From age eight to 18, I was a competitive figure skater. My training was pretty serious, and it included shortened days in high school, tutors to make up for what I missed, and a year training 2,500 miles away from my family when I was 16. Not to mention countless coaches, trainers, choreographers and costume makers (and a big dent in my parents’ bank account and time … man, was I fortunate to have their support).
Alas, big wins and even bigger dreams were not meant to be, so at 18, I assessed my choices, chose college and went on to build a successful career in Communications & PR.
Although my training and competing days are behind me, in the nearly twenty years (yikes!) since my choice to leave the sport, I’ve drawn upon so many lessons from that time in my life. Most are positive, such as learning to apply a competitive mindset to business and using the discipline I learned to build a strong work ethic. But as I get older, I also now know that I made plenty of mistakes during that time in my life. And I’ve realized that I can — even as an adult — learn from those missteps.
Here’s what I’ve figured out:
1. Fear is the root of all evil
Fear is absolutely, positively the #1 thing that held me back while I was skating. It manifested itself as over thinking, and showed up as hesitation in my jumps, difficulty in just letting muscle memory take over, and an inability to just “let go.” My coaches used to say that they wished I could just shut my brain off and let my natural talent and instincts take over. When I stopped skating, it took years for me to realize that this applied to my job, life decisions and relationships, too. Fear can protect us, but it can also be insidious if you allow it to dictate too much. It’s still a battle, but now I can honestly say that all the best things in my life happen when I (within reason), give fear the middle finger.
2. Beware of tunnel vision
I have a tendency to get über-focused at the expense of balance. When I was skating, I used my training schedule as an excuse not to nurture friendships, a social life and other interests. As a result, I missed out on fun experiences and important growth opportunities. I remind myself of this principle today when I find myself disproportionately allocating my time and energy. Nurturing different interests and carving out time for varying pursuits is good — for your happiness, relationships, work and general growth as a human being.
3. Get over yourself
Ugh, this one makes me cringe. When I was skating, I was so caught up in my own progress and issues that I never spent enough time assessing the competition. Oy. How much more of a competitive threat might I have been if I had paid more attention to the skills, trends and future of my own sport? As scary and uncomfortable as it can be to compare yourself or your work to others in your field, it’s mandatory. It’s not about berating yourself for not being up to snuff, but rather arming yourself with the knowledge of what’s required to be successful and putting a plan in place to get yourself there. If you don’t, you’re only competing with yourself, which won’t get you too far.
4. Try now, not later, and fail
Believe it or not, I was so afraid to fail that I eventually stopped entering competitions toward the end of my skating career. Which, well, is sort of beside the point of being a competitive skater. My opinion now is that perfectionism is really just inertia that’s been given the PR treatment. My goal as an adult is to fail more. Because if you’re not falling on your face once in a while, you’re not really trying hard enough. The lessons you learn from confronting your own fallibility head-on are powerful and invaluable to designing bigger wins down the road.