By Karen L. Waite, Ph. D.
Earlier this year I was speaking at a (pre Pandemic) Horse industry conference and afterwards a young person asked…”how did you learn to be ok with not winning? “
My first response? I was a bit flabbergasted. I stumbled for a minute, because if we’re being totally honest, I’ve never been “OK” with not winning. I LOVE winning. It’s so much better than the alternative! Since I was 12 years old, I’ve recognized that competition motivates me like few other things. Unfortunately, with age I’ve also realized that fear of failing also seemed to motivate me just as much, for a decade (or four).
Once I regrouped and asked a few more questions, I realized that this young lady’s real question was more about how I learned not to beat myself up, and how I learned to be willing to fail at things that I really, really wanted to be good at. Like Reining after 40 years of all-around events, or in her case, at the fair or open show.
With some reflection I realized that to get good at anything, you have to take some risks and be willing to “embrace the suck” and do it for yourself and not the approval of others. As an example, I started CrossFit a year and a half ago, long after this blog was called Out of the BOX Stall. (God does have a sense of humor.) For the first 6 months I promised myself I’d go 3 days a week, and I’d plan to be awful every. Single. Time. And I did. And after 6 months I was 20 lbs. lighter and a whole lot stronger physically and mentally. If you really want to make a positive difference in the world, you have to try the things that others are afraid try. Be willing to fail, to take risks, and ask difficult questions about yourself. But know that every failure puts you one step closer to a success of some kind.
Having that, it’s important to choose your location wisely…if you need to get through some hard things, it’s probably best for you mentally to do it in a smaller pond before jumping into the ocean. Figure out what you can do with the horse you’ve got (and what you can afford) and work from there. Surround yourself with supportive people as best you can. Try an open or virtual show and work your way back to wherever you want to be.
No, I never stopped wanting to win, but I changed they way I thought about the process of competition, both in the show ring and out, because let’s face it, it sure doesn’t stop once you walk through the out gate. Even if you’re trying to better yourself, others may look at your attempts as a threat. People don’t stop throwing shade just because they’ve reached a certain age, unfortunately, and I’ve also learned that age and maturity are two very different concepts. The bullying never stops…and only your response can change.
Some will “borrow” your work and call it their own, others may try to disprove the things you’ve done not to be helpful but to be hurtful. Some will feel so threatened by what you’re good at, that they’ll do whatever they can to make sure you recognize every single thing you’re NOT good at, or that you screw up. And all of that can “change the shape of your soul” to quote a former First Lady.
The good news, though, is that you (and you alone) can work within the new shape. Eventually you’ll recognize that you don’t need outside approval for inside approval. I’m not saying it’ll be easy to get there, because it won’t. Old habits die hard after all, and when you grow up showing horses you’ve got a deep seated need for outside approval, whether you think you do or not. Blue ribbons and Facebook likes are all part of the same family, sorry to say. But it’s definitely possible to recognize and appreciate how far you’ve come and leave the rest behind. If you’re willing to try.