Pride Isn’t What Comes Before The Fall
My daughter and I were driving to one of many appointments that surround her blossoming weightlifting career. We have an early A.R.T. appointment, then a massage, then she has to go work out. Her pursuit of a spot on Team USA is a job. For both of us. It never occurred to me that I might be raising a future Olympian. I never would have even tried for that. It came to us – which, I now know, is how it happens. They find you, not the other way around. They’re like a sporting spy agency, and they have secret agents everywhere. But, that’s not the point.
We do all this because we truly believe that she’s good enough to have a shot. She, more than me even, believes that she can and will make “The Team.”
We were talking about Kendrick Ferris, a lifter who we both “love,” in that way that one loves sports stars they don’t really know at all. (My way is a little dirtier than hers, but neither of us know him, which is the point.) I said something about him seeming like such a nice guy, because he does. And while she agreed, she also said that some people think he’s kind of arrogant.
Which we both agreed is absolutely necessary in order to be as good as he is.
In order to do all the things necessary to reach the pinnacle of your sport, you have to absolutely believe that you are one of the best. Period. You can’t be all like, “I dunno, I mean I guess I kinda don’t suck and stuff.” You have to be like, “I’m absolutely one of the best.” And you have to own it outright.
Then you have to own all the stuff that goes into it. The time, money and energy that you will spend in pursuit of being the best. Own it not just as a responsibility, but as a thing you can be proud of, because you did it. And a thing that you had the privilege to do, because not everybody has those resources, no matter how strong their natural ability.
You are one of the best because you believed in yourself and were able to do an insane amount of work to be one of the best.
Today, for us, that’s a solid 7 hours of work around this goal. Between the drives and the appointments and the working out and the…… It’s a job. For both of us.
(Meanwhile, some other person, who is stronger and better never got a chance because they didn’t have the privilege of resources and support to pursue their dream. Or to even feel worthy of the dream.)
The other day, I was introducing Celia to a group of new students at Rocket, while she was there. I said to them, in a way that is factually accurate, that she used to do CrossFit, but now she’s “just” a weightlifter. Celia stood there, in front of everyone, and said, “actually, I’m a very good weightlifter.” As if I had cut her accomplishments short.
I was taken aback. At first by what struck me as arrogance from my daughter. And then at the fact that I had downplayed all of her accomplishments so publicly, as if it would have been rude for me to acknowledge that she is a nationally ranked lifter with a Silver medal at a National championship, who was fully sponsored by the USOC to train at the Olympic Training Center.
And then I was insanely proud that in a society that wants people to stay small and modest – especially women – she stood there and said, “I am very good.” She is. She knows it. And she’s proud of it.
I was a little sick that I had cut her down, diminished her, created an expectation that she not boast. I had taken away her proudest achievements and pretended that they didn’t even exist.
For years, whenever I’ve seen athletes achieve great things, and then stand on the sidelines thanking “god,” I’ve screamed at the TV. It has always driven me mad. “God,” didn’t go to all those practices, didn’t make all those sacrifices, didn’t bruise and break themselves, didn’t sweat and cry, didn’t try and fail, didn’t believe and dedicate themselves to the work. YOU DID. Even if some “god” did gift you strengths and skills (as opposed to the crap shoot of DNA combining from your parents,) that’s not who spent their life working really hard to get to that moment of victory. No. YOU DID.
And your family. And your coaches. And your friends. And your team. It takes an army of people to make a single elite athlete. When you achieve your ultimate potential, you thank THEM. (I sometimes imagine it’s my child being interviewed, and I’m all like, “chiiiiild, god aint the one who spent all their extra time and money on training and gear and doctors and carpools and….. nope, that weren’t god!”)
Acknowledge that you are good, one of the best. You earned that right. We are a society that loves to heap blame and criticism on individuals, regardless of circumstance. But we won’t allow individuals to stand strong in praise of their own accomplishments. What kind of fucked-up Fun House society are we?
Do we really want a world in which we are not allowed to be proud of the things that we are good at? Is it “boastful” to say that you’re one of the best at what you do? To acknowledge that you didn’t win because of luck and magic?
Or does being proud actually give others permission to identify their own strengths and take pride in them?
When Celia was little, someone gave us a copy of The Rainbow Fish. It was one of those little board books for infants, in which a gloriously sparkly fish became the new girl in her school. She was the only fish there who had glittery rainbow scales, and the other fish were jealous. So, one by one, she gave away her scales to the other fish, until they were all the same. Until there was nothing special about her, or anyone else.
I never read it to my daughter. At least not that version.
The illustrations were gorgeous, so I re-wrote the story and pasted in my new story. In my story, the rainbow fish kept all her scales, because they were what made her unique. She then helped all the other fish find what was unique about themselves. There was no jealousy anymore, only pride and a celebration of how different they all were from each other.
And therein lies part of the problem. We’ve confused pride with arrogance. And we’ve confused both pride and arrogance with worth and entitlement.
Kendrick Farris has every right to be prideful. He is one of the best in the world at what he does. The same can be said of my daughter. What neither of them – or anyone else – has the right to do is believe that makes them inherently better than anyone else, in any way other than at that one skill. It does not entitle them to treat anyone with disrespect, rudeness, violence, oppression or anything else. But being proud of yourself doesn’t do that.
And they do not have the right to believe they got there alone. They didn’t. They got there because of an army of people who also believed in them and supported them in countless ways. When they win, we all get to share their pride. We all get some credit.
Which also seems hard for people. My daughter will get where she gets because she worked her ass off. But she will also get there because I (and her father and step father and coach and countless doctors and friends) supported her. Our work got her there. And it’s not always easy.
She may be the delicious (and obvious namesake) chocolate in the chocolate cake, but, collectively, we are the seemingly boring flour, baking soda, salt, sugar, eggs and milk. Fancy and memorable? No. But without it….. Nothing.
How about we, instead, raise everyone up. We help everyone find the thing that makes them special. And we realize that someone else having a skill or success doesn’t take away from us. How about realizing that while only one person can statistically be the best at something, we can all be proud of what we do and become when we pursue our own excellence.
Kendrick Farris might not win every meet. Neither will my daughter. (Hell, if she qualifies for the American Open, she’ll almost certainly come in last, but she will have qualified for the American Open, which would be amazing!) But their being proud and believing in themselves is a necessary ingredient. Without it, why would they bother? Why would any of us.
I know, I’ve heard that pride comes before the fall. But I don’t believe that, at all. Arrogance probably does. Entitlement probably does. Rudeness, greed, hubris….. Contributing to a world in which people don’t see value in themselves or pride for the things they do? Ya, that probably comes before a big fall. But pride? No. We take care of things we are proud of.
We need to be proud of ourselves, and take care of ourselves. Proud of each other, and take care of each other.
Let’s be proud of hard work. Let’s be proud of achieving goals. Let’s be proud of our bodies. Let’s be proud of our quirks. Let’s be proud of creating a society of people who truly celebrate diversity by celebrating our ability to be proud not just of our own achievements, but those of others.
I know I post a lot about my kid. I’m proud of her. I’m also proud of my friend’s son who is a competitive (and joyful) dancer. And my friend’s daughter who is kicking ass at Roller Derby. And the bass-playing punky girl who makes awesome artsy films about social justice. And the one who is going the classical ballet route. And….. So proud of all of them. For being who they are to the best of their ability.
It is not arrogant for someone who has just won a meet (or a race or a game or a…..) to say, “I worked really hard for this, and I’m grateful to everyone who helped me get here.” It’s not arrogant to, in a moment of victory say, “wow, I’m one of the best, I always believed this was possible.” Those are statements of fact.
But let’s all remember that being the best at one thing doesn’t give you the right to harm, or take opportunity from, other people in any way. And not being the best doesn’t give you the right to ask someone else not to be.
I, for one, am never going to ask anyone to diminish their own achievements and pride in any way. I want you to sing loudly about how good it feels to achieve what you set out to achieve. How impressed you are with yourself for doing something that seemed so hard at one point.
We do that, every day, at Rocket. We have a board on which people write anything and everything they are proud of. It’s my favorite board in the gym.
Because we all have something, and we should share that pride with everyone. I think it inspires. It gives us all permission to accept that we are awesome in some way, probably lots of ways.
I’ll never lift weights as well as my daughter. But I’m willing to bet she’ll never make a chocolate cake as good as mine.
Of course, I think my chocolate cake is one of the best anyone can make, anywhere. And I am always proud to share it.
A quick shout out to the other people who make Celia’s life possible. In addition to family and community at Rocket, Mike Ross and Monica Coulter at SODO HP keep her body working, Karlie at Fuel Sport and Spine keeps her body working, Oiselle keeps her in clothing, and her incredible coaches Michael and Donna have created a lifter that no one (except them and her) thought possible.