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Defeating Defeat: The Arc of the Slump

It was September 8th, 2013. I was halfway around the world dropping out of Ironman Wales, slumpa race I had entered with the sole purpose of achieving my goal of qualifying for the Ironman World Championships in Kona while I was in an age group with little enough competition to have a legitimate shot. Eleven weeks prior, I had competed in Ironman Coeur D’Alene, coming in 2nd for the 18-24 age group, only 5 minutes behind 1st, only 5 minutes from achieving my dream of qualifying. Despite desperately needing a break from the mental and physical toll of Ironman training, with a high off racing and the “but I was so close!” mentality, I quickly signed up for another race thus beginning a downward spiral and a 9 month slump that would affect my athletic, personal, and professional life.

Here are a few things I learned from this experience:

Sometimes putting your heart and soul into something still leaves you coming up short. It’s a hard thing to accept, but when you dream big, take big risks, there is always a chance of failure. If and when those failures occur it can feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulders, it can feel like heartbreak. Regret is normal, even if you don’t admit it’s there, but know that every experience, good or bad, helps shape us and grow.

Giving up on dreams doesn’t make your effort worth any less. There is a quote floating around the internet reading “Dreams Have No Expiration Date”. While this is a beautiful concept, and goes along with the ideal we have all grown up with that you can do anything you put your mind to, pragmatically some dreams, big dreams, most definitely have a “Best If Used By” date. When this happen, and you simply have to move on, remember that you were one of the brave ones, who tried and yes, failed, to do something great. But at least you tried.

Being in a slump in one aspect of life doesn’t mean you have to be in all aspects. At the same time I turned away from my athletic life, giving up on a dream that had me pushing my hardest for years, I suddenly had more time. I threw my efforts into my social life, tried new things like ballet and whiskey, and completely changed professions. Like the old adage says, a college student can have two of the following: enough sleep, an active social life, and good grades, the same goes for post collegiate life. Where I had been slacking in my life while training, I was able to excel because I suddenly had more time.

Some decisions are bad decisions, and there is no way of knowing until all the cards are played. While trying to achieve great things, there is always a little experimenting that has to happen. In order to find your limits you have to test them. Whether you are trying to accomplish a physical goal, or trying to advance in your career, there is no way to know what will happen, or what works best until you try a few different options.

Know when to take a break. I knew before Ironman Coeur D’Alene that my body needed a rest, but I temporarily forgot this in my ambition. Pay attention to your body, and take a break when you need it. Chasing your dreams is exhausting, in success and in failure. Powerful, passionate emotions, like ambition, love, anger, all have the ability to lead us to great things, but they can also blind us to our more human needs.

So how did I manage to get out of the slump?

9 months after finishing Ironman Coeur D’Alene, 6 months after dropping out of Ironman Wales, there was still something missing. There was still a hole in my heart from regret and the loss of a dream. After a St. Patrick’s Day Happy Hour, and a long phone conversation with my sister in which I completely broke down, lamenting the feeling of failure and the dream that had slipped past me, I suddenly swelled with an anger at myself for letting myself become so broken. I had other dreams to fulfill, and I loved racing and training. I got off the phone, hopped on my stationary bike, and rode with a vengeance, still with the full feeling of a St. Patrick’s Day Guinness. A couple months later, I entered a low key race and rediscovered my passion for competition.

The same type of passionate emotion that can get you into the slumps after a huge defeat can get you out of it. Failures are important for growth. For me, it allowed me to explore other opportunities, grow socially, and finally recover from the toll of intense training. But at some point, you have to accept that, though you may have failed to achieve one goal, adapting your dreams to a new timeline can set you back on the right path. Keep dreaming big, and learn from the crests and trough of successes and defeats.

Post by Stephanie Hutson (CLAS ’12)

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