next“ questions today. And as I have mentioned above, it’s basically nothing bad. But we mostly have either no or too blurry finish lines and directly blunter into the next challenge. Thereby we fail to enjoy the great feeling of achieving our goals or dreams as well as to celebrate the time and effort we have put into it. However, sometimes it feels like our achievements are worth noting today if we don’t have the next step in mind already. For me it implies that there is no finish line and that there will never be one. There will be nothing to be proud of in the long-term. I am on my way and I will always stay there because the „way is the goal“? So, I end up as a person, who is a loser today but a hero tomorrow. And tomorrow I will say I will be better the day after and end up worthless again. Do you get the point?

Future can wait.

I think it’s time to be proud of what we reach day by day and better ask what we do right instead of focusing permanently on our weaknesses and imperfections. The thing with the Olympic Spirit anyway is, that it is only relevant for around 14 days every 2 years. But with life, it’s different. Life happens permanently and it can be quite exhausting to follow such a mantra on a daily basis without any deadline. For me it’s finally time to enjoy this feeling of crossing a finish line without planning the next steps in detail. Anyway, I’m quite sure that I will still accept lots of challenges in the future. But for the moment I just want to enjoy being happy at least as long as I have put effort into my life-shaping challenges. What about you?

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