Make Your Story Worth Telling

This week I did something far out of my comfort zone. There is a television show named American Ninja Warrior, where strong, agile athletes make their way through a truly daunting obstacle course. It turns out that anyone can apply for this show, one just has to fill out an online form and create a video. With my recent hard work on obstacles, much of it captured on video, I decided to put things together and submit an application. Just like I can practice basketball every minute for the next several years but I will never play in the NBA, this is a similar situation. I am better at this stuff than at least 99% of the population at this point thanks to a lot of hard work, but the 0.001% that are successful on this show are on another level entirely.

Of course in a similar vein, there is a very small percentage of the population that could have made it through my mathematics Ph.D. program, no matter how hard they worked and no matter how much it meant to them. We are all born with special talents, and for the most part mine do not involve being elite physically. I am ok with this, and always will be. That being said, getting selected would be a very cool experience. I would meet people who I have admired only on television, and the 30 seconds I would spend on the course before inevitably getting eliminated would be a memorable experience. So, I considered it worth the effort to at least try to apply.

To me as a coach, the most interesting part of the entire process was how I felt about it, and how I responded. Thanks to my current lifestyle, I have several friends who have appeared on the show and many more who want to, and so my news feed was filled with friends showing screenshots indicating that they applied. On the other hand, I didn’t want to post anything about my applying because there is a very good chance that I won’t be accepted. Posting and not being accepted means that I failed. I would love to say that it is my goal to make it onto the show, but it is very possible that nothing I do will ever be enough, so calling it a "goal" is difficult because it is completely beyond my control. Acceptance, or more likely rejection, is out of my hands.

During this process I remembered something very important. In life, there is what happened, and there is your story about what happened. These are two separate things which we often tie together unnecessarily. Up until now, my story regarding this experience has been a combination of fear, doubt, and feeling inferior, and that is not a good enough story for me. I made the decision that my story about what happened is going to be that I found a new way to leave my comfort zone, and therefore a new way to grow. Upon making this decision, I made a video where I was vulnerable telling my story, I sent in pictures of myself which were very unlike what I would ever send, and I truly have no attachment to whether I make it or not. (And as it turns out, even if I do somehow make it, my next international trip is likely to interfere with the schedule.) I made the video completely by myself with no help, I had a fun time learning how to edit, I put together some really cool footage, and whatever happens I will always be happy that I found a new way to grow, outside of my comfort zone. That is a great story for me, no matter what the show says in response to my application. I created a win regardless of what happens.

Make your story worth telling. You always get to choose how your story is told. Choose wisely.

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