Eyes on the Prize

When I first started mountain biking, a friend of mine went out with me to help me learn the basics. The most important piece of advice he gave me was simple: “Look where you want to go, not where you don’t want to go.” Easy enough, right? With every swoop and turn, I felt a little more confident. I rode over ledges (a whopping four inches tall) that I wouldn’t have thought I could ride. I was feeling pretty damn good. (We’ll ignore the fact that the trail we were on was equivalent to a two-lane highway as far as mountain bikes are concerned.) We were almost to the end of the trail, and I was really getting in the groove. We came to a spot in the trail that dropped down into a creek bed before climbing up the other side. My friend went first, telling me he’d wait at the top.

I dropped into the wash. And then I saw it. A big rock on the side of the trail. It shouldn’t have been a problem. It was well out of the middle of the trail. But I couldn’t stop staring at it. “That’s a big rock,” I thought. “I don’t want to hit that.” Next thing I knew . . . BAM! I’d hit the rock and crashed in the bottom of the ravine. Luckily the crash was relatively minor, and I had to laugh. If I had kept my eyes on the trail, I probably would have been fine.

While riding my bike today, I realized that this advice applies to more than just mountain biking. Last month, I submitted my work into a pitch contest. The results came out last night, and suffice to say, I didn’t make the cut. Am I disappointed? Definitely. The people involved in the contest all seem awesome, and I would have loved a chance to work with them more closely. But at the same time, I can’t keep staring at the rejection like I stared at that rock.

If you get on a mountain bike, you’re bound to crash. If you decide to put your work out there, rejection is bound to happen. And like crashes, rejection can hurt. But you can’t concentrate on the obstacle, because you’ll never make it where you’re going if you do. Keep your eye on your end goal, whether it be in school, in writing, or just life in general. And whatever you do, keep an eye out for that rock!!!

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Back in the Saddle

ImageI’m pretty lucky to be able to wake up in the morning and see this outside my front window. Yet despite the fact that I’ve lived in Moab, a mountain biking mecca, for the last six years, I’m still pretty much a baby as far as my actual technical ability. I’m pretty wobbly, I fall down a lot, and sometimes I cry. And when it gets really bad, I just want someone to hold me, rub my back and sing me lullabies. (Maybe that’s too much information.) But I’m doing my best. 

While out for a ride over the weekend weekend (and yes, I almost cried) I realized how important it is to push the limits of my comfort zone. I could ride easy trails that never challenge me, and I’d feel comfortable and still get some exercise. But I wouldn’t get any better. Instead, I force myself to ride down ledges that terrify me and along drop offs that make me want to curl up in the fetal position. With every scary ledge I ride, every drop off that I don’t fall off of, I feel a little more confident.

I’ve been pushing my limits a lot over the last few years. I’ve shared a novel that I wrote with a large group of people, I attended a writing conference and pitched my ideas to several agents, and I’ve made lots of contacts and phone calls for writing with the newspaper. Just like riding, each time I do it, it gets a little easier.

It’s amazing, however, how long it takes to build up that confidence and how quickly it can be torn back down. While we were riding, there was a series of ledges. At the time, I didn’t give it much thought, I just rode down them. And I made it. Whoo! (Good thing too, since slick rock and cactus patches are usually not very forgiving places to crash.) Then my husband pointed out that I needed to get my weight further back on the bike for ledges like that, or I’d go over the handlebars.

Even though he was trying to be helpful, it got my mind on crashing. And how badly I didn’t want to do that. So when we came to a slightly bumpy, steep descent, I froze. It wasn’t nearly as gnarly as the series of ledges I’d just ridden down without batting an eye, but I was afraid. Eventually he talked me down, and I made the descent without any issues, but I realized how badly my confidence had been shaken.

I’ve run into the same issue with my writing, and I’ve blogged about it before. Back in April, I had total confidence in my manuscript. It was just a matter of time before someone picked it up. However, after two agents turned it down, it resulted in a huge blow to my confidence. I slipped into a funk, and I couldn’t bring myself to write anything outside of my articles for the newspaper. The blow to my confidence had caused my comfort zone to shrink to the point that I felt smothered. I could barely move. I felt like throwing in the towel. Who was I kidding thinking I was cut out to be a writer? But I wasn’t ready to give up, so I forced myself to take the criticism I’d received and use it to make things better.

That’s all you can do. Take your bad experience and learn from it. Then push yourself to keep going. You might have to go back to wobbly baby steps. You might fall down a few times before you work your confidence back up. And it always helps to have someone willing to rub your back and sing you lullabies. But you have to push your limits. For me, that means eventually contacting more agents. That’s going to take a while though, because much of their criticism was warranted, and I’m going to use it to make my manuscript better. But I’m not going to give up. I’m going to make my way back into the saddle. (And I can use that expression, because I have been thrown off a horse before.)

It doesn’t matter what it is: being turned down for a promotion at work, not getting the job you were hoping for, a rejection from a love interest. All of it hurts, and it’s okay to take a little while to process it. But eventually, you’ve got to stand up, brush yourself up, hitch up your big girl panties (or big boy whitey tighties if you prefer) and climb back up. Because if you don’t push yourself, who will?