What 'Quitting' Taught Me About Persevering
Hello hello! Lockdown boredom is officially setting in and it's seriously cold outside, so it's definitely a day for hot tea, warm clothing and cosy folksy music!
As I'm in a reflective mood, I've been thinking about decisions I've made in the past and how they shaped my life and made me the person I am today. Something that I often think and wonder about is my brief stint training with my county's U15 girls cricket team.
Having three older brothers, I was often thrown in to playing the same sports that they played, probably because it was an easy way for my parents to support my siblings, get me in to sports, and keep everyone occupied. And so that's how I found myself at the age of 8 in cricket whites, an oversized bat and pads, one of only two girls on the local cricket team.
I'm not sure I really enjoyed cricket, but back then I didn't really think about whether I enjoyed something - I just knew I was good at it. I got praise for being one of the few girls at school who could bowl overarm (which probably highlights how often girls were actually encouraged and taught to play cricket), and I was entered in to a lot of tournaments between the age of 8 to 12. My P.E teacher at school said to me 'with bowling like that, you should really play for the county'. I remember the swell of pride and confidence I felt when he said that, and he subsequently signed me up for County Cricket trials.
Looking back, I don't remember having to try particularly hard at cricket, and I also don't remember taking training or my progress seriously at all. I just showed up and did what I had to do, without thinking much of it. What I do remember is taking it really hard when my friends were picked for tournaments over me, and thinking that I must be mistaken - that I actually wasn't that good. It never occurred to me to work harder or focus on my weaknesses in the game. I just thought that I was either naturally good at cricket, or I wasn't.
I was good enough to make it through the County Cricket trials, and showed up on my first evening to train with the Under 15 Girls team. I was 13 at the time.
What I remember from those training sessions was pure misery - feeling like I was rubbish, feeling like I hated cricket, and that I just wanted to quit. I entered the team halfway through the season - so all the other girls knew each other and were friendly. I was a bit of a weird kid anyway and had trouble making friends, so I felt isolated from the group and alone. I also remember that I was the youngest girl there - the others were older, and therefore had more skill than me, not forgetting that they'd also trained in a structured environment for longer than I had. They were far superior in their talent for the sport, and I felt so intimidated, like I would never ever be good enough to keep up with him. I had suddenly gone from being the best to the worst, and it was a horrible feeling. I kept thinking 'what do you think you're doing here? You don't belong here. You're embarrassing yourself and everyone is laughing at you'.
I remember my parents would come to watch me train; after practice, they'd say 'you looked absolutely miserable out there'. I agreed. I didn't really know why - I thought it was just because I wasn't supposed to be there and had bit off more than I could chew. My negative self-talk, telling me how crap I was, was so loud that I couldn't snap out of it, couldn't make friends and couldn't enjoy myself. I wasn't mature enough yet to understand that I could change that voice, or choose not to listen to it.
Eventually I quit the sport, and never played cricket again. I told myself that if I'd hated the experience so much, the sport must not have been my thing, and it was probably something I couldn't handle. Years later, I still think about my inability to follow through with the season, before even playing a game, and I feel shame.
Above all, I learnt a lot from this experience, and even now competitive sport brings up a lot of feelings and emotions that I learnt to become aware of - I wanted to share a few of things to help you out if you are someone who struggles with feeling like you're a 'quitter' or a failure:
Enjoyment Is Much More Important Than Competition
Now, when I play any competitive sport, I immediately start to feel worried and intimidated. I can clearly hear that little 13 year old voice in my head telling me once again that I shouldn't bother, and that I'm embarrassing myself. I still have the urge to run away from competition with others.
What I've learnt to do when faced with competition is ultimately focus on the enjoyment of the thing I'm doing, rather than comparing myself to others. Above all, sport is something that's supposed to be enjoyed, and in fact my most favourite memories of playing cricket are ones of being out in the sun, running around and not worrying about whether I'm good or not. If you do actually want to win as well, I've found that you're actually much more likely to do better if you're enjoying yourself rather than worrying about whether you're going to win - all this does is cause you to get in your head and focus on all the things you're not doing well.
Trying Hard Is Better Than Winning
I notice even now, that when I'm faced with competition, my instinct is to not try so hard. That way, if I lose, I don't feel the failure of knowing that I tried my hardest and still wasn't good enough.
I must say, I hate this about myself! I know that this is such a cop out, and that this isn't the way to grow and challenge myself - it's just a protection mechanism. I have learnt since that when I do try really hard at something, even if I don't win, I feel such immense pleasure at knowing that I tried really hard and laid everything on the table. In fact, that makes the sting of someone else being better than me pale in comparison to the achievement I feel.
No-One Is Laughing At You
If you've ever gone running along a busy road, or played a sport in front of a crowd, you might know the feeling of thinking 'everyone is looking at me, they're judging me and laughing at me'. The truth is, that we're all pretty self-centred, and we're all mostly thinking about ourselves. As much as I'm thinking about what other people think of me, I guarantee a lot of other people have the same inner turmoil going on in their head. I've often confided in friends that I felt that people were looking at me when I messed something up, and 9 times out of 10 they'll say to me 'really? I didn't even notice - I thought you looked great out there!'
Our inner critic seems so much more obvious to us than we think - it feels like it's written all over our face the feeling inadequacy and feeling that we're an imposter. I can't count how many times I've given a presentation and thought I was going bright red and that I looked really nervous, only to have people tell me 'you looked so calm and together'. That's also because they were probably thinking more about their performance and what's going on in their heads to worry too much about what's going on in yours.
Everyone Sucks At The Beginning
It's true; even Michael Jordan sucked the first time he picked up a basketball. I used to think that if I was bad at anything, that meant I would always be bad. It never occurred to me that I could develop and grow my skills to become better at something.
True growth happens when you really suck at something and you persevere anyway. Had I kept going in my cricket career, I probably would have gained a buttload of skills that weren't just even to do with cricket. They would have set me up for succeeding at other things too -like teamwork, resilience, and friendship.
Looking back, I can't dwell too much on why I quit cricket, and wishing that I hadn't. I have learnt a lot over the years from the experience, and without quitting I may have never learnt the true value in persevering.
Do you have any similar stories of quitting something when you were young? What did you learn?